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Health & Parenting

The Stress of Youth Sports

Why three out of four kids hate sports by age 13.
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WebMD Feature

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 pool.

"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!"

Pressure Intense

"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 time.

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