We all value the positive effects that playing sports can have on our kids – improved social skills, higher self-esteem, better mental and physical health, for starters. However it’s not all fun and games. Toxic and/or too-intense sports experiences have also been found to contribute to depression and anxiety in young athletes.
The Aspen Institute held its fifth annual Project Play Summit earlier this month in Detroit, Michigan. I was lucky to join more than 500 thought leaders in the worlds of sports and health for two days of thought-provoking panels and breakout sessions. Panelists addressed many of the key issues in youth sports while also offering suggestions about how all of us can work to eliminate the negativity in our culture.
Highlight Reel: Rather than seeing each other as competition, parents and coaches can work together to build a positive sports culture that benefits everyone on the team.
“Sorry, I’ve got to go deal with this parent.”
“I’ll be late – I have to handle this situation with the coach.”
Many parent/coach interactions fall under the label of “handling” or “dealing with” each other. And those word choices say a lot: These aren’t the words you use when you’re talking about something you’re excited to do. It’s a chore, it’s an annoyance, and the person you’re interacting with is a nuisance at best and the bane of your existence at worst. Luckily, the parent/coach relationship doesn’t have to be this way. It can be a productive, even positive, partnership if both sides are willing to consider their attitudes and behaviors toward each other.
Highlight reel: Some personal coaches are exceptional in every sense of the word, but some are toxic and untrained. Keeping the right perspective and setting realistic expectations are critical when choosing the right instruction. Follow these tips to find the person or group who will enhance -- not destroy -- your child's love of a sport.
When I think back on my experience as a kid playing sports, there were pickup games, the start of lifelong friendships, and wins and losses (of course), but mainly I remember how much fun I had. Watching my kids now — and talking to my friends and the other team parents — I’m blown away by how different things are for our children; they are directed to hyper focus their skills on a single sport and are under a ton of pressure to succeed. And it seems like the pressure just keeps growing. But does focusing on one sport, to the exclusion of everything else (including fun), really make an impact? And is that impact positive enough to outweigh the negatives?
Highlight reel: Overuse injuries are a growing concern with the increase in sports specialization. By encouraging sports sampling and meaningful periods of rest, parents and coaches can help keep our kids happy, healthy and in the game.
Fundamental to the AD’s role is supporting and empowering our coaches, and part of that is to help them build healthy, cooperative relationships with parents based on trust and mutual respect. But in an environment where little league fields have to post signs reminding the adults (not the kids) to keep their behavior in check, what does a healthy parent-coach relationship look like? And more urgently, how do AD's and coaches work best with parents to build them?
Participating in youth sports provides many benefits — developing a lifelong enjoyment of physical activity, socializing with peers, building teamwork and leadership skills, improving self-esteem, and, maybe most importantly, having fun. But youth sports have evolved significantly over the past couple of decades. The days of pickup games and free play are long gone, now replaced with year-round, sport-specific skill development, driven by the commercialization of youth sports.
But does this adult-driven, highly structured, deliberate practice actually help kids meet their goals? Or does trying a variety of different sports actually present a greater benefit?