Margot Starbuck and David King offer advice to parents from their book, Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports. (Part 1 of 2)
Mrs. Eva Daniel: When my son was 10-months-old, I went out to the mailbox and there was a flier in it for him to join a soccer league in town. And I was thinking, my son's not even crawling yet. And then I had the thought, are other parents enrolling their 10-month-old children in soccer. I mean, is this something that I should be doing?
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John Fuller: Well, that's our producer, Eva Daniel and she's representative of a lot of moms who are feeling this great pressure to have their children involved early and often in sports. And we're gonna be addressing that parenting dilemma on today's "Focus on the Family" with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I would say to Eva, absolutely not. Don't worry (Chuckling) about it at 10-months-old, but we're gonna find out from a couple of experts today and you know, I love sports. Sports has always been a part of my family growing up. My brothers played. I played and it just gave us so much foundation for actually some difficulty that we faced in our family and sports pulled both my brother and I toward the Lord and it was an awesome experience for me.
Yet, today in that sporting world, man, it can be so distorted and it can work to the detriment of your children and we're gonna put some tools in your hands today as parents, to think about it and to pray about it and ask God, what should I do with that 10-month-old who got the soccer league invitation? That's too funny.
John: It is and it's all too common and our guests are experts in this matter, as you've indicated, Jim. David King and Margot Starbuck have co-authored the book, Overplayed: A Parent's Guide to Sanity in the World of Sports. Our guests love sports. They've played them, coached them and their kids have participated, as well.
Jim: Well, welcome to both of you to "Focus on the Family."
Ms. Margot Starbuck: Thanks so much.
Mr. David King: Thank you very much.
Jim: --Eva's posed the question. It's probably the first question a mom of a first-born 10-month-old. I mean, she already got the soccer flier? That sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?
David: It does sound ridiculous and I would say, what's going on in Colorado Springs (Laughter) that they would do that? But my first advice is teach him to walk first and then (Laughter) worry about it.
Jim: But I mean, it is one of the things that we have to respond to as parents. You make a statement in your book which parents are going to cringe at even hearing it; I could feel it. But you actually encourage parents to not go to their kids' games. (Laughing) Now that to me just goes counterintuitive. I mean, I try to make my kids' games and to build in a couple of games that you purposefully miss and that's supposed to be healthy? Come on!
Margot: It is counterintuitive, but because the temptation for a lot of parents is to make it about them, that frees up their child to have their own experience of sports. It lets a child know that the life of the whole family is important and doesn't revolve just around them. So, I'm gonna be at most of my kids' games and when I can't be there, I'm not gonna beat myself up.
Jim: Now you also said though, there's a little coaching, not to use that pun, but you tell your kids you're gonna miss a couple of games and you prepare them emotionally, 'cause they're probably hearin' from their friends that their mom and dad come to everything. They're super parents.
Margot: Yeah, it's what every parent wants to hear, right, especially in Olympic season, you know. Mom, you were always there for me. But again, it's about I think the function of the whole family and one of my children cares. One of my children doesn't. And so, we really want parents also to check in with your kids and find out what's important to them.
David: I would say the real reason that I suggest that you do that is simply to show yourself that you can life without seeing the game. (Laughter)
Jim: It's a good thing.
David: Really, it is, because it is so easy for it to become the parent's event and not theirs. So, for you to know that you can go and not go to a game and that person still be okay—
David: --is fine. I'm very concerned about the dependent relationship that comes on performance. So, Mike Matheny, the coach of the Saint Louis Cardinals has also demonstrated that even sitting there saying, "Come on; let's go. You can do it; you can do it," could to some children, put an amount of pressure on that doesn't let them perform to their highest, 'cause you're not gonna sit there and do that with the math [problem]. "Come on, you can do it. Get that math problem right. You can do it."
David: So, part of it is simply to demonstrate to adults that life can go on if I don't see that game.
Jim: Well, let's start with the big question in my mind. So often I've traveled a lot internationally in the U.S. particularly. We do stress sports in what I would suggest is a crazy way. And as a Christian, we've got to balance these things out with spiritual development and what is important. And you can learn so many of those good spiritual attributes in sports, but are we out of kilter a bit at times? Or does it depend on the parent and the coach? As a culture are we healthy when it comes to sports?
