It comes down to this. A growing number of ten and eleven-year-olds are being told that they must make a choice about their athletic careers.  They are told, “It’s either soccer or lacrosse. It’s either field hockey or lacrosse. … You can’t play both if you want to play at a higher level.”

The Start

How do our children choose at this age? How are they able to project into the future and anticipate which sport is going to be a better fit for them both from a performance and enjoyment perspective? Why should they have to choose between friend groups at this age? And what metrics do we have as parents to help guide them?

The Fear of Absence

I personally don’t think these forced choices are driven by an overall concern for the well-being and health of youth. Rather, these decisions are the result of the manipulation of our (parental) fears and ambition for the profit of the few.  We fear that if we say no to the elite travel team or the summer tournament that conflicts with family plans, we are closing the door on a potential gateway to sport achievement and excellence. Adding to this, we worry if they don’t play, they may lose touch with valued friends and ultimately feel bad about themselves not being a part of the elite team.

The Cost of Competition 

And what is the promise of participation on a travel team or in a critical summer or fall tournament? “If you pay the admission ($ x,000 for a season; $y,00 for a tournament ), you might increase your chances for admissions to a higher caliber college … maybe.”  Yet, does it really make sense for families to rearrange their weekend plans so their ten and eleven-year-olds can play in tournaments (up to 4 games in back to back days) in 100 degree weather on turf? Do youth sport athletes really need to practice 5 days a week, turning family dinners into a rare exception? Is this really what we think is best for our youth?

The Final Decision May Not Be Yours 

So, we as parents are caught between two untenable options. We are either depriving or hurting our children if we don’t sign up. This parental conundrum is an artifice of cultural pressures about what defines happiness and how do we get our kids there. There may be cases when our kids ultimately choose to play one sport as they get older, but these decisions should be influenced by what defines their health and happiness as opposed to some projected vision by someone else we hardly trust that specialization is the only way.


This article was adapted by Dr. Ginsburg’s original posting in the US Lacrosse website.

Dr. Richard Ginsburg
Dr. Richard D. Ginsburg is a clinical psychologist and sport psychology consultant. He is co-director of the Massachusetts General Hospital PACES Institute of Sport Psychology and is an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ginsburg also serves as staff psychologist in the Newton Wellesley Hospital Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department and is the director of Behavioral Health for the Boston Red Sox. Dr. Ginsburg offers a broad range of clinical services to children, adolescents and adults and conducts youth and professional sport research. He is author of the book, Whose Game Is It, Anyway, A guide to helping your child get the most from sports, organized by age and stage and has served as a sport psychology consultant for a variety of professional and college-level sports teams, including lacrosse, soccer, water polo and ice hockey at Harvard University. He is a member of the US Lacrosse Safety and Science Committee and provides talks and consultations nationally to youth, high school, and collegiate athletic programs. Dr. Ginsburg played lacrosse and soccer at Kenyon College, where he won all-conference and all-Midwest honors. He is also a former independent school teacher and coach. He lives with his wife, Teri, and their two children in Newton, Massachusetts.