What Are the Effects on Children Whose Parents Push Them in Sports?

Extracurricular sports play a major part in many kids’ lives. Optimally, participating in sports will be positive for kids, providing opportunity to learn skills and work toward goals. Kids can also just enjoy the physical activity of playing sports. It’s possible to push children too hard to excel, which can backfire with physical and emotional repercussions.

Dangers of Sports Specialization

Child athletes may sometimes focus on one sport as a result of parental and coach pressure. This sports specialization may involve year-round training and competing at elite national or international levels 1. Parents may engage in excessive pressure in one sport to increase training to improve performance. Physical injuries are an obvious concern with sports specialization, but other issues can also occur. A child who focuses on only one sport could miss benefits of varied activity by participating in more than one sport, cautions the American Academy of Pediatrics. Participating in a variety of different sports expands skills, enables greater mobility and movement, increases kids’ enjoyment and enhances positive attitudes.

Threat of Injury

Sports injuries necessitated approximately 1.24 million emergency room visits for kids younger than age 19 in 2013, according to a report published by Safe Kids Worldwide 2. When injuries occur, 54 percent of athletes surveyed admitted to continuing to play. Of this group of kids, 70 percent indicated that they told a parent or coach about the injury but were not prevented from continuing to play. Injuries can occur from sports specialization, overtraining and inadequate rest 1. The American Orthopaedic Society of Sports Medicine recommends that kids take at least one season off from participating in specific sports each year to rest and provide opportunity for using different muscle groups 3.

Anxiety Issues

Kids have an intense drive to please parents and to receive praise. When parents put excessive pressure to perform and excel in sports, it’s common for children to respond with anxiety and fears of inadequacy, cautions family therapist Carleton Kendrick, writing for the FamilyEducation website. When these anxieties enter into the equation, children may respond by wanting to quit the sport entirely because the joy has disappeared and the pressure becomes overwhelming.

Burnout Concerns

While overtraining taxes a youngster’s body physically, it can also take an emotional toll. Kids who feel overwhelmed with more activity than they can handle can become burned out. If you notice physical symptoms of anxiety, such as headaches and stomachaches, your child may be having trouble coping with sports demands. Kids might also become agitated, restless and even depressed if sports burnout occurs, warns Mary F. Lango, with the Ohio State University Extension. Grades could suffer and your child might even begin acting out if you don’t take steps to reduce sports pressure.

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