YES It’s not just adults who think youth sports have becometoo intense in recent years. A lot of kids think so too.
In 2006, the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association polled young
players about behavior they had observed at sports games. Specifically,
kids were asked about how the adults–parents, coaches, and fans–were
behaving. More than a third said they had been yelled at or teased by a
fan; 15 percent said their parents get angry when they play poorly.
When Sports Illustrated for Kids asked similar questions in 2001,
the feedback was no less disturbing: 74 percent of the kids surveyed
said they had witnessed out-of-control adults at their games.
This sort of behavior is taking an emotional toll. Researchers at
Michigan State University have studied the attrition rates among youth
athletes: 70 percent drop out by age 13. Some just decide they like
piano or Justin Bieber more. But many told researchers that sports
weren’t much fun.
There are also physical risks when sports become too intense. Half
of all sports in juries among kids each year are caused by simple
overuse, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. These
injuries–stress fractures, ruptured ligaments, and growth-plate
injuries*–can be quite serious, and many can cause lifelong problems.
They’re all avoidable with rest and moderation.
I know more than I’d like to about injuries that happen when
youth sports become too intense. When my son was 18, he ruptured an
elbow ligament while pitching for his high school baseball team. At the
time, he was playing for three different baseball teams in three
different seasons. I wish I’d realized then how excessive that was.
–MARK HYMAN, AUTHOR
Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession With Youth Sports
NO Those who argue that youth sports are too intense point mostly
to two factors: the amount of time they require and the pressure that
they place on young athletes. These are the very qualities, however,
that make youth sports so valuable to those who participate.
Youth sports today are indeed a big investment: The time, money,
and energy required are tremendous. But reward always requires
investment. The principle is the same whether we’re talking about
the monetary rewards that come with financial investments or the
intrinsic rewards that come from investing in youth sports.
Young athletes who spend countless hours training at their sport
learn the value of discipline and commitment. There is simply no way
other than tireless repetition to learn the skills necessary to succeed
in competitive athletics. When an athlete performs well as a result of
this kind of disciplined training, he or she develops genuine
With parents shouting from the sidelines and college scouts
watching every play, high-level competitions are packed with pressure.
But when managed well, this pressure can bring out the best in young
To successfully compete in this environment, young athletes must
develop mechanisms for blocking out distractions and concentrating only
on the details relevant to performance. Then the pressure of all the
eyes looking on can be harnessed as motivation to compete harder and
perform better. Instead of being held back by the pressure, young
athletes learn to thrive under pressure.
In the soccer club I work for, I’ve seen countless kids
achieve their potential as a result of all their hard work. It’s
the intensity that makes youth sports so valuable.
Chicago Magic Soccer Club