How youth sports have become a world of feast or famine — and what parents can do

These trends have not only hurt the kids from middle- and upper-class families who dominate the high-stakes world of contemporary youth sports. They have developed increasingly athletic opportunities Out of reach of children from low income families. “I would call it feast or famine,” Flanagan said. For parents looking for a more consistent diet, she recommends leading children’s interests, keeping the family whole, keeping sports in perspective, and modeling the behaviors you want your children to learn.

Look at your child

Many parents now see their children’s athletic achievements as a reflection of themselves. How can you tell which camp you’re in? Pay attention to how you feel about the outcome of the game, says Flanagan. It’s not bad to feel proud of your child’s performance, but there is a limit. More indications are when a loss or poor performance puts a parent in a bad mood.

To bring the focus back to the children, Flanagan said, “Give them take the lead. They should decide what to play, when to play, what organized games to play.” He admits that when given a blank canvas, many kids may opt for screen time, which doesn’t offer the physical or mental benefits of sports. In those situations, parents can be swayed by suggestions, but he recommends offering as many options as possible, not just pushing them toward a particular sport.

Once they are in the group, observe and listen to their experiences. Even if they are naturally gifted in a sport, they may not actually enjoy it for one reason or another. Create opportunities — opportunities for them to decide if they’re into sports as they get older.

Keep your family whole

In addition to money, the time and relationship sacrifices some families make for a young athlete’s sport can be extraordinary. Two basic measures parents can take to avoid tearing their families apart in the process are starting organized sports later and staying in local leagues as long as possible.

Beyond that, Flanagan sometimes suggests saying no to a coach’s request or a club’s expectations. Groupthink can make this difficult, but sometimes speaking up can also allow the other parent to set boundaries. In her book, Flanagan gives an example she heard from a football player’s mother. When the first opponent in an upcoming soccer tournament is forfeited, the coach schedules a replacement exhibition match. Families have to drive more than an hour in the morning and wait there for hours until the next game. Other parents confirmed they would be there – until this mom replied that maybe one game would be enough. Soon, the other parents agreed and the exhibition was cancelled.

“Parents have a perception that they have no power here,” Flanagan said. “And I’m like, no, you guys write the check. You work together to set the terms.”

Put youth sports in perspective

Don’t be confused. Flanagan loves and values sports. She played softball as a teenager, she encouraged her children’s athletic interests, and she coached girls’ track teams for 17 years. knows about it Health benefits of physical activity And the satisfaction that comes from training hard. He knows not to sweat the small stuff. “It seems so important. A lot has to do with raising kids. But it doesn’t really matter if they make varsity or captain. That’s who they’re going to be,” he said.

To maintain that perspective, Flanagan recommends making friends with older parents, not attending every game, and developing your own interests separate from the kids. The last item was especially important in teaching her children to respect her as a whole person, she said.

Model the behaviors you want your child to learn

Having her own interests helped model a “rich and satisfying adult” for her children. When parents don’t, Flanagan said it sends a message that kids should avoid growing up “because it’s really no fun.”

Other behaviors modeled include treating coaches with respect and thanking them for their commitment. (Although signs of abuse can’t be ruled out.) Dealing with depression is another. When parents react to something the B team creates as a crisis, it signals that their child is feeling deeply hurt. “They take their cues from parents,” Flanagan said. Instead, parents can “slow down the language” and help children recognize these moments as part of life’s ups and downs.

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