Thursday, September 25, 2014

Are Parents Taking the Fun Out of our Sport?

Youth sports are supposed to be about fun, athleticism, and building a child’s confidence, right? While that’s likely what most parents of young athletes would tell you they think, their actions show a different truth.

Some of today’s sports parents, including “hockey moms” and “hockey dads,” are ruining the sport for their young athletes. Many are concerned with their child’s sports team being at the top, rather than with the attributes that are inherent in a team.  You also have parents who are too overly involved and who push and bully their kids in the hopes of making them great players, thus eliminating the fun out of playing. These types of behaviors can lead to a lot of miserable little hockey players who aren’t having a bit of fun on the ice.

Many blame this recent “bad behavior” on professional athletes who have racked up serious professional victories. The theory is that parents see these uber successful talents and think, “Hey, my kid could do that,” and then pressure the child to emulate them.  Not only does this drive to “be like”professionals cost countless amounts of money- money that could be spent investing in children’s educational futures- but it also discourages the enjoyment of the game and doesn’t allow a child to progress at a natural pace.

A recent study from the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine reports that about 80% of children who join sports teams in their youth will have quit the sport by the age of 15. And, the main reason cited for this large percentage of quitters is the disconnect between a child’s desire to have fun and play a sport and an adult’s desire to win and be on the same level as the pros.

This desire to “be the best” puts a lot of stress and pressure on young athletes. Furthermore, it often leads to excessive practicing and training, which, when forced upon a child, can make him or her loathe the very sport that was once loved. So many parents force their children into summer sports camps after a whole season of playing, hire private coaches to keep them practicing long after practice is over, and basically just run their kids ragged, pushing them toward a dream that really belongs to the parent, not the child.

You may argue that pushing to be the best isn’t a bad thing. After all, you might say, it does pay off in the long run, doesn’t it? The answer to that question really all depends on your definition of “paying off.” If your goal is a scholarship, be aware that only around 1% of high school athletes are given a Division 1 scholarship. And, to make matters worse, the average scholarship is usually for far, far less money than the parent has invested in the sport to begin with.

If you’re pushing for a professional career, understand that even pro athletes take breaks. Also understand that by forcing your child to work non-stop, you could destroy his or her passion for the game, causing your child to get burnt out early on or to eventually decide to say “no” to that professional career in the event that it’s offered.

You don’t have to take your child out of sports completely, nor should you. You just need to listen to your child and his or her wants and desires. If a child doesn’t feel like practicing for a day or two or wants to try another sport, let him! If hockey at a serious level is what is meant for your child, he or she will find it. Pushing and forcing doesn’t do any good. Remember, as hard as it can be to “let go,” your child is his or her own person, not just an extension of your wishes and dreams.

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