Look around. We’ve all seen it – that one crazy parent on the sideline of a soccer, basketball, or lacrosse game, screaming at his or her child to get the ball or “try harder.” These parents, though well intended, unintentionally place a great burden on their children’s athletic careers, creating negative environments. The push of child athletes towards high level competition at such a young age, due to the overbearing and intense emphasis some parents place on sports, is causing an overall decrease in youth participation at the rec level.
Around the country, pressure from parents to make their children the best athletes they can be has created a shift from athletic participation in town or regional sports to club teams and travel programs. These competitive teams are great for the people who are on them, and I myself have developed many great friendships and memories from my experience in travel sports. The issue that resides in club sports, however, is that they emphasize one sport athletic specialization, take the fun out of youth athletics, and leave players unable to afford the luxury of club sports to fall behind in athletics, due to failing, mediocre town programs. While the rec teams in Ridgewood are generally very strong, nationally there has been a 4% decrease in team sports participation from 2009 to 2014. Additionally, a study from the Aspen Play Project found that 70% of kids quit sports before the age of 13. These statistics are troubling, as sports are supposed to be a competitive, intense, but also a fun outlet of energy and stress, as well as a platform for learning valuable life lessons like accountability, hard work, determination, time management, social skills and problem solving. Kids who quit at age 13 or before high school are missing out on these experiences that can benefit them later in life. A 2014 survey from EY Women Athletes Business Network found that out of 400 female corporate executives, 94% played a sport in high school and 61% of them say that that has contributed to their success. Active students are also more likely to have higher test scores, attend better colleges, and have higher incomes. In a town like Ridgewood, these statistics don’t just affect the kids who are left behind in a sea of club programs; they also affect the intense athlete who was pushed too hard as a child and lost their love of the game.
If parents really want the best for their kids, they should keep them playing and loving sports. It is much more important to participate, have fun, make memories, and learn than it is to push young children to the brink of quitting in the name of improbable success. If loving the game means playing at an intense travel level, that’s great. If it doesn’t, so be it. At the end of the day, it’s the child that’s out on the field, and the parent up in the bleachers watching.
Graphics: Jessica Chang