David: No, we're clearly not at a healthy point in my mind because of that and that's the frustrating part about it, is there is so much valuable stuff going on in sports and so many lessons you can learn.
Unfortunately, we've changed the priorities and the priorities are now about the end result, rather than the process and what can we learn from it. The purpose of sports should always be how to gain skills that can be used for later in life, whether you're 11-years-old or whether you're 21-years-old.
Jim: What are some of those benefits? When you come out the other end and you've had maybe a good high school career, you maybe even played college, so now you graduate, what are those things that a typical student would've learned through sports?
David: Well, when I talk to business people around the country, they will tell you that they always look to the resume to find out whether they played a sport or not, because they have learned how to sacrifice their own individual efforts to go together toward one. So, you're working with a group of people on a--
Jim: A team sport.
David: --a team sport on a common goal. You've also learned what it takes to become the best you can be at what you're doing, which is what I would want for the physician who's going to operate on me or something like that. So, you learn what your potential is. You learn what to do or how to handle a situation when you don't succeed. And you learn how to deal with someone else impeding your progress toward success.
So, you may work your tail off at bidding this job in the construction company and somebody's gonna undercut you. Well, when you were playing that sport, the referee also stepped in and made a call that wasn't quite right either and so, now you've learned how to deal with those things.
I could go on and on with how many there are, but there are just so many that are there, but we forget about that as parents, because we become so engrossed in it, that the result is what we're after.
Jim: Now you coached and were an AD and worked in athletics the last 30, 35 years.
Jim: Give me that one story maybe that involves a parent that was just out of control and let's change his name or her name (Laughter) to Jack or Jane. (Laughter) Don't say "Jim Daly." (Laughter)
David: Well, I could probably do that one. Boy, that's a pretty difficult one, although I think probably the one that takes the cake for me is one that is in the book and that was when they came to me as a, I think their son was an eighth-grader. And they just said, "You know, we really like the school and we like the program. We like the coach. Well, I just want to let you know that our son's not gonna play for the junior high team this year because he has some real potential and we're gonna join the elite clubs and we're gonna travel up and down the East Coast and so, I'm sorry. We just can't participate in your program here."
Jim: Well, let's unpack that. Why is that a bad thing?
David: No. 1, I would say the young man didn't have the physical capabilities (Laughter)—
David: --of being where he wanted to get to. And I don't think he would. He wanted to play soccer and his stature just would not have allowed him to do it. He was too small. He was fast, but he was too small. So, his goal was Division One. I mean, that was the clear thing. We're gonna play at Division One and we're going to do that.
So, I think that was again, the unpacking part of it is the fact that he missed out on all the developmental pieces that could've happened by playing for a school team. Because as soon as you move to the club level, you've taken away a lot of the team aspect and you've put it into an individual. The reason you're playing these elite club level stuff is to be noticed. It's all about the individual.
You also don't have any practice. All you do it play. So, you practice maybe once a week and then you drive to Northern Colorado to play in some elite soccer tournament and so, when kids are coming to me in college, they don't know what practice is about, because it's all been based upon this tournament play and elite play and all of that. So, they've missed the educational values of playing it at those developmental stages at age 12, 13, 14.
Jim: Margot, this can go all over the map though, because parents can also feel guilty. I mean, I did not push my kids. I mean, this is embarrassing, but you know, I wanted to be mindful that I played sports; I love sports, but I didn't want to be that overbearing father that said, "Come on, little guy. You gotta get out there or you're no good," kind of conveying that kind of value structure.
So, I remember the first time I signed Trent up to go to T-ball. He was probably 5 and we got out there and I could just see that he had no interest at all. I mean, even the other kids were running, you know, every child out there ran (Chuckling) to the right field to get the ball, even if you're in left field. (Laughter) And he stood there and he didn't have any interest to chase the ball down.
And that was okay and I just said to him, "Would you rather go get a milkshake?" And he was like, Yeah! That would be great, dad!!" And he had no interest and you know, I'm sure that I'm gonna hear from people (Laughing) hearing this saying, "How could you do that?" But there's guilt on every edge of youth sports for parents. You either do too much, you do too little. You're not doin' it quite right and you're lookin' at everybody else trying to figure it out. What do we do?
