Overbearing Parents and Youth Sport

by Cody B.

Youth face many challenges in their lives, so why is it we as coaches and adults continue to add to these? Don’t they face enough hardship without adults adding to the load? I know that not all parents are overbearing, but a growing number are and it only takes a few to ruin the sport experience for these youth. Youth that the experience has been ruined for are much more likely to not continue to be physically active or participate in sport as an adult.

I read a newspaper clip called “Lets Put the ‘Youth’ Back in Youth Sports”, which is about how coaches and parents are putting too much pressure on their kids. The article says that adults who are pathologically focused on winning plague virtually every youth sport league. The author, Ken Reed, states that according to the National Alliance for Youth Sports, approximately 15% of youth sports games involve a confrontation between parents and coaches, officials or other parents. This was up from five percent just five years earlier. Then, he talks about how by the time kids are 12 most of them have been involved in some type of adult organized sport for up to 7 years. Then, he says that the kids have experienced several grueling post-game critiques of their play by their Coach or parents. It then goes into how more and more kids – some as young as 10 – are now being encouraged by “well-meaning” adults to specialize in a single sport in order to increase their chances of landing a college scholarship. He explains that parents and coaches need to chill out, as the chances of kids becoming a professional athlete are very small and because research shows that nearly 80 percent of all children who play adult-organized youth sports drop out by the time they’re 12. The reason most often cited for drop out is that it’s no longer fun. He ends the article by stating that if we help our youth enjoys sports, teach them life skills as well as sport skills, spur a life long appreciation for physical activity and make sure they play with a sense of integrity and sportsmanship, then we’ve done our jobs as parents and youth sport coaches.

With these overbearing parents also comes specialization, which has been proven to produce young adults that are less active compared to youth that didn’t specialize. This can be used to say that a possible negative consequence of specialization is dropout (Russell, 2014). One of the biggest reasons for joining sports is to have fun and another possible negative consequence of specialization can be the loss of fun, which can lead to dropout. With specialization the sport can become more like a job and something that seems more important to the parent and not the child.

As a child, I had the opportunity to play a few different sports during school and I believe that my parents and coaches helped to make physical activity one of my values. I think that if I had of specialized in a sport then I would be less active now. In my everyday life I have the skills to join almost any type of pick up game and have fun with it. If I had specialized in, say, basketball, then that would be the only sport I feel comfortable with and therefore I would be less likely to participate in any other recreational sport. This would limit how often I would have an opportunity to play a sport.

Specialization and overbearing parents will also affect the resiliency of our youth. These two factors can both lead to the youth constantly feeling like they are failing to make their parents and coaches proud. This is a betrayal of the parent’s and coach’s responsibility to be a support system for your child. Parents need to identify their child’s strengths and empower them to overcome their adversity, not be part of the adversity. Research shows that from ages 6 to 10, children rely heavily on feedback from parents and coaches (Martin 2014). These adults need to be helping to build youth’s assets and also must be a support for them. It is good that they are involved but they need to pick a more appropriate way to be involved. They need to ask the child what they want and make it about the child not their own desire to win.


Martin, N. J. (2014). Keeping It Fun in Youth Sport: What Coaches Should Know and Do. Strategies (08924562), 27(5), 27-32.

Russell, W. D. (2014). The Relationship between Youth Sport Specialization, Reasons for Participation, and Youth Sport Participation Motivations: A Retrospective Study. Journal Of Sport Behavior, 37(3), 286-305.

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7 Responses to Overbearing Parents and Youth Sport

  1. hvesterb says:

    It is widely acknowledged that sport can be a mechanism for positive and healthy youth growth. On the other hand, as you proposed, sport experiences characterized by overbearing adults and early specialization can negatively impact youths’ thriving indicators.
    The ‘Over-scheduling hypothesis’ supports this premise. Extensive participation in organized sport can limit down time and disrupt family functioning and relationships. Much of the literature examining motives for participation are consistent with your notion that fun is a primary determinant. Moreover, overinvolved parents and coaches’ increases anxiety, stress, and decreases decision-making skills; which deter children from sustained sport engagement. As a coach and player I can vouch that this is true. The value of fun cannot be overstated. Coaches and parents need to work together to facilitate an enjoyable experience for all. Principles of empowerment, engagement, and youth voice are applicable to creating a fun. Most importantly, successful youth development programs are characterized by caring adults who view youth as assets in the making.

    This article prompted me to reflect on my childhood. I feel so lucky that my parents were not overinvolved. I have had the opportunity to engage in a variety of sports and leisure experiences; building a broad leisure repertoire. I strongly believe that my diverse sport experiences have shaped the person I have grown to be. I have also experienced coaches who focus too heavily on winning; which led to an unhappy experience. Sport experiences that focus on asset development, encouraging adults, and spreading smiles will facilitate youth developing a variety of skills, resiliency, and independence that , in turn, will make them healthy contributing members of the community. As a player, coach, and youth development advocate, I full heartedly endorse that rule number one is FUN, FUN, FUN!


  2. blpye says:

    I was reading an article that someone had posted on the KinKids leader group. One of the fist things mentioned in this article are the opening comments from parents. it’s not about the pressures they are placing on their children, but the pressures coaches are placing on them! I remember playing soccer in middle school, on a school team, and only ever having half to three quarters of a team there, because practice always conflicted with cross country practice. We were fortunate enough to have both the cross country coach and the soccer coach to work together to make sure the athletes who were on both teams could skip a practice now and again (we only practices once or twice a week) to participate in the other sport. The only rule was those athletes would not start the soccer game, but at the middle school level there was still plenty of opportunities for them to play, and nobody really cared about who started at that level anyway.

