Bring Back the Fun in Youth Sports

Contributing Writer Nate Rindfuss, ’21

Let’s be honest, we’ve all seen it at some point: a parent or coach at a youth sporting event barking at referees or their child as if it’s Game 7 of the World Series. This is a classic case of what Frank Smoll, a professor of Psychology at University of Washington, labels as “frustrated jock syndrome,” and defines as parents trying to relive their past successes through their kids. Unfortunately, this syndrome has seen a dramatic upturn in cases due to the increased competitive nature and amount of money put into youth sports today. However, the cure to this malady lies not in a revolutionary pill or procedure, but starts and ends with parents taking a step back at sporting events to let kids be kids. 

Hypercompetitiveness and destructive criticism in parents can have detrimental effects on children’s mental health, and, after a while, can drive kids away from sports completely. Such actions, according to Northern Illinois’ department of education, can result in the lowering of self-esteem and put kids at a higher risk of injury, because all too often kids are pushed by overbearing parents to reenter the playing field before they are fully healed. Professional athletes are not immune to the effects of overbearing parents either. For example, tennis star Andre Agassi, in his autobiography, Open: An Autobiography, highlights the hatred for tennis he developed as a result of his hypercompetitive father, who once told Andre after he won his first Grand Slam, “You had no business losing that fourth set.” Furthermore, baseball superstar Mickey Mantle got involved with alcoholism and contemplated suicide due to the stress caused by his overbearing father. 

Some may say that this hypercompetitive attitude is helping their kids to “toughen up,” become stronger mentally, or to succeed as an athlete. Perhaps these people suffer from “frustrated jock syndrome” as well, but nevertheless, screaming at a 12 year old playing soccer will most of the time only frustrate the child further and drive them away from the sport. Further down the road this can also cause people to resort to substance abuse in extreme cases, such as Mickey Mantle’s. In order to prevent these events, parents must shift their attitude towards constructive criticism. This way, kids can have fun without feeling the constant pressure to perform, but also learn and improve on their skills at the same time. Finally, overbearing parents一you know who you are一please, on behalf of everyone else trying to attend their child’s sporting event without someone screaming every three seconds, take a step back and let your child play the sport that they love in peace. And no, your child is not going to be in the MLB. 


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