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.
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.