Margot: Yeah, well, I want to pause and say, that's the win, because you noticed who your child was.
Jim: So, you think that was the right thing?
Margot: I do.
Jim: I mean, he was very excited to go get a milkshake. (Laughter)
Margot: Gold star for you, but also, I played high school basketball and so, my daughter's a sophomore in high school. She's 6' tall. Her teammates want her to try out. The coaches want her to try out and I really have to check myself, because she's, you know, not so sure. And she did end up trying out, made the team and it required me letting go a little bit. She had a horrible season. She did not play again and as a mom, I had to see who she was and release her to do the things that she really enjoyed. And so, again and again, I think we need to notice what's inside of us, so that we really can see who our child is and not be sort of forcing our own things.
Just a note on the crazy parent, I talked to a--I'm sorry, I wasn't pointing at you (Laughter)—[a] high school coach who had a student beg to be cut from the team during tryouts. And he said, "What's up?" And the student said, "You know, my parents want me to play and you know, I'm so exhausted. I've been doing it for years." And thankfully, the coach said, "That's a conversation you need to have with your parents. I'm not gonna cut you." But some of these kids who've been playing since 10 months are burnt out. They're not even enjoying the sport.
Margot: When students start playing at age 8, when they're starting that young, by age 13, 70 percent of them have stopped playing.
Jim: They're burned out.
Margot: They don't enjoy it anymore.
Jim: Well, let's stick to that age group, because that's the formative time. You know, you're goin' out and all the kids, you know, they're doin' funny things as you watch them develop, like they're all running after the same ball when they're not paying the right position, etc. But you talk in the book about the increase loss of age-appropriate play.
Jim: So, we take our kids. We want to make 'em super athletes and we put 'em in this environment where it's practice, practice, practice and they're not doin' the normal stuff like playin' Superman and Batman (Laughing) out in the yard. Talk about the loss of the appropriate play.
David: That's what I would say is the synopsis of the book, if I can put it into one thing is, what we have done in the world of youth sports and again, when I talk about the youth sports, I want to make sure that we understand, we're looking at that 10-month to sophomore year in high school, okay?
Jim: Let's get rid of 10 months.
Jim: Big range. It makes me cringe--
David: I know.
Jim: --every time you say it.
David: I understand that okay. We'll say at 5.
Jim: Crawl faster; crawl, crawl.
David: Right, from (Laughing) 5-years-old on up, there's certainly a place for kids to play the elite stuff when they get to the high school level in preparation for college. I have no deals with that at all.
But when they come to that lower level, the problem really becomes in the fact that, what we do as adults is, we make it developmentally inappropriate, because that's all we remember. That's all we understand. So, if you look at the soccer amoeba that floats around—
Jim: The soccer amoeba. (Laughter)
David: --every local field on a Saturday morning with mom and dad on the sidelines, with a newspaper and a cup of coffee, you've got these people just running around chasing a ball or as you said, left field to right field.
David: Well, they have not developed spatial awareness.
David: So, why are we doing it? So, we're putting them into these situations where they're going to fail.
David: And so, when you look at that, if we could make it developmentally appropriate and I don't want to go back to the good old days of the game in the backyard, but there's something to be learned from that.
David: How do we put them into situations where they learn to solve problems, where they learn to work together? But no, we're putting them in the situations that they cognitively are not even able to comprehend. And that's what really bothers me about the youth sports. So, most of what we do is developmentally in my mind, inappropriate.
John: Well, there are pros and there are some cons to youth sports. We're talkin' about that today, both of those aspects on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. And you can get a CD of this conversation, a download and the book Overplayed: A Parent's Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports at www.focusonthefamily.com/radioor when you call 800-A-FAMILY.
Jim: The other aspect of this and this can be tough and I've experienced it, so I don't want to be too open with this, 'cause I don't want to hurt my boys. But you know, one of my boys played ball and he didn't start and we would talk about that. But he would say, "Dad, I just love bein' with the guys. I love bein' on the team." You know, and I was the one going, "Yeah, but your goals need to be higher." I did exactly what I knew I shouldn't be doing.
