Young athletes are focusing on a single sport at an earlier age. Sometimes, experts say, that’s a losing proposition
By the time Kelsey Vross left the TCU women’s soccer team after two years on full four-year athletic scholarship, she had more than enough of playing soccer, despite the fact that it was paying for her education.
"At the start of my junior year of high school I signed the scholarship with TCU, and I was totally burned out on soccer," said Vross, a 21-year-old senior. "I knew I was sick of it. I just didn’t want to go to practice anymore. I didn’t really enjoy the games.
"Soccer ran my life."
Vross wasn’t alone. Of the 12 teammates who started the TCU soccer program with her, only three remain on the team.
It’s a trend in college athletic programs nationally. Boys and girls begin focusing on a sport at an early age; by the time they reach sports at the collegiate level, they can suffer from burnout, and some have incurred major injuries.
With school about to begin again this month, and high-school football teams already practicing, the same scene will play out across North Texas and, indeed, the country. The landscape of youth sports has changed dramatically; more kids are focusing on one sport at the expense of a diverse athletic experience that would rejuvenate them when a new season begins.
The Arlington Soccer Association, for example, starts competitive soccer teams at age 10. The association requires a one-year commitment beginning in July, with youngsters going through tryouts and then earning playing time. There are two to three practices a week, each of which lasts up to 90 minutes. Teams play once a week for 10 weeks, with a second game during some weeks. Depending on the team, there are indoor summer and winter leagues as well.
"We are seeing burnout at a much younger age than ever be- fore — between the sixth and seventh grade," TCU sports psychologist Dr. Deborah Rhea said. "There are these fitness training centers for kids, and it’s basically a tryout. And we’re talking 5- and 6-year-olds. It’s terrible."
Romo the basketball player
Long before he became the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, Tony Romo played basketball, baseball, tennis, golf and football at his high school in Burlington, Wis. His coaches say that he was a better basketball player than football player. Romo never attended a pricey summer camp, which is considered almost mandatory at the collegiate level.
"People sometimes today are predominantly putting their kids into one sport," Romo said at a celebrity golf tournament last month. "Age 10, they’re going to do one thing the rest of their life. I have a hard time with that because I was a basketball player as a kid. [If] I would have just concentrated on one sport, soccer or something, I never would have been able to do what I’m lucky enough to do — play football."
Thirty years ago, a high-school boy often played football or soccer in the fall, then basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring. Girls played volleyball, basketball and then softball or field hockey.
Now, the process of sports elimination occurs much earlier, even in middle school or at a younger age.
"If you play two or three sports you’ll be an average player — if you don’t focus on one sport," Arlington Martin volleyball coach Tracy Perez-Peterson said.
At a smaller or private school, the pressure isn’t as great, so a youngster can play multiple sports. TCU soccer player Vross did. She attended Concordia Lutheran, a private school in Tomball. But for the student who attends a larger school — Class 4A or Class 5A — it’s harder. The need to be a better athlete faster is greater, so kids concentrate on one sport earlier.
Like most high-school coaches, Perez-Peterson feels torn by the trend. The benefit is obvious — players are more skilled at their sport. The drawbacks are subtle, and sometimes painful.
"I see a lot of injury, and I’ve seen a lot of burnout," Perez-Peterson said. "It’s harder to motivate them.."