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Parents: Let's Keep Some Perspective About Youth Sports

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  May 13, 2013 08:41 AM

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soccer.jpgAt my son's soccer game the other day, a parent kept yelling very loudly at one of the players on the other team, giving various directions as to what the player should and shouldn't do. When I say "very loudly", I mean so loud--and harsh--that it startled me each time.

The kids were first graders.

The mother of one of my son's teammates (who was wincing along with me) told me how at her daughter's soccer game earlier that day, the coach of the other team was berating the players, telling them what a terrible job they were doing and calling them names.

Those kids were sixth graders.


Now, I get that these are extremes. But with five kids, I've been to a lot of sporting events, and have listened to a lot of parents and coaches pushing--in good ways and bad ways--kids to achieve. And while achievement is generally a worthy goal, I'm not sure it's the best goal for youth sports. 

Often, when I talk to other parents, I hear stuff about hoping for athletic scholarships. I've got two kids in college now, and so know first-hand how outrageously expensive it is and how every little bit helps. But only about 2 percent of high school athletes get athletic scholarships to college--and very few of them are full rides. The chances of "going pro" are even smaller: about 0.03 percent for basketball, 0.08 percent for football, for example. Basically, unless your kid is extremely gifted and extremely lucky, he's not getting any money out of sports.

Here's what your kid can get out of youth sports:
  • Exercise. With a third of US kids overweight or obese, we need to get more kids moving. Not only does exercise help kids now, it builds healthy habits for a lifetime.
  • Friendships. Sports can be a great way to build relationships and social skills. 
  • Positive self-image. Feeling strong and learning skills can make a kid feel really good about herself.
  • Involvement in positive activities. Sports are a way better way to spend your time than video games or hanging out on the streets; for many kids, sports are what keep them on a good life path.
  • Time management skills. Athletes, especially high school athletes, need to learn to get homework and other things done around practice.
  • Fun! With the right approach and attitude from the athlete and the coach, sports can be a lot of fun.
They are, however, not fun when you are being yelled at--or pushed all the time to achieve. Which is probably why the majority of kids drop out of sports before high school--and miss out on all the benefits entirely.

So, parents, let's keep some perspective. When you are at the sidelines, let the coach do the coaching--if you are going to yell anything, make it encouragement. If you see coaches treating kids badly, speak up--and find a different team if it continues. Don't push your kids to achieve--we should always try to do our best, but it's not always the point of everything. It's certainly not the point of youth sports.

Sometimes it's good enough--better, even--to show up, play the game and have fun. 

Is there something you'd like me to write about? Leave me a message on my Facebook page--and "like" the page for links to all my MD Mama blogs as well as my blogs on Thriving and Huffington Post.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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