Summer sanity: Keeping youth sports on track
By Linda Alberts
The benefits of youth sports seem to be a panacea for developing our country’s next generation. Do you want to raise a humble child who values teamwork, isn’t afraid to work hard and can persevere through failure? Then sign them up for youth sports.
But youth sports have gotten dangerously off track from their purpose in many communities.
Too many kids suffer from overuse injuries. Kids’ bodies are breaking down before they even hit their peak. A recent study led by Columbia University Medical Center found that almost half of young baseball players have been encouraged to keep playing despite experiencing arm pain. To add fuel to the fire, separate research from the Rush University Medical Center revealed that 56.7 percent of Ulnar Collateral Ligament Reconstruction (UCLR), also known as Tommy John surgeries, performed during 2007-2011 was on 15- to 19-year-old children.
And for what? For the temporary glory of being the best player that season? For the potential of an athletic scholarship, or a chance to go pro? What happens in 30 years, after the child becomes an adult who most likely did not make it to the pros and has a broken down body to remind them of their time in youth sports?
Many families find themselves with packed schedules during the sports season, especially if they have many kids playing sports or participating in other activities. With every moment planned, they are on a strict timeline. It can be downright stressful and meaningful family moments get lost in the shuffle.
According to a survey conducted by i9 Sports, 68 percent of moms polled say their children’s involvement in youth sports causes stress in their lives; 53 percent say youth sports have robbed them of time for holidays, weekends and free time; and 65 percent of working mothers say their children’s sports interfere with their jobs.
But youth sports itself isn’t to blame for any of this. With our permission, sports have evolved into an invasive activity that cuts into precious time, wallets and impedes our children’s health.
However, it doesn’t have to stay that way. By focusing on a few key actions, parents can reshape the youth sports landscape and make better youth sports for kids. Here are three ways parents can bring sanity back to youth sports:
REMEMBER THAT YOUTH SPORTS ARE FOR THE KIDS
Youth sports should always be child-centric. What happens on the field, court or rink has nothing to do with you. It sounds harsh, but remember, this is your child’s moment. They are creating their story.
Parents should be supportive of their child whether they make the game-winning shot or completely miss their mark. Your job is to guide them through this experience because there is more at stake than the numbers on the scoreboard.
How they learn to deal with losses, a wrong call, a missed shot or even positive outcomes like winning or becoming a star player offer crucial life lessons and character development opportunities.
So that is why youth sports are for the kids. Plus, it’s fun.
ENCOURAGE KIDS TO PLAY MULTIPLE SPORTS
The rise of overuse injuries in youth sports is often a result of early sport specialization. “Cross training with different sports works different muscle groups and skills,” says Dr. Robert Klitzman, assistant professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at Indiana University School of Medicine.
Klitzman points to the famous example of football players learning ballet to improve their footwork.
“One sport can translate into another to help athletes gain different skills that will make them well-rounded in their main sport,” he says.
But don’t worry. Letting your child play multiple sports doesn’t mean scheduling in more practices and game days or paying extra registration fees. Klitzman says athletes can receive the benefits of cross training even if the sports aren’t organized. Sports like swimming, playing tennis or pick-up games are great ways to expose your child to cross training and help prevent burnout from focusing on just one sport.
Do you have a nagging feeling that your child will fall behind if you don’t let him specialize like the other kids?
“Take a step back to gain some perspective. Ask yourself how this can affect the 50-year-old version of your child,” says Klitzman. “If it seems like everyone else is specializing, talk to people outside of your normal circle for a fresh viewpoint.”
PRIORITIZE FAMILY TIME AWAY FROM SPORTS
Little League Parent Syndrome is a phrase sports psychologists use when parents take youth sports too seriously. It may sound like a joke, but to the parents that truly agonize over game schedules and making sure their children get enough play time, it’s a real issue. And it proves why it is so important for families to connect outside of youth sports events.
The easiest way to fit in family time is over a meal.
“The meal table is a touchstone for both kids and parents, and sometimes the only opportunity for everyone to touch base with each other, support each other and convey important information about each other’s’ lives,” says Jill Castle, MS, RD and author of Eat Like a Champion. “If the meal atmosphere is pleasant, research indicates that kids benefit in many ways, like grades, social and emotional regulation, less risk taking, better eating and perhaps better self-esteem.”
Castle says families should share a meal together at least 3-5 times a week to gain these benefits.
Busy families need ways to create fast, nutritious meals to make sure they are connecting at mealtime instead of pulling through the drive-thru window.
“Quick meals are so crucial to an athlete’s performance and a family’s connectivity,” says Castle. She suggests using a slow cooker, cooking meals ahead on the weekend and grilling to provide meals that will fuel your athlete and bring your family together.
“Having a way the whole family can connect together within the home seems to solidify the family unit,” says Castle. “Everyone in the family has to eat, so why not do it together, especially when we know there are some real health benefits, athletic benefits and social-emotional benefits?”
SIGN UP FOR THE SPORTS PARENT PLEDGE – IT’S FREE
For more information to help you improve youth sports and connect with like-minded parents, sign up for the Sports Parent Pledge. After you sign up for the pledge, you will receive weekly actionable tips and resources designed to enhance your family’s time in sports. It’s free! Visit www.nays.org/sportsparentpledge to get started.
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