As a former NCAA Division-I athlete and a Christian, I was defensive about reading this book. As a parent of two young girls I was curious.
The premise is simple: the pressure to be involved in youth sports is overwhelming in the United States. What’s at stake? What are the realities? What are our options? What practical tips can parents use to balance decisions regarding their children’s participation? Authors David King, a former coach at several levels and the current athletic director at a Division III University, and Margot Starbuck, a mom with three kids at various levels of athletic participation, tackle those issues and more. They approach their analysis from a Christian worldview that primarily affects the motives they assume in their readers for implementing their suggestions.
King and Starbuck cover common myths contributing to inordinate amounts of time, energy, and money being put towards organized youth sports. Their coverage is comprehensive, but it is flexible. They acknowledge that each family will have different priorities and different levels of genuine interest from their kids. Further, they do not stop at simply addressing the surface question of “how often should my kid be involved?” They dig deep to expose the risks of early rigorous participation – particularly of specialized participation- and they confront the reality of the expectations associated with pushing kids through athletics with the objective of getting a sports scholarship.
For an idea of what they cover, here is their Table of Contents:
From my perspective as an athlete who did the travel touring, two-sport juggling, college scouting exercises, this book is right through and through. They do not give a “one-size-fits-all” answer, but they do provide a breadth of analysis and coverage to inform parents further. The hard part will be convincing parents to make some of the tough calls. And, as someone who is one of the 3% of athletes who received scholarship funds (part athletic, part academic) to play in the NCAA I will tell you bluntly what the gist is: It is not a “free-ride” to school. It is prepaid.
As a Christian I appreciated their discernment in noting that ripping your child out of every Sunday practice/game is not always the right way to demonstrate your beliefs. They put the conversation in the context of discussing values and priorities with your child at the start of the season and making decisions then based on where possible conflicts might emerge. As with all their considerations, King and Margot reached beyond the superficial issues and provided nuanced commentary and thoughtful perspective.
As a parent, my husband and I were more convinced of our need to slow down our eldest daughter’s activity in early sports (spurred by her excited, and well-intentioned parents). We were concerned about early injuries, about negative interactions with adults, about nurturing a disgust with physical activity instead of nurturing her natural energy and curiosity, and on and on and on. As a parent, I also began to question some of the other extra-curricular activities we have considered for her moving forward. The conversation doesn’t end with this book – or with sports – but it’s a solid place to start.
The content of the book is readable by anyone, Christian or not, who is interested in better understanding the youth sport dynamic in the United States. If you are in any way involved or about to be involved in it then read this book. Then keep it as a resource and reference it often. And make the hard decisions.