Kids and Sports and Crazed Parents

This sounds like a good book — “Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports,”  by Mark Hyman( http://untilithurts.com/).

Apparently Hyman’s 14-year-old son came home with an arm super-sore from playing too much baseball, too hard. Hyman  told the boy to get out there and pitch again — after all, it was the playoffs. Just a few years later, the  kid ended up in surgery. Sports injury. For his part, the dad ended up with an epiphany: There is no reason to push our offspring to this point.

So he examines how sports went from something spontaeous and fun to something organized and grueling. Of course this entails figuring out how we parents got so overinvolved. And he shares some shocking stats, too, like the fact that in 2003 alone, 3.5 million children under age 15 required medical treatment for sports injuries, “nearly half of which were the result of simple overuse. The quest to turn children into tomorrow’s superstar athletes has often led adults to push them beyond physical and emotional limits.” 

Not good!

Free-Range Kids is pro kids sports, but not pro pro-kids sports, if you get my drift. We are not eager to make our kids into pros, or to enroll them  in so many coaching programs so many days a week that that they can outswim Michael Phelps, but have no idea how to organize their own game of tag.

Sounds like this author came to the same conclusion, the hard way.  — Lenore

29 Responses

  1. I played volleyball in high school and it taught me so much about teamwork, hard work, and fun! I am now 15 post high school and I cringe to see the programs required to make it into high school teams. My brother has 2 boys that play football and basketball. All year round they are going to 4 to 6 games a week, plus practices. It is overwhelming for them at times, and yet that’s what you have to do if you want a chance to play high school or college ball. I am glad to see a parent stepping back and asking the questions Hyman is about pushing our kids over the edge with these programs. Thanks!

  2. The biggest problem with young kids in sports is the coaches are usually just parents like you and I…no training or education to even teach the sport. All too often both the coaches and parents want the children to do whatever at all costs to win rather than develop.
    We as parents need to be accountable for our children, be more involved and over see that our children are properly taught, not just drop them off at the park, arena etc and run off. All too often parents leave their kids as if they are being dumped off with a babysitter.

  3. That looks to be a good read. My husband is from Vancouver, British Columbia and he was SHOCKED to hear that my old highshool’s football team would practice for two hours…twice a day! He was involved in his highschool’s sports and had practice (varsity boys, mind you) once a WEEK!
    My old highschool has even had kids go to the ER during practice because of extreme fatigue and severe dehydration. You’d think they would get it by now….
    Sarah M
    PS-just ordered your book for our local library, can’t wait!

  4. That’s sad. My son is on a gymnastics team and it was hard in the beginning not to want to push him – but what I decided early on was that he loved it and had a passion for it – something I didn’t want to destroy by nagging. I only talk to him about perfecting his technique when the time is right – such as when he said he wanted to be a gymnastics coach. In that moment, I had the chance to tell him that to coach others, he had to perfect his own routines. Truthfully, as time marches on, if he truly loves it, he’ll know that he has to improve without my hard-nosing him to do it. Best thing I can offer is support and cheers. 😀

  5. I find that where we live there is the “right” sports team, and “other” sports teams. The “right” teams are often traveling, and most certainly have a lot more pressure to win, or to ‘be the best.’

    For the most part, we steer our kids toward church leagues and the Y – which do not have wait lists, cost less to join, and have far less frothing frenzy about them. Each child is allowed one sports activity per term, without overlaps.

    Our oldest is only in third grade – if, in the next year, he looks to be clearly gifted at one sport , or shows preference on his own, we can explore a league with more pressure – if that is something he specifically wants. Until then, we like them to feel like they are still playing.

    My husband coaches football at the high school level and feels strongly that there is no need for tackle football before junior high – it is just too dangerous, and the risk of injury is too high.

