Little Pains: How Youth Sports Yield Unexpected Results

A few weeks back, I found myself visiting seldom seen family members for a long overdue session of catch up. My nephew, at twelve, is more sporting and physically active with team sports (soccer, lacrosse, hockey, what have you) than I thought was humanly possible for someone who is not handsomely paid six figures to do so. So, upon arrival, I fully expected my nephew to be clutching a soccer ball, or restringing his tennis racket or something. Instead, he hobbled over my way with a weak-wristed handshake, while trying to maintain his balance on a new set of crutches. Apparently, he lacrossed himself into a significant groin injury that required him to be on crutches for at least a week. A groin injury for a twelve-year-old?!!

Luckily, my nephew has an orthopedic surgeon for a father, and was being constantly reminded throughout the day by his father to “take it easy” and “stay on your crutches.” However, many children who function as athletic workhorses are not so fortunate, as they often have parents who are either oblivious to their injuries, or parents so fixated on the competitive glory of their children’s athletic pursuits that they continue to push them beyond their comfort level and into sometimes serious, sometimes lifetime injuries.

This unfortunate phenomenon is exposed in author Mark Hyman’s book, Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids. As Hyman tells it, caught up in the fury of jr. competitive sports, many parents are turning children’s sports into base entertainment for adults, or worse, a vehicle for vicariously living through the repetitive stress injuries of their child. As they become further and further invested in the successes and career possibilities of their child’s “chosen sport,” many parents become blinded by their desire to see their children thrive–after numerous dislocations, hyperextensions and ruptured ligaments. And as Hymen cautions, coaches as well as children themselves are often the culprits for pushing the limits of sensibility when it comes to a child’s physical and psychological welfare.

Ultimately, children need someone to look out for them, because they can’t always look out for themselves. Granted children are not always capable of intellectually, or even physically, understanding their limits, as they are prone to get easily caught up in fulfilling expectations to the detriment of the their own well being. However, if adults continue to enable these oversights, leading to sometimes-longstanding injuries, we risk having not a generation of over achievers and trophy collectors, but a population of arthritic twenty-somethings with no athletic achievement to speak of.


Jean Burgess
Jean Burgess8 years ago

My daughter wanted to play baseball from the time she was 4 years old and she was a natural. She didn't get to play organized sports till she was 8. She played to win--as I had. I never pushed her to play but once she signed up, I pushed her to play her best and to be there for the team. She was always on a winning team and she wouldn't have wanted to play if they never won. Sports aren't fun for kids if they always lose. Her daughter wanted to play ball, but she wasn't a natural and after 2 years decided she'd rather do dance and that's kewl--but we support her just like we did her Mom and expect her to do her best. Yeah, parents can push them TOO hard and belittle them when they goof up, but telling kids "it's not about winning, it's just a game" isn't good either. Would YOU play cards if you never won, or checkers, or pool? I wouldn't and most kids want to win. They need to learn to lose gracefully but not every game. If you aren't trying to win, why practice or try to improve your skills? Winning is fun. As someone else said: BALANCE.

toby L.
Past Member 8 years ago

My parents never pushed me into sports, they even discouraged me from playing the more dangerous ones. Regardless i still became very competitive and active in sports throughout my childhood. I have several injuries that still bother me now(at25) from these youth sports.

When I look back I see the education system as a major culprit here. They really push these activities in school for the most part to try and discourage drug use.
Thats all me and my peers ever heard when we were growing up- Join sports or you'll be a drug addict

It didn't happen, the kids who stayed away from sports became doctors/lawyers/engineers. The sporty kids ended up working at the local factory because they had no time to focus on education.

Carl J.
Carl J8 years ago

I too am a massage therapist. I concur with D. E-Platt . I further have a concern for families with several children each with individual schedules, and the impact on Family time together. Too many times these athletic leagues interfere with church attendance and meal times. I know, I know ,I AM an old curmudgeon, but these leagues tear at The moral fabric of The family..

Shawn b.
Shawn b8 years ago

Here is my problem having raised 3 kids as well as coached many a sport team: what is worse overly competitive parents or parents who think that sports are evil ? Im convinced they are really the same thing...extremists. Think im leaning towards one side or the other ? Ive seen police called to little league games and ive seen tag banned from schoolyard and dont even THINK about skateboarding in the wrong place. Extremism is the real about some COMMON SENSE

Ralph F.
Ralph F8 years ago

I have been a sports fan for about 44 of my 50 years but in recent times I have realized that sports has, unfortunately, become a twisted obsession about winning. Radio & TV sports shows go on for hours with unnecessary analyses of strategies and recriminations against coaches & players who "blew the game last week." Ironically, the whiners are usually guys with beer-bellies who would have a heart-attack if they had to walk to and fro' the corner store (are there any corner stores left?). I even tuned-in to a radio sports call-in show a few years back where the BIG issue was why the HIGH SCHOOL football team didn't bench the quarterback in the previous game in attempt to go for the win -- and I suppose, give the inebriated hot-dog munchers the victory they so sorely deserved.

Randolph D.
Randolph D8 years ago

This is what happens when certain people use their offspring as status symbols; it's recognized mainly among caucasians, but is known to occur just as much in the asian culture if not more so. The main excuse of the parent is, "I just want to show my kid how to succeed" or "I just want my kid to be a success."

These hard headed, cold hearted types use everything as status symbols including their marriage and their wives. "Emotional desert" is a very good description for this type because they have little if any sympathy and empathy for anyone including themselves; that's how they were raised, so it's a generational problem.

In the US, all this type of person usually needs is one warning about borderline child abuse, that is, if they have the brains to understand the implications.

I experienced quite the opposite myself: I had parents who couldn't care less about any of my school activities, which is just as bad. There's got to be balance.

Dale Masters
Dale Masters8 years ago

Sports should be fun for children--not a job.

While I understand the concept of using sports to build character, sometimes, I think, people get too carried away in their desire for childen to excel in a sport or other physical activity.

Save the drudgery for adulthood--where it belongs.

D. E-Platt
D. E-Platt8 years ago

As a professional massage therapist my caution for parents, teachers, coaches & dance instructors, etc. is to realize that growing bodies have their limitations.

While the body is still under development the bones, joints & ligaments, as well as the muscle tissues often grow at different rates. As such they are subject to what is known as growing pains, plus problems with the growth plates & much more. Repetitive strain injuries, sprains & the like can contribute to other health problems later on in life. Girls who have started their menstrual cycles are more likely to experience tears to the knee ligaments just prior to their period - due to the naturally occuring hormone shifts which affect the stability of the joint attachments.

All of these problems can be greatly helped by avoiding injury - through the use of proper warmups & stretching, plus good nutrition, along with good body mechanics. This requires the parents & sports trainers, instructors, doctors to educate themselves & the kids they are responsible for in the healthy ways in which to play & compete - so that everyone has a good experience, without turning it into a health crisis.

Amy T.
Amy Cornell8 years ago

Most of the parents I know are not like this - they just want their child to have fun. Perhaps the problem is that some parents believe their child isn't having fun if they aren't winning. My niece LOVES soccer and her team only won a couple of games last year. It didn't stop her from wanting to play and she's improving all the time.