Sue Scheff: Teens Drop Sports

This is a very interesting article. As a mother that had a daughter that was extremely into sports, I can relate to the stress and time it can take on a teen. However, it has to be the teens decision to participate or not to. As parents, we need to understand and know when too much is too much, or when our teen's withdrawal is maybe going in a negative direction. Take the time to be an educated parent and learn about your teens and their goals.
Teens Drop Sports

“The pressure really becomes too much, and after a while they really become kind of disillusioned with the entire sports scene---and get tired of it and finally say, 'That's it for me.'”

– Richard Winer, MD, Psychiatrist

In the middle of the frenzy of basketball, hockey and football seasons, this may be a good time to report on an alarming trend noted by the National Alliance for Youth Sports. When kids turn 13 years old age, most of them drop out of sports. And some of them are just burned out.

Katie, Brittany, and Laura all used to be athletes--- and they all decided to quit.

Brittany, who's now 15-years-old says, "I used to play soccer and basketball. Basketball I just got burned out and soccer the same way. I've been playing since I was like six and seven."

According to the National Alliance for Youth Sports, 73 percent of kids drop organized sports by age 13. Why?

16-year-old Katie says, "As it went on it got like really competitive and stuff, and I'm not exactly the most competitive person ever."

They practiced every day and had games every weekend. In the end they had little time for anything else. Dr. Richard Winer, a psychiatrist in metro-Atlanta says, "The pressure really becomes too much, and after a while they really become disillusioned with the entire sports scene, and get tired of it and finally say, 'That's it for me.'"

Katie says, "You like feel pressured to do your best all the time. And when you mess up you feel like you've screwed up the entire team."

But experts fear if kids drop sports, they'll miss the benefits: being on a team, exercise, feeling more connected to their school. 17-year old Laura says, "I also miss being like really in shape."

So what should you do if your child wants to quit the team? Dr. Winer says, "One of the things that you might want to look at is a different sport. Sometimes kids just get burned out on one sport."

Laura says, "If it wasn't as much of a time commitment it would still be really awesome if you could do some sort of recreational league, if it was an hour a week, or one game per week or something."

The girls now try out for the school plays. Their advice to parents about sports: "It's not like life or death situations. It's just a game," says Katie.

Experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that medical, physical, cognitive and psychosocial components of children's development should be considered to evaluate the readiness of young athletes for intensive athletic training and competition. Consider the following:

■Medical – The issue of preadolescent participation in competitive athletics is complex, and from a medical perspective, there appear to be both benefits, as well as potential drawbacks. Apparent advantages include physiological training/health benefits from participation in a "lifetime" sport, as well as enhanced motor/skill development. Research has demonstrated there are adverse physiological consequences from intense physical training, including delayed menarche and an increased risk of overuse injuries to immature musculoskeletal systems. Repetitive motion can cause premature closure of long bone growth plates and stress fractures are more common in juveniles than adults.

■Physical – Generally, young athletes grow and develop normally. As a result of regular physical activity, they demonstrate superior heart function, some gains in isomatic strength, enhanced neurological adaptations and improved body composition compared to their non-athletic peers. However, with the trend toward highly competitive athletics at a younger age, there is the potential hazard of an increasing number of sport-specific and overuse injuries of the immature skeletal and neuromuscular systems caused by many ambitious coaches' tendencies to over-train children for competition. The ability to learn motor skills and the rate at which a child progresses in mastering these skills differ with each child. Young athletes should not be forced to practice and perform motor drills that are too advanced for their level of physical development.
■Cognitive – A distinguishing feature of pre-adolescence is a child's strong, self-centered view, which facilitates individual performance, but complicates participation in team sports. Young children have difficulty understanding that a team is composed of interdependent positions that must simultaneously respond to one another and opposing players' movements. Children can successfully cope with activities that allow them sufficient time to get ready. They more easily respond to a fixed object of static environment in situations that permit them to move at their own rates of speed, time and readiness.

■Psychosocial – Generally, younger children experience less anxiety (feeling of distress) about casual sports participation (e.g., playground) because they have not become as aware as older children of the competitive nature of these situations. However, younger athletes experience more trait anxiety than older athletes do in structured sport settings in which competition is explicit. Important competitive events, because of an emphasis on winning, put so much pressure on children that some of them drop out of playing sports. Research suggests that for young children, high performance scores may have more to do with heredity and maturity than personal accomplishment. Some children may not be successful competitors simply because of their inadequate maturity level. Repeated failures may have a detrimental psychological effect on developing young athletes and result in low self-esteem, depression, excessive anxiety, burnout, serious injuries and re-injuries. As a result, these athletes who might be very talented, could withdraw from sports before they reach their potential and without further attempting to return to a particular sport.

Tips for Parents

All the above conclusions indicate that children cannot and should not play an adult version of a game. The nature of the game must be modified to match young athletes' cognitive abilities. According to experts at the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA), children's main motives to participate in sports and compete are:

■To have fun;
■To improve skills;
■To be with friends; and
■To improve health and fitness.
In addition, experts at the AVCA say some of the major reasons for sports dropouts are:

■Overemphasis on winning;
■Not having fun;
■Stress of competition; and
■Disliking the coach.

According to experts at the University of Toronto, parents and coaches often attribute a child's overtraining to the child's enthusiasm and love for the sport. While some children may have extraordinary abilities and high athletic aptitudes, their parents and coaches must still take responsibility in exercising appropriate control and timely advice to these young athletes. Self-deception on the part of the parents, as well as the personal and financial sacrifices endured by many of these families, may well increase the stress on the child.

■American Academy of Pediatrics
■American Volleyball Coaches Association
■University of Toronto

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