THE SPORTS BALANCING ACT

Key Points:

  • Competition, on many levels, is a good thing if it allows us to set lofty goals for ourselves and to become the best we can be
  • Competition for any individual young athlete needs to be carefully balanced
  • In my opinion it is principally the parent’s job to figure out where the proper balance is for their child
  • Sports organizations should provide options for participation from elite competitive athletes to recreational athletes

Today’s post deviates from our usual focus on sports medicine science and instead I’d like to offer some observational personal opinion in an attempt to expand on last week’s post. girls lacrosse

As everyone knows, the universe of youth sports is becoming far more competitive even at the youngest age groups. Even so-called “rec leagues” have become competitive in many respects. To be sure, I’m generally in favor of competition, as I’ll expand on below, but the nature of sports forces parents to become active participants in ways they may not have anticipated. Simply leaving everything to the coaches won’t work (do you leave everything to the teachers at school without providing any motivation/cajoling to complete homework?). The challenge for parents is to figure out when encouragement becomes too pushy, and you’ve gone beyond motivation to pressure.

As the Aspen Institute report points out, it’s hard to strike the right balance and to make things right for young athletes. There are numerous benefits to sports, fitness, and competition but going over the line can create undue stress for the young athlete, possible burnout, and possible overuse injuries. This line is different for every person, and on an individual level watching carefully is the parent’s job, not the coach’s job. For the parent this can be a very difficult process as we are often swept into the pressure of conforming to the standards of our community. This makes it even more important to pay very close attention to the individual goals and needs of your child.

Competition is generally good when it is used constructively to get the best out of any person. Kids compete in school to perform the best they can in class, they compete later in high school on standardized tests to achieve minimums needed to gain admission to the college of their choice. Setting lofty goals is important because it allows you to see how high you can climb, even if those goals are sometimes out of reach. Disappointment is a feeling as powerful as success, both with important lessons for personal growth.

Youth sports can give kids those chances to work hard, to succeed, and to fail. The challenge for us as coaches and parents is to do better than we are now, to look at each individual and provide opportunities for growth through sports. If you’re child is highly internally motivated and you’re raising the next truly elite athlete then by all means you should reach as high as you possibly can. And for 99% of the rest of the kids let’s make sure we can provide a better environment that allows them to compete on their terms, to be the best they can be and still provide the balance that allows a kid to be a kid.

By Dev Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc, Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University