  6. My 8 year old asked to do little league this year. Given that he almost never asks to do sports (we are the least sportsy family in the US), I said ok. Only to find out after I signed him up that there are practices on Sunday mornings, including Mother’s day and Easter Sunday and Palm Sunday. He’ll still play, but sorry folks, church trumps sports. Growing up that would have been unthinkable – Sunday mornings were unassailable family time. But apparently, sports is a religion around here…

  7. I have certainly noticed that a lot of the kids I meet in my practice drop out of sports, at some point in time. The most common reason is that the sport was no longer enjoyable. While some of the kids may have not been able to compete at a certain competitive level in said sport, many of them were doing well. They simply tired of the practices and the pressure.

    I know that I have wondered what is to come of the traditions our family currently holds dear. So many families are tied to sporting events every weekend that they can’t get away. We spend as many weekends in the woods as we can each summer, and we spend as much time as we can playing in the snow on Mt. Hood each winter. Too many families no longer know the joys of a simple get away, it seems. Over-commitment to sporting activities is one of the bigger reasons for this, in my experience.

  8. So many competitive and team sports are like this. I don’t think it is a particularly new thing either (at least in Australia). I still feel traumatised by my school team sport experiences and haven’t felt particularly inclined towards pushing my own kids into team sports. They both do Kung Fu and swimming where the only pressure applied comes from within oneself.

  9. This is exactly why my hyper-competitive boys are in a non-competitive soccer league.

    While they are perfectly capable of turning “Apples to Apples” into a full contact sport at home, I don’t want them exposed to those parents. Or their kids, frankly.

    And there’s enough pressure on kids in the rest of their little lives. They don’t need this.

  10. I see the sports thing as just one small part of a larger trend. You see parents pushing their kids through hours of piano practice every day, auditioning them for acting or modeling jobs, or cramming them full of as much reading and math homework as possible in kindergarden. The kids have a packed schedule of organized, enriching, educational activities and no free time.

    I want my kids to spend a lot of time walking through the woods, playing stickball in the street, building a fort in the back yard, going fishing, or seeing what the clouds look like.

  11. We live in Texas…so sports are sort of a religion here. My boys both play organized sports and we spend ALOT of time at practices or games, simply because that is what THEY want to do…and I like that they are outside, being a part of a team, and being with their friends (or new friends that they meet through sports), and just being active. We actually choose to have them on more “serious” teams with “real” trainers because the trainers understand what the sport is all about. My son’s soccer trainer made it very clear to the parents that the only thing they should say to their kid after a game is “I really enjoyed watching you play today. Where would you like to go eat?” They have been on Y teams in the past where a (crazy) Dad was the Coach and I REALLY didn’t like how those teams taught my kids how idiotic adults could be at a sporting event…honestly, two grown men having a shouting match about whether one was running up the score at at SIX – YEAR – OLD FLAG FOOTBALL game.

    We have no preconcieved ideas that our kids will be the next Tiger Woods, David Beckham, or A-Rod…we simply like that they are active, outside, learn how to win and lose, and work in teams with people they like and don’t like.

  12. My daughter is 11 and due to health reasons, she is unable to play organized sports. On one hand, it is a blessing, on another it makes her an outcast. It kills me to see kids her age, running laps in 95 degree weather to the point they throw up and the parents complain about the coaches making them.. uuummm how about pulling your kid out? They talk about wanting to make sure their kid gets a college scholarship, why not save the money you spend for the sports starting at age 4 and you will have it… I think sports have their place in a child’s life, but it has gotten out of hand. My daughter’s friend practices softballl 5 nights a week for 2 hours, and then has 4 games on the weekends, She has no social life which again, is just as important

  13. the real horror is the inequality. There are plenty of children with NO chance of being on any kind of sporting team because of lack of money, safe parks etc.

  14. Mr Hyman definitely brings important considerations to the forefront–parents, coaches and high schools need to understand how overuse, improper coaching and fundamentals can physically harm our children–it does happen to frequently. However, let’s not lose sight of the enormous good sports presents so many children. well presented, well coached athletics can provide kids with the oppoortunity to learn goal-setting, teamwork, problem-solving, a sense of community, discipline, etc. Unfortunately, too many coaches are “that guy or that coach”–ie. “if it werent for that coach, i’d still be playing…” Our organization (AThe Student Athlete Foundation) is working on “outreach thru athletics”–we recognize athletics as an oppoortunity to motivate dis-enfranchised kids, underserved families–sports CAN be the conduit to life success…
    i love your statement about kids not knowing how to play tag–impromptu backyard games –without parental organization–are so much fun!

