NFL Evolution will feature a guest columnist every Tuesday, each with a different viewpoint of player health and safety from the youth level to pro football.
By Amanda Rodriguez, NFL Evolution columnist
A few weeks go my 10-year-old son came to me and said he thinks he wants to play lacrosse this spring.
After I silently cursed the added cost of a new sport in my mind, I smiled at him happily and said, "Ummm, okay. Lacrosse. Gosh. Wow, okay. Sure!"
I began putting out feelers, asking friends and neighbors about where they play and when they start and how much money this adventure is going to set me back.
After shooting around a bunch of emails and finding someone to loan him a used stick for a clinic, I told him we were ready to do this thing. My joy at saving money on buying a bunch of gear was overshadowed by his apprehension.
When I asked him why he wasn't jumping for joy over this development, he dropped his head and quietly said, "Mom, I don't think I should play lacrosse."
My immediate response was to yell, "WHAT? YOU DON'T WANT TO PLAY LACROSSE?! BUT I JUST SPENT $50 ON A STUPID CLINIC AND 4 DAYS FINDING YOU SOME CRUDDY OLD SHOULDER PADS TO PLAY IN!"
Fortunately my awesome mom instincts kicked in and instead, I pulled him in for a hug and said, "What do you mean you don't want to play? We're all signed up. You seemed super excited before. What changed?"
Never one to doubt his awesome, he looked up and said, "I'm scared I won't be good enough. Everyone else has been playing for like ever. And, I'm new. And, what if I stink? I should probably stick to what I'm already good at."
Whoa. Ten years old and afraid that he will be out played by a bunch of fourth-grade lacrosse players?
But, in today's youth sport leagues, a legitimate concern. We know plenty of parents who signed their child up for soccer at 3 and have spent the last 10 years doing clinics and camps and elite training sessions. They saw a teeny spark of interest and a smidgen of ability and glommed onto that to create a mini soccer wannabe superstar.
I get going with what you know and supporting your kids' passion, but this type of specialization at such a young age seems short-sighted to me.
First, 3 year olds don't really have a passion that extends beyond Jake and the Neverland Pirates, do they? They can't know what they're going to love when they're 6 or 16, they can't even know what they're gonna love next Tuesday.
Also, if your child has an awesome left foot and speed on the soccer field at 3, think of what he might do in football, or basketball, or lacrosse!
My boys always have been multi-sport athletes. This year alone they will be involved in football, soccer, baseball, basketball, swimming and possibly, lacrosse.
Three kids, six sports, my life is chaos.
But worth it.
I encourage my boys to be active in sports because it keeps them healthy and they enjoy them. They like being competitive with themselves, each other and others. They enjoy pushing their bodies and developing their skills. They appreciate the friendship and camaraderie being a member of a team provides. And, I want them to associate all of this positivity with being physically active to help create a lifelong habit of physical fitness.
I don't care if they are the best in their league or even on their team. I'm not waiting for their athletic performance to pay for their education and I don't think they will be the next Kaepernick-Curry-Phelps-Ronaldo-other-super-sports-star person. They're not, I know that.
So when I see my 10 year old doubting himself and feeling afraid to try something new because he's inexperienced at, it makes me sad. Not only for him but for all of the other kids who have spent so much time focusing on one single thing that they haven't gotten the opportunity to try all of the things. Or be all of the things. Or at least, dream about all of the things.
We've always wanted our boys to keep their options open. We've encouraged them to try anything they were interested in (including gymnastics, karate, piano, and against my better judgment, the drums). We want them to not only develop into strong, creative, well rounded athletes, but more importantly even, into strong, creative, well rounded human beings. Which, in my opinion, is a much more significant life goal.
If they specialize in anything before they reach adulthood, I certainly hope it's that.
Amanda Rodriguez is a humor and lifestyle blogger at DudeMom.com. In addition to having a loose grip on reality, Amanda enjoys traveling to far off lands (or, not so far off lands) with her family and cheering herself hoarse on the sidelines of her sons' games. They will thank her one day, she's certain.