Pressure on children can outweigh benefits of sports
Published Friday, August 3, 2012 5:58PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, August 3, 2012 6:14PM EDT
Professional athletes dedicate years of their live to their sport, and debate is growing over whether children in minor sports should just enjoy the activity or be pushed to achieve greatness.
Increasingly, the line between simply cheering children on and pressuring them to be the best has become blurry.
Eighteen-year-old Zack Aubrecht has played baseball most of his life, and it sometimes dominates it.
“Last year I played baseball almost every day for a month straight because I was in four different leagues.”
But his mother Carol Aubrecht says she has tried to be careful, watching for signs of exhaustion and taking to her son.
“Because the need to be doing something they like doing or else they’re not going to do it and they’re not going to go in it full force.”
Fitness expert Libby Norris says a sport can become a big stressor physically, mentally and emotionally.
“I think it takes a lot of communication, constant communication, with your child to make sure they’re still loving it.”
Norris has spent most of her life playing, coaching and working in sports and has seen what happens when children are involved in a sport they don’t enjoy or pushed too hard.
“When there is that much time that early, not surprisingly you see a lot of burn out in children earlier too.”
Kim Dawson is s a sport psychologist at Wilfrid Laurier University and teaches a course called ‘Children in Sport.’
“If we did an outcome-based evaluation of our organized sport program, it’s not cutting it on any level.”
She has worked with Olympic athletes and families in minor sports, and says children often can’t communicate when they’re being pushed too far.
“It’s very difficult for them to maintain that balance when they don’t have the control, Dawson says. “It’s the very rare child that really is as disciplined and focused on one sport as the parent is.”
Norris and Dawson agree that children are reluctant to tell parents if they want to try a new sport, or walk away from sport completely.
Sean and Jackie Morgan have six children, five of whom play soccer, but all are encouraged to try other activities.
“Until they’re in rep, which is a few years for the younger ones,” Sean says they “try and keep them to as many sports as possible.”
That variety is a good way to avoid burnout, but another is to forgo some organized sports in favour of unstructured play, or as Norris says, playing a game of catch instead joining a baseball league.
Dawson adds “People are either buying into the system whole-heartedly and adopting it or people are taking themselves right out of it and just saying ‘No, we want to have a little bit more of a family life.’”
As Carol’s time shuttling Zack around comes to an end, she will continue to support her daughters as they remain involved in gymnastics and dance.
But despite the years of busy schedules and long car rides, she says “I would do it all over again.”
Experts agree that while there are physical, emotional and social advantages for children in sports, balance is key.