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Todd Wilson
Children in Sports

During the past few decades, the number of children participating in sports has steadily increased. Because of this increase, new programs and facilities are being created and will continue to be created in order to reach each individual's desire. Many of the new programs and facilities are being aimed toward our youth with the intent of keeping children active in order to decrease the amount of unfit Americans. Though keeping our children fit is a very good reason to create these new facilities and programs, we must look at current problems youth in sports are facing and attempt to minimize these problems. Though this needs to be done in order to prevent the children of the future from being forced to endure these same circumstances, the probability of the sports crazed society we live in actually changing is not very good. Because of this society, children will most likely be forced to continue listening to screaming parents and coaches who want to re-live their childhood dreams of stardom.

The new era of youth in sports occurring today is being created to begin each individual's life in a healthy manner. In a society where nearly every house has some form of video game system in it, there is a worry that the children of today will grow up doing the same things they are doing now; nothing but sitting on their couch while staring at the television. The youth sports movement is intended to create healthy children that will grow up to be healthy adults. Though there are many good reasons to enroll youth into sport programs, there are also a few very good reasons not to.

When deciding whether or not to enroll a child into some type of sport program, parents play the largest role. Parents must decide which type of program is the best for their child, and they oftentimes must do a little persuading in order to get the child to participate. Parents must do this in a very gentle manner and for some, this can be a big problem. Many parents are attempting to live their own sports dreams through the lives of their children, and while doing this, parents are forgetting that each child needs to develop his or her own goals and determine whether or not these goals will be reached. The parents that are doing this are frequently taking the fun out of the activity and many times causing the child to stop participating. Of the approximate 38 million children between the ages of 5 and 18 that play one or more organized sports every year, one-third drop out for one reason or another (Creager). Many, including myself, believe that the primary reason children drop out of sport is because of the lack of fun, oftentimes referred to as burnout. Several years ago, many children were surveyed across the country and results showed that an astounding 70 percent of them quit youth sports by the age of 13 because they were not having fun. The decision of quitting had less to do with their own skill than with the pressure form adults who acted as if each game were a world championship (Ode). Parents are not the only ones becoming too competitive, coaches and other athletes have developed a problem also. One study found that 25 percent of children playing youth sports reported they had been verbally abused by other players or by the coach (Creager).

Another problem that youth in sports are being forced to deal with is the issue of being over practiced. Many parents are forcing their children to practice many hours each day with the thought that enough practice will soon make perfection. Many children are practicing as much each day as the professionals do in their respective sport. This everyday abuse that these children's bodies are being put through are causing many overuse injuries which will cause great discomfort when they are older.

Tennis is a sport that has had several problems with players becoming burned out. Three prime examples of this are former stars Andrea Jaeger, Tracey Austin, and Jennifer Capriati. All three of these once supreme athletes were thrown into the spotlight at a young age and came out with dark memories. Jennifer Capriati, the most recent of the three, reached stardom at the age of 14. In almost every tournament she played in, she was setting records as the youngest person ever to do something. After a couple years near the top, she fell into drugs and depression. She has since found her way back on to the women's tennis circuit and continues to climb the ladder to the top.
Two tennis players that have had an easier ride to the top are Venus and Serena Williams. These to sisters have been playing tennis for nearly all their lives. Venus, the older of the two, turned professional a couple years ago, but her father only allowed her to play a few tournaments each year in order to ease her in to the spotlight and all the distractions that come along with it. The same method was used for Serena, and now, the two sisters are ranked near the top of the Women's Tennis Association. Many parents need to follow the methods used by Venus and Serena's father and not push sport onto their children, but let their children ease their way in. Doing this would keep the sport fun for children and the probability of burnout would decrease.

The problems that I have mentioned are only a few of many problems created by having youth in sport that I believe will probably never come to an end. This is true simply because it is human nature to be concerned about others which includes the times when our children are competing against others. Because of the fact that many of these problems will probably never come to an end, we must focus on the good things sport does such as; create a competitive edge in our children that can be tied over to other things such as school work. Getting youth involved in sports also helps create and maintain a healthy lifestyle that for many children simply means getting off the streets and staying in school to continue their education.