Jim: But you know, I'm overdramatizing, I hope. (Laughter)
David: We'll ask them.
Jim: Yeah, but how should a parent handle that, when the kid's enjoyin' it. I mean, he may not or she may not be starting, but they love the camaraderie. It's an environment they're enjoying. They don't think they're gonna be in the pros, but they're lovin' doing this in junior high or maybe even high school.
Margot: Yeah, you just described like the best possible situation I think for youth sports, where kids are having fun and parents do dial it back a little bit. Any thoughts?
David: No, I think you're absolutely right. If you can let them, that's the dilemma of jumping in the van on the way home from the game and dad analyzing—
David: --the technical aspect of the game and the strategy of the game. Your son is doing it for exactly the right reason. They are enjoying what they're doing and that also is why you don't have to go to that game next time—
Jim: Yeah. (Laughing)
David: --because they are doing fine and he is gaining one of the best things that can happen. And even if your son isn't the starter, we aren't all starters when we get to professional life, are we? We're not all at the top of the rung. There's gonna be different roles to play
Jim: So, even in that you're learning.
David: Oh, absolutely you're learning, because you're recognizing the fact that there's people that are better than you. You're learning that you have a role to play. And when you can understand what you're gaining from it, what you gain from it just is what he said. I love bein' with the guys and it's fun.
Margot: Uh-hm. You know, we want to be giving parents tools to sort of navigate some of this and in the minivan, on the way home, parents need to dial it back, not analyze the game. One of the best things you can say to your kids is, "I loved watching you play."
Margot: Not if they were on the bench (Laughter), but I loved—
Jim: I loved seeing you out there.
Margot: --watching you play. I loved seeing you out there. Did you have fun with your friends? And really in the van on the way home, let the child sort of move that conversation. They might not want to talk about the game, but [you] don't need to analyze it. Just sort of notice what your child's experiencing.
Jim: Yeah, yeah, be positive about it. Don't be overbearing. Now most of the book, Overplayed, you're talking about myths that exist and we've hit these almost indirectly, but one that caught my attention because a lot of my friends, (Laughter) I'm serious, this is not us, but we do have friends that are very focused with their young men or women when it comes to single sport. And they may be seventh graders, eighth graders and I just, for me when I played, I did football, basketball and baseball and I did it for four years or high school and I loved it. It was diverse. You know, it was fun. I couldn't hit a baseball for, you know, to save my life, but I could field well. So, I had to go through the humility of batting generally last (Laughter), maybe even behind the pitcher, but that was a good thing for me. It made me laugh more at myself. But talk about this myth of the single sport for the young child.
Margot: Yeah, playing different sports each season is gonna make your child a better player in that one sport maybe that they prefer or that they love.
Jim: That's the myth.
Margot: I'm saying playing multi sports.
Margot: Playing different sports throughout the year [is] gonna give them the mental skills, the physical skills to really excel if they do decide to specialize in one sport. But that doesn't happen when they're 5. It doesn't need to happen when they're 10. Maybe in high school they specialize, but it's so much better for their bodies, their minds to be playing different sports throughout the year.
And of youth sports' injuries, 50 percent of those are overuse injuries and that's what we're seeing in kids. Young adults who hear about this book are comin' to me and saying, "I wish my parent read that," because it's the baseball player whose shoulder is shot for the rest of his life.
Margot: Or the gymnast who's living with injuries for the rest of her life because their parents pushed and pushed and pushed.
Jim: And in a single sport context.
Jim: They did it year round, league play—
Margot: One sport.
Jim: --that kind of thing, rather than diverse sporting events.
David: Yeah, I think the issue with it, what's interesting is, a part of the reason I wrote the book was, there aren't people within the athletic profession, if you will, saying this and yet, every college coach will tell you, they prefer to recruit someone who has played multiple sports--
Jim: Ah, that's interesting.
David: --because of the diversity. My son is 6'9", a basketball player would've been a much better basketball player had he played volleyball. But he didn't and so, while the professional people, college coaches, etc., are saying, I want someone who's played multiple sports, we're down here at 11-years-old saying, "Play this one all the way through."
