By Ken Reed

Youth sports are popular year-round, but especially so when kids are on summer break from school. Baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, and even summer basketball and volleyball leagues and tournaments, are all going at full speed right now.

When we talk about youth sports, we’re typically talking about organized youth sports. And that means adults are running the show. If I’ve learned anything from playing youth sports, coaching youth sports, researching youth sports, writing about youth sports and even doing a short documentary about youth sports, it’s that there’s TOO MUCH ADULT IN YOUTH SPORTS.

Adults — usually well-meaning — tend to put too much pressure on kids, which leads to early sports specialization, overuse injuries, emotional burn out, and 80% of kids dropping out of youth sports by the time they reach age 13. The primary reason kids give for quitting? It’s not fun. And why isn’t it fun anymore? Their top answers have to do with overzealous and overbearing adults — parents and coaches.

The following comments are from kids about their sports experiences. It’s a Top 10 list, in reverse order, of kids’ advice for parents (as gleaned from comments by Sports Illustrated for Kids readers). There are lessons here for all parents and coaches of young athletes:

You many not want to hear this but most kids have a lot to say about their parents’ involvement in their sports lives, especially what they don’t like about it.

10. During car rides to games or practice, kids don’t want you to tell them how to do this or that. “I am not stupid,” said one 12-year old.

9. Kids can get psyched for a game without your help. “I hate when parents say, ‘Are you ready? We’re going to win, ‘like they’re playing,” said one kid.

8. It’s your duty as a parent to sit quietly and watch your kids do wonderful things. Kids get bummed out when you miss games or yak it up too much with friends in the stands, “We’re sweating and playing the game, and they’re busy socializing,” complained one girl.

7. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, kids don’t want you to talk. Typical comments: “Parents think they know the rules, but they don’t.” My mom asks annoying questions.” And “I hate when my mom tells me to do things even when she doesn’t know the first thing about sports.”

6. Even if you do know what you’re talking about, kids don’t want you to talk (unless you’re the coach). “I hate when parents tell us to do the exact opposite of what the coaches say,” said one child. Added another: “If your parent isn’t the coach, he or she shouldn’t try to be one.”

5. Kids wish you would practice what you preach about sportsmanship. “My mom always wants me to be a ‘good sport,’ but a lot of the time she blames the loss on the ref,” claimed one kid. “Arguing with the refs is not only embarrassing, but it takes up time,” said another.

4. Kids often can’t hear you yelling when they’re concentrating on the game. Sometimes, they can. Either way, they don’t like it. “Parents yell advice you don’t -hear because you’re so into playing the game. Afterward they say, ‘Why didn’t you listen to me?” complained one child. Said others: “I feel embarrassed when my parents yell so loud that the whole town can hear.” And “They yell and scream and look like dorks.”

3. After they lose, kids don’t want to be told it doesn’t matter. Typical reactions: “I hate when we get knocked out of the playoffs and my parents say, ‘You’ll get them next time!” and “When parents try to cheer you up after a loss, all they do-is remind you of the score.”

2. After they lose, kids don’t want to be told that it does matter. “Parents take losses harder than we do,” wrote one boy. And one girl: “You win some, you lose some, no big deal! Get over it!”

1. Kids just want to have fun. Parents just don’t get this, kids say. Many kids would rather play on a losing team than sit on the bench on a winning one. “The thing that bugs me the most is that my parents take it too seriously,” summed up one child. “They act like it is school.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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