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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 23, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Columns2014-2015

The Hot Stove: Parental influence curbs child athletes

When I played youth travel basketball, I remember walking into our small, middle school gym and reading the sign on the door reminding players and fans that they were not welcome if they couldn’t control themselves.

For the most part it worked, but throughout the years adult misbehavior in youth sports has been a prevalent issue throughout the United States.

Miranda Kaye, assistant professor in the department of exercise and sports science, conducted research on the decreasing rate of participation in youth sports. Her work, “Pressure to win discourages youth in sports”, was published in last week’s issue of The Ithacan and sheds light on an issue that has been gradually exposed in the past five years or so: over-involved parents.

In the HBO Documentary “State of Play: Trophy Kids,” the relationships between five separate adolescents and their parents from Southern California are profiled. The documentary clearly displays outright helicopter and vicarious parenting.

But what is most disturbing in this documentary is how often both the young athletes and their parents use “we” to describe their competition. Derek, a 15-year-old high school basketball player, is even standing next to his father in one scene and says, “As soon as we started getting competitive, that’s when the training started.”

In her study, Kaye mentioned that parents’ goals influence and often add to the anxiety of the athlete. In my opinion, parents’ goals have no place in youth sports because it’s about the players. We should never forget that coaches, parents and officials are supposed to be facilitators of fun.

Based on her own experiences with youth sports, junior sport media major Kerline Batista researched the declining attendance of parents at youth sports competitions. Though Batista wished her parents could have attended more games and been there to see her hit her first home run, she said it doesn’t change the fact that she achieved these accolades on her own.

As Kaye mentioned, the “win-at-all-costs” mentality and prioritizing winning has been implemented in some youth sports, and since not everybody can win, fewer kids are having fun. One of the most common misunderstandings in youth sports that I’ve heard from parents in sports culture is that we need to push kids or else we’re setting them up for failure. But failure is a part of everyday life. If a kid doesn’t learn how to fail at a young age, it will be much more difficult for them in the future.

Plus there are other activities in which parents can encourage kids to do their best aside from youth sports.

As sports writer Grantland Rice once said, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” For all parents and spectators who attend youth sports games, please remember the game is for them, not for you. Maybe then we’ll see more kids having fun instead of worrying about defeating the person next to them.