Nearly every child, at one point or another in its young and impressionable life, has participated in athletics. Beneath the purity of athletics and recreation, however, lies an overwhelming attitude, such as the win-at-all cost coaches and overbearing parents that have turned this innocent recreational activity into a nightmarish hell for some young participants. It has left many wondering if youth athletics is a helpful or a harmful stage in a child’s life. Conventional wisdom tells us that the greatest reward obtained by sport participation is how it enhances ones growth physically.
A valid point, yes, but that cannot be the only reason. In a recent survey conducted by Sean Slade in the March 1999 addition of The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, 250 families who had children in grades three through five were asked a simple question: why do you want your child playing sports as they grow up? Amazingly, the responses were three to one in favor of the mental, rather than the physical benefits that sports have to offer (Slade 1999).
Parents stated that aside from building muscles and strength, athletics gives children a chance to learn about sportsmanship, teamwork, persistence, fair play, self-esteem, and above all, enjoyment.
Children learn from early age that unless everyone participates and everyone succeeds, the ultimate goal cannot be reached. Children get a chance to emulate heroes like Jordan, McGwire, and Gretzky every time they step onto their respective of field of play. Maureen Weiss, Ph.D., of the University of Oregon, also agrees that sports do more than enhance motor-skills.
Said Weiss; Physical activity and sports have tremendous potential to enhance children’s self-esteem and motivation. Weisss research consistently proves that self-esteem and perceptions of physical ability can predict achievement behavior, motivations and positive effects (APA 1996). Ronald M. Jeziorski, an educational psychologist who consults curricular programs in Santa Clara, California, also sees the positive effect sports has on a child’s psychological well-being. Jeziorski surveyed eighteen professionals in social work, law enforcement, and education on the effect of sports. Across the board, said Jeziorksi, they all said that participants in sports earn better grades, behave better in the classroom, have fewer behavior problems outside the classroom, drop out significantly less, and attend school on a regular basis with fewer unexcused absences (Theeboom, de Knop, Weiss 1995).
On the negative end of the spectrum though, parents can sometimes overburden their youth and force them to engage in activities they do not wish to participate in. All of a sudden, young athletes aren’t just playing sports for fun or personal enjoyment, but they’re playing so the family won’t be let down, a pressure that can occasionally suffocate a child. Psychologist Shane Murphy, who has worked with Olympians in the past, says his star athletes would buckle under ever-mounting parental pressure. I can’t even count how many athletes have come into my office and said, Look, I’m doing it, but I hate it, says Murphy. My parents have invested $80,000, and they want me to do it for a few more years (Feldman 1989). According to researchers, the best parents are the ones who allow their children to follow their own paths. If the child does have a special talent, he/she should be encouraged, not forced, to practice and improve. The parents should also be able to curb the child’s participation when it starts to control their life. It’s very natural for parents to identify with their children and want them to do well, says Ronald Smith, a psychologist at the University of Washington. The danger occurs when the parent begins to live through the child (Kantrowitz 1996). Parents should cheer for their children to do well, for themselves. Some parents, who never played sports or weren’t very good when they were young, want the child to do well, so the parents feel like they are the ones doing well.
Adds Smith, The danger occurs when the parent begins to live through the child (Kantrowitz 1996). Adolescence is commonly when burnout occurs in a pressured child athlete. Suddenly, he is not just playing for a hollow trophy and a pizza party. There is something greater at stake. College recruiters flock to high schools, dangling everything from full scholarships to brand new cars in front of their faces. For financially strapped students, a scholarship is the only way they can attend college. A bad pass or missed shot goes from being a human mistake to a life altering incident. Hormones play a big part in this stage of a child’s life. Teenagers now want to look good in front of their peers. So not only are they playing for parents, recruiters, and coaches, they are also playing to protect their egos. No one, at any age, wants to be considered a loser. Especially when you are seventeen (Roberts, Treasure, Hall). A perfect example of a parent properly guiding his child trough life is Joe Bryant, whose son Kobe is a member of the world champion Los Angeles Lakers. In June of 1996, Kobe made a controversial decision when he chose to bypass college and go straight to the NBA. Joe stood behind his son one hundred percent. All we could do was say, You can do whatever you want as long as you work at it said the elder Bryant, who spent eight years in the NBA himself. When injuries slowed Kobe in 1997, he was able to share his experience with his ex-player father, who gave him the best kind of comfort: I give him hugs to let him know it’s OK and it will get better (Kantrowitz 1996). In conclusion, I believe that an early start to an athletic lifestyle leads to a greater drive I life, in most aspects. Mental growth, parent participation, pressure, and social growth all lead to the future of our society, how we perform now, reflects how we performed, and were made to perform, earlier. As a child growing up in rural Alberta, my parents always pushed for me to be the best I could be, now I can honestly say that I have been most beneficial.