A parent’s perspective on today’s youth athletics

BY CRISTIAN MOORE

Idolizing a sports figure

We’ve all done it at some point in our lives. I remember when I was young I would admire a sports figure for a haircut or a brand of shoes they wore. My husband idolized them for their talent, their looks, the many girlfriends, the fame and oh, of course – the astronomical amounts of money they earned.

They always seemed to make their success on the field or on the court look so easy. But, as parents now, we know it isn’t that easy. Today’s generation idolizes sports figures for probably some of the same reasons. However, it seems like in today’s world, there are more and more sports figures signing outrageous monetary contracts – just to do what they enjoy and are good at.

It is all over the news and not only do kids pay attention to it and dream, but so do their parents. Could all this notoriety, attention and massive contract amounts be contributing to the obsession with youth athletics in our society today?

Gone are the days of deciding to join a local or school sports team when you are 11 or 12 years old. Most of the time, these teams have been well established early on, so any sort of an outsider (one that has not mastered the skills by playing the game since they were 8 ) coming in at that point is considered detrimental to the team and their season.

The majority of these kids have been playing the sport since they were 8 years old (often younger) and many have attended every single camp and practice offered, not to mention the individualized training sessions several times a month in order to give the budding athlete that “edge”.

In many cases, they start playing on specialty teams outside of the regular season at an early age. By the age of 11 – these athletes are seasoned and deeply rooted in their team’s roster while in the back of their minds, or maybe the front as well, they dream of being a star on the high school team, signing a D-1 scholarship to college, and then off to the pros.

Where do the parents fit into this?

Every parent thinks their kid is the best. It’s human nature. Although for some parents who take it very seriously, there seems to be no boundaries. The pressure to play, compete with confidence, win and keep up with the athlete next door, down the street or in the neighboring school district, drives these parents to take their child’s athletic future into their own hands. Often, this results in encouraging kids to play the sport year round.

There also seems to be more of a focus on playing just one sport at a younger age than in the past. The time spent getting to and from practices, camps and games isn’t an issue to the parent that has the same dream as their child. The cost of a year around stint in that sport isn’t holding parents back either. Many young athletes don’t know the term “off-season”.

Overuse Injuries

There seems to be very little down time to any one sport anymore – which is leading to an increase in injuries resulting from over usage. Overuse injuries occur when we, as parents and coaches, push these young athletes with such intensity and over schedule their training without the proper amount of rest. Too much of one activity or sport can and will increase the risk of the overuse injury. Continuous stress to the same joints and muscles leads to these injuries.

Between the practices, training and games, the growing athletes’ body will begin to suffer. The result can be a serious injury that doesn’t receive an appropriate time to heal. These injuries can sometimes affect young athletes the rest of their lives.

The idea that continuous play is the only way to develop needed skills for their sport and achieve greater success begins with the parents and coaches who push the year around participation. Many believe this is the only way to keep the athletes polished in the skills of the sport.

There is no time for an injury to recover either, with some parents going to all sorts of extremes to mask even the slightest injury so the young athlete can keep “in play”. All the Advil, tape and ice won’t help in the end. Kids need down time to repair their growing muscles and to just enjoy being a kid or teenager.

Gaining skills at what cost?

This regimen of practices, games and camps is taking over many young athletes’ childhood and early teen years. Often, these are gifted athletes – very talented at what they do – possibly with the potential to be a star in high school, college and beyond. But, they are young and still growing and can’t possibly fathom the pressure they are under from coaches and parents.

It is a fact that a lot of young kids are being pushed to the brink early on instead of slowly building their skills, endurance and talent while their bodies are growing. There are a handful of parents going to great lengths to make sure they get their child onto the best teams and into the best camps year around, even at age 8, and sometimes not just one camp, but several camps.

Do these parents really believe their child is going to learn something completely different at each one? Having young athletes travel to the many expensive “elite” camps offered outside of their school district sometimes only gives way to some sort of bragging right. The exposure of an athlete’s talent to different coaches and programs is a great notion, but not at age 9.

Parents need to step back

It is the consensus of many experts and non-experts that we, as parents and coaches, are doing more damage to our young athletes than we are doing good. The sharp increase in over usage injuries in youth athletics is alarming, but preventable. From soccer players with nagging knee soreness to baseball players with elbow issues, we as the adults and coaches need to look beyond the present season and the championship we want to conquer – and maybe step back, and stop trying to live vicariously through our young athletes.

Cristian Moore is a freelance writer and contributor for Focus Magazine.