Ph.D.’s James White and Gerald Masterson wrote about the Problems in Youth Sports over a decade ago and made some points that parents and kids would admit are valid. Their research analyzed how participating in competitive sports at too young of an age can have a negative effect on our children and their future in sports. Starting ages for youth in competitive sports have lowered dramatically in the past two decades as parents seek every possible edge for their child.
Andrew Ferguson estimated that 40 million children are involved in competitive sports. It’s not just the numbers that are staggering, but the manner in which kids are playing. Children who get involved in organized competitive sports at a young age may find themselves tired of the game they once loved. Young athletes are becoming increasingly stressed because of the pressure they are getting from their parents and coaches. They are traveling further, playing more games, and spending less time just being kids said Ferguson.
Much different than even a decade ago, kids have a large variety of competitive sports to choose from at earlier ages and they are broken up by divisions such as A,AA, AAA. The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) boys and girls basketball, baseball/softball, soccer, football, volleyball, start as young as nine, while Little League Baseball and softball can start as early as five with tee-ball. Pop Warner, which is the nation’s oldest football organization, starts at five and hockey six years old.. The American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) has kids competing at the age of four. While focus on winning may not be the priority of the youth sports organizations it can be the focus of the parents.
Paulo David, author of Human Rights in Youth Sport: A Critical Review of Children’s Rights in Competitive Sports, found that children don’t always understand the concept of competition until age of six or seven. “Children under nine may be incapable of differentiating between the concept of effort and that of ability. This means that they believe winning is achieved by how hard they try and that losing means they did not trying hard enough” he said.
The report also outlined that sports knowledge development in children at a young age is essential. In the Primary grades children should be taught the rules of games and the structure of the game. Training for these children should be informal and playful in nature.
Sports should be designed to improve a child’s self-concept in the early years.The book ‘Why Johnny Hates Sports’ by author Fred Engh states “that if kids are competitive at early ages, then they may not be trained in how to fail. If all the focus is on winning, kids may be scared to fail and make mistakes. Mistakes are part of the learning process and its how one improves. Failures can result in success, if we are teaching kids to learn from mistakes. If kids are never allowed to fail and are yelled at, pulled out every time they do something wrong then we are training them to be afraid to shoot or try. They are not going to want the ball for fear of making a mistaken and being taking out or humiliated in front of their peers. Allowing children to try and fail diminishes their fear of their parents, coaches, peers, and of humiliation because they are encouraged to try” he said in his book.
Too much competition too early may cause burnout. The term “burnout” is a surprising one for kids in competitive sports. Burnout is defined as “the athlete’s natural response to chronic, ongoing stress.” By age thirteen burnouts begin to manifest and children start quitting their given sports
Burnout in kids’ sports can be caused by a “play at all costs” attitude by the parents and coaches, by overtraining and excessive travel. The question is if that is the new normal. Most adults did not grow up learning to love sports with that kind of pressure, but they seem not to feel it is a impediment to their child’s development.
The problem starts when the sport becomes more like a job than play. These coaches and parentsbelieve that by playing all the time it will translate to winning and possible visibility and then scholarships.
We believe that parents no doubt want what is best for their kids. But with this win and
play at all costs there is mounting evidence parents are cheating to give their kids an edge.
They even lie about their child’s age to gain an advantage and get more exposure. Parents are looking to prepare their child for Division I athletic scholarships or a professional career. To gain an advantage parents insist that their children practice and play year-round to insure they havethe best skills necessary to compete and be a starter in high school and on their club teams.
Training and traveling all year round takes its toll on children. One report, noted that forced participation incompetitive youth sports by parents can constitute as a form of abuse by parents because they aretaking the childhood from the child. They want their children to specialize.
specialize in sports at a young age, they will be better suited learning how to develop a variety of motor and athletic skills that transfer from one sport to another and can’t be developed by specializing..
There is no doubt that youth sports have become a huge force in society. Today’s forms of youth sports,which are competitive in nature, are hurting the future sports of involvement for many reasons.
First, the age and nature of youth sports begins at too early. Second, children are being burned-out of sports at a young age. Third, the specialization of sports has dramatically affected participation in other numerous sports and the development of transferable skills. Finally, children are being pressured by parents to participate early to gain an advantage over their peers. With these factors affecting our youth, the future of high school sports might be in jeopardy.
Recently, Cordell Broadus who is the son of famed rapper Snoop Dogg said “I played football for my father because I thought that was the only way he would love me and be apart of my life, It took me 12 years to realize he loves Cordell Broadus the person not Cordell Broadus the football player. The best day of my life was when I heard those exact words.” After jumping all the little league and youth sports hurdles and earning a scholarship fro UCLA Cordell Broadus had enough and he is probably not alone. Although he was a gifted prospect he quit to pursue other interests, but will stay at the school.
This is not a phenomenon exclusive to the US. Russia, Canada, and several other countries also start children early and get serious quickly taking the fun away.
Obviously, the parents play the predominant role in this new trend, but it will take more than just a soft nudge to change the dangerous trend.