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Adults should give youth sports back to kids

David Mueller Antelope Staff
David Mueller
Antelope Staff

It’s safe to say I wouldn’t be the person I am today without sports. Before I can trace my first memory I was involved in a wide array of teams and for that, I’m thankful.
Youth sports offer many benefits that sometimes get overlooked. Kids learn life lessons, healthy exercise habits and build meaningful relationships in the process.

Today nearly 40 million children participate in youth sports across the country. But, an overwhelming majority do not last.
“Kids are afraid to make mistakes for fear of extreme ridicule and harsh criticism. In what world is it socially acceptable to treat others like this?”

Roughly 70 percent quit by age 13, according to John O’Sullivan, Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project, an initiative to improve youth sports.

Personally, it’s alarming and saddening to see this statistic. Youth athletics are supposed to be enjoyable and aid as a teaching mechanism. Why are so many kids quitting?

The answer is very simple. It’s not fun anymore and adults are mostly to blame.

The culture of youth sports has drastically changed, even since my time just a few years ago. It’s not about children’s enjoyment anymore – often it’s now a competition between adults and their egos.

O’Sullivan suggests that kids are often reminded of the money and time devoted by their parents, adding unnecessary stress. Some parents today are very pushy, placing an exceeding amount of pressure on their children to perform at a high level
As a result, the child-parent relationship is suffering.

Athletic scholarships now come into question before a child enters high school. It’s ridiculous to ask preteens to commit to collegiate athletic programs. Unfortunately, this is reality.  

Children now are also expected to play one sport year-round, also known as specialization. Coaches and parents allow this to happen in an effort to maximize specific talents.

However, specialization is an unhealthy practice. Children become overloaded with one sport and become emotionally and physically worn out or feel too pressured.

According to Shelton Public School’s physical education instructor, Matthew Walter, specialization can actually limit a young athlete’s abilities.  
“Colleges are looking for well-rounded athletes. Every sport allows you to develop and enhance different fundamentals. Specialization prevents you from growing as a whole athlete,” Walter said.

This is not an endorsement to withdraw the competitive aspect from youth sports. In fact, I’m a nonbeliever in handing out participation trophies.
There must be an appropriate balance between fun and discipline. A “win at all cost” mentality is not beneficial to children.
Kids are afraid to make mistakes for fear of extreme ridicule and harsh criticism. In what world is it socially acceptable to treat others like this?

This kind of behavior doesn’t take place outside of the sports environment. Yelling and screaming at children for mistakes will only deter them from future participation.

Children play sports to have fun, not to win. It is parents and coaches’ responsibility to encourage, educate and guide kids into becoming good and decent people – not the next pro athlete.

While discipline is necessary, the proper way to execute it is crucial.

Praise kids in a way that is helpful rather than harmful. Let them know it is OK to fail, or they won’t learn from their mistakes. This type of learning translates to the real world.

Promote a positive environment that lets all kids participate, have fun and grow. That’s youth sport’s purpose.
O’Sullivan came up with five words that all parents should relay to their children:
“I love watching you play.”

This kind of support is proven to boost children’s love for the game, and doesn’t focus on their performance. Instead, it provides them with positive reassurance, O’Sullivan says.  

Athletics should shape kids to become not only better athletes, but more importantly, should create better people. It all starts at fixing the youth level.

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