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The Stress of Youth Sports

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

Pressure Intense continued...

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 the field."

Parents' Role

"I call it 'keeping up with the athletic Joneses,'" Wolff says. Parents want so much for their kids, he says, they spend several thousand dollars a year, commit to traveling almost every weekend, and will do almost anything to help their children excel. "Parents with a shred of sports interest think their kid could be the next Michael Jordan, but they should know that fewer than 5% of kids continue to play beyond high school, if that."

Of course, this level of commitment can lead to tragedy, which it has in several fatal incidents involving parents who got carried away at a child's game. Sometimes, literally carried away.

When Kids Rebel

"Burnout usually comes around age 13," Wolff says. "For years, the kid has loved playing soccer. In winter he or she plays indoors. During summer, it's soccer camp. Maybe it's a travel team. It's just not fun anymore."

Around the age of 13, kids develop their own voice, Wolff says. "They can talk back to mom and dad and say, "I don't want to miss a party to get up early for swim practice.'"

How should parents handle that moment? Connellan and Wolff have some suggestions.

First, try to find out why the child wants to drop out, Connellan urges. "Ask when did you first think about dropping out?" You may find that an incident months before set the child to thinking -- that this is not a recent decision, but that the child has not wanted to let you down.

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