  15. “3.5 million children under age 15 required medical treatment for sports injuries”

    In the 2007 estimate from the CIA World Factbook there are about 82 million people under 19 in the US. Considering the US sees about 4 million birth per year let us extrapolate (not showing my math) that there are about 70 million kids under 15. That means that there are about 5% of kids that get hurt playing sports. I know that when I was a kid I sprained my fingers while playing soccer (i landed wrong when diving for the ball), developed tennis elbow fr while playing baseball (I threw side arm despite my coach saying not to), and I recieved numerous concussions while ski racing (crashing at 50+ mph through the safety fence and having my head bounce on the ice).
    My point is that the percent of children injured during sports is low (5%) and the number of those injured because of over zealous parents and coaches is probably even less.

  16. The current parent-driven sports mania is the evil twin of FreeRange…and reflects how out of balance our society is in many ways. The readers above touched on it all: It’s a class issue–not everyone can afford the costs of organized sports. It’s a health issue–perhaps the same amount of injuries as in the past, but now they can cause life-long damage. It’s parents’ unrealistic expectations–very, very few of the over scheduled/over sported kids actually end up playing their sport in college (not to mention once college is over). It’s the idea of learning to be independent–yes, being on a team is truly a way to grow as a person, but when are today’s children really on their own to solve their own problems? It’s the idea of family togetherness–every family has a particular focus (sports, music, or just sitting around not doing much, like our family), but when family life relentlessly revolves around children and THEIR schedule, then who is really in charge?

    And why are so many parents behaving this way? They are indulging THEIR wishes, not thinking about what is really best for their children.

  17. Then there’s the fact that the competitive push for sports outcasts those who simply aren’t athletic.

    I LOVE swimming, but not enough where I wanted to compete. I never joined a swim team when I was a kid because we couldn’t afford it, and I wanted to join the swim team when I was in high school but was not interested in trying out (I doubt I would have made it due to lack of previous training) and didn’t care enough for 6 a.m. practices.

    Sports really are fetishized in this country, and it’s gotten to the point that if you aren’t an athlete you’re considered fat, lazy, and unhealthy (I think current “recommendations” for activity level is 60 minutes of strenuous exercise 5 days a week). I’m not an athlete, never have been, never will be, but I”m active and healthy.

    Oh, and because of the competitive thing, I HATED gym class.

  18. Remember that we need to be careful with statistics. My guess is that in 2003, there may have been 3.5 million children who required medical treatment for injuries from Free Ranging….same as for sports injuries. I know that in 2006 my son was treated for a broken arm (twice) and in 2007 he was treated for a broken finger…a critic might attribute all of those injuries to my willingess to let him Free Range.

  19. The irony, of course, is that many parents who push their kids hard in organized sports, exposing them to injuries with lifelong implications (think bad knees) are the same parents who freak out at the thought of unsupervised play time, how their kid could be hurt or abducted or whatever if allowed to walk home alone from school or play freely at the local park.

    It’s not just the parents, either. I spent over five years working as a child injury prevention specialist alongside some of the top people in the field. While a few researchers were working on interventions to teach soccer players safer ways to kick, etc., no one questioned the youth sports industry as a whole — whether it was doing more harm than good for kids, or whether the rates and types of injuries were worth the potential rewards, such as college scholarships, that only a few kids would get.

    These same experts had no qualms about condemning unsupervised play (even for older kids and teens) as a big source of potential danger and injury, even as they stayed mum about the dangers of hyper-competitive youth sports.

    I haven’t read Hyman’s book yet, but I’d also recommend checking out Tom Farrey’s Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children.

  20. It seems the problem isn’t whether sports are organized or not, it’s whether a particular league/coach/parent pushes too hard. The same thing could happen in anything kids do, like homework or music lessons.

