Do parents push kids too hard in sports? 

Is it necessary in this highly competitive world?

My soon-to-be 5th grader plays football, and as the season gets underway again this year, I find myself fighting the urge to give him the extra nudge he sometimes needs to stay focused.

After all, boys will be boys, and that sometimes includes a bit of screwing around when the coach is talking. While that sort of behavior is often rewarded with an extra helping of pushups or bear crawls, I try and impress upon him the importance of being the one that the coach turns to when they need a responsible player who pays attention during practice.

Are Youth Sports Too Competitive?

Even in youth football, winning is important, (Don’t get me started on a rant about uncompetitive sports, a practice which should be abolished post haste.) Coaches will play the kids who want to win, and act like it during practice.

Obviously, while they may not always love football’s grueling practice sessions in the broiling August sun, they do love to play in the games. At this age however,  the fact that games are the fun reward for their hard work all week sometimes gets lost.

When he started playing last year, the competitive nature, even at this level, surprised me. The organization he plays for does an excellent job of balancing the teaching / mentoring aspects of the game, with instilling the discipline and respect required to both field a winning team and develop  skilled, motivated kids that are having a great time. It’s a tough tightrope to walk at times.

How Early is Too Early to Push?

With all that being said, many kids even at this age, already have aspirations of playing at a higher level. That’s really nothing new, but the rewards it brings, society’s view of elite athletes, and what it takes to become one, certainly is.

While kids in the ’70’s no doubt fantasized about being the next Stabler, Swann, or Staubach, becoming them didn’t take the intense preparation that it requires now. Kids are being coached up to a very high level, even in youth football.

Talent is developed from an early age, and young kids constantly see their sports idols on video games, TV, and YouTube. They hear them on Mike and Mike and read their Tweets. They want to emulate these athletes, and some are willing to do what it takes to get there, even starting in elementary school. Does that mean the parents should help them along with an extra push?

As 16 year old Olympic darling Gabby Douglas walked off with her hard fought gold medal in  the women’s all around gymnastics event the other night, few questioned the fact that she didn’t start putting in the effort it takes to become a champion just last year. No, she started a decade ago, practicing hard while other little girls were watching Sponge Bob or playing with their Barbies.

Why then do we view such things differently for team sports such as football and basketball, when the rewards are potentially far greater? If a child wants to become the next RG-III, or LeBron, should they not be encouraged and given that little bit of focus enhancement when it’s necessary?

Is The Sports Dream Realistic, Ever?

While my son may never become an NFL quarterback likes he dreams of now, should I not give him a nudge once in a while to keep him on that path? Sure, the odds are stacked against him. Even if he does have the talent, plenty of players with the requsite talent and desire have been derailed by injury, or economic circumstances.

So, many say “Hey, they’re only 10 or 11 years old, just let them have a good time. If they’re good enough, they’ll play.” In this day and age however, is merely being good enough? How much further do they need to develop their natural ability if they’re to take things to the next level, and how early must they start doing it?

Is 9th Grade Too Early?

Do they need the kind of head start that it can take to be successful these days; the kind that finds so many kids being year round, single sport athletes in soccer and basketball? What about 14 year old football players being recruited by division 1 college football programs such as Steve Sarkesian’s Washington Huskies?

Every time a player goes to the NBA straight out of high school ( I know they go one and done in college now) , or a 9th grader is recruited to a major college athletic program, the need for an early start is driven home even harder. Is it insanity or reality? After all, if some kids are putting in the effort from a young age, others with similar aspirations must do likewise, or risk being left behind. The question becomes…….

Do kids really know what they want when they are only 10, 11, or 12 years old? Can they, really?

One of the kids on my son’s football team is an athletic  wonder. He’s the fastest 10 year old to 50 meters in 5 states (Really, he is). Already, high school coaches throughout the area are drooling over this kid. At a track meet this spring, a coach from a city15 miles distant commented to me in total seriousness that he wanted to get that kid on his team, and wondered what it would take to do it.

It’s clearly a different time than it was 2 or 3 decades ago. Does it mean that your kids should have to move from being just kids to training like serious athletes, if they’re to ever have a chance at competing at the highest levels?

If there is a glimmer of ability, do we risk pushing them to develop it, lest they be left behind forever, and never knowing what could have been. Or, do we take the approach espoused by the head of my son’s football organization, “Don’t take it too seriously. They’re kids. If he’s good, he’ll play.”?

What About the Kids’ Own Drive to Excel?

Are kids now subjecting themselves to success pressure at ever decreasing ages, in the hope of one day becoming the next LeBron, Serena, or Michael Phelps? Must they, if they are to succeed at sport’s highest levels?

A recent Psychology Today article, The Psychology of Youth Sports,  suggests that sports are not only highly beneficial to youngsters, but that the greater their participation, the more benefit they receive……. up to a point.

As with everything else, the key to success is often balance. The article suggests that balancing sports with other life aspects yields the greatest return.

Ah, but what of the child with elite aspirations? Should we be “That” parent, if we want to help them succeed at their chosen sport? What of the times when they’d rather be out riding their bike with their friends or in playing their X-Box?

For parents of kids in sports how much “guidance” is too much? When should they push, and when should they back off? Do even the most athletically gifted kids have enough of a chance to taste success as elite athletes that parents should push them to develop it?

Are parents even the best judges here, or are they too hopelessly biased to see things clearly? I think I’m a pretty good judge here, but I know at least 5 other people that would argue differently.

What do you think; do parents push kids too hard in sports? Is it necessary?

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