Last week, I sat in the stands to watch some football during some time between sessions. It is always a privilege to sit quietly in the stands as a coach, as you hear what is really going on in parents minds. To my left I heard a year 3 parent, “my (student) is playing basketball and football this year, its so hard though as they always get shouted at when I need them to get to a different match and have to leave early. But if I miss a match altogether, we get told I will they will be dropped altogether”. The other parent replied “my daughters club coach said she had to pick one sport and go for extra training or someone else might get her starting place in the team”.
It’s a common theme in Asia. Adult driven, hyper competitive race to the top of the academic and sporting ladder. While the race produces less and less winners, the youth of today end up with scarred and disillusioned opinions of sport. Pushed daily to be the best, doing more and more and more, the pressure is leaving children without the chance to be exactly what they are; children.
This never ending chase up the ladder does not produce better athletes, rather a raft of bitter athletes who trust no one and end up hurt, burnt out and quitting sports altogether.
Over the past 18 months I have watched this eternal struggle for parents, desperate to follow the right path for their children, unintentionally being torn between differing opinions and never quite knowing which way to go. I have yet to meet a parent who does not want what is best for their child, but the social pressure to follow the path to the top is incredible. The social pressure is like a conversation with a pathological liar; they are so good at lying that even though you know the correct answer, you end up doubting it. Listening to the gossip, the whispers, the ‘well my (student) does this and they are the best’.
But why listen? Why not remember the facts? FEAR!
Fear that if you don’t have your child specializing from the very beginning, if you don’t get extra coaching, or give up your entire life for youth sport. Even though most know, that running their child ragged, from pillar to post, can’t be right. That nagging concern “There is no alternative, he must play for the best coach” or “she must keep he place in the team”.
It’s a never ending circle of parents worry, coaches frustration and students missing out. As a coach, our job is to develop an athlete for the better, for the long term. There are coaches leaving the sport because they encourage children to have a life, to have multiple interests and enjoy their sports but get undermined by unscrupulous coaches scooping up children and telling them “ if you really want to be a player, you need to do more. You need to do more sessions with me and I will make you the best”. Impossible promises that lure parents in before dumping students out of the sport at 13 and 14 years old.
If you speak to any sports scientist or psychologist, they will tell you that children who stay in sport long term, need ownership, enjoyment and intrinsic motivation. Without any of these things, they are likely to quit. Children live for the moment and don’t think about the long term opportunities, it will always be the parent who see the chance for children to have “what I didn’t” and have “the coach I didn’t get to”. This leads to the common issue: they are children, let them be exactly that. Let them find what they are passionate about and remember that your path worked pretty well for you, but everyone is different.
Parent, here’s your chance to make a difference, start demanding clubs and coaches to allow participation in multiple sports. You have science on your side, long-term athlete development on your side. Your child does not need participation medals and trophies, as some have become fond of. They need a diverse, cultural experience of youth sport.
Next time you hear anyone say “you must choose one or the other”, remember, that is reducing participation by 50%.
A recent article from British Swimming, talked about college coaches actually looking to multi sport athletes in recruitment. Why? Because they have an upside, they are better all round athletes, and are less likely to burnout. You cannot force a child to be great at something they hate, motivation and grit and genetics and enjoyment are far too important.
Hopefully you can see the problem, or even more important you are lucky enough to have found people and coaches willing to make all this happen for your child. But if not, why not allow your child to have lifelong experiences? To learn the lessons which will aid them for the rest of their lives.
You can put your child on the ladder to nowhere or allow them one filled with a balanced childhood, exploration, enjoyment, and yes, multiple sports!
Someday, the children will thank us.