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Pushing Kids too hard?

Posted July 27, 2009

By Blake Soto

Effects of Pushing Kids Too Early There’s a new phenomenon spreading across America, and it’s called the “stage parent.” Warning signs include mindless screaming and a false belief their child is the next Kobe Bryant or Maria Sharapova. These parents also respond to suggestions from authority figures with hostility, rudeness and in some instances, violence. Sound familiar? Many of us know parents like these and some have witnessed them in action. While we are fortunate enough to tune these types of people out, the children of such parents cannot. These parents’ children are growing up in an environment that horribly distorts the magnitude of youth basketball victories. They’re often pushed into competitive sports too early and are subject to negative behavior that ultimately harms their mental and physical health.

Self-Esteem Issues
The danger of this problem lies in the mental state of children rather than their physical well being. More than anything else, a child’s self-esteem may be at risk when parents push them too hard and too early in sports.
To a child, nothing is more satisfying than hearing an encouraging word or being singled out proudly by their parents. However, this is often the first step that leads to self-esteem issues. Through the acknowledgement of athletic feats, children begin to believe they are defined by what they do on the field. In order to please their parents and the adults around them, they must perform on the field. These patterns can continue through high school, and by that time a child may base their identity solely on his or her athletic ability and accomplishments.
Another problem associated with this phenomenon is the possibility a child develops into a dreaded “ball hog” or “prima donna”. In some instances, if a child’s main source of parental approval comes with athletic achievement, they may develop an insatiable drive for the limelight which manifests itself through individual, rather than team play. If a child builds their social identity only on the praise they get from athletic achievements, it can have disastrous ramifications on they way they play the game, seeking individual success over that of the team.
The final problem stemming from pushing kids too hard and too early into athletic competition concerns the overall character of the child. In an age where “stage parents” only recognize and revere winning, children are at risk of developing a “just win” mindset, where they will do anything it takes in order to win. In other words, children are at risk of developing a bleak and unsportsmanlike outlook on sports at an early age. These kids participate in their Little League games with no smiles on their faces, cuss when they make mistakes, talk back to the coaches, argue every call with umpires and jeer their opponents. Kids who are out to win at all costs end up taking the fun out of the game, perhaps because their “stage parents” did first.

Health Risks
When children are pushed into sports too early, usually something has to give. Sometimes it’s their attitude, sometimes it’s their body. Parents have a tendency to live vicariously through their children, often without realizing the physical damage they are inflicting on their bodies. Whether the parents were successful or rode the bench throughout childhood, they try to accomplish the impossible; and their own children are the instruments of destruction. How many fathers out there install pitching mounds in the family backyard? It’s common knowledge that a pitcher can only pitch a certain number of pitches before having to rest the joints of the arms and shoulders for several days; yet there are fathers out there who grab their sons and force them to pitch beyond the normal pitch count regardless of the risk of injury. Or how about the father that encourages a 160-pound son to play his old man’s position during his high school years, linebacker? How does the son please his father without having to turn to anabolic steroids or other strength supplements? Parents need to realize there are some expectations too impossible to force upon their children on the sports field.
When parents push their kids into competitive sports too early, they are not only risking the health of their children, but they could be risking their children’s athletic career as well. For example, Pop Warner football begins accepting players at the age of five. In the 10 years between Pop Warner and high school football, kids are at considerable risk for wear and tear on their bodies, as well as developing nagging injuries that will plague them years later, when football really counts. A better alternative is to enroll children into safer activities such as flag-football, where they can learn and hone important skills that will carry over smoothly into high school sports without fear of tearing a labrum or shredding a knee. Parents should find the balance of allowing their children to enjoy the thrill of athletics, both the fun and the competition, without going overboard by pushing them too early and too hard, mentally or physically.

 
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