Kids' Sports...How It's Become An Idol to Families

There used to be a day when kids participation in sports meant being involved in Little League.  I was one of those kids.  Participation involved practicing a few hours each week and then playing one game...occasionally two games a week.  And it was seasonal.  Once the season was over, that was it until the next year.  Games were played at a local field and were never played on a Sunday during church.

Fast forward to now.  Kids of all skill levels, in every team sport, are getting swept up in a kids' sports economy that dominates families schedules, traveling and finances.  Little League participation is down 20%.  Why?  Are fewer kids playing sports?  No.  Here's what's happening.  Local leagues are being overtaken by private club teams.  SportsEngine has a searchable directory of more than 100,000 youth-sports camps, teams and leagues.  Wide World of Sports at Disney World hosted 385,285 athletes in 2016, up 28% since 2011. 
The expenses for families are significant.  Families are spending more than 10% of their annual household income on registration fees, travel, camps and equipment.  Here are a few examples.  A father in New Jersey has already spent over $30,000 on his 10-year-old son's "baseball career."  Another volleyball dad is spending over $20,000 a year with his daughter's club team.

Time magazine recently reported that the youth sports industry has grown by 55% since 2010.  For the companies driving this, it's all about making money.  Here's an example.  The United States Specialty Sports Assocciation (USSSA), generated $13.7 million in 2015 with the CEO receiving over $831,000 in compensation.  Overall, youth sports is a $15 billion dollar industry.

Many parents put their kids in team sports with the hope that it will give their child the edge they need to get a college scholarship one day.  But studies show this is not the case.  Only 2% of high school athletes go on to play in a NCAA Division 1 school. The smarter decision would be for parents to invest the money they are spending on kids' sports into a college savings fund instead.

Another type of expense this costs families can't be measured financially.  It's the cost of time.  Some families spend 2 1/2 hours a day, four days a week, traveling to and from practices, not getting home until close to midnight.  One family even sent their 13-year-old to live in another state to increase the time he spends practicing and playing.

For many families, sports has taken over their lives.  Practices and tournaments overtake weeknights and weekends.  Attending family weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries, etc. are skipped because of it.

Vacation time is even being used to attend sports tournaments.  The phrase "tournacation" was recently coined to describe families using their vacation time to be in sports. 

Kids are losing out on the wonder of childhood.  There's nothing wrong with being competitive and wanting to win.  But when playing the game for the joy of it is replaced by "win-at-all-costs," kids risk injury, burnout and depression.  As kids see their parents investing so much money into their sports, they feel the pressure to succeed and play well, earn a scholarship, etc.  This can lead to kids not enjoying playing.  Studies show the more money parents spent on their children's sports, the more pressure their children feel to perform.   

When every single day, evening and weekend is crowded with practices, coaching sessions, lessons, games and traveling to games, kids lose out on the opportunity to simply be kids and enjoy playing with toys, riding their bike, camping in the backyard, building a tent out of blankets in the living room, etc.  

Kids are getting a wrong message about priorities.  There's nothing wrong with kids' sports.  Sports can teach kids teamwork, discipline, perseverance, character and a solid work ethic.  But when it is placed before God, it becomes an idol.  When kids miss church for weeks on end because they are traveling to tournaments, it becomes an idol.  When kids don't have time to attend VBS or camp because they are entrenched in a sport's league, it becomes an idol.  When success is measured on a scoreboard rather than by God's Word, it has become an idol.  When a families' plans are dictated by a soccer schedule rather than by the Holy Spirit, then it has become an idol.  When a family's tithe money is used for buying sports equipment, it has become an idol.    

Kids won't always do what we say, but they never fail to imitate what we do.  If we elevate sports above God, then the next generation will do the same.  Scripture reminds us of this in I Timothy.
For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.
It is beneficial for kids to be in sports.  But only when it is kept in the right priority and they are taught first and foremost to live for the eternal.  Let's help parents see what really matters in life and encourage them to keep God as the first passion in their family.