Nearly 60% of children participate in organized youth sports. No surprise. Sports are an excellent way to strengthen a child’s character, fitness, and confidence. And when almost 20% of children are obese, not merely overweight, it’s no surprise that parents turn to competitive sports to keep their children moving and healthy.
But what happens when things become toxic on the sidelines?
The sports options for children are year round. As swim teams wrap up their seasons, the basketball courts, ice rinks, and ball fields overflow with children — tots to teens — honing their skills for the upcoming seasons.
Parents invest a lot in sports these days.
Some see their child’s talent as a reduced-price ticket to college down the road. Or they bank on their child’s excellence in sports (or in arts, dance, or music for that matter) as the surefire way to stand out on college applications. Others count on sports to ensure their child’s peer acceptance or to provide a network of neighborhood friends. Parents also may value the enjoyment, discipline, and camaraderie a child experiences as part of a team. And they may hope to instill a lifelong love of fitness and healthy habits in their child. Those are all good things.
Even well-motivated parents, however, may discover that their investment in their child’s sports has become an outsize stake in a child’s “success” instead of well-balanced support for a child’s healthy development.
Everyone sees the problem with "football dads" who throw punches. But sometimes it’s less easy to recognize the subtler signs of our own misplaced parental priorities.
Athletic parents may pressure a child to “be the best” instead of "giving their best," or to continue the parent’s stellar athletic legacy. Non-athletic parents may push their children to become more athletic than they themselves were, hoping to fit their child into a "better" box. Over-protective or over-competitive parents sometimes become zealous rule-monitors, complaining about the ref, the coaches, or other competitors. Other parents may "coach" from the bleachers, loudly and insistently, creating internal conflicts for their child. (Should the child listen to dad, mom, or the coach?)
Parents-out-of-balance drain the fun out of children’s sports — and embarrass the kids to boot.