We Must Stop Putting Children Under Pressure to Be the Best in Their Sport

In the pursuit of success and fulfillment, we sometimes end up putting children under pressure to be the best in their sport. While it’s natural to want our children to achieve their full potential, it’s essential to remember that imposing excessive stress on young athletes can lead to negative repercussions.

As a parent, I like watching my 7-year-old son play travel soccer from the sidelines. Competitiveness can rise to a fever pitch during certain games. The parents were to blame, not the kids kicking the ball around or the coach watching from the sidelines. My son’s coach, who is always calm and collected, has been known to gather the parents in a tight circle after a game. Keep your cool, guys. Keep in mind that the youngsters will lose what little calmness they have if you yell at them.

As parents, we want our kids to succeed in life and achieve their full potential. We must keep in mind that they are children and are constantly growing and learning, says Justin Ocwieja, youth developmental director of the Nationals Genesee Soccer Program in Michigan. And the pressure that parents put on their children can easily become overwhelming for them.

Ocwieja, who has coached in the program for 10 years, notes that both the level of play and the involvement of parents have increased throughout that time. Parents who take an interest in their children’s growth are doing them a favor, but they may overdo it sometimes.

If you did that, things could go very wrong. Youth athletes subjected to undue pressure may develop bad attitudes and behaviors that spill over into other areas of their lives. According to Ocwieja, a youngster is more likely to resist the growth process when parents portray the sport as a chore.

They don’t get to experience the many additional benefits of sports participation, such as making new friends, learning teamwork skills, and boosting confidence. Find out more about the problems with expecting kids to perform at the highest levels of competition.

Sports Pressure Can Be Lethal

It is estimated that 45 million American children participate in some form of youth sports each year. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine reports that there can be many positive outcomes for these kids, including improved health, higher academic achievement, and fewer suicidal ideation among both girls and boys.

However, parental pressure increases as more research demonstrates sports’ positive effects on children and as the possibility of a college scholarship in a child’s sport becomes more alluring. This may have the opposite effect, such as making the game less enjoyable. Research from the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health found that once kids hit middle school, almost 70% of them stop participating in organized sports because they are no longer enjoying themselves.

An increase in stress is also possible. A survey from Ohio University found that almost 20% of soccer players experience high-stress levels before and after a game, especially if they lose. Sztykiel repeatedly saw how a child’s stress and pressure to excel could spread to other areas of his or her life, such as the classroom, where the youngster may come to feel compelled to get high test scores consistently. Worse, they won’t learn resilience if they don’t succeed. Consistent effort is commendable, even if it isn’t always perfect.

She also noticed how kids’ sense of identity was shifting to be based on their particular sport rather than their entire lives. Ocwieja warns that this can lead to injuries and burnout in the long run. “Because of their early specialization in one sport, I’ve noticed burnout more often in the older age groups, those 12 and 13 years old,” he explains. If youngsters are allowed to participate in a different sport during practice, it can act as a “break” and reduce the likelihood of overuse injuries.

Sports injuries are an extreme example of the physical harm that can occur. Injuries sustained while participating in sports account for around 2.6 million annual visits to emergency rooms among children and young adults. The paper from Ohio University also details how many young athletes are pressured to keep playing despite injuries.

What Parents Can Do to Reduce Stress

Experts say that the most important thing parents can do is to get out of the way and let the teachers do their jobs. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that parents shouldn’t put too much pressure on their kids but should instead focus on giving them good feedback. Tell your kid that you do no want them to be the best, always win, or be flawless. No matter who wins or loses the game that should be the situation. Leave it at that if a child consistently loses games but enjoys themselves.

If your child seems distressed following a loss, it’s crucial to talk to them about how they’re feeling and be there for them. However, experts recommend that you manage your expectations. It’s important for parents to regularly check in with their kids to see how they’re feeling. Do more than a coach would and give them the help they need. Don’t make athletics a god and a way of life if you can help it. As parents, we must never lose sight of the original purpose of sports: enjoyment.

My husband and I have taken this advice to heart and have learned to be little more than a supportive presence. After a loss or a horrible game, I always ask my kid, “What did you think of the game?” when he gets in the car. He usually merely shrugs and replies, “It was okay.” When can we get together for dinner? And with that, I will end this.

When he has a good game, we try to cheer for him whether or not he scores. We should give credit where credit is due. This will allow them to bring that level of dedication to whatever they do. No, we don’t buy him an external incentive; we focus on boosting his internal drive through praise and approval. And Sztykiel encourages parents not to do anything, positive or negative, following a game’s outcome.

As the parent of two active children, I often reflect on my own childhood experiences with sports like soccer and basketball. I felt an inexhaustible supply of positive emotions and energy from participating in sports. When I was winning, I liked the rush of excitement.

That’s all I want for my two young kids, who are also athletes. I will let their coaches be coaches for the time being, and my kids will be kids. I’ll cheer them on and be here to listen when the time comes. I’ll show them how to deal with the inevitable setbacks they’ll face in athletics. Because if I do what I can and let other people do what they can, I know that my kids will be successful and successful in a way that brings them joy.

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