The 8 Most Frustrating Things About Youth Sports
By Alex Flanagan
Wow! What an overwhelming response we received when we asked parents to share with us what frustrates them most about youth sports. Turns out a lot of things do!
We heard from single parents worried their child isn’t getting playing time because they can’t advocate like other parents do for their kids since work prohibits them from attending many practices and games. Parents wrote us about their child being left out because they suffer from a disability and aren’t always wanted or welcomed on teams, and from parents who feel the stigma of what is and isn’t considered to be gender appropriate in youth sports.
We overwhelmingly heard from you, that parents are often the ones ruining and sucking the life and fun out of youth sports. It appears that too many of us are trying to make up for what our own childhood lacked by living vicariously through our kids. What’s worse is often we don’t even recognize we are doing it.
What hasn’t changed, though, is what we want for our children. It’s the same thing our parents wanted for us. For sports to keep our kids physically fit and out of trouble. To enhance our child’s Character by teaching respect, dedication and perseverance. We now know that girls who play sports are more likely to become executives when they grow up and that young athletes are less likely to engage in drug use.
What stood out to me most from your responses is the fact that WE, the parents, have created many of our own problems. That is exciting and actually gives me great hope because it means that we also have the ability to fix them!
HERE ARE 8 THINGS ABOUT YOUTH SPORTS THAT FRUSTRATE THE HELL OUT OF PARENTS
Daddyball is a growing phenomenon in youth sports where coaches show flat out favoritism to their own child. These coaches play their own child first or at the most coveted position, even when he or she hasn’t earned it, without much consideration for the other kids on the team. Daddyball coaches are convinced they are raising the next Steph Curry or Buster Posey and it comes at the expense of the other children on the team.
MISTREATMENT OF REFEREES
The expectation in youth sports is that officials, even though they are often teenagers learning the job, get every call correct and somehow deserve to be yelled at when they make a mistake. It is ironic that parents expect kids to learn good sportsmanship and respect when they themselves sit in the stands setting a horrific example for kids by losing it on the referees.
The pressure to have your child specialize in a sport when they are way too young is real for many parents. Too many of us feel like we are in an untenable position. In today’s youth sports culture, not only are coaches encouraging kids to commit to one sport when kids are 9 and 10 years old, but many of them are making it a condition of participation, leaving parents feeling trapped in the middle.
Giving every child a trophy is confusing the hell out of our children. Winning a trophy used to mean you out-performed everyone else. You touched the wall first, jumped the highest, ran the fastest, sunk the most baskets or scored the most goals. That took work. When our kids get trophies for not putting in the work, it’s teaching them an entirely different lesson.
More and more club sports reign supreme and are making it nearly impossible for parents to encourage their children to be multi-sport athletes. It’s a love-hate relationship. Our club teams feel like family, but at the same time they rip us away from family by doing things like scheduling major tournaments during Thanksgiving and Easter and requiring kids to travel to far away places for tournaments. Many children’s club sports schedules won’t allow them to play on their school teams. How are parents supposed to support kids playing multiple sports when one sport alone requires kids to practice 4 times a week with games or tournaments on the weekends? And for those families who have more than one kid playing sports, forget it!
The way we do youth sports in the US (see above: “club sports”) is becoming more and more about how much you can pay to play, which is leaving too many children out simply because they don’t have enough money, and has many parents prioritizing sports over saving money for their child’s college education or their own retirement. It seems more common for kids to have private training these days than academic tutors, which tells you something about parents’ priorities.
With children playing competitive sports at earlier ages than in the past and the growing popularity of year-round sports, overuse injuries are on the rise. Kids are more prone to repetitive injuries because they are still growing and so are their bones. Young children are dealing with stress fractures, growth plate and cartilage injuries. One website, stopsortsinjuries.org, states that overuse injuries are responsible for nearly half of all sports injuries to middle and high school students.
Screaming, sideline coaching, bad mouthing other kids, acting like a sore loser. Sounds like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum, but it’s the behavior that has become all too common for parents of youth athletes. We have completely lost sight of our role as parents. We secretly think we are raising the next Michael Jordan and that we are Phil Jackson yelling out demands from the sidelines. The child is stuck in the middle, not knowing whether they should listen to their own parent or the coach, not sure whether this is supposed to be fun or miserable.
Alex Flanagan co-founded I love to watch you play in 2015. She was flying home from an NFL work assignment when a learning specialist, who was sitting next to her, shared 5 reasons she shouldn’t feel guilty missing her son’s game. She shared their conversation on her own website alexflanagan.com and the response was so overwhelming it inspired her to co-create ILTWYP to help parents like herself navigate youth sports.