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Oct, 2022

Freedom to Play

A friend recently told the story of his 12-year-old who loves football, hockey, and lacrosse, and plays all three. But not without a challenge.

In a pre-season meeting in a cold locker room last season, the son’s hockey coach told the team that he expects them to be at every practice. Unless you’re sick or injured, there are no excuses. If they miss one because another sport gets in the way they won’t play in the next game. Talk about stressing a group of kids who are also participating in typical Fall seasonal sports like soccer, football, and cheerleading.  

My friend talked to the coach.

“I told him, we understand the commitment that’s needed and the importance of having kids at practice. Their development and the team’s development depend on it. But the hockey season lasts until late March and, over the next seven weeks, our son will miss one hockey practice and a football practice a week since they fall on the same days. He didn’t like it but my son was comfortable with any fallout because he wanted to play football.”

My friend’s son left that hockey team after the season and returned to a town program where there is more flexibility and understanding.  

Did my friend and his son make the right decision?

It really is a family decision and what is best for your child.  But we believe in the importance of playing multiple sports at a young age. It would be ideal if they didn’t conflict and were played in different seasons but hockey season seems to bleed into football, and soccer is a popular all-year pursuit, just like lacrosse and baseball in some regions. Back in the day, youth sports mirrored high school with different sports in different seasons. No more.

Unfortunately, the lines have blurred and it’s the Wild West, making it hard for parents to navigate. They're told that if they want their child to succeed in a given sport they need to devote themselves to that sport. Often it’s driven by keeping up with other kids their age and with an eye toward making a high school team down the road, and eventually a college scholarship.

But research tells us that sports specialization at an early age can rob the child of the chance to test her or his skills in another sport, and it can contribute to repetitive stress injuries and burnout.

So as coaches and parents we need to do our part to teach kids the importance of committing to a team and not over-scheduling them. But we also need to let kids be kids, and let them enjoy a multitude of sports and activities.

Jon Butler


Pop Warner Little Scholars

P.O. Box 307 
Langhorne, Pennsylvania 19047

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