(Please forgive the "first-world problems" feel of this post.)
As my children have gotten older (they are now almost 10 and just a touch over 12), I have noticed a disturbing pattern that I may have been unaware in the past: specialization.
My daughter's into soccer. She plays in a youth sports group and they practice for about 1 hour once a week, play once a week and the season is only about 2 1/2 months long at a time. She plays probably 2-3 "seasons" a year. Though she is 12, most of the girls on her team are 10 and 11. They "play up". Playing up is based on the theory that if you raise the level of competition they will play to meet that challenge (or something like that).
Many of the girls on her team will probably leave in the next season or two to move into "club" soccer. Club soccer here is more . . . specialized. This is when teams practice 3-4 times a week for an hour or an hour and a half each practice and will play 2-3 games a weekend. They will also travel to surrounding areas (and in Texas that could mean 3+ hours of driving) and play in tournaments that go on for entire weekends (Saturdays and Sundays).
My son was participating in Tae Kwon Do and in tennis. A few months ago, he had to make a very difficult choice: he had to choose. He is 10 years old and he was being forced into specializing. As a 10 year old he would do tennis 2 times a week and then TKD 2 times a week and depending on visitation weekends, TKD sparring on Fridaysa and TKD tournament team on Saturdays or a tennis tournament. Tennis was 2 private lessons a week plus 'clinic' for a total of about 7 hours of tennis a week. This wasn't enough . . . his new schedule is tennis 4 days a week (about 10-12 hours a week) and an average of 2 tournaments a month (tournaments begin on Fridays and end on Sundays if you're playing well).
I look around and I see it amongst many of our friends: a 12 year old who plays club volleyball - tournaments are all weekend long and consist of many games per day, a 14 year old who is now home schooled so she can pratice tennis 8+ hours a day, and a 17 year old who has been taking tennis lessons for 12 years.
And this is just the sports side. I know children who practice piano 15-20 hours a week, a neighbor's child plays drums for school, church and 2 bands (he's 16) and on and on and on...
In all of these cases (and from personal experience) I have been told that kids HAVE to specialize if they want to remain competitive. Competitive for school, college, scholarships, professionally.
As parents we want what's best for our children.
We want opportunities for them that we didn't have.
We give them the best so they can be their best.
We want them to be competive and have an edge.
To have THE edge.
But what does that mean? And at what cost?