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We Need to Stop Pressuring Kids to Be the Best at Their Sport

Sitting on the sidelines, I watch my 7-year-old son play travel soccer. Some games get intense. Not by the little feet kicking the ball on the field, or even their coach on the bench, but because of the parents. I have seen my son's coach, who is usually always poised, huddle the parents together after a game. "You have to stay calm, guys," he says. "Remember, when you yell, the kids get rattled, and then lose what little composure they had."

As a parent, we want what's best for our children and to be the best they can be. But as Justin Ocwieja, youth developmental director of the Nationals Genesee Soccer Program in Michigan, a travel soccer league, says, "We need to remember that they're kids—and they're still developing." Ocwieja, who has been coaching in the program for 10 years, says he's seen an increase in the intensity of the level of play for children, but also an increase in parental involvement. "It's good for parents to be involved in their child's development, but sometimes parents can push their children too hard,” he says.

Doing that can have serious repercussions. Intense pressure in youth athletics doesn’t only negatively impact a child’s sports experience—it can also taint other aspects of their life. When parents make the sport seem like work, says Ocwieja, the child is going to look at it the same way and likely push away from the developmental process.

Pressure in sports can be dangerous

About 45 million kids are involved in organized youth sports in the United States. And there can be tons of benefits for these children, including a healthier lifestyle, increased academic achievement, and reduction in suicidal thoughts for both girls and boys, according to a report published in Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine.

But as studies showing the benefits increase—right along with college tuition making a scholarship even more appealing—so does parental pressure. This can lead to opposite effects like taking the fun and love out of a game. About 70 percent of young athletes leave organized sports by the time they hit middle school simply because they are no longer having fun, according to research from George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

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