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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Stephanie Price (Editor) August 06, 2012 at 05:12 AM
A lot of great points in this blog.
Marco August 06, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Find the best program with a development coach/leader and your player will grow to love that sport. All the parent needs to do is sit back and enjoy that time because you cannot get it back. No matter how your kid does on any given day - always tell them they did great and that you are happy you were able to watch them. Keep it positive and they will get there for sure. It all starts with parents doing their homework to find the right environment - not just sending their kid off to what may be the closest known program(s) and slapping a team/club decal on the minivan.
Michael Prettyman August 06, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Great stuff. Let the kids have fun, teach them how to prepare so they can play safe and look at your motives as parents. Mike
Rob August 06, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Good article, way too many Moms and Dads out there, pushing their kids to either do what they did (in their memories!) or do what they couldn't! Let kid a have fun, find the level of play for them and enjoy it as a parent. Get involved with the organizations, lend a helping hand, leave you kid alone to enjoy the activity. Hey Marco, we should hit Tracks some time for some chicken and a beer!
Marco August 06, 2012 at 04:41 PM
Oh man now I need some chicken and beer!
mrbaseball August 06, 2012 at 05:59 PM
This should be mandatory reading for all parents.
Lightning Lazer Tag August 06, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Great article, and yes should be mandatory reading for any parent with kids in sports or even applies to other things such as music and dance.
Marco August 07, 2012 at 12:27 PM
I was just thinking of a past experience when a parent came too me - pointed at one of my more skilled players and yelled "Why can't you make my daughter that good?" What a stellar father he must have been at home.
Matt Harmon August 07, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Marco, I have seen alot over the years and even back about 10 years ago i had a parent watch a training session and time which athletes got more minutes of attention. Parents with unclear motives are impulsive in their behaviors and do not care how they act, and certainly do not think of the impact they have!
Matt Harmon August 07, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Lets be clear on this subject. I believe that all activities that require the body to undergo a level of muscular endurance, strength, joint stablilization, and stress to be considered an athletic event. Kids who are not well versed in all areas of conditioning can get hurt just the same. I train kids and adults with dance backgrounds, pom, cheerleading etc. More athletes should consider doing these activities in addtion to mainstream sports and they will appreciate just how difficult and challenging they can be.
Marco August 07, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Parents not putting forth the effort along with clubs interested in the bottom line and WINNING! That's the first problem. There is a great deal of conversation in my circles that our sports focus to much on physical training and not technical skill. Recently a few members of the female World Cup team indicated that as the main reason why they lost to Japan - hopefully they can make that right on Thursday. My point being is that parents want far to much for their kids to be instant stars - they look for the wins over the development and as a result players/athletes just get shuffled around - directed by parents who know very little about developing a child/athlete.
Matt Harmon August 07, 2012 at 08:48 PM
I agree development needs to be at a pace that's applicable for each athlete. In addition training is for many factors and bigger faster stronger not always applies. The correction of imbalances and creating joint stability allows our players to be better technical skilled athletes safely.
Stephanie Price (Editor) August 07, 2012 at 10:09 PM
My wise, older neighbor (whose children are grown) has a saying that "only orphans should be allowed to play organized sports because the parents ruin everything." :)
Marco August 08, 2012 at 05:19 PM
There are plenty of clubs (soccer) in the area that recruit - much like the varisty soccer soccer model in a way were they look for top players to fill open positions and then cut everyone else. Parents think that these clubs are the toughest because they cut players when in reality all they do is acquire decent teams that have nothing to do with developing the player. Fact is they do not hire staff to develop players in a technical manner. As a result the ONLY focus is winning and the parents just feed from it. Sadly most of the parents will push there players from club to club in hope of seeing them into a D1 scholarship - taking more interest in winning over whether their kid is having fun or even enjoys the sport any longer.
Matt Harmon August 08, 2012 at 07:39 PM
I am well aware of this with a club in the area. I am grateful to train soccer athletes in this area and have athletes on many clubs. I promote development of the muscle groups to make sure athletes are safe and can develop efficiently n risk free play. I have had resistance in the past from coaches who base their style only on speed. Many kids quit playing all together because of lack of development at the young level because they get hurt or it's not fun anymore to be pressured. I see this in many sports but women's soccer in this country at the youth level is tough, and tough on the kids.
Marco August 08, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Indeed - development needs to happen at a young age. Most of these little ones are in Rec which is still light and fun but I have seen many volunteer parents move rec teams to indoor where it all starts to transform into winning. Heck I've seen some parents yell and scream more at rec indoor games then regional championships. Some rec parents even move their teams to travel with little or no experience and 99% of the time they would not know development training if they were hit upside of the back of the head with a cleat. All about the right coach/club that helps to grow a player in life lessons - not just the sport. A coach who knows how to manage and build any player who loves sport and wants to learn.
Matt Harmon August 08, 2012 at 08:56 PM
I get that!!!!! Parents need to trust the developmental process and be patient. They also need to put egos aside and check their motives. Overall it should be about the kids!!! Sports poorly done by parents will teach the wrong life messages for sure. Winning without learning is losing and losing with learning is winning. I am willing to help anyone out their but the hardest parent is one who asks for help and does the opposite. Parents who train kids and do rehab work on them without any qualifications is popping up also.
Marco August 09, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Here's an idea - parent orientation at the organized level of sports. Don't just throw up a pdf file on how parents should carry themselves at games and how to approach a coach. Hold an orientation and discuss some of the points that are being made here - make it mandatory. Of course there are some coaches/trainers that can't follow the rules as well - yellers and lap managers.
Matt Harmon August 09, 2012 at 04:45 PM
That would be great , except how many of those parents will follow the direction of others. The athletic community is bogged down with parents who lnow everything.we are grateful to train athletes who have parents that believe in what they are doing and support them. I also sit with the athlete and parent during their eval and lay out my expectations and if they are part of our scholarship training they have parameters to follow which include being students first! We have guidelines that we expect and hold them and parents accountable to. Our athletes need to be role models and leaders who set good examples to the younger athletes. The atmosphere starts at the top. My wife and I have to be examples
Marco August 09, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Not sure I get you. In my model they would have to go through orientation. Frankly I do not think it's hard to get a parent to calm down and enjoy the time rather then yelling and pushing their players. They just need to know the hows and whys. Setting expectations from the get go and ensuring that coaches thereafter set the example will go far in helping to keep things fun and players interested. You are correct about parents who think they know everything. I'd wager 2% of parents have a good understanding in the soccer world - the rest are caught up in a tiny world that's dictated by the club. For example you have teams out there which compete at the "A" level but have no idea that "A" division today is merely made of middle "B" level teams because all the top teams are now playing Championship League/Open Club, MRL, NPL etc... Furthermore they do not even know that programs like the ECNL and DA exist - which is the top crop of youth soccer for female and male athletes. But yet everyone thinks their player is going to knab a D1 scholarship or be the next Mesi. Focus on grades - and make everything else fun whether it is rec play or competitive.
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?


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something