The Youth Sports Myth: You Owe It to Your Child

Hundreds of dollars, hours of intense practice. Is it worth the cost?
The Youth Sports Myth: You Owe It to Your Child

“I don’t really want to pay four hundred and fifty dollars to drive to practices three nights a week or travel to tournaments on weekends,” Jennifer’s friend Amy bemoaned. “But I feel like I owe it to him.”

And there it was.

Amy had spoken aloud what the nagging, niggling little voice had been hissing in Jennifer’s ear:

You owe it to him.

He deserves it.

All the other kids are doing it.

Other parents are willing to sacrifice for their children to play.

Don’t be selfish.

If you care about him . . .

Things Have Changed Since You Were a Kid

The number of children between the ages of six and seventeen involved in youth sports today is about 21.5 million, according to one estimate. That’s a lot of kids.

Today’s parents feel the pressure—sometimes more than our kids do!—to sign up for whatever will give children the greatest chance to be successful in sports and to keep up with others. The messages from travel team coaches, entrepreneurs, club directors, and other parents are often persuasive: Start young. Specialize early. Develop skills. Condition. Find the right travel team.

But experts in the fields of sports and medicine are telling a different story. According to one report, college coaches, scientists, physicians, and psychologists—professionals who have studied children and physical activity for years—are warning that “extreme, early focus on one sport [is] a problematic approach to developing youth athletes.”

Without ever asking why, we are subjecting our kids to systems that we don’t fully understand and ones that may actually harm them. In the beginning we might register our children for sports with no higher expectations than that they’ll get a little exercise and have fun with friends. Then we might bump them up a league to help them get the kind of “skill development” that will help them succeed against more competitive players. Before we know it, we can’t remember the last weekend our family spent in the same city or one that cost us less than $400. We find ourselves stretched physically, financially, and emotionally. And we wonder who we ended up like this.

The question Jennifer faced still stands: Do you owe your child the experience of playing increasingly competitive youth sports?

Those who know us know the answer: No, you do not.

The Big Picture

We don’t believe that any parent owes this to her child. But Christian parents, in particular, are guided by a set of values that equips us to offer a child a loving yes, at times, and a loving no, at other times. Just as there’s no one-size-fits-all choice for families to make about youth sports, nor is there a spiritual formula to figure it out! But we want you to hear that you already have tools in your toolbox to help you navigate these choices.

Margot Starbuck

Margot Starbuck, award-winning writer and speaker, is a graduate of Westmont College and Princeton Theological Seminary. A TCW regular contributor and columnist, Margot speaks regularly on discipleship, justice, and living love in the world God loves. Connect with Margot on Facebook, Twitter, or at

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May 25

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