As the world of youth sports becomes more competitive, the pressure on young kids to perform has become more intense. In some cases, this competitive culture can verge from motivational to downright harmful; a toxic competitive environment will hurt a child’s mental and physical health, and ultimately have a negative impact on their performance and sportsmanship. To raise a happy and healthy young athlete, it is critical to keep the child interested and excited about competing at increasingly high levels. Here are some easy ways to ensure that a child does not experience athletic burnout and continues to love competing:
Set Realistic Expectations: Be upfront about the time commitment that participation will entail. Kids need to be aware of the expectations and know that they need to finish out a season once they commit to their team. It will help if the child knows that they are committing to just one season and don’t feel pressured to pursue a long-term athletic career.
Emphasize Variety: Young athletes should not be specializing in one sport when they start their competitive career. It is important that kids try out a variety of sports and switch activities with each season. Specializing in one sport too early can lead to burnout and can also contribute to overuse injuries.
Keep Playtime Fun: It is easy to fall into a trap of making it all about the practice, even when at home. It is crucial to resist the urge to make everything about the game. Make sure the child has time to just play for the sake of playing. Not everything has to be about developing skills and improving their game.
Stress Age-Appropriate Fun: At the earliest ages, most kids are in it for the post-game snacks, participation trophies, and camaraderie with their buddies. This is to be expected and should be celebrated. There will be plenty of time further down the road to emphasize the competition. For now, it is encouraged to let the kids have their fun — even if it means that parents need to gather the troops and form a parent tunnel after games to celebrate the victories AND the losses.
Stay Positive: Kids are under enough stress these days to perform at a high level at young ages. It is up to the parents to encourage and cultivate a positive attitude. Resist the temptation to be overly critical of the child’s performance, coaching decisions, and poor officiating. Be positive and leave the coaching to the coach!