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Sports columnist Fred Bowen offers parting words of advice

Bowen has written for KidsPost since it started in April 2000. He has learned a lot — especially about youth sports.

Children celebrate a goal during a soccer game. Fred Bowen advises kids not to specialize in one sport before high school. Instead, they should play a variety of sports for fun and to avoid burnout and overuse injuries. (iStock)
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My first KidsPost column appeared April 14, 2000. Legendary quarterback Tom Brady was drafted by the New England Patriots on April 16, 2000.

That means I have been writing my weekly kids’ sports column longer than Brady has been part of the National Football League.

It also means I have been thinking about kids and sports for almost 23 years. Longer really. I had written nine of my 27 kids’ sports books before I started the column and coached more than 30 kids’ sports teams.

So I thought for my last column (KidsPost will end after tomorrow), I would write about what I have learned about kids’ sports.

● Kids should not play one sport year-round before high school. Young athletes should play a variety of sports so they have fun and avoid burnout and overuse injuries.

This isn’t just me talking. The American Academy of Pediatrics — a well-respected group of kids’ doctors — advise against sports specialization. Parents and coaches should listen to them.

● Kids don’t need to travel to faraway tournaments to have fun. If you don’t believe me, consider what kids have said.

A study by George Washington University identified 81 things (called fun determinants) that made sports fun. They asked young athletes to rate how important each thing was to their enjoyment of playing organized sports. The players rated “playing in tournaments” and “traveling to new places to play” as only the 58th and 71st most-important fun determinants.

● Kids and their parents should be more realistic about the chances of getting a college athletic scholarship. My son is the head baseball coach at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Parents often ask him, “How good do you have to be to play Division I college baseball?”

Liam explains that high schools usually have about 16 players on their baseball team. Only 3 percent of high school baseball players go on to play in college. Fewer play at the highest (Division I) level. “So,” Liam tells the parents, “your son should be the best player in almost every game he plays.”

It’s the same with most sports. I don’t mean to discourage anyone, but it is best to enjoy your teams and games now and not focus on playing in college or the pros.

● Be grateful. Kids are lucky to play sports and have fun. So be sure to thank your coaches, referees and all the parents who bring snacks.

In keeping with that piece of advice, I want to thank the folks at The Washington Post for letting me write for KidsPost. I hope we helped some kids become lifelong readers.

Finally, I want to thank all my editors and especially my current editor, Christina Barron. They were all first-class professionals.

My last piece of advice to all my young readers? Keep reading and play ball!

Bowen is the author of 27 sports books for kids ages 7 to 12. His next book — “Off the Bench” will be published in March. Find out more at