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Are Kids' Sports Too Competitive?

Issue #2: Limited Exposure
The current emphasis on having very young kids train exclusively in one sport is even more problematic. As a strategy for excellence, it rarely works. "Most elite athletes have a history of playing many different sports, and there's a reason for that," explains Gould. "Each teaches something different: Soccer gives you foot skills; baseball teaches you eye-hand coordination. If my daughter plays softball and learns how to throw, for instance, she'll have a better serve in tennis."

In fact, what early specialization and training does seem to do isn't pretty. It can leave behind the less coordinated, the kids who start later, those whose parents can't afford the  extra expense, and those who need activity the most, the overweight. And it also puts physically talented kids, including some with the potential to go all the way, at high risk for premature burnout. Last year Jessica Takakjian's 11-year-old daughter was thrilled to be accepted by a highly competitive soccer team-but a grueling, relentless schedule quickly sapped the girl's enthusiasm. "There were practices four days a week, sometimes starting right after the school day ended, with a game every weekend and frequent tournaments," says the Los Angeles mom. "There was no time for my daughter to have friends over, take a dance class, play the piano, or do anything else, including homework. When the season ended, she told me, 'I don't want to play for this team anymore. I don't know if I want to play at all.'?" While the girl later changed her mind (and her team), other exhausted, overwhelmed kids simply give up by the time they're teenagers.