Are Kids Missing The Joy In Youth Sports?
This is a selfie taken last Fall at a UCLA Soccer game. My daughter and her friend literally stalked Mallory Pugh, the soccer phenom who was fresh off the Olympics in Rio and redshirting for the Bruins. They were so excited and talked about meeting her all night.
We just found out that Pugh is bolting for the pros. She will not have played in one single regular season game for UCLA. She decided to forgo her education, a possible shot at a National Title, a chance to spend some time being top dawg while honing her leadership skills and most importantly, the joy of playing for your school – and instead jumped ahead to the next level.
The nineteen-year-old was sitting on top of the mountain she had been climbing since she first kicked a ball as a kid. I’m guessing she has fulfilled many of her longtime goals and was about to bask in all of the fruits of her success by playing college soccer at one of the best universities in the country while maintaining her starting status on the national team. But instead, she chose to leap over this incredible time and miss out on what truly could have been the best years of her life. I wonder why? I can only guess pressure was the main factor that caused her to push for the next step and to declare herself ready for the pros.
A similar thing happens at a much lower level in youth sports and not under the same spotlight and scrutiny Mal had to endure. Typically, it’s us parents at the crux of it and I am certainly no different. We are constantly driving the kids and pushing them to whatever we feel is the next notch on their young sports career belts. We drag them from club to club; pushing for more challenge, better coaching, tougher league, requesting the kids play “up,” skip a year, play with the boys, play for two clubs, extra training – push, push, push. And what is it all for? Where does it get them?
Yes, maybe for some phenom athletes this pushing and jumping early to pros makes sense – with a pot of gold on the other side and many feeling the weight of their families’ entire future on their shoulders. Mal will get paid handsomely whether she left now or in four years. In the end, it’s great that a female soccer player has this opportunity, but wouldn’t it be nice for her to not have felt the need to rush – to take the time to smell some of the roses?
Most of us will never need to worry about such decisions for our kids. But it’s a direct reflection of what has become the norm in our youth sports culture of pushing so hard and so fast that there is no time for the joy. Unfortunately, for many kids, this will only lead to early burnout. We only want the best for Mal and truly hope this decision ends up putting her in a good spot. As for my daughters and her teammates, they will have to settle for seeing her play every four years in the Olympics or World Cup instead of watching her weekly don the blue and gold.