Let’s Put the ‘Play’ Back in ‘Play Ball’

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As a native Pittsburgher, I grew up in an athletic environment (and loved every minute of it). From competitive cheerleading to three types of formal dance instruction, baseball, basketball, street hockey, track and more, my own family and our fellow community members were deeply entrenched in sports and athleticism throughout our childhoods. If there wasn’t an organized sporting event happening at a given moment, you could rest assured there was some type of pick-up game taking place somewhere in our neighborhood.

Many towns were similar to ours as we played our way through the decades of the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, I think it’s safe to say our lives revolved around sports back then. Much has changed, especially regarding youth sports. My children are very athletic and our family has followed a similar pattern to my own childhood in that we always have one or more kids playing some form of organized sport at any given time and if there’s not an official sporting event happening, you’re likely to find my kids and their friends organizing one of their own in our yard or at a local playground.

Nationwide, however, this is not the case. In recent years, there has been an approximately 70 percent dropout rate where organized youth sports are concerned. Do you find that as shocking as I did? It means that out of every 100 kids who join a particular sports team, 70 of them walk away and don’t come back. Why?

Could it be that adults have ruined it for the kids? Many sports are no longer fun but have become intensely pressure-filled, demanding activities where kids as young as 13 are being pushed to choose their colleges and focus on nothing but excelling in their chosen sports. Talk about stress! What was once an opportunity for fun, exercise, learning and community spirit has evolved into a highly competitive, ruthless race to snag a scholarship.

One college in particular recently recruited an eighth-grade girl. Not only did Syracuse University officials reportedly actively pursue this child, they somehow convinced her parents and her to issue a verbal agreement to play Lacrosse for their school. She’s 13! I know plenty of seniors in high school who still can’t decide where (or if) they want to go to college or what their post high school goals are in life much less placing such a weighty decision on a child who has not yet graduated elementary school.

Another child, age 10, was a superstar pitcher on the baseball field until he tore an elbow ligament when he was 16. His father later blamed himself that his son suffered physically because of what he had allowed (and encouraged) him to do at such a young age. This man admits he was caught up in the prestige and glory of it all, and continually pushed his son to do more when he should have been making sure he rested his young arm, not to mention had time to simply enjoy being a kid.

There’s also myriad evidence to show it’s far better, physically, on young bodies to play a number of different sports rather than focus sole attention on one. It’s difficult for kids to do this, however, when their coaches threaten to toss them from their teams if they participate in any other sports. (I know this to be true as I have witnessed it at the school where my children participate in sports.)

It’s no secret that many adults in western society are greatly afflicted by sedentary lifestyles. More shocking, and perhaps more dangerous is the fact that many children are becoming sedentary as well. The current youth generation is slated to be the first in history that does not outlive its parent generation.

Maybe if we put the ‘play’ back into ‘play ball’ more kids will stick with sports, less injuries will occur and children nowadays will go back to creating similar countless memories of shared experiences on baseball diamonds, basketball courts and empty corner lots that so many adults in my generation cherish.


Writer Bio: Judy Dudich

Judy Dudich resides in the beautiful woods of Pennsylvania, where 24 acres of land and a home-office provide the perfect setting for her children’s home-education and her own homesteading and business ventures. Life is full of blessings (and challenges!) for Judy, as a wife, mother of 10 and Grammy to six. She is a published author, whose book, “I Surrender/A Study Guide for Women” continues to encourage and support others in Christian family lifestyles throughout the world. Judy has also previously worked in the online speaking circuit. Her passion for permaculture, re-purposing, foraging and organic gardening fills her days with learning and adventure that she loves to share.

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