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
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
"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
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. …