How Hard Should Youth Athletes Be Pushed?

Support your athlete. Pushing young athletes too had can adversly impact them.


In the area of training and with the Olympics starting, there will be a number of parents out there watching this and saying to themselves, "Hey, my kid can do that."

I have seen this in many sports, and it usually turns out bad. I recently read an article on the best athletes in our country, and they all compete for one reason.  They have fun!!!

Now where do we draw the line between fun and achieving a level of athletic competence that will fullfill a competetive parent? What do you do when your athlete says 'I want to quit?'

Is it because there is too much pressure to WIN, or get that chance to have college paid for?

I have heard time and again parents saying things like:

"Do you know how much this is costing our family?"

"If you dont make it, you will never go to college."

"I was all conference and your're my child and I want you to also."

"I am your parent and I know exactly what's best for you."

"Your sister/brother is on this team, and so will you be."


Are you one of these parents? If so, cut it out. You have no idea the impact you're making on your athlete!

Kids need support and love with kindness to achieve a level that is superior to others. The same article says that the number one thing young athletes want from parents is a HUG. They do not want to be ridiculed on their performance, or told how to get better.

HUG them, love them, treat them as you would want to be. I have implemented this with some of the top athletes and their parents and not one has had a bad outcome! 

Parents need to show unconditional love to these athletes. Coaches need to teach the parents this. As a professional in this field I encourage this with parents, but I have recently seen coaches do this also. I disagree with this! A high five or a handshake can do, but I have seen a coach rubbing an athletes back, and I find that over the top.

Most parents are sacrificing a lot for these athletes ,but do you really know how hard it is to them? Here perception comes in, unless you are a mind-reading parent, athletes put so much pressure on themselves because of your expectations.

In dual families it's very important to have a plan. I have seen undermining behavior that causes resentments to one side. Both parents should sit with the athlete seperately and discuss what they want and formulate a plan. One parent may see that it's 'one way or the highway,' whereas the other parent has a more realistic mindset. 

The parent who spends the most time with the child usually has a better understanding of that athlete.

In the world of youth athletics we need to take a step back and let the athletes be...some kids are just going to be better than others for many reasons. If you constantly push them because of circumstances surrounding your family and peer group, it will come out of the athlete later in life.

Statistics show the poor behavior patterns these kids will have later. I know you are going to say, "Not my kid, he/ she would never do that!" But when they are mature adults is usually when this occurs. It's easy for kids to repress emotions out of fear at a young age.

Let's win the battle off the field with kindness and support for these kids and allow them to have fun in sports. Take youreslf out of the equation and provide them with an emotionally safe environment and sit and discuss important aspects of the athlete's sport. 

Don't provide critcism to them, or about other players and coaches and enjoy the experience with them. Elite athletes are born and made, and the pool gets smaller as they progress. Try to not always put your athlete on such a high platform early because of a little sucess. 

Remember most athletes are, unfortunately, one injury away from not playing so help them to remember to train properly and explain the fundamental health risks and benefits.

Almost every kid dreams of going to the Olympics, and I do not discourage this. But also as he gets older, the realistic expectations must come to the top. It's Ok to play and not always win and be number one. This is life we are talking about and its tough enough, so parents try to not pressure the athletes.

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Matt Harmon August 09, 2012 at 05:17 PM
I agree. You have to get the parents on board. Grades first athletics are a bonus.
Marco August 15, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Last week after my daughters practice (in a down-pour) I held my daughters hand and told her she did a great job and that I was so happy I could watch her play and have fun. Her response: "I want to play soccer at ****** forever!" That's the goal every parent wants - their player to be happy, make friends and learn to love what ever it is that they are participating in. With the right coaches/leaders and parents who enjoy the time watching their kid(s) - rather then yelling and pushing them, this can happen.
Cheryl August 16, 2012 at 12:07 PM
I have an 11 year Daughter thats a gymnast, she has been competing since she was 5 years old. Now I have to travel an hour away for practice and she practice 4 four hours, everyday. Being a single mother of 4 does burden the entire family at times, but I really do love the points in this article and I know our love and support will take her where she needs to be.
Marco August 16, 2012 at 02:17 PM
I hear you on that one Cheryl. I have 2 soccer players who have to truck an hour each way to practice and games 3 times a week - and I am a single parent as well. I also have a sister who's son is heavily involved in gymnastics just like your daughter - he also travels to out of state competitions. It's a big commitment for these kids and it takes a toll on us as well. Sometimes I wonder when my kids get older whether or not they will realize what we have done for them :-)
Matt Harmon August 16, 2012 at 03:14 PM
Thank you for the comments. I was one of those kids way back who was taken to practice and events far from my school and home. Then I did not realize the value or the sacrifice my single mom was making. Today with that I appreciate everything she did on a limited budget and also realize she was doing the best she could for me. With that said athletes today have a notion of entitlement that some parents bring on themselves. This is a home enviorment issue and can be tough to break. The athletes I see everyday and coach are given an opporut do not realize what the parents are doing for them. All the money and travel and clothes, etc come at an emotional cost when the athletes doesnt appreciate what is being done for them. I have had to learn through experience that I as a parent and professional can not set myself up for expectations from someone else. I have to know I am doing the best I can. Parents at times can form resentments over the time and work involved in all this. Its then we all have to realize this is for fun and not to expect an athlete to act just the way we want when they do not have the mature abilities. Now they should offer respect and thats one thing I feel our society is lacking in this area. My next article is on Parents Motives and will explain some of this is detail. Again are we as parents doing this for them out of love or another self serving motive and bad intention?


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