    The author of this article also raises an interesting point in regards to parents who place added pressure on their kids. It may not be as much about reliving their dreams through them, but their own fear. Fear of failure is cited as being one of the main reasons parents push their children to specialize so early and to train as hard as they can. This is a trend in education as well. Parents have been known to judge their success as parents based on their child’s accomplishments. if their son/daughter has been accepted to Yale or Harvard, they have succeed, but if they have been accepted to a local community college, or no school at all they are a failure. Same goes for sports. If their child plays peewee AAA hockey they have succeeded, but if they play a house league, the parents have failed. While I do not certainly agree with this point, it is easy to see the logic in these beliefs, based on a society that is so focused on achievements and outcomes.

    Article: http://stevenashyb.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/the-race-to-nowhere-in-youth-sports/

  3. mfergunb says:

    “Parents need to identify their child’s strengths and empower them to overcome their adversity, not be part of the adversity.” – Great way to put this, Cody. As you identified, early specialization for children in sport may seem to be aiding their development, but can actually hinder and damage their enjoyment and chances of continuation. Coaches, parents and teachers owe it to children to be encouraging of various opportunities and open to the concept of “child’s choice” instead of just one sport. The connection between overbearing parenting and sport specialization is something all sports providers and families should be aware of. We should focus on well-rounded skill development first, rather than strength specialization from the beginning. Children should be exposed, to adequately educated, in the fundamentals of physical literacy before moving to the next stage of specializing. Above all, as mentioned in your article and in the comments below, the most important factor to pay attention to is fun.

  4. Hrendell says:

    When a child is just starting sport there is no way that they have the desire to just play one sport and one sport only. The youth aren’t the ones signing themselves up for sports, paying for it, or dragging themselves there day and night all through the year. Children need a variety of activities in order to find out what they like. I think you were right in saying that although sport can aid in development, it can also hinder it. I think that it is more important to teach youth the necessity of physical activity as a whole, rather than as a single sport.
    This brought me back to when I used to be involved in almost every sport that was offered at my school. In one sport we would do conditioning as punishment. If someone was late, or talking, or did something wrong, we would do laps, sprints, push ups or anything else. The coach believed this was the best way to have us learn from our mistakes while also getting the physical part in. I think this is the way with many youth sports and it is sending the wrong message. Conditioning and doing physical activity shouldn’t be used as a punishment, but as an expectation or a part of practice. We need to teach our youth that physical activity isn’t just one sport and as soon as it isn’t fun anymore it is over. It will be hard to change the minds of parents and coaches that specialization is not the way to go for youth so we at the very least need to find a way to communicate to them that physical activity is lifelong, not just while they are competing.

  5. mbell14 says:

    I agree that children at the ages of 10-12 shouldn’t experience a busy schedule that makes the child feel stressed out and pressured into playing certain sports by their parents and also that the child doesn’t feel comfortable participating in because if the child is participating in more than one sport at the same time during the season, then they won’t have time to themselves to rest after school or after playing their sport. If a child was in this situation they would get the feeling of quitting sports because it’s too much for them to handle, but the child would also think about not wanting to disappoint their parents as well.
    Overbearing parents can sometimes ruin the youth experience of sport because at this young age they are just getting use to how to control their motor skills and learning the techniques of the sport they are playing. A child learning to move properly and play at the same time can be sometimes tiring for children because there are some children that would need the time to think about what they are doing.

  6. emilymckim says:

    Great Post Cody!
    This is a perfect example of helicopter parents and parents not allowing their children to be their own person. Parents these days feel the need to control every aspect of their child’s life. There is not room for children to explore things that they might be interested in or just goof around. We talked in class about how parents are doing everything for their children and this is spilling into adulthood. The kids in today society are not learning responsibility and do not take owner ship of their action because their parents are always there to save the day. Whether it is talking to teachers about bad grads or even going to job interviews with their kids! That just boggles my mind! Parents need to take a step back and let their children make mistakes and live their own life. This will allow for a greater number of assets to be developed, because the youth will actually be experiencing things first hand rather then hiding behind their parents.
    I have definitely seen these over baring parents first hand. The mother of one of the swimmers I coach believes her daughter will be in the Olympics in 2006. This is a nice thought but in synchronized swimming only twelve girls in all of Canada make the national team. So expecting a thirteen year old to make this team over twenty year olds is just setting her up for failure. You can tell that the fun of swimming is being sucked away from this young girl. After a competition she will be happy with her results but as soon as she speaks with her mother, she is instantly upset because her marks were not good enough for her mothers standards.
    I agree that parents and coaches have to allow youth to be youth! They need to have fun in the activities they are participating in. Other wise they will all grow up and resent all the activities they use to do! Parents need to encourage their children when it comes to sport and recreation activities so they will grow up and have positive views on active lifestyles.

  7. gregsteele17 says:

    Good post Cody
    Overbearing parents in youth sport are not needed or required by children in sports. Youth want their experiences to be enjoyable and when this ceases to happen more often than not the child no longer wants to participate. Successful youth development requires caring adults, empowerment , and engagement and not adults who are overbearing and do not permit youth a voice. There is too much pressure on kids to succeed and be the very best in sports. As you mentioned Cody, a very select few youth become professional athletes and there is way too much pressure on kids to become these sport icons.

    The chance of children dropping out of sports is much higher when children feel forced or pressured to perform from parents. It is great for kids to experience a few different types of sports and not expected to excel in one specialized sport. Children do not like to let parents down and the feeling of failure causes a great amount of anxiety and tension for them. Children need to be given proper guidance and direction but sports experiences should be enjoyable and fun and parents need to step back and let youth experience sports for the sake of having fun. I was fortunate to have parents that allowed me to explore many sports and from there it was my decision on what I wanted to play and always it was an enjoyable and satisfying experience that led to my positive youth development. by Greg S

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