“Less is more…”–Paul Newman (by way of Ludwig Mies van der RohL)
After reading a popular magazine that quoted Paul Newman as saying, “Less is more,” my husband and I adopted it as an axiom, because we had seen it proven true repeatedly throughout our lives. (In actuality a mid-century German architect, who practiced modern, minimalist design is more often credited with coining the phrase.)
Parents of young athletes often ask questions regarding their child’s participation in sports. How many teams should my child be on? Are multiple sports in one season okay? How can I determine how much is too much? Will he/she fall behind if she is not playing more? Where do sports fit into the priorities of our family?
Unfortunately, one size does not fit all. Answers to these questions depend on the uniqueness of each situation. Know this: you can overdo it, resulting in negative consequences such as injury, burn-out, family pressure, declining academics, social conflicts, anxiety. Take for example a young athlete who participates on multiple travel teams, perhaps more than one in a season. Add professional instruction during “time off,” adopt another sport just “for fun,” and you are following a risky path. Hard work is important but not all one needs to succeed. The law of diminishing returns is a principle used in economics but can be applied here. It states that “a point will eventually be reached at which additions of the input yield progressively smaller, or diminishing, increases in output.” Pain can be gain until too much pain produces less gain.
A young gymnast was required to put in many practice hours per week, year round. Her physical strength allowed her to perform difficult tasks consistently. The more she accomplished, the more she was asked to accomplish. One day the young gymnast could no longer endure the soreness in her back which prevented her from performing the skill. “Toughing it out” was no longer productive, and the coach insisted that her parents have her visit an orthopedic specialist. The results of an MRI indicated a vertebral fracture, the injury most common to gymnasts who vault and football linemen who block. Repetitious movement created too much stress. The bone broke.
We learned an important lesson from the specialist about our 12-year-old elite gymnast. He informed us that if bodies are not allowed to rest, they will “find a way to rest,” thus an injury. During the 6-week-recovery from her back fracture, our daughter made the decision to move on from gymnastics with its sacrifices and rewards. She elected to sample something new. We, as her parents, completely concurred and learned the importance of balance.
When you are concerned that it may be too much, here are things to consider:
- Is he physically healthy, rested, having fun?
- Is he anxious, down, discontent?
- Is he able to manage academics along with athletics and still maintain friendships?
You, the Parent
- Are your resources depleted: energy, time, finances?
- Are you able to maintain your role in the home and/or at work?
- Are you anxious about your child’s participation, health, coaches, or lack of balance?
- Is there time for the whole family to play together and interact?
- Are other family members having to sacrifice for your athlete’s participation?
- Is your relationship unbalanced toward this one family member?
Listen to your innate wisdom. If you are concerned that multiple sports activities are too much, say no. If you are spending too many resources on your athlete’s sport, consider a less intense approach. If it all seems like “too much,” take a break in the action and reassess your priorities. Remember, sports do not last forever, and each athlete’s story is unique. What will he/she take with her of lasting value from each sports experience? Once you have reset, you can relax, even enjoy the journey of your child’s sports.
- Too many sports activities diminish the overall experience and can produce burnout and anxiety.
- Assess your overall balance of resources, or lack thereof, when selecting or adding sports activities. Remember to include the well-being of your family in your decision.