Parents are giving youth sports coaches way too much power over the lives of their children and families. Overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout among child and adolescent athletes are a growing problem. Single-sport, year-round training and competition is becoming more and more common, as well as weekend long athletic tournaments that leave little down time for the child. Parents, kids, and coaches are overly focused on the Holy Grail of college participation and scholarships or becoming a professional athlete despite the fact that only 1% of high school athletes receive athletic scholarships and 0.2-0.5% of them ever make it to the professional level.
Christina, 17, wanted to attend a week of my leadership development camp last summer but didn’t make it because her cheer coach said that if she missed two practices she would be kicked off the squad. Gabby, 15, was invited to be in her cousin’s wedding party, but her coach said she had to miss because they had an important out of town basketball tournament that weekend. After much angst, Gabby decided to go to the wedding, and her livid coach has benched her for the rest of the season and threatened to blackball her with the other elite coaches in town. This kind of abuse has got to stop.
I encourage you to begin with the end in mind. First and foremost, playing sports should be fun and for the love of the game; it shouldn’t feel like a job. Decide on healthy goals like promoting lifelong physical activity, learning teamwork, developing discipline and grit, and having fun with your friends. Don’t make decisions based on fears that your child might fall behind their peers, and don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the whole college madness. Stay in the present, and stay true to your family’s values and needs.
The 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics report on youth sports contains common sense guidelines to direct decisions about your child’s sports participation. Here are some of the highlights:
- Athletes should have at least 1-2 days per week off from their sport to decrease the chances for injury
- Kids should have a month off from their sport at least three times a year to allow for both physical and psychological recovery
- Delay sports specialization until at least age 15-16 to minimize risks of overuse injuries and burnout
- Encourage participation in multiple sports
My advice to you is to take charge of your child’s sport’s life, and do not let coaches intimidate you into decisions that are not in the best interest of your daughter or family. Make an agreement with your children of one sport and one team a season. Your kids need time for family vacations and non-sports camps in the summer, as well as weekends off during the school year. Place a higher value on unsupervised down time and leisurely family meals together.
Start using your common sense and stop basing decisions about teams, training, and specialization on what other kids are doing and the wishes of manic, overzealous coaches. Don’t blame coaches or tournaments for your hurried lifestyle. Keep the focus inward on your end in mind, and take back control over your life.