I recently presented this topic on my weekly radio show in Kansas City. When asking listeners what they thought were some of the problems with sports at the youth sport and high school levels, one consistent answer came up….”Parents”. Why parents? I would ask. Most of the comments centered around parental behavior during games and the demands and expectations placed on kids by parents. Several callers mentioned that they had quit sports because of the pressure their parents put on them to be better than everyone else. One caller even mentioned that his father continually told him that he could become a Major League ball player if he kept working at it. However, this caller said he quit in high school because he just did not want to play anymore.
I have found over the 30 years I have been working in sport psychology that parental involvement has changed both for the good and the bad. Obviously, today youth sports is organized and structured so that kids can start playing at early ages around four or five. Leagues have been organized and competitions at the local and national levels have been set up. From a positive standpoint, I believe this has allowed many kids the opportunity to get involved who may not have had that opportunity in the past. All kinds of facilities exist today for kids to learn skills and techniques in everything from baseball, football and basketball to gymnastics, figure skating and swimming. From a health and fitness standpoint, this has been a tremendous benefit to many kids.
However, from a negative perspective, I believe too often parents have often gotten too involved. I can’t remember the last time I drove by an elementary school and saw a group of kids playing without an adult supervising them. There are obvious safety issues involved today, that did not exist when I was growing up in the 1960’s. However, I believe youth sports are so organized that we don’t give kids the opportunity to create and play on their own. Parents have set up too many rules and requirements about playing that we don’t give kids the chance to do it on their own. When was the last time your son or daughter went up to the elementary school with some of their friends and chose sides and played on their own. I am guessing most of you cannot answer that question. Is this good or bad? The benefits of structured youth sports are very clear. But, I believe we need to give kids the chance and opportunity to play and create on their own, because this can develop and foster self-confidence. Most importantly, it will give kids the chance to have fun on their own without a parent telling them what they did wrong.