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How not to kill kids’ love of sports

September 4, 2007 10:00 PM

As millions of kids take to fields, courts and rinks this fall, as many as half to two-thirds are destined to quit sports by their teens, largely because they’re not having fun, studies show.

A trend toward specialization - pressure for kids to play just one competitive sport year-round - is one reason, researchers say. Many kids thrive in competi­tive year-round programs, learning advanced skills and enjoying expanded opportunities.

But the programs can be a bad fit for others, fostering stress and an overemphasis on winning, says a recent focus-group study of 67 school officials, coaches, parents and teens led by Daniel Gould, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University. Such strains are linked to higher injury risk, reduced motivation and burnout.

For par­ents who want their kids to embrace sports as a path to lifelong fitness and fun, the trend calls for new vigilance. Here are some early-warning signs that your child may be burning-out:

1. It’s no fun
A child who grows bored, resists practices and games, feigns illness or injury, or retreats to the back of the line in drills, is at a high risk of dropping out.

2. Teammates aren’t compatible
Camaraderie is a big source of the fun in sports and its absence can signal trouble.

3. Cheating rears its head
If your child complains about cheating or starts cheating him/herself, burnout may loom.

4. Your involvement eclipses your child’s
A 2006 Norwegian study of 677 soccer players ages 10 to 14 found children who felt heavy performance pressure from parents and coaches were over concerned about making mistakes and harsher in their self-criticism.

- By Sue Shellenbarger, The Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2007




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