Child Sports

.. ays Rainer Martens PhD. Dr. Martens runs a coaching education program in Champaign, Ill. “Yet we trun our kids over to someone who we know nothing about”, he adds.

“We think nothing about whether this person knows how to protect the physical safety of the child, or can communicate the values we think are important.” Coaches, even the nicest, most supportive ones, can inadvertantly harm a child psychologically or physically, simply because they do not know the proper way to communicate. But this is a problem can may be quickly eradicated. Tom Crawford, a psychologist and motor-development expert who directs coaching for the U.S. Olympic Committee, has founded an intervention program called Coach Effictiveness Training(CET). The three hour program has been administered to some 12,000 youth coaches, and it emphasizes the coach’s effect on the children’s personal, social, and skill development, while putting less emphasis on winning.

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“The idea is that winning takes care of itself if your atheletes are well-trained, not afraid of failure, enjoy their teammates, and have a good relationshoip with the coach”, says Crawford. Results thus far have been ecouraging. Normally, about forty percent of all children who play youth sports drop out each year. On teams with a coach who has completed CET, thr drop out rate is only six percent(APA 1996). The CET may curb the aggressive coaches, but how will that other monster, the parent, be slayed? I was lucky. My father taught me the game of baseball, but never pressured me to play. He taught me to love it, and therefore, I loved playing.

If I made an error or struck out, he was the first one there to tell me it was okay, and that I would have plenty more chances to be the hero. Unfortunately, not all children are as lucky. Mike Finneran had to cancel his spring baseball season for third-through eigth-grade boys in Naperville, Ill. due to parents who were constantly berating their children, disputing every umpire’s call, and peppering their speech with the F-word. “I’ve had three heart-attacks, triple bypass surgery, and a stroke,” says the fifty-year old Finneran. “I don’t need the stress of these guys fighting”(Lord 2000).

Finneran is not the only youth organizer stressing over the sudden rash of parental violence. A midget football game ended when a brawl erupted involving a 100 players, coaches, parents, and fans. While attacks on youth league umpires have become such a frequent occurrence that the National Association of Sports Officials recently began offering a new benefit to its 19,000 members: assualt insurance(Lord 2000). According to Fred Engh, president of the National Alliance for Youth Sports and author of Why Johnny Hates Sports, the children are the biggest victims. In a recent survey condcuted by the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, nearly half of the young atheletes admitted to being yelled at or insulted. Seventeen point five reported being hit, kicked, or slapped, while eight point two were pressured into harming others.

No wonder why seven of ten kids drop sports prior to their thirteenh birthday(Lesyk 2000). “You’d never hear this at a child’s piano recital: ‘Erin, you bum, you can never do anything right!'” said Engh, who likens the unrealistic expectations adults place on young atheletes to child abuse(Lord 2000). Some feel that parental guidance and pressure can yield productive results. For example, Tiger Woods was pushed by his parents at an early age to play golf, and as you can see, it worked out pretty well. But there can be others who do not work out. Jennifer Capriati is a perfect example.

Once a beaming fourteen old armed with killer backhand and six-figure endorsement deal, Capriati bottomed out when she was busted for both drug possession as well as shoplifting. She tried to stage a comeback in 1996, but withdrew herself from Wimbledon, claiming that she was not ready, and hasn’t staged another since. She is, as one sports writer put it, “the poster child for sports gone astray”(Kantrowitz 2000). Todd Marinovich is another example. In 1991, Marinovich fulfilled his father’s lofty expectations by inking a three-year deal worth $2.25 million with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders.

Marinovich’s transition to the NFL, however, was anything but seamless. By 1995, knee inuries and rumors of failed drug tests (Marinovich denies them) found the former first round draft pick making sixty dollars a night playing with a Los Angeles rock band called Scurvy. “At this point”, he told a Los Angeles Times reporter, “I just want to be able to get the knee well enough to play basketball and surf again”(Kantrowitz 2000). How does this happen? How do children go from sport prodigies one minute to All-American busts the next? Sean McCann, a psychologist with the U.S. Olympic commitee says the problem is that to many families center around one child rather than the whole family.

In these child-centered families, the star athelete grabs all the attention- as well as complete control of the entire family. Everything else- the parents marriage, other siblings-are all secondary. All of a sudden, young atheletes aren’t just playing sports for fun or personal enjoyment, but they’re playing so the whole family won’t be let down, a pressure that can occasionally suffocate a child. Psychologist Shane Murphy, who has worked with Olympians in the past, recallshow his star athelets would buckle under ever-mounting parental pressure. “I can’t even count how many atheletes have come into my office and said, “Look, I’m doing it, but I hate it.”, says Murphy. ” ‘My parents have invested $80,000, and they want me to do it for a few more years'”(Feldman 1989). According to reseachers, the best parents are the ones who allow their children to follow their own paths.

