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Passion of Parents in Youth Sports

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Parents really love to involve their kids in competitive sports.  Sometimes too much.

Sports is an ingrained part of the American landscape. It is so much a part of our daily lives that most people cannot imagine life without watching or playing on a daily basis.

A passion for sports is instilled in most kids from an early age. In my family, it was not so much. My mother took me out of baseball in kindergarten because the practices were too late at night. From that, my mother later extrapolated that it was somehow her fault that I didn’t become any good at baseball and, therefore, could not make millions of dollars. For her comfort, it can be noted that I never turned out good at any other sport either and made not a single cent as an athlete.

The Anomaly and The Norm

The anomaly of my situation was that my mother didn’t encourage my participation in sports. It is quite normal that parents want their kids participating in sports. They encourage it. Indeed, that translates into a majority of kids participating. A detailed article on data of youth sports, shows that 75% of boys and 69% of girls play.

For a larger estimate, thirty to forty-five million kids are involved in some sport and parents’ push to have their kids involved seems fueled by at least a little bit of grandeur and hope for the future. There are any number of articles already written about the nature of crazed parents pushing their kids to excel on the field.

Sometimes, parents and coaches push kids too far.

While encouragement and praise are natural coaching strategies, and excelling at the craft is mostly the point, there are still a lot of physical and psychological development concerns. Just the right balance needs to be considered from a coaching standpoint. That coaching should probably concern a more diverse life beyond sports, which considers health and well-being.

There are great ambitions that children and elders have and a good deal of growth that comes from athletic experiences. The encouragement is a positive, but the desire and success are the child’s own and can only be measured by their own standards. There is certainly a lot at stake. However, a wise gambler would know that the odds of failure far outweigh the opportunity for success.

My situation was also the norm because no kids are likely to grow up to make any money from sports, much less millions. Even the kids that grow up into excellent athletes also need a lot of fortuitous bounces to get anywhere in the business.

An NCAA chart outlines a picture of the chances that any given child will make it big. To be sure, it’s extremely hard to make it in sports. Most kids that play youth sports never end up playing high school sports. Then, very few high school athletes go on to play in college and very few of those make it professionally.

As the chart shows, with over 1,000,000 participants, football is by far the most common high school sport. Of those, 6.5% go on to play college football. Of those, 1.6% get drafted by an NFL team. For the best odds, baseball and hockey players are considerably better bets to make it to professional ranks than basketball, soccer and football. Still, the chances are pretty miniscule. About half of one percent of high school baseball players get drafted by major league teams. And most draft picks never see a major league field much less a multimillion dollar contract.

What is the cost?

There is a cost to every decision in life, particularly those that don’t pan out into big paydays. So, what are some of those risks?

A portrait of one slice of the American life shows a family who invests most of their time and resources in their kids’ athletics, driving the billion dollar youth sports industry, just for the hope that they become one of the five to ten percent that will go on to play varsity sports. At best, the parents are hopeful their children will learn great lessons from their experiences.

It is certainly true that people learn well from adversity. With only one winner, it would appear there is a lot of adversity in competitive sports. That may be a great learning experience, but are the kids having fun?  In one report, 84% wish they had more fun and 31% wish adults weren’t watching and putting pressure on them. This all seems to lead to the 70% attrition rate.

That’s not even the dark side. The top end of the spectrum isn’t terribly rosy, but what about the opposite end?

About three million children go to the emergency room every year from playing sports. Another five million are treated for minor injuries. So, while it is about a .01% chance any given child will wind up with a decent payday from sports, there is pretty close to a 100% chance they will get hurt.

The emergency room is not a great place to end up for kids in sports.

In October, a NYC teenager died after a collision in a soccer game. Eleven kids died playing high school football in 2015. While death and disability is fairly rare, they are no less than the odds of making it big. Moreover, minor injuries are not exactly minor.  

Concussions are easy to sustain and common among young athletes. They result in poor academic performance, attendance and the overall ability to learn. The younger a person is, the greater the issues surrounding head injuries. Also, the lifetime consequences of chronic pain result in treatments which create an entirely different array of problems, for example juvenile arthritis affects over 300,000 children. The magnitude of a future life of headaches and chiropractic visits is best realized by medical professionals. If nothing else, there are many more jobs created in the medical and insurance fields by more people getting and staying hurt.

There are endless untold complications from playing youth sports that go along with the billions of dollars spent on keeping kids playing.

Hedging Bets

I don’t mean to bash sports. There is no doubt to the growth opportunities. At the same time, I would argue that most of those lessons can be learned in other avenues, but there still is a redeeming value to sports. The idea of victory gives people hope and the execution of a game plan brings excitement.

The concept of sports doesn’t necessarily have to include the traditional big money sports. Light exercise is even better than high energy or contact sports. Combining exercise with academics helps students learn. For healing sake, many sport-like games can take the place of sports. For example, foosball is a great tool used in rehabilitation for injuries.

The point really comes down to, parents need to understand that not everyone can make it big in the same industry already flooded with talent. Moreover, kids take time to develop. Rushing into a sport they are not ready for can only risk injury and hinder development in other age appropriate areas. Somehow, many parents lose sight of the realities and try to live their own lost dreams vicariously through their children’s success.

Kids need to grow up according to their own dreams and desires. Success only comes from a person’s own initiative. It’s a hard balance. The younger start a person gets in life, the better they will typically be at something. On the other hand, it takes time to discover true interests.

Diversity always seems to be the key. The more options a kid has, the better.  

All the evidence in the world suggests kids that play sports have the best chance for success and the least chance for injuries when playing multiple sports. Likewise, a kid’s most well-roundedness will come not from being entirely immersed in sports, but also other outlets. I shudder to think however, what most parents who push their kids in athletics would think of them going into stage acting. The glory and bragging rights just wouldn’t be the same for those parents.

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Daniel is a freelance writer and observationist, former English teacher and failed comedian. His interests include mindfulness, poverty, the environment and support for disenfranchised people worldwide. He is an ardent champion of terrestrial, freeform radio and a DJ at Radio Boise.

          
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