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Watching Kids Play Sports Can Be Tough For Some Safety-Conscious Parents

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My first-born son, Taylor (granted, he is only older than his two triplet brothers by a minute!), has taken up a new sport: Ice climbing. He loves it, but I have to say I am less than thrilled. Should I worry?

I am often asked by safety-conscious parents for advice on how to be less nervous watching their children play sports. The questions come from first-time sports dads watching their children play sports against bigger kids to moms who admit to biting their nails during their sons' wrestling matches and football games.

I even have a small file of e-mails from parents who refuse to watch their children play sports at all. I always find these e-mails sad. For me watching my triplet sons and their friends - whether it was on the baseball diamond, lacrosse field, soccer pitch or football gridiron - was almost always a joy. Sure, there were times when I worried about their physical safety (particularly when it came to watching Spencer play football). I think all parents worry and it wouldn't be natural if they didn't.

For years I have been responding to e-mails from worried parents by reminding moms that it is perfectly natural for them to be concerned about their child's safety playing sports because moms have been the "guardians of children at play" since prehistoric times and by suggesting that it didn't do any good to worry about what, in all likelihood, was an injury that wasn't going to happen.

I give the same advice to dads, even if most of their e-mails weren't about their nervousness around watching their kids play. I also tell them about the short meditation/prayer that I used to say before their games: "Please let my children play strong and smart, be fair and have fun." I decided early on in my time as a sports parent that accidents do happen but most of them can be prevented if the kids play smart and the adults running the program have done their homework.

An experienced rock climber

But what about my concern about Taylor's ice climbing? It's not like he's a novice climber. He climbs almost every day, whether outdoors or indoors on a rock climbing wall at a gym. He has gone rock climbing in New Zealand, South Africa and all over the United States from Alabama to Colorado, Tennessee to New York, New Hampshire to Massachusetts. 

While he does not recall much of his very early rock climbing "career" I have great pictures of him climbing on stone walls in Connecticut when he was less than two years old and later at the age of four in the Great Falls National Park in Virginia. Taylor, Spencer and Hunter Great Falls 1985

Later, he spent a couple of summers at a camp in the Adirondacks hiking and mountain climbing, and two summers in high school climbing, dirt biking, and kayaking in the West. It wasn't until he was attending Skidmore College in upstate New York that he fell in love with rock climbing.

Wake-up call

Now a grown young man, he is on his own. I rarely worry about him because I know he is smart and cautious. The one time he had a very serious fall was in Ithaca New York when he fell down a deep gorge, landing in the water barely able to swim because of a serious gash in his calf. The wound later became seriously infected.

Fortunately, the accident was a real wake-up call. Taylor realized that it was entirely preventable. He was climbing without ropes, at night. Amazing how a brush with death will teach you valuable lessons.

Fact is that I have only watched Taylor climb in person only once since he was a little boy. (It has more to do with the day- or week-long treks that he and his climbing buddies take together to the best climbing spots, which are usually deep in the woods and far from the beaten-path, than my apprehension). 

It was on a trip to Arizona we took together a couple of years ago when I was promoting my book. We took a hike out into a canyon. I was glad Taylor was there to protect us from the rattlesnakes and delighted that all those summer wilderness adventures that I sent him on when he was a teenager had paid off! 

An extreme sport?

Recently, I was filling out a life insurance form to obtain a rate quote and one of the things I had to check off were answers to a question in big, black bold letters asking: Do you engage in any of the following activities? Underwater diving? Motor racing? Aerial Sports (ballooning, parachuting, sky diving, hang gliding). Rock Climbing? Taylor rock climbing in South Africa

While I am mesmerized when watch the videos of Taylor and his friends rock climbing all over the world (well ... at least most of the time), I guess the bottom line is that I am not all that comfortable with the knowing that he has taken up ice climbing.

But, perhaps I shouldn't worry. After all, ice climbing wasn't on the list! 

Are your children involved in extreme sports? How to you handle the stress and worry?

Taylor has posted a great a question in our forums: If the vast majority of deaths and injuries in youth sports take place in traditional sports, shouldn't these sports be labeled as "extreme" just as much as the so-called extreme sports?

What do you think? Are extreme sports safer than other sports?