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Sports only add to academic growth

Athletic competition may not be for every student, but if your child wants to participate, you have many options.

By ERIC GERSHMAN
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 16, 2002


Parents: Do you know what's in your child's book bag?

Under the SpongeBob SquarePants thermos, you'll find a stack of sports signup notices.

We know you have questions.

We've assembled some answers.

* * *

Q: Youth sports cost money, my kid could get hurt, and I'm still traumatized from being picked last for third-grade kickball. Why should I let my kid play sports?

A: Children gain life skills from playing sports, says Scott Burkett, athletic director for the Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation Department. Benefits include motor skills and muscle development and lessons in teamwork and cooperation.

Costs vary widely, but many organizations allow wiggle room in cases of economic hardship.

"And a lot of leagues are willing to work with parents that can't afford it if they volunteer with the program," Burkett says.

* * *

Q: My kids want to play baseball and softball. My son is a little small. (His peers call him "Mini-Me"). His sister is overly tall and broad-shouldered. (Her peers call her "Mike Alstott.") Can they play outside their age divisions to compete against kids their size?

A: Rules for "playing up" or "playing down" vary widely. Generally, moving a child up is more allowable than moving down.

* * *

Q: We want to sign our kids up for soccer, but apparently there are 35 types to choose from. What's the difference between recreational, club, competitive and traveling teams? Will little Billy need a passport to play for Tony's Lawn Care and Cosmetic Dentistry's Fighting Vegans?

A: Basically, there are two types of youth league soccer: recreational and competitive. The latter is also called "club" or "traveling team" soccer.

Recreational is the youth-league format familiar to most parents: Kids play at one location every Saturday. Everyone gets to play. Costs are low. The season lasts less than six months.

In competitive play, prospective players try out for teams. Costs can be much higher. Participation is nearly year-round.

* * *

Q: We hear that every girl who plays high school soccer gets a college scholarship. Our Violet, a senior, is fourth-string fullback for the Central High Opossums' junior varsity. Knowing her future is assured, can we cash in the college fund for a three-month trip to Vegas?

A: Not so fast. Your kid still has to be fairly good. But it is relatively easy for female soccer players to get scholarships, says Adrian Bush, director of coaching for Hillsborough County United soccer club. Women have fewer competitors for soccer scholarships than men.

"There are a lot more full rides for women," Bush says.

How many of the 18 players on Bush's under-18 girls team will earn scholarships?

"All of 'em," she says.

* * *

Q: Won't after-school practices and games keep my kids from important duties such as homework, studying and stuffing envelopes for my home-based business?

A: It's rare to find examples where sports participation hinders academic success. Many parents make good grades a requirement for after-school activities.

* * *

Q: I've been shepherding my son's bowling career since he was 18 months old. Now he's 7 and he wants to play basketball and tennis. That's going to cut into his bowling time. How is he going to be the Tiger Woods of bowling if I let him play other sports?

A: "I would encourage your children to make their own decisions," Burkett says. "If little Billy says he wants to play football or soccer, let him play."

Burkett says parents err when they push children to specialize in a single sport. They miss out on full muscle and motor development.

"Let kids be kids and do what they want to do," he says.

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