O’Grady: Parents must understand the risks
Rachel O'Grady | Friday, February 12, 2016
My parents always say that if they could have done one thing differently in raising me and my sisters, they would not have let us play club or AAU sports in grade school and beyond.
I don’t disagree — those were some traumatic times in my life, primarily because I’m not particularly athletically gifted. But more specifically, the over-intense competition of club sports was pushed on me at far too early an age.
It exhausted, injured and frustrated me beyond belief and overall likely had a negative impact on my general organized sports experience. I burnt out at far too early an age and lost my love for sports prematurely. In that, I’m the exception to the rule.
Studies have overwhelmingly shown kids love playing organized, competitive sports, and they really aren’t getting that as much in school anymore. For those who aspire to play college or even pro sports, I acknowledge that AAU or club teams are a great option. For those who do not, however, it sets a dangerous precedent of how much time should be spent playing athletics, and further, it dramatically increases risk for injury, which can be remarkably dangerous in a child’s formative years.
I’m not going to tell parents how to parent. There happens, however, to be a strong correlation between playing more and more injuries. I talked about this in my last column: There is absolutely no doubt that the more games (or practices) we play, the more likely we are to get injured. While this is obviously true on a professional level, it’s even riskier during the adolescent years.
In the past several years, serious injuries like ACL tears have risen significantly, and it’s becoming clear that adolescents, particularly high school-aged kids, are increasingly prone to these tears. While the rates of recovery are also vastly improving, suffering such a devastating injury can seriously affect a person for the remainder of his or her life.
Obviously, this is not restricted to ACL tears. With the rate of concussions also on the rise, there are incredibly serious long-term consequences that can result from repeated brain injuries. Given that these injuries can occur at a young age, usually while the brain is still developing, risking these potentially fatal brain damages is not worth the extra time on the court or field.
There is no denying that club sports allow for another level of competition, and by no means am I suggesting we restrict them. Parents, however, must be wary of the potential consequences of investing too much time, energy and money in such an endeavor.
In the formative years of grade school and high school, kids should have the opportunity explore a variety of different activities without being forced to specialize in one due to the highly competitive nature of club sports. The impetus is on the parents to know what’s best for their kids, obviously, but also to make sure these club sports are not taking away from any later part of their lives, whether that be their actual health or their education.
Club sports have turned into a mandatory thing if kids want to continue playing sports at even the high school level, and it’s time to change that, for the health and safety of these kids and their futures.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.