The American tradition of getting children involved in school or community sports programs has experienced a decline in recent years. According to a longitudinal survey conducted in 2016 by the National Alliance for Youth Sports, nearly 70 percent of children across the United States stop participating in team sports programs by the age of 13, and the reason most often given in this regard is that children feel that sports activities are no longer fun.
While it would be easy to blame Snapchat, Netflix and video games for the decline of youth sports, the reality is that many bully parents are responsible for this unfortunate trend. Recent CBS News and Fox News segments on this issue have featured interviews with clinical sports psychologists who have been retained by children of young athletes for the purpose of pushing them to become better at their chosen sporting discipline, and there is a growing view that overly competitive parents and their behaviors are not consistent with the joy of sports that children are naturally predisposed to feel. When children lose this joy, they rarely get it back.
There’s a good chance that you have seen the shocking behavior of terrible parents at their children’s baseball, football, basketball and soccer games; if you have not personally witnessed this extreme form of misguided parenting, you can always visit YouTube and watch many ghastly videos on this subject. Fathers getting into heated arguments with football referees on the sidelines is old news; the latest and most egregious videos are of grandmothers being ejected from the facilities at basketball games, parents physically assaulting each other at soccer matches, and young players berated by relatives at baseball games for errors that even Major League players make.
What is dismaying about the current situation of youth sports is that there aren’t that many cases related to parents who believe their talented children are potential gold mines as future professional athletes. In the 21st century, parents are becoming more and more involved in the sporting activities of their children for the wrong reasons; it’s like parents are projecting themselves into the athletic performance of children, and in doing so they are sucking the fun right out of youth sports.
You probably know adults who enjoy playing street basketball or five-on-five soccer, but they don’t follow NBA or MLS teams; these are likely youth sports dropouts who lost the love for organized league play, and their parents may bear some responsibility for their current attitudes towards the game. Child psychologists know that youth sports participants mostly enjoy the fun of playing with teammates and being active. Naturally, they also care about winning, but this is not a primary reason for their dedication to sports.
The bullying attitudes of many parents are not conducive to what youth sports programs are about, which is getting children interested in athletics for the fun of it. Children who are unreasonably pushed to improve their performance, or who witness ugly parental behavior during games, cannot be blamed for losing interest in sports.