Dreams of multimillion-dollar contracts, Olympic glory and college scholarships have many parents pushing their children harder than ever to play sports. Kids are being entered in sports leagues at younger ages; some are forced to participate year-round in the hopes of creating the next superstar. Involving your child in sports has many positive benefits. However, pushing children into playing sports can negatively impact their emotional development and damage the parent-child bond.
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Parents generally are the worst judges of their child’s ability. The emotional investment clouds judgment and blinds parents from seeing that their child may not be gifted in sports. Instead of identifying this lack of ability, some parents push harder and end up pushing the child too far. When children lack ability but are forced to compete, they are placed in humiliating situations where they continually fail. Instead of cultivating healthy self-esteem from sports participation, the repeated embarrassment can cause the child to become stressed, anxious, withdrawn and depressed. The child also may develop a negative sense of self due to the poor performances, instead of looking to character traits, actions and other abilities to build healthy self-esteem.
Burnout and Developing Interests
Pushing a child to participate in a sport increases the likelihood that the child will develop sports-related burnout. Rather than advancing in overall development, forced participation can inhibit the child from enjoying the activity, decrease a desire to succeed at it and increase the risk of injury. The child may begin to view sports negatively and lose interest in competing altogether. The negative connotation may cause the child to miss out on the many positive attributes associated with healthy sports participation. Being pushed to participate also can prevent the child from learning to manage his life and naturally develop interests. These factors can damage the child's overall wellness and productivity while stunting creativity.
Nothing is more important than your child’s happiness, and if you push the child into a sport, he may end up resenting you. Instead of enjoying rides to practices and games or practicing drills with you in the yard, the child may avoid the sport and you altogether. The resentment may strain the parent-child bond, thereby causing him to stop voicing his needs to you. As a parent, the lines of communication must remain open to ensure that his needs are being met. If the child cannot talk openly with you, he may keep his feelings bottled up or become emotionally dependent on peers who don’t have his best interest at heart.
Make sure it’s your child’s dream to participate in a sport to avoid pushing him in a negative way. If your child is involved in a sport, ease up or let him quit if the joy has been taken out of the activity. Don’t force your child to do anything. Provide guidance and encouragement by listening to -- and observing -- his needs, while exposing him to a range of activities. Steer clear of projecting your own achievement needs onto the child. Instead of fixating on his success in sports, find fulfillment in your own life and let him gravitate naturally to the things that interest him.