The Coast News Group
Sports should be fun for kids, but coaches and parents too often spoil the fun. Stock photo
ColumnsInside Information

What’s wrong with youth sports?

Over the weekend, three fights reportedly broke out between parents at Little League games in Chula Vista. In Kentucky, a video depicting a brawl between parents over an umpire’s alleged missed call went viral across social media. 

What is going on?

After spending a lifetime coaching, researching and analyzing sports, I have a strong grip on what’s wrong with youth sports today: coaches and parents.

I’ve seen it with my own eyes — overburdensome parents and coaches sucking all joy from the game, disconnecting these young boys and girls from the game. And as a spectator, you can see it in the kids’ attitudes and body language on the field.

Sports should be fun for these children, not a job.

So, where does the problem lie? Helicopter and lawnmower parents. They disrupt their child’s inner core and distract the team.

Youth sports has changed drastically since my childhood. Of course, I’m aware that every generation is different. But it’s never been more competitive, unfair and cutthroat than it is today. While most of them are great, children are just programmed differently these days.

There are a ton of problems. Let’s set aside the parents who think their child is going to be the next Mickey Mantle or Kobe Bryant — parents who dial up insane pressure on their kids, thereby eliminating any chance for these young ones to simply enjoy competing as a part of a team.

Here’s some key problems ruining youth sports:

Coaches: Next up are coaches who prevent athletes from playing other sports. When I was young, I could play five sports. But more and more, coaches are eliminating a child’s potential to excel as a multisport athlete, which infuriates me.

Who are these coaches to demand that from these kids? They have no right to hold that over any child. The athlete suffers if they want to play multiple sports. It’s just not right. Children often play more than one sport, and more often than not, they play them well.

Coaches, Part 2: And then there are coaches who play family members or relatives before a another more deserving athlete. Nothing breaks a child’s spirit faster, and it happens way too often. Most times the player sitting on the bench is better than the son or daughter starting every game. 

Club teams: Pay to play. Do you want your son or daughter to advance in their sport? Well then, get ready to open your wallet. While assembling talented teams is a great thing, what about children whose families can’t afford for their child to be on a club team? So, then what happens? The child loses interest and drops the sport. It’s almost criminal.

A close friend, Jeff Potter, who has worked tirelessly developing young men on his travel baseball team, always reminds me that some parents ruin it for everyone. If a child isn’t getting a lot of playing time, oftentimes parents will transfer them to another team for what they believe to be a better chance at improving their kid’s playing time and athletic reputation. But it seldom works — other teams are often just waiting for a player to make the jump before pouncing themselves. It’s a total leapfrog game.

Helicopter parents: Simply the worst. They singlehandedly ruin the sports experience for their child. And then, they attack and demean the coach.  They want to run the show. They believe their child should be batting in this spot or playing that position. Since their childhood was incomplete, they relive this setback through their child. However, jamming so much negative garbage into a child’s mind has the potential to create plenty of animosity with toxic effects.

The ride home: The single worst danger to any young child athlete is the dreaded “ride home,” forced to listen to their parents droning on about their mistakes and how poorly they played. Some parents like to focus on the worst in their child’s performance. And more damaging, they do it on the ride home. Not only has the child been unsuccessful or lost the game or match, they now have to hear a third-rate play-by-play from their parents. This is one of the main reasons why your children tune you out. I don’t blame them — I applaud them for the silent treatment.

Parents, let your child enjoy their sports moment. Forget about your personal feelings and attachments to the game. Allow your son or daughter the freedom to play the game uninterrupted — free from your input about how the team is being handled.

My suggestion is to prevent all parents from attending their child’s games. That’s not going to happen but establishing a “no talk” zone for parents would be superb.

These children have a lot to offer. Just keep quiet and let them talk. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what they share. They lead, you follow, not the other way around.