The Stress of Youth Sports
Why three out of four kids hate sports by age 13.
With childhood obesity reaching alarming rates, kids need to
exercise more. But with the advent of travel teams and specialization in a
single sport -- not to mention overly excited parents and coaches patrolling
the sidelines -- many youngsters are being driven out of organized sports.
If you ask the kids, they will say they like to play with other
kids and have fun. "They also like to get a new, shiny uniform," says
Rick Wolff, chairman of the Center for Sports Parenting, at the University of
Rhode Island. Striving for a personal best is also a thrill for young people,
moving the ball down the field, beating their best time on the track or in the
"Yet if you ask the coach what the objective is," Wolff
says, "he (or she) may say, 'To win.'"
"You hear all kinds of stuff," says Tom Connellan,
author of Bring Out the Best in Others! 3 Keys for Business Leaders,
Educators, Coaches, and Parents. "You can have a field of 7-year-olds
who can't even figure out the direction to run on the field and the coach will
be red in the face, shouting, 'Run, damn it, you guys are killing me here!'
What way is that to talk to little kids? They get driven to the sidelines and
out of organized sports."
Coaches also have been known to tell kids to throw a game so as
to be paired with a weaker team the next round in a tournament. "Some may
call that winning," writes power skater Laura Stamm on the Sports Parenting
Center's web site. "But I call it losing."
Another mother says she heard a father yell at his daughter:
"That was six mistakes in a row. Get your head together or you are going to
hear about this at home!"
"When I was growing up, there were no travel teams,"
Wolff says. "Kids played football in fall, baseball in summer, two or three
sports sometimes. Now all that has changed." Travel teams, he says, are a
full-time commitment. "Coaches don't want to hear that you can't make
practice because someone has a birthday party." Connellan points out that
you can be driving all over the state almost every weekend for months at a
Travel teams also are deadly serious. Sometimes only the most
talented kids get to play -- the others just get to ride the bus. What does
your kid think of that? What do you think of that?
Coaches also can be overbearing. "You can't treat a little
kid like you would an NBA player," Connellan says. "Too many coaches
coach the way they were coached or follow a role model from college or pro
ball. "Remember, those higher level coaches have a long relationship with
that player. They have the best of intentions, but kids take gentler handling
and more sensitivity."
Like many parents, Connellan got into coaching himself so his
child could play soccer (most travel team coaches have a child in the game).
"Six-year-olds," he laughs. "It was like watching an amoeba go down