A Wake-Up Call For Sports Parents
A Wake-Up Call For Sports Parents. My friend’s daughter asked her if she could quit soccer. She says she doesn’t like it anymore. She dislikes the practices and is refusing to go to the games. This is disheartening to her parents – but in reality, it should be a wake-up call to all parents. She may soon become another casualty of the culture that adults have created in youth sports. She’s not alone. There are millions more just like her.
Despite the efforts of experts and organizations like The Aspen Institute, Changing the Game Project, and our work here on Ilovetowatchyouplay to educate grownups about the alarming rates at which kids are quitting sports because it’s no longer enjoyable, there are few signs that adults are actually listening.
Study after study shows that kids care about having fun and that it’s their number one priority. Yet today’s young athletes are increasingly surrounded by parents and coaches who prioritize the outcome over the process. It’s causing kids like my friend’s daughter to fear making mistakes and to rapidly lose confidence in their abilities.
“It feels like everyone hates me because I’m not good,” her daughter shared.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated experience. Grown men and women, the coaches, and parents frustrated and showing exasperation towards young kids, throwing their arms up in the air when a child makes a mistake – this girl is kid 8. How is she supposed to learn if she doesn’t try and fail? Often. Adults are robbing kids of the joy of sports. Not just because they scream and yell but also when coaches play favorites and relegate the lesser-skilled or inexperienced kids to the outfield or goalie or only let them see action in a lopsided game.
Nowhere else would it be acceptable to treat kids this way. Would parents allow a teacher to scold a child for a math score in front of the whole class and justify it as a motivational tool? Imagine a parent hovering over a student’s shoulder during a test, shouting obvious instructions like “Answer THAT!” It’s the same as adults incessantly screaming “shoot” or “swing” at a 10-year-old during a game.
Everyone should be aware by now of the negative outcomes associated with focusing on the result instead of the process. Carol Dweck and others have done ground-breaking research in this area. But why does this escape us during youth sports events? Research clearly shows that developing self-confidence, curiosity, perseverance, and resilience is most important for their success and growth. Sports should naturally foster these qualities, but they can only flourish when the environment nurtures them. When adults lead by example, show respect for opponents and officials, exhibit good sportsmanship, teach consistency, and handle adversity with grace and discipline. Unfortunately, these aspects are diminishing in youth sports.
70% of kids quit sports by the age of 13, right when they could benefit the most, particularly girls. Sadly, this number isn’t changing, despite all our efforts.
Until we stop demanding our children perform like mini-adults, professionalizing youth sports, and pressuring them to perform, nothing will change. An athlete’s worth should not be judged by the scoreboard, championships, or medals – but rather by whether or not they want to sign up to play again.
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