Jim: Right, 'cause you-got a natural ability. That's one of the reasons.
David: Yeah (Laughter) or I understand it, if you want to be good at something, you have to do it a lot. But there is so much value in a cross training, physically, emotionally, mentally, to be playing those multiple sports and this is what is very frustrating to me, is the fact that we're not sending that message out there. And we as parents, know that too much of a good thing is often not a good thing. So, why are we doing it with sports? I would never let my son eat a half gallon of ice cream at one sitting, okay, 'cause I know better. Well, we as parents know better, but it seems when it comes to sports, all of this rationality sort of escapes us.
Jim: Yeah, David, you and I talked a bit about this. Your son is 6'9" and we were laughing. My now sophomore is 6'4". But you have tall sons typically and when you're walkin' through the airport or something, I mean, 6'9", that's a big guy.
Jim: And what do they do? They come up and say what?
David: You play basketball.
Jim: Right. (Laughter)
David: The second one is, "How's the weather up there?"
Jim: Yeah, right. (Laughter) So, your son actually had cards printed, right?
David: Yes, he had business cards printed, because he works in a restaurant and he serves and so, you know, people are always asking those questions. Yeah, the understanding is, that's what you're going to do if you're tall. And I'm sure your sons would be the same way. The size of them probably is to play football.
Jim: But you said something that really caught my attention. You talked about him playing ball in Kansas, I believe it was—
Jim: --basketball and just the expectation, well, if he's that big, he's gotta be the starting center and he's gotta be good. But that's not necessarily the case, is it?
David: No, it isn't the case at all and you go back to finding out what is inside. It's interesting when you talk about him, yeah, the expectation was clearly, he must be playing a lot. And my response when people would ask me was, "Yeah, he's playing, but he doesn't play a lot." And I did that about three times and then I really started to kick myself when II said I'm placing a different value on his experience than what he is. He's enjoying it. He's loving his role. He's havin' a great time. He actually sat out his senior year to focus on grades, which again, didn't work so well either. (Laughter) And then he wanted to come back for the fifth year to finish. And I just thought, why do you want to do this? You sat out. This is college level. You sat out. He was on a team that played "run and gun." And he's 6'9", 280. He's not gonna run and gun.
David: I think he came back to play that fifth year for his own what he wanted to do.
Jim: Which is a good thing.
David: Absolutely, he did it for what he wanted to do and I'm so proud of him, because at the end of, we'd be up by 40 or down by 40 and there were 10 seconds to go and the coach would say, "You want to go in?" "Yeah, yeah, yeah. I want to goin," you know. (Laughter) And most kids are like, "I don't want to go in," because he did it for his own purpose and what he wanted to get out of it, which I think is great.
John: Yeah, we've covered a lot of different things here about kids and sports. One thing that I don't think we've touched on quite yet is, how much time it takes as a family, if you've got multiple kids doin' multiple sports.
Jim: (Laughing) Oh, man.
John: I knew one family, their school year and their summers, it was defined by which parent is going to which kid's games and how many of these can we make? I mean, they had several kids--
John: --so, multiple things a night. There's a balance in there somewhere. How in the world do we find it?
Margot: Yeah and you know, that's what we're seeing. We're seeing families that are stressed out, worn out. And so, one of the things we encourage families to do is to sit down before the season and make some decisions. Start with what you value. What are our priorities? And then, you know, talk about how much money you want to spend on this sport and how much time? And then set some really good boundaries for your kids.
Maybe it's one sport a season. If you have six kids, maybe it's, you know, you get to choose one sport each year. But have that conversation as a family and really listen to your children, because again, they might surprise you as they describe what it is that they would prefer and what they would like to do.
David: The difficult part for parents in this is to take that risk, because everybody else is playing multiple sports or multiple seasons and the coach will tell you, you have to do this is you're gonna keep getting better. The reality is, if they would go play something else or even if they take time off and go to the soup kitchen with their family, they would gain more as a whole person, but the risk a parent is taking by not signing them up for that is something they have a really hard time overcoming. But yet, that's the reality that's there.
