Corinne Henson, a mom in suburban Chicago, knows about those hard choices. Her sons, 11-year-old Tyler and 14-year-old Dylan, play year-round baseball on different traveling teams and also manage to squeeze in basketball and football for their local park district.
The boys do it because they love it — live for it, really.
‘‘I wouldn’t give up sports for anything,’’ Dylan says as he sits on the couch in his living room waiting for football practice to start.
‘‘Me either,’’ his younger brother quickly adds.
But there are sacrifices, especially for their parents. Time spent on sports has meant giving up their longtime campsite in Indiana where they'd kept a travel trailer. They simply have no time to go there.
‘‘Our vacations are baseball trips,’’ Henson says. She figures they spend several thousand dollars a year on travel, team fees and equipment. Often, one parent is taking Dylan to one game or practice, while the other parent carts Tyler to the other.
When they were younger, their boys regularly missed birthday parties and other events because of games. But the most difficult decision came earlier this year, when Dylan’s best friend was struck and injured by a hit-and-run driver.
Their town, Oak Forest, Ill., had a fundraiser for the friend in July. But Dylan, a catcher who is captain of his traveling baseball team, had four tournament games that day. He decided he had to be at the tournament, and showed up at the fundraiser as it was wrapping up.
His friend understood. ‘‘I would have done the same thing,’’ he told Dylan. The traveling team won the tournament, likely because Dylan stayed, his mom says.
‘‘But it’s so hard, as a parent.’’
Diane Hughes, a mom in New Jersey, also knows that many outsiders would look at her 10-year-old son’s travel-team baseball schedule and shake their heads.
‘‘It really sounds crazy, I know,’’ Hughes says.
It often means he has multiple three-hour practices each week, a 45-minute drive from their home. Weekend tournaments usually consist of four or five games. And, Hughes figures, she spends $5,000 to $6,000 a year so he can participate — an amount that is pretty standard and often more, especially for those who seek out elite training.
There are many positives, Hughes says.
‘‘In the long run, I want him to have his time structured, so I love the fact that he loves it so much. It’s exercise. It’s building a skill. It’s fun — and it’s fun to watch them,’’ Hughes says.
Her biggest concern? That, by the time he gets to high school, he'll be tired of baseball.
Back in Illinois, Henson works to keep her boys’ sports expectations in check.
‘‘They want the pro athlete dream more than I do, or my husband does,’’ she says. ‘‘It would be great if they got a scholarship for sports. But it would be better if they got a scholarship for academics. That’s what will get them further.’’
In the Henson house, the rule is simple: ‘‘Homework first,’’ says mom, who’s a teacher.
Jon Butler, executive director of Pop Warner Little Scholars, an international youth football and cheerleading program, says that’s a perspective he hears less and less.
‘‘The first several years I was here, our biggest concern was training coaches — the overzealous Vince Lombardi coach,’’ says Butler, who’s been in his position for more than 20 years. ‘‘That started to change in the late 1990s, when we started to be concerned with the overzealous parent.’’
In more recent years, he’s watched as parents have clamored to find ways to improve their children’s athletic prowess. He says his advice to them — ‘‘don’t hire a speed coach, hire a tutor’’ — is often met with disgust.
‘‘They respond like I've lost a few marbles along the way,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s not what they want to hear.’’
Bill Jaworski, a dad who’s also a youth baseball coach in New Jersey, says he is often ‘‘shocked and chagrined’’ at how easily some parents lose perspective about their kids’ sports.
‘‘These are people you see at the pub, or on the train, or out on the street. They’re just normal folks — and then you get them to the game and they turn into these rabid freakazoids,’’ says Jaworski, who’s also a philosophy professor at Fordham University.
Certainly, the pushy sports parent isn’t a new phenomenon, he and others note. But they can’t help but notice the increased intensity and heightened competitiveness, not just in sports but in life in general.
It’s just different than when he was a kid, Jaworksi says. He played baseball at the local park with friends or in the backyard. Today, he’s seeing kids as young as age 7 learning the skills at elite training facilities, some that focus on specific sports and others on overall fitness.Continued...