Every time I speak, I am always approached by parents who tell me that all the pressure and emphasis on winning for their young athlete, all the pressure to commit year round to a sport prior to puberty, just feels wrong. In their heart, they know that their children want to play multiple sports, and want to go on family trips and not dedicate every waking moment to soccer, baseball, etc.. Unfortunately, all their kid’s friends are committing full time, investing in private coaching, and sacrificing family time for the hope of a future scholarship. These parents tell me they are conflicted about what to do, and are afraid that if they do not keep up with the Joneses, they are hurting their child’s chance at success. I tell them that the Joneses are wrong. I tell them to trust their gut.
I once received a very helpful piece of advice from my friend Roger Seip, author of the bestselling book Train Your Brain for Success. He told me to trust my gut, to trust my first instinct and thoughts when I encountered a business or life decision. Why? Because often our gut tells us what we really want, and then our brain comes up with all the reasons why we CANNOT or SHOULD NOT do something. That initial thought and emotion speaks to our strongest desire about what is right. When it comes to youth sports, I think parents need to start trusting what they feel in their gut, and in their heart, instead of relying on what everyone else is doing around them.
The best science and research out there tells us that children who come from a multi-sport background become all around better athletes, have less burnout, and less overuse injury (see www.canadiansportforlife.ca). They play longer, and eventually find a sport that they are passionate about. Once this happens, then parents no longer have to force them to go to practice, or train on their own; it just comes naturally because the athlete wants it.
Anyone who has ever played a sport at a collegiate or professional level will tell you that very few people can understand the commitment and toll it takes, both physically and emotionally, to play a sport at an elite level. In order to put in such a commitment, you must LOVE what you do. And you only fall in love when you have control and ownership over the choice.
Parents who force their kids to commit to sports early, and ignore all the science and best practices, never give their kids the chance to fall in love with a sport on their own terms. Or worse, their kids do fall in love, but eventually burn out because they never get to do anything else. These same parents then force their kids to keep playing because “we have invested so much.” The best athletes know that even pros have an off season! Your kid needs lots of them.
Do yourself a favor, and trust your gut when it comes to youth sports. If your first instinct when asked to commit full time at age 10, or give up your family reunion because of sports, is “this does not feel right” then guess what, you are right. If the Joneses tell you that you are wrecking your child’s athletic future, share this article with them, or better yet, send them to the Canadian Sport For Life Website. Follow your gut, trust your heart, and help your kids find their athletic passion. That is the only way they will ever play to their full potential.[testimonial3 author=”John O’Sullivan is the author of Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids. He is a former collegiate and professional soccer player, and has spent the past two decades as a coach at the youth, high school, and college level. O’Sullivan speaks nationwide to coaches, parents, and young athletes about developing athletic excellence and leadership within positive sporting environments. He resides in Bend, Oregon with his family.” + pic=”http://changingthegameproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/2008-John-Osullivan.jpg”][/testimonial3]