Children used to just go outside and play. However, in today's society, not all parents feel comfortable allowing unsupervised children to play outside, where the majority of physical activity once took place. Instead of outdoor free-play, parents now sign kids up for organized activities like sports. And, in order to keep the kids active and busy, some parents place their children in multiple activities, overbooking their time and possibly causing some negative effects.
Starting Too Young
One of the concerns regarding youth playing too many sports begins with the starting age to join competitive programs having dropped significantly since the 1990s. This younger starting age -- as young as four years old -- may cause children to grow tired of playing sports by the time they reach adolescence. For younger children, sports should remain informal during primary grades, as too much concentration on competing can cause burnout, but not enough focus on winning can lead to later emotional turmoil.
According to Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D. and author of "The Overscheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap," playing too many sports and getting overscheduled into competitive group activities involves a lot of judging and evaluating of children. This constant scrutiny may lead to a damaged self-esteem which can eventually result in dropping out of school, teen-age depression, substance abuse and early sexual encounters. Rosenfeld suggests the best parenting technique remains living a fulfilled, relaxed life in order to set an example for your children that they will want to follow.
Experts call doing too much -- either physically, mentally or a combination of the two -- "overtraining," according to Lyle Micheli, M.D. of the National Center for Sports Safety and founder of the world's first sports medicine clinic for children. Signs that your child has overtrained include slower performance times, decreased athletic ability, less motivation to practice, tiring easily and becoming irritable and uncooperative. Additionally, overuse injuries may result from spending a lot of time playing just one sport, says the American Council on Exercise. If your child experiences pain or shows symptoms of overtraining, consult your physician. Talk to his doctor before he begins any new exercise program, as well.
Sports Guidelines for Youth
A child or adolescent should not engage in sports for more hours per week than their age, according to the American Council on Exercise. For instance, a 10-year-old child should not spend more than 10 hours per week engaged in playing or practicing sports. Also, when increasing training, never demand more than adding 10 percent extra per week. For example, if your child runs 10 minutes per night, increasing her run time to 11 minutes per night for one week should not pose a high risk of injury. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that children and adolescents engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, and sports prove an excellent way to help meet these guidelines. Focus mainly on developing technique, getting exercise and having fun.