Youth sports become too intense? The time and energy youth sports require

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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

self-confidence.

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

athletes.

Colin-Kaepernick-Jim-Harbaugh-San-Francisco-49ers

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.

–NATHAN PITCOCK

Chicago Magic Soccer Club

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