  21. The important point of Hyman’s statistic was that almost half of the sports injuries were overuse injuries. These ordinarily occur only when a kid is being pushed beyond his/her limits or thinks he/she has to perform beyond his/her limits. In the absence of pressure, kids will generally know their limits when it comes to physical activity and won’t develop overuse injuries. Some risk of injury is inevitable in sports, just as in any other worthwhile activity. But overuse injuries aren’t among them; you only get them when you keep ignoring your body’s signals.

  22. Sports abilities rank very important in this culture. I sometimes wonder if parents spend as much time concerned about their children’s social and intellectual development as about their children’s athletic development. What about the kids who are not athletically inclined and get injured? The percentages of injuries may be comparable. Shouldn’t we include everyone?

  23. This culture rewards sports and athletic abilities. Perhaps the kids who are not athletically inclined are injured as often as those who are athletically inclined. Social and intellectual development (“social capital”) pays off as well as sports down the road. Shouldn’t we look more deeply and include everyone in the review?

  24. Another good book on this topic is “Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women’s Sports” by Michael Sokolove. Girls suffer from the same f-ed-up ethos of sports as boys do, with extra complicating factors, such as (on average) lower quality coaching; the mentality that “girls don’t play as hard as boys”, so their injuries don’t get evaluated as closely; and the mentality that “girls/women are whiners/complainers and can’t handle pain” resulting in adults discounting girls’ descriptions of their pain and other symptoms, while at the same time girl athletes are aware of this stereotype and trying to “tough it out” just as much as boys do to prove that they’re not wimps, which leads to even more undertreatment of the injuries.

    I think the cultural attitudes around sports are antithetical to healthy lifestyles. Elite performance is valued so much, that by college (but often in high school too) only the highly athletically talented AND single-mindedly dedicated play sports any more. The less talented and the less enthusiastic are relegated to spectators.

    The attrition of kids from playing sports is often abetted by PE teachers who never bother to properly teach sports skills to the kids who don’t pick them up easily. These untalented (we could call them athletically learning disabled!) kids suffer years of helpless humiliation in PE class, leading to a lifelong hatred and avoidance of exercise. The elite players suffer mental and physical injuries from the high-pressure culture of sports. Both end up unhealthy and feeling bad about themselves. Then there are the “weekend warrior” injuries. Luckiest are those who enjoy sports, but don’t take them too seriously, and have some knowledge about how to stretch, warm up and otherwise reduce injury risk. I wonder if health education in schools addresses these issues nowadays.

    The same processes also occur with education and participation in the arts, but at least that doesn’t lead to such negative health outcomes.

  25. I remember hearing many years ago that there was zero corelation between being a little league pitcher and being an MLB pitcher. In fact, I think it was inverse, in that the stresses put on little leauge pitchers at that early age were detrimental to developing as a pitcher later. I wish I could find backing for that claim now.

  26. My school in British Columbia is about to undergo an in depth review of the elementary sports program that we are part of. Students in grade six and seven are feeling too much pressure to win most of which comes from the directors of the sports program.

  27. like everything else – sports requires balance and letting the kids determine what they want.

    My 11 year old son is a hyper-competitive jock. He’s been in an academy soccer program since he was 8 (after 3 years of me coaching him in rec league). He has 2 practices a week and at least one game, usually two. He also started playing tennis this year with 2-3 practices a week for THAT as well as one match.

    BUT – my son WANTS to play at that level and every season we ask if he wants to take time off and play a different sport (he also has played ice/roller hockey and is interested in baseball and basketball).

    But what I’m happiest about is that he and a batch of teammates and friends of differing skill levels have started playing soccer on Sunday afternoon at a beat up field a few blocks away. Kids only, adults aren’t allowed to stay to watch. It’s amazing just how radical the idea of them doing that is to many of the parents.

  28. Very nice post, maybe by combining yours and my ideas I will manage to start some serious work on my business blog.

  29. Very good information for kids and parents alike. Many injuries as children comeback to haunt us as adults. There is
    a limit to the stress we place on the bodies of young children.
    Unfortunately, parents in their enthusiasm lack the expertise
    to judge when enough is enough.
    After all the key is good socialization, having fun and winning once in a while.

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