We've been involved in youth sports for the past 10 years as parents, and before we even had children, Robb coached youth basketball. Over the past 10 years, we've had small people playing t-ball, baseball, basketball, soccer, and football. They've played a variety of levels - from Upward (church league) to recreation to club/select/travel. Robb and I have been parents, team managers, coaches, and league board members.
All that to say that over the years I have formed an opinion as to what is a major problem in youth sports:
Here are some of the adult behaviors I've noticed that I think are a problem:
Parents who have their children in sports for their own glory. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a parent whose own ego is wrapped up in his/her child's sports. Children who are playing sports so that their parents can live out their own childhood sports fantasies all over again. Children who started a sport because they enjoyed playing, and who lose that love because they're pushed to be better, faster, stronger, whatever, simply so their parent can brag.
Parents who think their child will be the next Kobe Bryant, Albert Pujols, Lionel Messi, or Peyton Manning. This kind of goes along with the first point. According to Statistic Brain:
- There are currently 35 million children (ages 5-18) playing organized sports each year. Only about 2 million of those are playing high school soccer, basketball, or football.
- The odds of a high school basketball player making it to the NBA are 1 in 10,000.
- The odds of a high school football player making it to the NFL are 1 in 6,000.
- The odds of a high school soccer player receiving a full ride to a Div I or II school are 1 in 90.
Parents and coaches who forget that they are dealing with children, NOT professional ball players. It's sad to watch coaches and parents who are screaming at children for, well, being children. Children are still learning. Part of the learning process is making mistakes. They aren't going to make every basket, stop every goal, hit every ball. Having adults screaming at them from the sidelines probably isn't going to increase the probability that they'll do it right the next time. In fact, for most children, it will give them higher anxiety, which will result in more errors.
Parents and coaches who set poor sportsmanship examples. What are we teaching our children when we yell at the referee during a game for 7 and 8 year old children? I know it's frustrating to see a bad call, and, I'll admit, there have been times when I've yelled at the ref myself. I'm not proud of that. Ironically, my children don't remember the ref's call as much as they remember how I behaved because of it. We've all heard the stories of fights breaking out among the parents at a youth sports event. Is it any wonder that our children blame parents, coaches, and other adults for not wanting to continue to play?
Coaches who play favorites. The goal for recreational youth sports should be to have fun and learn the fundamentals of the game. It isn't fun for a child to play very little, nor are they learning anything by sitting on the bench. Just because Little Johnny can hit a home run every time he's at bat or Little Susie can dribble circles around the other kids doesn't mean they should play every minute of the game. The other players will develop far more by actually being in the game as well.
I know how easy it is for us as adults to get caught up in our children's sports. It's easy to try to live vicariously through our children. However, as adults, we need to be bigger than that. We need to set aside our personal agendas.
Let our children be children.
Let them play because they enjoy playing.