Child Athletes: Preparation or Pressure

First cheerleading, then soccer, then track…my daughter began playing sports at the age of 5. She started with her school, then progressed to community teams, then on to a competitive status with a traveling team. I learned very early that a commitment for your child to play is a commitment from you as the parent also. You will sacrifice a lot. Your time is no longer yours. You may be volun-told you are responsible for fundraising. Your car becomes a mobile locker room filled with more children than you have given birth to. There is much a sexy mom must consider when their child is an athlete including how hard to push.

Recently, I have been having conversations with many former athletes. They are currently in or have recently graduated college and no longer play the sport to which they were once so dedicated. In fact, they have no desire to even play recreationally. When I inquired as to why, they all shared tales of playing since they were little, rehabbing their young bones through adult injuries, and having no social life outside of time with their fellow athletes. What discouraged these child athletes from pressing to become professional athletes? The common phrase from each was, “I had enough.”

The travel track team my daughter ran with had a 20+ year history of producing Olympic and professional bound athletes. She ran the 400-meter, 800-meter, and mile races from age 8 to 14. She endured long practices after full days of school which included theatre activities and extra honors work. Her weekends were consumed with traveling and competing throughout the state and nationally. When not racing, she was recovering from racing. Recovery was not easy. Her bones grew so fast (a foot in 6-weeks) that she developed severe knee problems and was in constant pain.

Each season I knew it was just a matter of time before I would have the “commitment” conversation with her. So much time, energy, money, and literal blood, sweat, and tears had been invested. I would be crushed for her to stop in the middle of the season. I knew she would regret it. Plus, I could never allow her to believe quitting was an option. Each year she fought through the pain and disappointments all the way to state championships and Junior Olympic finals. As she prepared to enter high school, she knew what was expected of her and dreaded the possibility of continuing to run. Much like the veterans I spoke to, she was burned-out.

We register our children in sports for a number of reasons. They are so active and tearing up our house so we put them in “something constructive.” We see a spark of athletic greatness in them while just playing around the yard. Sometimes, they outright ask to play a sport. Or, we have some unresolved athletic goals of our own that we know, with our guidance, our kids can go where we wanted and beyond. I know I had those moments. I played basketball through college but never professionally. As my preteen daughter began to look down on me, sprouting up to 5′ 10′, I knew she would make the perfect small forward. She would be a force to reckon with under my guidance. Much to my disappointment, she was not having any of it.

If your child is an athlete, take a moment and re-evaluate their involvement. Is it about them? Do they love what they are doing and , without prompting, embrace the dedication required to succeed? Can they see how it fits in the plan for their future for themselves and not through your eyes and your expectations? Or, is it about you? Are you using your child’s athletic participation as your family’s future financial plan? Are you listening to their concerns or brushing them off as childhood complaining? Are you actually preparing them to be successful in a future of their design or pressuring them to do what you feel is right for them?

No one (accept perhaps your child athletes) can judge if any answer is correct. There is only what is right or wrong for your household. Participation in athletics is a sacrifice for the entire household. Even more so, athletics affects the physical, mental, academic, and emotional development of your child and can affect them positively and/or negatively, well into adulthood. Assess your “why” regularly to ensure your child athlete’s well-being is front and center.

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