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Are We Taking the Fun Out of Sports?


A New York City soccer club advertises the fact that its young players are “poised for elite-level soccer,” suggesting prospects of success and college scholarships. These players may or may not have bright futures in the sport. It is a little hard to tell since they have not yet reached their sixth birthdays.

We are in an era in which there is a great deal of pressure on child athletes. Club soccer, AAU basketball, youth tackle football, year-round swimming — this is a time when many children, especially those from privileged backgrounds, have great opportunities to get high-level training at a young age. But with those advantages come risks and potential costs. Children face the risk of injury from overuse and, later on, possible “burnout.”

Sports can be fun and highly satisfying. Anyone who has won a close, hard-fought game or match knows what an amazing experience that is. Anyone who has played on a team knows how close you become with your teammates; you are bonded through shared work and, at times, suffering.

But there are signs that some children and parents are losing focus on the fun and placing too much focus on the long-term future. We should all celebrate the Wilson athletes who go on to play their sport in college. But only a small minority are able to achieve that goal, the best of the best. Most of the athletes at Wilson will never play in college; that is just the mathematical reality. Yet it is a message that the “elite” coaches in sports are reluctant to send to aspiring players and their parents. For one thing, it would be bad for business.

Another result of the emphasis on college scholarships is that athletes specialize on one sport rather than play different sports all year around. One of the most famous athletes ever to come from Wilson is Emmanuel Burris (who played for the San Francisco Giants and might play with the Washington Nationals this season). Did you know he didn’t just play baseball but also basketball, while at Wilson? Playing two or more sports was fairly common a few years ago. It is less common today.

Recently, I went to see a sports doctor. He seemed unable to grasp the fact that I played multiple sports and didn’t want to specialize in just one. What about college, he asked? I told him it would be great to play a sport in college. But I don’t want to let that get in the way of making sports fun right now.











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