Academics vs. Sports For Kids and Teens


I know a family, a high achieving family, here in Texas but formerly from the same area we lived in Connecticut. (How's that for a small world?)

At a party one night the father was talking about his family's priorities. The parents are well educated. All the kids are smart. The firstborn is at a top college, listed just behind the Ivies in the reputation and rankings. The second is the valedictorian at our 4000 student high school. The other youngers are smarty-pants also. They all play sports too. The two olders, at least, are leadership types, role models to their peers, and good kids too.

I missed the beginning of the conversation so I don't know why this was being said but he said that academics comes first. He then told about one kid who is in two intense travel teams at the same time. Her goal is to play the sport at a Division I college later. He said that he worried of priorities but that he told his kids so long as they keep their grades up high then they can do the sport. If their grades floundered then they would not be allowed to do the sport. He sounded very high and mighty. On the surface I found myself agreeing.

Then I realized that his kids are different than mine, and different than those other kids. None of his kids has struggled with a learning disability or with medical problems. Learning comes easily to them and the school way of learning is a cinch for them. Good for them. Yes, I'm envious. Wouldn't anyone like to be parents to those type of easy-to-parent and easy-to-educate kids?

I used to say academics was our top priority but truth be told this has been a rough two years, and the sport team for my older son has been very important to his self-esteem and to his social life. Being homeschooled in this new place when it's hard to make new friends in the homeschool community at the high school level means he cannot rely on homeschoolers for his peer group. This year there have been times when I think the only good thing my son has felt he had in his life was the sports team and his friends there. When he struggled to learn and felt he was a failure academically what kept him going was the sport. The physical outlet was also good for releasing stress as well as being good for his physical health. If we had removed doing the sport, it would have been a disaster for our son. If we removed it now in order to make more time for learning it would be horrendous also.

Life is about balance. I think it is unhealthy to strive for excellence in one aspect of a child's life to the detriment of others. I couldn't stand the parenting philosophy of the Tiger Mom. She put academics first and her girls never saw friends after school and never had a sleepover. Tiger Mom's daughters did not do sports (until the crisis of the younger daughter, which led to tennis being explored).

There is so much good that comes of being on a sport team, and the year-round nature of my son's team amplifies this further. He is with the same co-ed peer group four seasons a year, about 50 weeks a year, for 15-20 hours a week. He sees them socially also, for about once a month social events. A lot of bonding happens on the travel weekends for competitions.

I am trying for balance in my kid's lives. I want them to do well academically but not if it means bad physical health, such as operating on sleep deprivation or getting sick due to emotional stress or developing mental illnesses. When the problems happen from academics then something has to give. Balance should be a necessary part of everyone's lives. Period.
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