Monday is soccer practice, Tuesday is swim team, Wednesday and Thursday are both gymnastics days and Friday is karate. Then comes the weekend. There’s a soccer game on Saturday at 8 a.m., followed by a swim meet start-time and a belt promotion test for karate both at noon. Your child has to miss his belt promotion because it conflicts with the out-of-your-area aqua club event. Whew! Sounds tiring, right? Four different sports at one time – is this too much? Knowing how much is too much when it comes to your child’s athletic activities is key to maintaining balance. It also allows for young athletes to have fun practicing a sport, instead of having crammed schedules and no free time.
The Overscheduling Dilemma
The thought of your child not having an after-school activity makes you shiver. If he’s not at baseball, basketball, or skating, he’s probably going to be sitting in front of the TV or laptop zoning out. While this is a popular picture of the unstructured child, it isn’t necessarily true. Kids need some time that isn’t scheduled, warns the American Academy of Pediatrics. This means that packing every second of your child’s out-of-school time with sports, sports, and more sports can be very overwhelming and isn’t always healthy.
Structured vs. Unstructured Activities
You may not want to overwhelm your child with extracurricular activities but you also fear excess free time. That’s why it’s important to find a balance. Structured activities, such as soccer practice or ice skating lessons do much more than just take up time, they provide an opportunity to improve motor skills, stay healthy, learn and have social interactions with peers. That said, unstructured activities don’t equal laziness or a lack of learning. Unstructured activities allow your child to think creatively and learn to know him or herself. For example, instead of having a coach coax your child into drills, they can create their own outdoor movement play game and bring on their own brand of motivation!
The Magic Number
The truth is – there is no magic number of sports activities that your child should do. Whether you’ve scheduled too much, too little, or the ‘just right’ amount of athletics depends on several factors. These include:
- Younger children (such as preschoolers and kids in elementary school) may not have the ability to focus on several different sports at one time. Throwing soccer, t-ball, gymnastics, ice-skating, basketball, and tennis at a young child all at once may confuse them. Let your young child focus on one sport per season. Older kids and teens may also want to engage in fewer sports activities. This is because they need to spend more time to seriously focus on the area in which they excel.
- You want to expose your children to all of the possibilities that the sports world has to offer. But, does that mean they have to try absolutely everything? Expose your children to a variety of activities – within reason. If your child truly doesn’t want to play a sport, seems distressed, or refuses to go to practice, don’t push too much. There’s no medal for playing each and every sport that your community leagues offer. Instead, pay attention to the activity for which he expresses the most interest and makes it a priority.
- Older kids need more time for school work. If your child has two hours of homework each night, a five-day per week sporting schedule may create a situation in which their grades suffer. Keeping a balance between curricular and extracurricular activities is important in achieving success for student-athletes.
Remember, balance is a must-have factor. Your child shouldn’t feel like he or she is on a never-ending merry-go-round of sports activities, but also shouldn’t feel like he or she has absolutely nothing to do. Avoid overscheduling and take your children’s ages and interests into consideration before deciding how many sports they should play. In the end, sports should be exciting, engaging and educational for children. Being in balance allows this to happen without pushing your child or making athletic activities feel like chores.