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Youth sports are important, but what are the challenges?

sports girl child in swimsuit cap glasses in outdoor pool swimming
In September 2021, 24 percent of parents with children playing sports who earn $100,000 or more said their child had resumed sports at a higher level than before COVID-19. (Photos: Envato Elements)
We are used to seeing children involved in sports activities, and focusing varying amounts of energy and time on developing their skills and abilities. Parents are investing more and more in sports for their children, financially and emotionally. But what is the importance of youth sports, and what are the issues they face when pursuing sports long term?اضافة اعلان

The general consensus found in the research was that nine out of 10 children state that the main reason they play sports is that “it’s fun”, but is that all there is to it, and is this reason enough to motivate children in the long run?

Further research by Paul McCarthy and Marc Jones found that poor coaching and punishment for mistakes take the enjoyment away from younger children. At the same time, peer rivalries, overemphasis on winning, and excessive training and expectations suck the enjoyment out of sports for older athletes.

According to a 2019 survey by Project Play, today’s average child spends less than three years playing a sport, quitting by age 11. But that is not to be solely blamed on the child. A report done in 2021 by the State of Play and a survey by Project Play and the Utah State University found that parents’ income affects the long-term participation of children in sports.

According to the report and survey, in 2015, about one in three parents (32 percent) from households making less than $50,000 a year said that sports cost too much and make it difficult for their child to continue participating. Meanwhile, one in six parents (16 percent) from households earning $50,000 a year or more also said the same.

In September 2021, 24 percent of parents with children playing sports who earn $100,000 or more said their child had resumed sports at a higher level than before COVID-19. Only 13–14 percent of kids from the two lower-income brackets returned to sports at a higher pre-pandemic level.

The financial aspect of sports is getting more and more influential with time. The capacity to spend on sports provides better chances for participation and continuation.

For children, honestly evaluating what sporting path they are on helps produce better athletes and offers a better understanding of the investment parents are getting into. Youth sports do not have to be a path to stardom and elite performance.

According to researchers such as Dave Collins and Jean Cote, some athletes go down a sports participant pathway, and others on a sports performance pathway. Depending upon a child’s age and stage of development, some kids play sports simply because they enjoy being with their friends, like learning, and get excitement from the competition.

Others gravitate to a high-performance pathway. They may have more of a long-term focus on improvement and display athletic, social, and emotional abilities that exceed many of their peers.

Most will argue that they would rather have the latter. After all, this is where “the good life” begins. The most expensive football player from 2013 to 2016, Gareth Bale, recently wrote: “The media expects superhuman performances from professional athletes and will be the first to celebrate with them when they deliver. Yet instead of commiserating with them when they show an ounce of human error, they are torn to shreds instead, encouraging anger and disappointment in their fans.”

“The everyday pressures on athletes is immense, and it’s as clear as day how negative media attention could easily send an already stressed athlete or anybody in the public eye over the edge.”

Bale’s words reflect how high the stakes are for those who seek high professionalism, depression is becoming more common, and people who are not coping with the pressure are trying to take their own lives, with some going through with it. An article I wrote a few months ago, “Selling Dreams”, digs deeper into athlete depression.

A gymnast’s parent posted on social media a photo of her young daughter totally drained and exhausted after a competition; what the parent wrote truly encompasses why youth should be in sports.

She wrote: “Today I watched my daughter, who trained for two years all throughout the pandemic, go into her first event of her competition and fail hard. Two whole years she trained for this moment, and she didn’t make her vault. I watched her turn her back as her shoulder shook, and she silently wiped her tears. It took all I had not to run across the gym and hug her. She took her time. She breathed some huge, deep breaths. Then she turned back around. I then watched her come back to win silver on bars and score a personal best on the floor.”

Knowing your child’s pathway and matching the capabilities with the requirements of said pathway helps create a healthier environment.

Sometimes, finding the right people to develop and sharpen the skills and abilities while maintaining and improving the athlete’s well-being can guide the child into a proper sports performance pathway.

Nonetheless, this is not the only pathway in sports. We can see from the social media post by the gymnast’s parents that sports should be about developing, growing, and offering a never-ending learning process.

Youth sports should be about learning resilience and accepting the fact that you will make mistakes, and that those mistakes do not define you, that these mistakes help you build a better you. And youth sports should definitely not be about getting scholarships.

Youth sports should be about experiencing falls and learning how to get back up stronger, and not about getting a professional contract. Youth sports should be about peace of mind knowing that you give your all, with no regard for anything but getting better, and not about getting gold in every event.

Identify the pathway, understand the capabilities and requirements, and focus on the learning process. More importantly, keep it fun.

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