Monday, April 21, 2008

Kids in sports myths

First of all let me say that the views I express here are in no way the views of my employer PWC! Secondly as I write this I want to be clear that I am not an anti-youth sports guy. My kids have been and continue to be involved on a certain level in youth sports. I am also a big Cubs and Bears fan and played some as a kid, teen and young adult.
I write this for two major reasons. I think we as parents are getting our priorities mixed up in this area and have placed way too much value on youth sports. We even complain about it, but we as parents are the ones with the power to stop it. We can put limits on it and choose leagues that go along with those limits. It might be better to start a league with good limits. Secondly, too many of our kids are losing their childhood. Do they ever have time to just play or imagine or read for pleasure? Are we killing a generation of young poets, artists, writers, etc. because everybody has to fit into this peg of the athlete?
So in saying this let’s at least examine our motives for getting kids involved in sports. It is my opinion that if one of the seven myths I have listed is motivating us maybe we should re-examine our priorities.

Myth 1 – My kid will get a college scholarship
The San Jose Mercury News reported that there are about 41 million kids who play organized sports. A fraction of those--6.9 million--are varsity high school athletes. Compare that to the 360,000 student-athletes who play in one of the three divisions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Among those elite athletes, 126,000 earn a share of the $1 billion in scholarships available.
And while $1 billion sounds like a lot of money, it works out to less than $8,000 per athlete, which wouldn't cover even half a year of tuition at a private college. By comparison, there is $22 billion available in academic scholarships, making the brain the body part most likely to earn a kid a college education.
In other words spend the money on a tutor and you would get more bang for your supposed buck!

Myth 2 – This is good for my kid’s self esteem
Unfortunately, compelling evidence suggests that, for many children, the pressures associated with sports produce low self-esteem, excessive anxiety, and aggressive behavior. Children may eventually experience "sports burnout" and develop a lifelong avoidance of physical activity (Hellstedt, p. 60, 62).
In Hellstedt's opinion (p. 62), these negative outcomes of sports involvement are caused by adults, particularly parents and coaches. Lip-service is paid to sportsmanship and having fun, but rewards are reserved for winning. Often, encouragement to pursue victory is accompanied by direct and indirect signals that aggressive behavior is acceptable to achieve it. Hellstedt also suggests that anxiety about winning impedes performance and makes players more susceptible to injury. Hellstedt, Jon C. (1988, April) Kids, Parents and Sport: Some Questions and Answers. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 16 (4) 59-71. EJ 376 620.

Myth 3 – My kid will learn a sense of teamwork
“Most adults believe that by participating in athletics, a child automatically procures such benefits as character development and sportsmanship. Sports participation is not inherently good nor inherently bad for children. The critical factor in determining whether the youth sports experience has positive or negative effects on children is the quality of adult leadership. And the first step in providing quality leadership for young athletes is to realize that coaches and parents play an important role in their psychological development. In essence, we have a responsibility to structure our programs so that the participants have the opportunity to develop not only physically, but morally as well”. – Youth Sports Institute

Myth 4 – My kid will stay away from substance abuse
OK this should be self explanatory. While I don’t have the stats I think society itself should teach that athletes abuse their bodies at just as high of a rate, if not higher, than the rest of society. I wouldn’t be surprised if the chess club had a low rate of substance abuse so where are all the parents clamoring to get their kids on that team? (A little jab sorry).

Myth 5 – My kid will hang with the right crowd
So now it’s become an issue of popularity? The right crowd could be found in the band, at church or any number of other places. When I got into trouble as a teen and was influenced into some stupid decisions it was almost always the athlete crowd who was doing the influencing. Are all athletes bad influences? Of course not! But you are not going to get any better of a crowd there than anywhere else. How about the video gamer crowd? I found this on the net:
“Some who've studied the subject say, surprisingly, video games, played in moderation, can actually help young people develop mental skills that will serve them well in adult life."It's not the button pushing that's important," says Mitch Wade, an information consultant for firms like Google and Rand Corp., who co-wrote a recent book called “Got Game.” "It's the problem-solving. And we saw that when we surveyed professionals who grew up playing video games. What's a surprise is that they're better at things you need in business — like team play and careful risk-taking." - George Lewis Correspondent NBC News - May. 19, 2005

Myth 6 – My kid will have a healthier lifestyle
Sports injuries are on the rise in U.S. children and teen-agers. Each year more than 3.5 million sports-related injuries requiring medical treatment occur in children under age 15.
Today, as more and more children and adolescents participate in the same sport year-round, many young athletes are developing overuse injuries. In fact, overuse is responsible for about half of the sports injuries that happen to middle school and high school students. Overuse injuries usually occur over time with prolonged, repeated motion or impact. They range from chronic muscle strains and tendinitis to stress fractures (tiny cracks in the bone). - October 20, 2002 – USA Today

Myth 7 - My kids will have good role models in sports
There are some, just like in every walk of life. But there are also hundreds of negative examples. On a local level we have had about an 80% good experience with coaches for our kids, but we have chosen our leagues very closely. I would prefer my sons see good role models in people who live a real life and are dedicating their lives to Christ. You might find that in a local kids sports league but don’t count on it. And then you always play another team whose coach is an idiot and your kids look at you like who is that?
Soon I want to write the 10 commandments (or maybe the 10 strong suggestions) For Soccer Moms and Dads! To sum up my thoughts for this a time I will use an article I found:

How Adults Can Make Kids' Sports a Nightmare
By Martha Brockenbrough
As baseball great Cal Ripken, Jr., wrote in his book Parenting Young Athletes the Ripken Way, "A very small percentage of kids who participate in youth sports will ever go on to play their sport professionally, but they can all love sports their entire lives."
How can parents make this happen? Ripken has a number of recommendations:
• Make sure your kids are having fun;
• Don't project your dreams onto your child;
• Be realistic, remembering the goals are fun and fitness first; and
• Don't push your kids too early, and don't push them to do sports that interest you.

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