Child athletes.

Did any of you read “The Uneven Playing Field” in the NY Times Magazine?

I thought a lot about this article, and the subsequent interview on NPR, and whether or not my daughter was playing too much soccer already, at eight years old.  B loves soccer.  I coached her teams the first couple of years and loved it, but she really didn’t pay much attention to me.  (Ok, she WAS three when she started, but she really ran around in circles and picked dandelions behind the goal).  Now, she’s 8, on a premier, elite girls team and had a 4 game tournament this weekend, about two hours from home, in a 157 team event.  She enjoys it more than ever this year, does twice weekly practices and attends one or two yearly soccer day camps.  All events which she requests and enjoys participating in.  Her team is now on hiatus for a little bit, post tourney, until she starts again in the fall, indoors, with the same team.  


After her first game at the tournament-90 degree heat and only two subs, not withstanding.

After her first game at the tournament-90 degree heat and only two subs, not withstanding.



This article, written by Michael Sokolove author of the book Warrior Girls, was a huge eye-opener for me. It offers evidence of the harm that is being caused to young girls bodies, by the continual practice/play of one sport, year-round.  Granted, my girl isn’t non-stop on that one sport all year, but it’s pretty intense.  So I’m going to start more actively “cross-training” with her.  Make sure we get our bike rides and roller blades and swims in, shoot some hoops and play some volleyball.  Work out those muscle groups that she doesn’t use as much in soccer, and give her “soccer muscles” some rest.  She loves doing all these things, I’ll just be a little more aware that she’s not so soccer driven.  And she’s not going to play on the city league that starts in a couple weeks, during her time off from her team.

From “The Uneven Playing Field”:

Anson Dorrance, the women’s soccer coach at the University of North Carolina, is a fierce critic of the tournament system, which he says began when the women’s game was young and good teams had to travel to find strong competition. “But now,” he told me, “everybody’s got a tournament. There’s the Raleigh Shootout, the Surf Cup in Southern California, and ding, ding, ding, they’re everywhere.” Dorrance was animated, his words coming out in a rush. “So now girls are going somewhere every two or three months and playing these inordinate number of matches. And you know what? They’re playing to survive. And the survival is not just the five games in three days. It’s the two or three weeks following. They’ve got a niggling this and niggling that — sprained ankles, swollen knees, aching backs. They were overplayed and they never rested. But part of what’s developing is this question of who’s tough enough, who can play through it?”

So what’s the answer?  The article points out that building up supporting muscles and proper conditioning and injury prevention training would be a huge help-but not many coaches are willing to “waste” valuable time on these concepts-refusing to take away time from other skills, such as shooting, learning plays, and running.  It is up to the parents to be sure that these things are done, but where is this time going to come from, when the kids are already at practice?  This part of sporting should be included in the actual sporting practices themselves.  During their off-field times, these kids need to be just that…kids.

Please moms of daughters (who tend to be more prone to these types of injuries because of our differing musculature), read these two articles and let’s brainstorm.  I want my girl to get to enjoy her soccer for years to come.  Without injury.


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kelly
    Jul 14, 2008 @ 14:15:43

    I will have to read the article as it is a big concern for me as well. My daughter’s sport is competitive gymnastics. She started at three as a fun thing to do at the YMCA while her older brother was in swim class. She took to it instantly and has been full throttle ever since. She absolutely loves it. Lives for it. She just turned 12. Her body is amazing and so far she has avoided serious, nagging, injuries. But her sport is year round, she is in the gym four times a week, 3-4 hours each, and during competition season those are added in 2-3 times per month for 5 months. (Included in that gym time is one hour of yoga each week.) I look at the older(teen) girls at her gym and see their ankles, knees, wrists all wrapped up. I wonder when it will start for her. It is scary. Several years ago there was a documentary about young girls and gymnastics and the toll it takes on their bodies, I didn’t see it but co-workers at the time were beating me up about as if I were an abusive mother. She loves it, excels in it, and it is part of who she is. We just try to do everything we can to keep her healthy and balanced with her diet and a variety of physical activities.

    She is also quite the runner, participating in is junior level cross country and track, and is very successful at it. But it is definitely something that she does more for fun. At home she is busy with swimming, biking, frisbee and basketball. She also loves reading, sudoku, puzzles and her church activities. She’s a straight- A student. No couch potato, that’s for sure.

    It does seem like organized sports keeps getting started younger and younger.


  2. Shannon
    Jul 14, 2008 @ 14:32:46

    Hey Kelly-you’re still there! 🙂
    Your daughter sounds amazing and it also sounds as if she is pretty well-rounded. The yoga is an excellent addition to her work out regimen, which just might be what she needs to stretch those supporting muscle groups and keep her body “well-oiled”. It’s hard to know, how much is “too much” when your own child enjoys it and wants to keep on with it!


  3. Kelly
    Jul 14, 2008 @ 18:18:26

    Yes, I am still here! Keeping up on your blog, and enjoying all you have to say, especially about B. I have had a lot of distractions lately and have often been sidetracked before I get a chance to comment. Well, then add in some lazy summer days….. and there you have it.

    Keep up the great job on your blog!


  4. jenn3
    Jul 14, 2008 @ 21:34:57

    I’m certainly not the expert, as my daughter is only two, but it’s something that I’ve thought about already. I definately don’t want to push my daughter into any sports or activities that she doesn’t want to do, but if she enjoys something (like it sounds like your daughter does) then I want to encourage it. I’m glad I read this post. I’ll file it away in the back of my brain somewhere and five years from now, I’ll remember and try to keep my daughter well rounded. Sounds like you’re doing a great job. (I also think girls with interests like this are less likely to get into trouble as teens.)


  5. pisceshanna
    Jul 16, 2008 @ 10:19:45

    Yeah this made me think of the whole hysteria surrounding high school baseball, and how they now broadcast games on ESPN. I mean does a 15 year old really deserve to deal with that amount of pressure? Or in Friday Night Lights…an 18 year old has the responsibility of carrying the reputation of his whole town??? I think its great to be athletic, but really they are just kids, not mini-pros. Its a good thing your daughter has you to back her up and keep her sane.


  6. Juicebox mom
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 14:06:17

    Nice Post! Michael Sokolove has also written a book called Warrior Girls-Protecting our Daughters from sports injuries (or something very close to that). I wrote a two part review/opinion on it on my blog last month. My daughter is also playing high level soccer and has had knee injuries in the past so I’m constantly worried about it. The book goes into a lot of detail about the ACL tears and reconstruction, etc..and a little bit about how you can prevent the injuries in the first place. Good Luck with your daughter and soccer 🙂 I enjoy your blog.


  7. martin miller,dc
    Sep 27, 2010 @ 11:51:19

    A wealth of good information. Sports injuries for children both young boys and
    more so, now, for young girls can cause permanent problems in later years.
    It is unfortunate that enthusiastic parents don’t get better information of what
    some of overuse and abuse can do to young bodies.
    The extremities may initially take the abuse however the accumulative effect
    is usually on the spine.


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