These days, middle-class families run ragged by their kids’ competitive-sports schedules are achingly common across America: Weekends are devoured by tournaments and practice, family dinners replaced by mandatory strength-training sessions, and vacations forever postponed. During my five years of researching and writing about youth sports for my book Take Back the Game, I heard so many variations of these stories, and the burden on burned-out teenagers is clear. Less obvious is the effect of relentless overtraining on the rest of the household. In the ever-earlier scramble to develop their kids’ athletic skills, mothers and fathers frequently find themselves giving up the integrity of the family as a whole.
In my observation, this is most common among competitive club sports, which for many kids begin during elementary school and extend through high school. For all the evidence that shows how exercise and sports benefit children, comparatively little research exists on