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Health & Parenting

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The Stress of Youth Sports

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

When Kids Rebel continued...

Watch for symptoms of burnout such as a stomachache on practice or game day. "You don't have to be Dr. Freud," Wolff says, "to see if a kid is unhappy."

Remember, kids do leave sports. This is not the game of sandlot kids played 30 years ago. Leaving does not mean they are quitters. It can mean they are taking responsibility for their own actions and directing their own life. Wolff urges kids who have committed to a travel team to wait until the end of the year so they don't let their teammates down. "Commitment is important," he reminds. Connellan says some younger kids shouldn't even be on travel teams and may need to do what they have to do.

Wolff recommends asking the child what he or she intends to do instead of the sport. "If you leave, you will now have more free time -- what do you intend to do with it? Video games are not an option."

What Parents and Coaches Can Do

Connellan says parents and coaches should have positive expectations. "When little Mary was learning to walk, you said, 'Come on, you can do it, OK, get back up, you're doing it!' You didn't say, 'You clumsy idiot!' Concentrate on the parts the kid did correctly. Be reasonable. Feedback, he says should be 3-1. Three parts positive to one part constructive -- not every comment, but over the course of time. "Coaches instinctively correct," he admits.

Wolff points out that coaches in middle school and high school are trained and licensed by the state, yet there still are bad coaches. But in the case of travel teams, coaches need no qualifications. Parents, he says, should talk to the coach, see if he or she lets the kids play each time. If the coach says he likes to make noise or believes it's best to be tough on the kids, Wolff says, believe it. He will be. "See if the coach has a chip on his shoulder," he adds.

Wolff leaves little doubt that the coach is an authority figure and rightfully so. Being a friend to the players does not work, he says. But in his "Ten Top Tips for Coaching Kids in Sports," he also advises that fun should be part of every game and every practice. "If they never get a chance to smile or relax," he tells coaches, "you have made it into work."

Kids -- like everyone else -- will quit a job they hate.

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Reviewed on March 01, 2004

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