And so, when you go back to it, this is counterintuitive type stuff. The Scriptures also say, "Don't be conformed to the patterns of the world—
David: --be transformed by the renewing of your minds." Which says, we could think about this in a very different way, but the risk is pretty great. I understand the risk for parents to say, "We're not gonna play all of these multiple sports," because the fear is, either they're gonna lose interest or they're gonna fall way behind when they turn around and come.
My my counsel is, if your son or daughter is good at the sport, they're gonna find a place to play.
David: The coach's ego is gonna have them in there if they can (Laughter) help them to win. And if they lose out on the skill development to someone else, so bet it. It's not the end of the world.
David: They're 12-years-old. They're gonna find somethin' else to do.
Jim: And that's the point. You can overinvest as a parent and overinvest in the wrong thing.
David: So, they're people a lot longer than they're athletes. (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah, right.
David: So, let's figure out—
Jim: Hey, did you mean that—
David: --how to make—
David: --people. (Laughter) No, no. (Laughter)
Jim: Why's he lookin' at me?
John: You're a "people," Jim. (Laughter)
David: But we lose sight of that fact, that it's really about [the fact that] I care more about who my son is now at 35—
David: --than I did when he was playin' basketball.
Jim: Have the long view. We have scratched the surface here, but there's more to talk about, more myths in your book, Overplayed and I think parents again, this is right behind our faith development, is what's happening with sports in our households. John, when you mentioned that question about having kids going in, you know, hockey and soccer and football and tennis, I mean, that one just struck [me]; you don't have enough parent space to get the kids to all those activities. So, I can feel for that family and we want to come back next time and address some of those other issues.
And I'm hopeful that this has been helpful to you. I know as a dad and John and all of us, you know, these are things that we've struggled with and there isn't much out there to help a parent navigate this. That's why "Focus on the Family" is here. That's why we have great guests on to talk about this and I'm so thankful that we did it and we're gonna come back next time and do more.
John: And you'll find one very helpful resource. We've mentioned the title a couple of times now, Overplayed: A Parent's Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports. It's written by David King and Margot Starbuck and you'll find that and a CD of our entire two-part conversation--we'll include tomorrow's, as well—at www.focusonthefamily.com/radioor when you call 800-A-FAMILY.
Jim: And can I just say we do surveys every year to see the impact of Focus on the Family, what your investment in the ministry is having. Last year, the last 12 months, we've been able to help 740,000 parents navigate a crisis with their kids and I'm proud of that. This is one of those things. I'm telling you, you do a survey in households, sporting issues would be one of the things high on that list.
And let me ask you as we go, what is one of the myths in your book that grabbed you, the one that really caught your attention?
Margot: I think parents fool ourselves when we're paying all this money, we believe that we're sort of investing in the child's future. And Dave and I say, you'd be better off investing in a tutor. Putting all this money in really doesn't pay off in the long run in terms of kids who end up making money from sports. So, think about what you're doing with your money.
Jim: Well, let's do that. Let's come back next time and talk more about the myths from your book, Overplayed and get into it a little deeper.
John: And again, you can find the book and make a donation at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And when you make a generous donation of any amount to the ministry today, we'll make sure to send that book to you as our way of saying thank you for investing in this ministry.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow, as we once again, hear from David King and Margot Starbuck about a healthy perspective of parenting your kids through youth sports, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.
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Margot StarbuckView Bio
Margot Starbuck is a public speaker and an award-winning author of nine books including Not Who I Imagined, Permission Granted and Unsqueezed. She is also a ghostwriter, an editorial adviser, a writing consultant and a columnist for Today's Christian Woman. Margot is a passionate advocate for supporting impoverished children, disabled people and indigenous leaders of youth development organizations. Learn more about Margot by visiting her website, www.margotstarbuck.com.
David KingView Bio
David King has been the Director of Athletics at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA, since 2005, coming to EMU from Lancaster Mennonite School in Lancaster, PA, where he served for 14 years as the athletic director and assistant principal. He began his work in athletics teaching and coaching at Locust Grove Mennonite School (K-8), and then spent 5 years as administrator at Camp Hebron in Pennsylvania before going to Lancaster Mennonite. Dave is co-author of the book Overplayed: A Parent's Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports. He and his wife, Deb, have three grown children and two grandchildren.