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What Have We Come to In Youth Sports When We Red-shirt 5-Year-olds?

A Boomer’s Journal

By Tom Anselm

Athletics has always been a significant piece of my life. It all started with the days of Atom league soccer at St. Jerome, wearing jeans and those two-toned hard-toe boots with the leather cleats. Today, it’s swinging a high-tech driver with “maximum forgiveness” for my inconsistent swipes at the dimpled sphere.

In between, I have played, coached and watched many a sporting event. If you had to rank them in terms of preference, playing is by far the top contender, with spectating a distant second.

What about coaching, you may ask? Well, I gotta say that for the most part, it was fun. However, there were some days when I felt like my heart was about to explode from my chest, especially when we were grossly overmatched and the other team just kept pouring it on. Yeah, CYC or not, there were some jerks across the playing field. But at least I can say I met the call when needed.

These fine days, I am privileged to be “Sideline Grampa”, thanks to my talented grandkids recent entries into the wild and wooly world of organized sport. I have a distinctly different perspective on this scene than during my days of competition. I can enjoy the process more, rather than fret about the result. I can ask the kids as they come off the field if they had fun, not “did your score?”, or “who won?”

And then toss them a buck for a snack at the “kickstand.” Over the years, I saw too many parents drive their kids into the ground with pressure. By the time the child hit their teens, he or she was either burnt out or had suffered injuries from overuse to the extent that they never met the promise exhibited in earlier years.

I recently heard of this phenomenon where some parents are holding their children back from starting kindergarten if they have a birthday in the summer months. It’s called “redshirting” after the practice of collegiate athletics that keeps a promising player in limbo for a year, extending their eligibility.

So parents redshirt their five-year-olds, trying to get them a leg up on the competition, both academically and athletically. Wow. Sad but true. I encourage parents of today’s burgeoning superstars to back off a bit. No need to train like your Manchester United, soccer dads. Take it easy on that boys arm, baseball managers. And this goes for girls, equally. They are built differently (really!), and their knees just don’t hold up like a guys.

Research says it has something to do with their hormonal development and wider hip structure. There is a glut of ACL (anterior cruciate ligament, supporting the knee) injuries in female athletes that far surpasses those of males. Something to look out for.I admit I was sometimes guilty of taking sports too seriously, and I do regret it. Yelling at refs, arguing calls… stupid, childish behavior, all of it.

And I know I was overbearing on the rides home, going over the “move you could have made”. After a game, few kids want to hear dad exhorting them to “play harder” or “take that guy out at second,” So, Parental Units of Future Stars”, here’s my advice, for what it’s worth. Ensure your kid is having fun. I know, you walk a fine line between how much to encourage and when to step back. It just seems that if they want more, they will ask for it.

However, if they are overwhelmed, they may not tell you for fear of your disappointment. And someday, they might just up and quit. Oh, and one more thought, for your own well-being… try to relish the process more than the final score. It’s something I’m still working on. After all, sports fans, they’re just children.


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