Fundamental: Focus Changing in Children's Sports

Article excerpt

St. Louis area youngsters have turned to organized sports in record numbers, as more and more teams stretch their playing seasons longer into the year.

That scores a need for more attention for the emotional and psychological aspects of organized sports, experts say. The competition can be overwhelming.

"We find sometimes we are literally teaching kids how to play in the fun sense of the word," said Jerry Ehrlich, assistant director of health and physical education at the Jewish Community Centers Association just north of Creve Coeur.

"You don't have as many pickup sandlot games as you used to."

Last weekend, St. Mary's Health Center in Richmond Heights held a workshop for area coaches featuring Dr. Andrew T. Pickens, a psychiatrist and director of behavioral medical services.

Pickens told participants that organized sports, when properly focused, provide healthy exercise and build social skills such as working for the good of a group.

He said giving better athletes more playing time is appropriate for children over age 12.

"And it prepares them for the real world, where there is competition and not everyone automatically gets to play," he said.

As sports schedules lengthen:

Some players find themselves lacing skates on an ice rink in Creve Coeur in September - the same month they put on cleats to play soccer on grass fields in Bridgeton.

Soccer, traditionally a fall sport, now extends to eight months a year, as some leagues go indoors in winter at Brentwood and Chesterfield facilities.

The Webster Groves Hockey Association runs September through March. Three years ago, the association had seven teams with 15 players. This year, there are 20 teams.

Competition aside, some centers, clubs, camps and leagues focus on having a good time and learning.

Every child in a JCCA league earns a trophy - regardless of the score, Ehrlich said.

The YMCA of Greater St. Louis, with 16,500 kids participating in organized sports, has a firm rule that every child plays half the game.

"Kids are first, and winning comes second," said Jim Pacey, physical director of the West County YMCA.

Everyone ties in organized sports at Camp Esteem, a summer program at Barnes Hospital for young teens from both sides of the river.

Meg Marian, a recreational therapist at the camp, said: "We don't keep score. We just talk about having fun. And we all make mistakes. That is part of learning"

Bill Bommarito is president of the athletic association at St. …