I recently had the pleasure of having a conversation with a Head of School and we were discussing some of the correlations between education and athletics. The bulk of the conversation was spent exploring ways for educators and parents to collaborate more on methods of developing children in a more well-rounded manner through both sports and education. As the conversation evolved, it became obvious to me that this educator had an incredible amount of knowledge regarding the development of children (from an educational perspective), and many of the terms that she used happened to be the same terms that I was applying to athletics.
She shared with me a story about her adult son who was a baseball fanatic as a child. He loved baseball. He loved playing the game, watching the game, and studying the game. As a family, however, they decided that they would not allow him to play ‘travel’ baseball in the summer. She feared that that decision may have held her son back at that particular point in his life, but she and her husband were not willing to force the kind of sacrifice that was necessary for this to happen, upon the rest of the family.
At first, it started out as one of those stories where parents lament that their child never fully experienced the game as perhaps he could have. This story was different. It turns out that he was able to make his high school team, a perennial power among top schools in the state. Not only that, this young man became a very productive member of a team that won a sate championship. Imagine the memories that go along with such a wonderful accomplishment.
My Head of School mom who was sharing this story was a bit perplexed by the entire phenomenon of how this all played out for her son. Most confusing to her was the fact that, in comparison to his classmates, her son wasn’t that strong of a player as a young athlete. She said there were plenty of other boys his age who were much better, but it seemed like they all quit before high school. She said they were the boys who were playing year round, had special coaches, played in multiple tournaments, and weren’t able to play other sports.
I get asked the question all of the time from parents about just wanting their child to be able to play high school sports, and I often advise them that everything should work out fine because 75% of the kids will quit by age 13 anyway. Most of those kids who are forced into specialization will usually burnout before they get to high school.
Because we parents only get one chance per child to do this right, we’re always a bit scared about doing it well. We don’t want to make any mistakes, and we don’t want our children to be left behind. As children are developing through their formative years of 6-13 (pre-puberty), the comparisons are difficult to ignore. What I have found to be very consistent is that so many of these children do catch up with each other around the age of 14, and those that have had a more relaxed, patient experience actually end up with better attitudes and a significantly increased chance of being successful in sports at older ages.