If the child does have a special talent, he/she should be encouraged-not forced-to practice and improve. The parents should also be able to curb the child’s participation when it starts to consume his life. “It’s very natural for parents to identify with their children and want them to do well”, says Ronald Smith, a psychologist at the University of Washington. “The danger occurs when the parent begins to live through the child”(Kantrowitz 1996). Parents should root for their children to do well strictly for the child. Some parents, who never played sports or weren’t very good when they were young, want the child to do well, so the parents feel like they are the ones doing well.

Adds Smith, “The danger occurs when the parent begins to live through the child”(Kantrowitz 1996). Adoloscenece is commonly when burnout occurs in a pressured child athelete. Suddenly, he is not just playing for a hollow trophy and a pizza party. There is something greater at stake. College recruiters flock to high schools, dangling everything from full scholarships to brand new cars in front of their faces. For financially strapped students, a scholarship is the only way they can attend college.

A dropped pass or bad arc shot goes from being a human mistake to a life altering incident. Harmones play a big part in this stage of a child’s life. Teenagers now want to look good in front of their peers. So not only are they playing for parents, recruiters, and coaches, they are also playing to protect their egos. No one, at any age, wants to be considered a loser. Especially when you are seventeen(Roberts, Treasure, Hall).

A perfect example of a parent properly guiding his child trough life is Joe Bryant, whose son Kobe is a member of the world champion Los Angeles Lakers. In June of 1996, Kobe made a controversial decision when he chose to bypass college and go straight to the NBA. Joe stood behind his son one hundred percent. “All we could do was say, ‘You can do whatever you want as long as you work at it'” said the elder Bryant, who spent eight years in the NBA himself. When injuries slowed Kobe in 1997, he was able to share his experience with his ex-player father, who gave him the best kind of comfort: “I give him hugs to let him know it’s OK and it will get better(Kantrowitz 1996).” Parents take note. This is the way things are supposed to be.

Unfortunately, some youths are are restricted by what sports they can particpate in. Children who suffer from ADHD have this problem. Those who suffer from this tend to fidget, be easily distracted, and exhibit other behavior abnormalities more often than their peers. Ths stimulant Ritalin is prescribed for these children. ADHD may make kids energetic, but it also makes them highly unfocused as well as uncoachable.

So those suffering from ADHD are better suited in sports that stress individual accomplishment, such as karate, wrestling, track and field, and tennis. A sport like baseball may move too slow, while soccer and basketball rely too much on the explicit demands of the coach. Hoepfully, with help of Ritalin, those who suffer from ADHD can take part in sports, and achieve some balance with their peers(Alexander 1990). Self-concept also plays a key role in sports. In a study conducted by Rosalie Miller for the February 1989 addition of Perceptual and Motor Skills, a sample of 120 children (69 boys, 51 girls), ranging from age nine to age fourteen, was administered the Harter Self-perception Profile before and after a five week program of swimming instruction. The Harter Self-perception Profile predicts that children who improve most in swimming will also have the largest gains in athletic self-concept. Sure enough, this was true. Those improved in swimming also gained the most in self-concept as well as self-steem, according to those who were interviewed.

Children who play sports generally have a wholesome and rewarding experience. I know I did. I played Little League baseball for nine years. I made a ton of friends, and while I can never be talented enough to ever play on a Major League level, I still got to play the game that I love. A strong bond between my father and I also grew out of this.

We spent hours in the backyard playing catch, fielding ground balls, and just talking about the game. I also had the luxury of having coaches who were competitive as well as kind. They wanted to win, but everybody, regardless of skill, got to play and just have fun. As documented in this paper, however, not everyone has an experience like this one. Some parents want their kids to be professionals so much that they forget the object of it all is to just have fun.

Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant were lucky. Their grew up under the umbrella of kind, loving parents who knew when to push and when to let up. As a result, both have been huge hits, with Tiger winning everything in sight, and Kobe leading the Lakers to their first NBA championship since the days of Magic Johnson. Sports helps children build self-esteem, loyalty, teamwork, and sportsmanship, invaluable lessons that can forever be implemented in the real world. It also helps gives a child social skills that he cannot possibly learn by reading a book, or spending hours in the classroom. Parents and coaches are the only ones who can really mar a childs athletic experience. And as long they root for their child, not against the others, and do not let a child do what he does not want to do, everything will be okay.

Sports are vital, something no kid should be without. Take it from someone who knows. Sports and Games.