I’m sure you, as I, have heard refrains about the good ol’ days. “When I was a kid, we’d play baseball with the neighborhood kids,” or “Back then, kids didn’t have video games. They went outside until it was dark out,” or some other variation.
The implication being: We were awesome at sports, and this generation is too plugged in.
But the problem might be something different. The problem with youth athletics, as we’ve written about before, could be the parents.
What is it about youth sports parents?
As the Washington Post recently reported, total participation in youth athletics is down 4 percent between 2014 and 2009 — and the total number of sports played is down 10 percent. So fewer kids are playing fewer sports.
“Some of the drop-off is attributable to the recession, particularly in low-income urban areas. But experts fear larger socioeconomic forces are in play, especially in the suburbs, where the shift to elite competition over the past two decades has taken a growing toll: Children are playing fewer sports, and the less talented are left behind in recreational leagues with poor coaching, uneven play and the message that they aren’t good enough. Seventy percent of kids quit sports by age 13.”
So what is it about youth sports parents and the way they are handling their student-athletes that is continuing to make headlines? There are a few key areas where many parents across the country are notorious for putting the pressure on, which we want to take a look at.
A caveat: No, this isn’t all parents. (#notallparents?) And yes, parents everywhere love their children and want them to succeed.
But these debates arise because we’re all feeling the same tensions: the pressure, the expense, the expectations of youth athletics. Although we can’t fix large issues that might be contributing to lower rates of youth athletics participation like the economy or unequal distribution of wealth, at least we can work together to make sure that young athletes are benefiting from their sport, and are having a fun time doing it.
So with that in mind, here are the top three practices parents are implementing with their student-athletes to contribute to this decline in participation and rise in burn-out.
Having your son or daughter specialize too early (read as: at all).
Specializing athletes at too young an age is not only affecting their love of sports – it’s not even a proven method of improving a child’s skill level in a particular sport.
In fact, in many cases, it’s been proven to only hinder them in the long run. Many youth sports parents urge their son or daughter to excel in that one sport, but from provoking injuries, to straining their mental stamina and enjoyment, to the underdevelopment of other muscles and skill sets, the strategy actually backfires.
Is this is coincidence? It could be.
But to us, and many others in the field of sports, it speaks volumes for the argument that it’s actually multi-sport athletes who develop into the best players at a higher level.
Think hard about your child’s passions – not just in athletics, but other areas, too – and think hard about why, in your circumstance, you are pushing them to pursue only one sport so young.
Making the emphasis of sports a college scholarship.
We love nothing more than speaking with student-athletes and their families about committing to play their sport in college.
It’s the dream of so many student-athletes out there, and we live a mission of helping those wanting to play at the next level fulfill those dreams. And the support of a parent or guardian is absolutely key in making the dream a reality.
However, having your son or daughter earn a scholarship can’t turn into the only reason you want them to play the game.
There are parents who become — for lack of a better word — obsessed with their child signing a letter of commitment and going off to college on a sports scholarship. For some, it’s due to financial reasons: “the investment now will pay off later,” While for others it may be driven by aspirations: that Division I school calling, that name-brand college degree on a child’s future office wall.
Both types of pressure on a student-athlete — requiring a scholarship to ease financial stress, or fulfilling an expectation of getting to the next level (more than the son or daughter may want to) — are just too much for a kid to take on.
Pressure built up in any situation requires a release. And your student-athlete may seek that release by dropping out of their sport.
While your support in helping them play in college is imperative for that dream to come true, a scholarship can’t become the only reason you encourage or want them to play. Remember the lessons the sport teaches, the joy it brings your child and their friends, and the invaluable effect it’s having on their life.
Becoming obsessed with winning.
How many of us have intoned, “It’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game”?
While this quote may be a little too idealistic, there is some merit in its message, especially for youth sports parents.
We have become a society obsessed with winning. And when it comes to watching our kids play sports, in many cases, the obsession has carried over to their teams, leagues, matches, and games. It comes to wanting Division I or nothing at all, instead of thinking honestly about the right fit for your athlete’s skillset, temperament, and aspirations.
Parents are fighting with one another on sidelines, they’re calling coaches at all hours of the day, they’re coaching themselves the entire car ride home from the game and then again in the yard that night.
While wanting our children to succeed is something so natural and admirable, becoming only concerned with whether or not they win is hurting them greatly. It’s hurting their self-esteem, their enjoyment of the game, and your relationship with one another.
Let’s talk about the right fit for your athlete — academically, athletically and socially. The best way to get started is with a recruiting profile.
Photo credit: (Flickr – Luke Addison)