Want to Motivate Young Athletes? Focus on Balance and Variety

By: Brandon Capaletti, Guest Blogger

Today's kids can be under extreme pressure in the world of sports. Many parents, coaches, and even peers are pressuring kids to do better and push harder.

While this pressure can be positive—helping kids perform better in their sport—it can be taken too far. Too much pressure can have a negative impact on a child's mental and physical health, with effects that counteract the goals that parents have for their child's sports experiences.

Parents need to understand how competition in youth sports affects their kids and strive to strike the right balance—between having fun and doing one’s best.

Kids Are Quitting Too Early

One result of increased competitiveness in youth sports is the fact that kids are quitting early. In a recent survey by the National Alliance for Youth Sports, survey respondents indicated that 75 percent of all kids who begin in youth sports by the age of 8 will quit by the time they are 13.

Sometimes kids quit because they don't like the sport, but other times the reasons go deeper. Kids who are under too much competitive pressure no longer have fun playing games they once loved. The end result is kids who quit.

Kids Aren't Getting Enough Exposure

Pick out any major league sports star you want, dig a bit into their childhood, and you will probably find that sports exposure in their younger years was diverse. Rather than focusing on one sport and perfecting it in their childhoods, these professional athletes were exposed to many sports and non-sports activities. This helped them develop into well-rounded individuals who had excellent motor skills.

Focusing on one sport too early can actually backfire, leaving kids uncoordinated and causing burnout on a sport that the child could have enjoyed for many years.

Where to Draw the Line

So what's the answer? Some measure of competition is necessary, and even healthy, in the world of sports. Kids need to be pushed to achieve goals and, ultimately, win the game if they are going to learn a sport well.

In finding that balance between healthy competition and pushing kids too far, first look at the focus of the team or league. Winning and losing should not be the primary focus. Character development and overall skill and aptitude should be the emphasis.

Look at your response to the sport at home. What is the first question you ask when your child comes home from a game? Is it whether or not the team won? If so, then you might want to switch your focus. Instead, ask, "Did you improve your free throw skills?" or "Did you learn something?" and even "Did you have fun?" Ultimately, these are the goals of youth sports. Even if you have a child who goes on to get an athletic scholarship—or become a professional athlete—games won or lost in the early years are not going to decide your child’s future.

Encourage your kids to play pickup games of their chosen sport and other sports, just for fun. These pickup games are crucial in helping kids fine-tune their skills. Hundreds of games of H-O-R-S-E and sandlot baseball are necessary to develop well-rounded athletes. These more informal games are fun and much less competitive than organized sports teams.

Finally, cut the parent chatter. One thing that drives the competitiveness of youth sports is parents. When you hear a friend talk about her son's accomplishments in soccer, you may want to have similar bragging points for your daughter's accomplishments in gymnastics. This constant buzz among parents to boast about what their children are doing can drive other parents crazy. Stop and let your children enjoy sports for what they are, rather than pushing them to be stars so you can look great among your friends.

In today's society, youth sports often take competitiveness too far. Take a stand with your kids to bring sanity—and fun—back to the game.


Brandon Capaletti is the Vice President of Cisco Athletic, a Maryland-based manufacturer that designs, produces and distributes custom sports uniforms.

Photo Credit: Simon_sees on Flickr.

Great thank you

5

This article can be extremely helpful to parents. I love this sentence, “Parents need to understand how competition in youth sports affects their kids and strive to strike the right balance—between having fun and doing one’s best.” Balance is so important.

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