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Local Student's View: Youth sports have become too intense, harmfully competitive

From the column: "Youth sports need to reduce the emphasis on winning and return to the importance of having fun."

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Members of the Hermantown girls soccer team celebrate after scoring against Cloquet-Carlton.
News Tribune file photo
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Sports can be the highlight of many children’s elementary and middle-school years, with the continuous repetition of trying and failing new things while meeting some of your lifelong best friends. I started playing sports at 6 years old. Now, at 17, I have participated in around eight sports. Having the ability to play many sports throughout my youth allowed me to figure out what I wanted to do in high school.

Competitive sports allow kids to build relationships and work hard but can be executed negatively. In recent years, American youth sports have become too intense and competitive, causing kids to quit, get injured, or pick between sports at too young of an age.

American youth sports have become a major commitment both in time and money. Many programs expect parents to pay hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of dollars to have their kid participate. Not every family is able to afford that, ultimately making their kid lose out on the opportunity to play.

A study by Children’s Hospital Los Angeles showed that, “Kids who play and train in the same sport for eight months or more in a calendar year engage in repetitive movements that, over time, may result in muscle imbalances and increase a risk of injury.” This shows the negative consequences of having such a competitive and intensive environment at such a young age.

An example of this is professional Russian figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva, who, at only 18 years old, said, “I cannot eat what I want after six in the evening like I could before.” She is harming her body because of the expectations that come with her sport. This shows that time and money isn’t the only factor when it comes to kids quitting or not participating.

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The overly competitive nature of youth sports can cause kids to burn out and quit. Youth sports have started to consume kids' lives with practice every day of the week and then games or competitions on weekends. This is another reason why kids are having to choose between their activities.

On top of that, pressure from parents and coaches has increased immensely, resulting in kids losing their love for a sport. Youth sports used to focus on having fun and kids finding new interests instead of the demanding practices and the requirement to win. This feeling of having to win has caused kids to place their self worth on a game, which risks their mental health. Participation in sports has even declined because of this.

A study by Dr. Jamie Pardini, a neuropsychologist with Banner-University Sports Medicine and Concussion Specialists in Phoenix, found that , “This hyper-focused, year-round training is associated with stress, burnout and even early withdrawal from sports. These athletes experience less fun and perceive increased criticism.” This supports how this intensive environment around youth sports needs to stop.

The increased pressure from parents and coaches and the money and time committed to sports have caused kids to quit or have made them more vulnerable to injury. Youth sports need to reduce the emphasis on winning and return to the importance of having fun and exploring new passions. Competitive and intense sports can wait until high school when teens know more about themselves and their passions.

Abbey Birkey of Cohasset is a senior at Grand Rapids High School, where she’s a captain of the girls soccer team and is on the cross country ski team.

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Abbey Birkey

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