Youth community sports: To parents, youth sports an 'athletic arms race'

By Martha Irvine

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 21 2012 10:00 a.m. MST

If parents bring younger kids in, he often suggests learning a few overall fitness techniques and working on them at home.

"If they're in your facility because 'Hey, you have to secure a roster spot,' then that's not so good," Finch says.

This should be fun, he adds.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a parent who'd disagree with that.

But with competition all around, parents don't just worry about a child's athletic career or getting into a good college. Many worry about getting them into a decent elementary school.

Sports can be seen as a ticket to something bigger, a way to set a kid apart from the pack.

"You try and build the perfect kid," says Adam Naylor, a clinical assistant professor of sports psychology at Boston University who works with parents and athletes, some as young as age 12.

"It leads to overtraining, overuse and an over-committed kid, which has fallout. But it's really tough to see that in the moment."

He recalls one mom who told him: "In this town, if you don't play club soccer, you're told your kid won't make it in life. But we only have money to play town soccer."

She felt guilty that she couldn't afford the more expensive private league, like she was failing her kid. She felt pressured, as many parents do.

Other times, it's the parents doing the pushing — as Worthy sees it, their quest to boost their own self esteem with their children's accomplishments. He calls it "vicarious glory."

He recalls how those moms on the golf course followed their daughters on every golf round and introduced themselves not by their own names but as "so and so's mom."

Still, even he concedes that his competitive parent has shone through occasionally.

He remembers telling a buddy a few years back that his daughter was getting into golf after giving up competitive gymnastics because of injury.

"If she's going to play," the friend advised, "buy her the best gear possible because everybody out there is going to have it."

Did Worthy do it?

"Yep," he says. "Because if you don't, then it's not even fair."

As psychologist Wendy Grolnick sees it, that's just parents doing what they're wired to do — responding to a very primal instinct to protect their children and ensure their survival.

"It's not out of a sense of living through your child or narcissism. Parents love their kids and they don't want them to miss out," says Grolnick, a professor at Clark University who wrote the book "Pressured Parents, Stressed-out Children: Dealing with Competition While Raising a Successful Child."

The key is to keep it in check.

"There's just so much competition in the air," she says. "Very nice people are feeling this way."

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