Should your kids take a break from playing sports?

SEATTLE -- If your school-age kids play sports, they join 45 million youth across the nation who play organized games.

But by the age of 15 a whopping 80% of those kids quit, according to Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine. Many surveyed say they just got burned out.

This summer at Q13 News in a series called ‘Safe Summer’ we tackle the question -- should your kids take a break from playing sports?

“It can be hard when there’s fast pitches because it can be hard to get my timing right,” said 19-year-old Mahal Domingo-Anderson.

It’s ten-year-old Mahal’s best hit all season.  It came in his Little League Championship game with his family cheering him on.

“As of late, my son’s had some wonderful playoff little league baseball experiences I think he’ll remember forever,” said parent Colin Anderson.

He plays baseball for a season, but Mahal plays soccer all year long.

“It’s really fun because I get to know the people that I play with really, really well,” said Mahal.

Data shows more kids are just like Mahal playing year round sports.

“Kids are more overscheduled, they’re focusing on a sport,” said UW Sports Medicine Physician Dr. Brian Krabak.

More practices, more games and matches, and more injuries is something UW Sports Medicine Physician Dr. Brian Krabak sees it firsthand.

“If you’re a soccer player we’re concerned about ACL types of injuries. If you’re a swimmer you’re more likely to get shoulder or lower back pain. If you’re a basketball player we’re more concerned with ankle or knee injuries,” said Dr. Krabak.

And it’s those injuries he sees in more kids now than ever before.  Dr. Krabak says focusing on one sport or specializing instead of kids playing different sports limits their ability to develop naturally.

“Kids are very vulnerable at a time when they get to the 10, 11, 13 where their bodies are really starting to grow in regards to length and height and strength,” said Dr. Krabak.

But no matter how much or how little your kids play, he argues rest is key.

“They should have one to two times a week where they’re resting and they should take two to three months off per year from a specific sport,” said Dr. Krabak.

But it’s not just concerns for injuries.  Sports Psychologist Craig Stone argues a youth athlete’s mind is just as fragile, so parents need to check-in and evaluate.

“A parent wants to love their child and have an open dialogue of communication,” said Sports Psychologist Craig Stone.

But Stone labels three kinds of parents who are hindering that positive relationship: a helicopter always hovering, a flight deck parent who is just too involved, and a pressure cooker parent who puts too much pressure on the kid.

“What hat am I in here? Am I in supportive hat? Or am I in coach hat?” asked Stone.

A study in 2008 reveals there’s a mismatch between what kids and parents think.

“The child rated the experience of parent’s pressure far higher than the parents rated how much pressure they’re exerting on the child.  So that was a key indicator,” said Stone.

Stone says look for changes in behavior and body language and ask open-ended questions.

“What was your experience like? How did you feel when you were competing? What did you think of it,” said Stone.

Answers to those questions can help decide if kids are still into it.

“Two things: fun and enjoyment via sport participation,” said Stone.

If they aren’t having fun and enjoyment anymore, it may be time to take a break or pull the plug on their sports career altogether.

“If he ever said he didn’t want to do it, then that’d be ok.  That’d be it,” said Anderson.

It’s a no-brainer for parent Colin Anderson.  Even Mahal says he’s not interested in playing forever.  He’s got bigger plans.

“I’d probably consider being an ornithologist, too,” said Mahal.

That’s right!  Mahal wants to be a professional birdwatcher trading in the bat for binoculars.