As a youth coach I have seen some young athletes leave a sport either because they don’t achieve goals or because they can’t handle the pressure of meeting expectations. Almost always it is outside influences that create these goals and expectations. Some of us need to change the way we measure success in youth sports to put more emphasis on long term goals and less on short term achievements; and making sure kids are having fun!
Kids need to have fun. Having fun in a sport will keep them in the sport. Sure, winning is fun. So is being part of a team and working together to achieve common goals. So is mastering new skills, making progress, and making friends in the process. We should limit the outside pressure on kids to achieve short term success.
There can be many sources of outside influence. Sometimes it is media and role modelling that create unrealistic expectations. Often, however, it is parents and coaches that place pressure on young athletes. Sadly, occasionally the motivation for doing so is self serving, as in a coach who believes their reputation is based only on championships or podium finishes and pressures athletes in this interest. More often, however, it is through a misguided belief that winning is the only measure of success in sports and that all athletes, regardless of age, should focus on winning.
Life is competitive. As adults, much of our time is spent competing. At work, in sports, in relationships, even at leisure we compete for success and the prestige that comes with it. I do not suggest that we should remove competition from youth sports. Kids need to learn about healthy competition. I think it’s unrealistic to make youth sports participation only. I think that within the framework of competition we should place more emphasis on participation and skill development, and keep an eye on the fun factor so that our youth athletes develop an attachment to sports and a healthy perspective on measuring success.
Those athletes who are destined for high performance in their sport will show their ability at the time when it is appropriate to start focussing them on performance as the measure of success. Many studies demonstrate the lack of correlation between pre and post growth spurt performance in young athletes. This means that being the best seven year old in the game has little to do with future success.
It’s okay to be the best seven year old in the game, but as parents and coaches, let’s not make it too important. By doing so I believe that we are sabotaging our youth athletes’ futures and hastening their departure from sports.
Keep it Fun!