Sports and Young Children: Are Parents Pushing Too Hard Too Early?


This is something I have thought a lot about and then thought some more – had many conversations with friends, family, and my husband. Fellow contributor Katie Cox wrote a post about it on her personal blog (read it here), and it got me thinking again. Like Katie, we put our oldest in tee ball when he was young, and he wasn’t interested. It was painful.

So what do I think about sports and young children? I think we push our children too hard too young. What I have to share is from my heart and from talking with many other moms over and over. I don’t have a study to back up my “research,” and I don’t have any experts to quote. This is purely based on my heart and what I have seen living in Ankeny with the pressure for children to be the best at sports.

My husband and I both grew up in small Iowa towns. I did Little League stuff when I was in upper elementary, and my husband was older when he started playing organized sports. Mine was a very competitive, sports-minded town, but elementary sports were Saturdays for an hour or so for a few weeks. Sports in Ankeny – and probably everywhere around the metro – are very different from that.

So here is my take on this issue.

1. Young bodies.

I agree, children need exercise. They need to get outside and run and play. But I can’t imagine what kind of stress competitive sports put on young children’s bodies long-term. Their bodies are still developing and growing. I wish I had a study to back this up, but I would think this added strain to young bodies would cause more injuries over time, especially as they enter their peak years of athleticism.

A good example is Tiger Woods. He started swinging a golf club at age two and was trained to be a well-oiled machine. Many now wonder, what if he wouldn’t have started so early? Would he have had a career that maybe peaked a bit later but lasted longer and, in the end, been more successful over a longer period of time? Obviously, we will never know.

In my mommy gut, I don’t think this kind of physical strain (I’m talking about more than just playing a Little League game once a week, here) on young bodies can be good.

2. Missing out.

I don’t want my kids’ childhoods to be a mad rush of activities. I want to enjoy my children and do activities as a family. We go on bike rides and play outside and go to the park. I know of families that are always on the go, and I personally don’t want to live that way.

I do think this can be done in a balance, and as my children grow, I do think that balance will be harder to find. I know many families that limit their kids to one activity at a time. That sounds like a great solution to me.

On the other side of missing out, I often have a brief panic attack: Well, maybe someday my son will want to play baseball, but if he has never played, will he be so far behind?!? After my husband talks me down from the ledge, I reason that if he really wants to play, he will have the drive to practice hard and make up anything he’s missed. (We do play ball outside with the boys as a family.) This leads me to my last point.

Sports and Young Children: Are Parents Pushing too Hard too Early?3. If it is meant to be, it will be.

My favorite player on the Hawkeye basketball team is Gabe Oleseni because of his story. He never really played organized sports until high school, and now he is playing for a NCAA Division I basketball program!

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day who was telling me she knew an athletic trainer who went to train at an Olympic facility. The trainers out there told him that there are some athletes who, no matter how hard they train or how hard they work, will never be Olympic athletes. And then there are those who will be Olympic athletes – they are just that good. They were born with that talent. We took that to say that no matter what, God is in control of who we are and who we will become. If my child is meant to be a professional athlete, then he will be, whether he starts at 5, 8, or 13.

We try to adopt a no-push parenting style. We have found that it is much easier to teach our boys when they are ready rather than to force them when they aren’t ready (for example, learning to ride a bike without training wheels). I have hopes and dreams for my children. There are things I want them to be involved in or participate in when the time is right. But I also fear that if we push them now they might burn out or get frustrated and give up because maybe their body isn’t yet developed for that skill.

I think sometimes we (I) get so caught up in “I have to figure out what my child’s gift is – music or sports… and if sports, then which one…” that we miss seeing, knowing, and loving our children for who God created them to be. I trust that God will lead us to uncover whatever gifts and talents he has given them.

I want to add that I am not opposed to playing organized sports, and I do see value in the life lessons they teach. I think we as parents just need to find the healthy balance for our families. Let us not sacrifice our relationships with our children because we are pushing them so hard.

So how about your family? What are your thoughts on young children playing sports?



  1. I’m with ya Jodi. As a parents, both of us former college athletes, lover of sports and now personal trainer/powerlifter I want my kids to participate in sports. I’m not going to lie. Both my husband and I leaded so many life lessons beyond the benefits of sports itself. BUT with that said, we’re in no hurry to put our 5 year old into organized sports. We tried a soccer league and it was like pulling teeth to get her out there so we didn’t do it again. Maybe we’ll try again when she’s old if she is interested but she gets to lead the way.

    Just an observation but it does seem like some parents are overestimating the power of sports and underestimating the power of just playing. You don’t necessarily have to rely on sports camps (again unless they really want to) or exercise routines to help your kids develop athletic skills. Just send them out to play! I’d be willing to bet the jumping, running, skipping, hopping, monkey bar climbing activity they get is a great start for most!

  2. So glad you brought this up Jodi! I’m intrigued to see your feedback. In my profession, I have done a lot of research on this issue and most of it aligns with what you said. Kids tend to “retire” from sports by age 8-10 because they are burnt out on sports. That is sad. Sadly, it’s not as safe for kids to run around the neighborhood and play like we used to, and budget cuts have taken away a lot of school sports (not starting til 8th grade), so clubs have become huge. I believe we as parents need to take a stand and say no. No to Sundays at 10 am. No to week nights at 8pm for ten year-olds. Etc. We are the customers after all!


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