Taking a Sports Break Has Benefits
A look at why sitting out a sports season is a good thing.
Kenny and Kelly Hibbard’s family has spent every fall for the last decade coaching and playing football. The parents of three, including two athletic boys, define themselves as a sports family. Last fall they did something different: They took a break.
Since their oldest son Peyton Hibbard, now a freshman in college, started playing football in third grade, the fall season was filled with games on Fridays and Saturdays. With Kenny Hibbard serving as pastor of Team Church, Sundays are filled with obligations. Their commitments “wiped out his weekends,” she says.
“We realized that our youngest son Brady [now 11] had never been apple picking or to the mountains. We had been trapped in the football gauntlet for his entire life,” Kelly Hibbard says. “We decided it was unacceptable and that we needed a bit of a break. There are other things we want to do that are more important than sports.”
Clint and Kristi Lawrence came to a similar realization after the birth of their third child last year. Their 11-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son both play soccer in the fall, but this spring will be different as the Lawrences are taking a break for a season.
“Toting a baby to the field wasn’t the hard part,” Kristi Lawrence says. “We just felt that having the baby set off a sense of urgency for our older kids. We realized how short time was and how our time with the older kids was ending. We realized that we’re tired and don’t do anything on the weekends besides soccer, and we’re missing out on experiences that we want to do with our kids.”
Kim Cousar, football and baseball coach at Charlotte Latin School and previous coach at Butler High School, has noticed a change in sports during his 40 years of coaching.
“When I first started coaching, you generally had a two- to three-week break between sports,” Cousar says. “Even if you were a three-sport athlete, you had built in time away from anything. That was nice. It gave you a little break between seasons. Now, one season runs into the next. Kids walk off the football field and onto the next sport.”
Some of the change may be due to a shift in the reason why kids play sports, and an emphasis on getting a scholarship, but when you look at statistics, receiving a scholarship does not happen very often, he says.
According to a July 2016 NCAA recruiting facts report, about 2 percent of high school athletes receive athletic scholarships to compete in college, with a full-ride athletic scholarship being scarce.
Cousar recommends that parents encourage kids to play when they are passionate about a sport, but to also allow kids time to be kids. “If you take a kid and put him on travel team that goes out of town on a tournament seven or eight times in the summer, and they are practicing during the week, when does he get to be a kid? When does he get to play and develop in other ways? You’ve got to let kids be kids.”
As a parent, Kelly Hibbard has noticed this, as well. “People put a little too much emphasis on little kids’ sports. It’s not going to crush your child’s college career if you sit out a season,” she says. “With our first child, we did because this is what you do when your kids are in sports; you start playing and you just continue. Now, thanks to hindsight, we can see how it actually works, and we realize it’s really not necessary.”
Beating Burn Out
With fewer breaks, Cousar sees the negative effects on kids, such as burn out in their early teens and overuse injuries.
“Kids need time to get away from everything,” he says. “A few weeks off can be beneficial for a kid to recover and recuperate before heading into another sport. Mentally it takes some stress off as far as having to go out and practice every day and be focused. I think the mental break when you can relax and not be thinking about it, and focus on other things, is good for your mind.”
Breaking the news to your kids can be a daunting task, but as a parent be confident that the choice is best for your family, Kristi Lawrence says. “It takes courage to say no to your kids because they may not like the answer or they may not want to miss out,” she says. “If you feel like you’re going to disappoint your kids because they want something, that doesn’t mean you should give in to them.”
Kelly Hibbard realizes that the decision she and her husband made was probably not the one their 11-year-old son would have chosen, but by sitting out a season of football, the Hibbards were able to visit their oldest son in college, attend college football games, go camping, pick apples and take it easy.
“There have been moments when Brady has missed it. It’s possible he would’ve chosen football over our fall. But the break has been good,” she says. “It has meant a lot of sleeping in on Saturdays, and we’ve been able to be more casual and relaxed, which doesn’t happen otherwise.”
Meagan Church is a writer, children’s book author and the brainpower behind unexpectant.com, which explores the story of modern motherhood. She lives in Charlotte with her high school sweetheart, three children and a plethora of pets. Connect with her on Twitter (@unexpectant).