Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
What you need to know before you put your child on the field
By Michael Brindley
When your child is ready to step out on the field, there are plenty of options available for them to enter the world of organized sports. Most communities have a variety of sports to choose from in the public school athletic programs and through local parks and recreation departments. While participation in sports can be a positive experience for children of all ages, those who work with youth sports say parents need to make sure school work remains the top priority and not to push too hard.
Milford High School offers 27 sports and has 40 teams for its 950 students, said Marc Maurais, athletic director for the Milford School District. With two decades of working in high school athletics under his belt, Maurais has witnessed first-hand how being involved in athletics can lead to strong academic performance, while also building a sense of camaraderie and sportsmanship.
“Kids are learning how to balance playing the sport and taking care of all the responsibilities in their classes,” Maurais said. “If they’re not able to do that, then they may not be allowed to remain on team.”
Milford follows the academic standards established by the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, which means students have to maintain certain grades to be able to play. Maurais said for some kids, playing sports may be the only thing keeping them engaged in school. Students will sometimes slip academically after the season is over, but Maurais said coaches try to work with students through the year to make sure they are doing well in their classes.
One program in Milford that has risen in interest over the past few years has been track and field, Maurais said. He credits that to the school having built a new track and field facility three years ago, which includes a track, two full-length jumping pits and space for discus and javelin.
Taking part in sports can come at a cost, however. Some school districts facing budget crunches have had to implement a fee for high school sports, often referred to as “pay to play.”
Last year, the Nashua School District charged fees for the first time, with students paying as much as $500 for hockey. Most sports, such as baseball, basketball and football, fell into the $150 tier. Less expensive sports to operate, such as track and field, cost $50.
A survey conducted by the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association in the fall of 2008 found one-third of high schools have a fee for participation in sports. In the survey, 32 of the 92 NHIAA member schools said they were charging for some or all sports. Maurais said Milford hasn’t had to implement a user fee, something he is adamantly opposed to.
Parks and recreation options
For kids who don’t have time to dedicate to a school team, most cities and towns have parks and recreation programs offer several options for organized sports. There may be a minimal fee for participation to cover costs.
“We start kids in preschool right up through high school in different leagues,” said Barry Foley, who supervises the Portsmouth parks and recreation youth sports program. The city’s largest programs are soccer and basketball, he said. Last year, there were 160 boys playing in the teen basketball recreation league. Of late, there has been a boom in participation in lacrosse, Foley said.
There are 700 to 800 children participating in the soccer league run by Concord’s parks and recreation department, said director David Gill. The league starts for children as young as 4, he said. The department also offers basketball, as well as unique activities such as archery and tae kwon do. There is a $45 fee for Concord and Penacook residents to play sports.
Gill said one way parents can get more involved is by volunteering to coach. Parents who have the time and the willingness to learn the sport are encouraged to coach, he said. Background checks are run for any volunteers with the youth athletic department.
“You can get a lot more out of coaching,” Gill said. “You get to know the community and you get to know more of the kids.”
Keep it in perspective
Bill Toomey has coached youth sports in Nashua for 34 years. For him, the biggest advantage of playing sports is keeping kids off the streets, while also keeping them healthy and teaching them the importance of being part of a team. Many of the children he has coached in baseball and basketball have created friendships that have lasted a lifetime, he said. While youth sports have their benefits, Toomey starts out each season by making sure his teams have their priorities in the right order.
“It’s always family first, school second, your team third,” Toomey said. “It’s always been that way.”
Playing sports can help children do better in school by adding another support system, Toomey said. He often speaks with teachers of his players to make sure they are keeping up with their school work and not letting sports distract them from what’s important.
“They see we’re interested in the kids,” Toomey said. “A lot of the kids need that extra support. Some of them might find it easier to talk to us than to someone at the school about what’s going on in their lives.”
Toomey said it’s important for parents to keep the right perspective when supporting their children in sports. The wrong approach is to put too much pressure on them to do well, he said. Parents should be there to cheer on their child, as well as the whole team, but don’t take it too seriously, he said. It’s the kids who are pressured to perform well that often have the trouble balancing sports and school and quitting sports altogether, he said.
“Not every kid is going to grow into a superstar,” Toomey said. “Just let them enjoy the game.”
The most challenging task for a parent can be deciding when their child is ready to play and what sports to get them involved in. Maurais is going through that process now as a parent and said the key is to be a guide for your children, while letting them make decisions about what sports to play. Parents need to make sure their children aren’t overextending themselves and losing focus on what’s important, he said.
“The real is key is communication. You want to make sure they’re in it for the right reasons, that they’re enjoying the sport, having fun, and that you’re not living through your child,” Maurais said.
Foley agreed that it needs to be up to the children to decide what sports to play. It’s also important to keep an open mind with sports you may not be familiar with. He did with his two daughters, who each play three sports, including field hockey and lacrosse. His oldest daughter is going to college this fall, where she will play field hockey for the school.
“Let them do what they want to do and feel most comfortable with,” Foley said.
Dealing with injuries
Injury is always a risk when your child is participating in organized sports. One of the most dangerous injuries can be concussions, which can have long-lasting effects if not treated properly. It’s estimated more than 140,000 high school athletes in America suffer a concussion each year, according to the National High School Sports Injury Surveillance System. There are some sports that are more prone to severe injury. While concussions are most common in football, lacrosse, soccer, wrestling and basketball also present a risk. Symptoms of a concussion include headache or pressure in the head, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, blurry vision, light sensitivity and memory problems.
The Center for Disease Controls has several publications intended to help young athletes and parents address concussions appropriately. If diagnosed, the most important thing is to give the brain time to heal.
“Repeat concussions can increase the times it takes for you to recover and may cause more damage to your brain. It is important to rest and not return to play until you get the OK from your health care professional that you are symptom-free,” reads a CDC guide for high school athletes.
There are private sports conditioning programs young athletes can utilize. Milford, like many schools, has a part-time athletic trainer on staff to make sure athletes are doing what they should to prevent injury, but also treat those that do come up. Maurais said the most common injuries are ankle sprains and knee injuries, though it depends on the sport. Wear and tear can become an issue for athletes who start playing at a young age. Maurais said the school takes concussions seriously. Families are starting to understand the significance of concussions and making sure athletes stay off the field so they can recover.
“You just can’t take any changes with that. It’s not worth it,” Maurais said.
Michael Brindley is an award-winning journalist. Check out his education column in the Nashua Telegraph.
Last updated by Morgen Thiboult Aug 29, 2011.