by Shadra Bruce

The scene is familiar: the crazed parent on the sideline screaming obscenities at the coaches and referees. And that’s at the toddler t-ball games! It gets worse as the kids get older, and I always wonder if these parents are this high-pressure with the (often volunteer) coaches and refs, what are they saying to their kids?! The pressure for children to do well in sports begins at an earlier age than ever, and that pressure only increases when your kids become teens. Instead of achieving good grades to get into college, teens are focusing on sports with the hope of receiving sport scholarships. While activity is great for teens, too much pressure to succeed in sports – and too much involvement and pressure from parents – can be extremely harmful.

You may want your teen to be involved in sports for multiple reasons. Exercise is great for healthy bodies and minds, and the social aspect is a great experience in itself. Sports provide teens with a sense of achievement aside from their academics, builds their self-esteem, and gives them team building skills. Many parents are thrilled to see their kids transform into skilled athletes. What parents do not always consider is the toll athletics might be taking on their teen. Parents can help in two ways: one, be a cheerleader but not a sideline coach and two, help your teen find balance.

When the pressure of a sports team gets to be too much, it is not uncommon for grades to slip. Exhaustion leads to injuries. Some teens have resorted to enhancements like steroids to gain the desired level of performance. Where is the balance? It is your job as a parent to draw the line when it appears that what was just an extracurricular activity has become damaging. Sports are not everything and you need to convey the message of balance to your teen.

Being involved in your teen’s life can stop many problems before they start. Most schools have policies that insist athletes must maintain good grades to participate and you should support that. Even if the school or coaches do not recognize the need for academics, if your teen is being pushed too hard, you need to pull the parent card and step in.

My daughter was a cheerleader from 6th grade through her junior year of high school. While many dismiss cheerleading, it requires true athleticism and places extreme demands on the body. Kira’s cheer history contributed to more than a few of my grey hairs. Even though a lot of time was required (not to mention money) she maintained great grades. There was no reason why she should not cheer her senior year, except for the fact that she sustained injuries that were so severe her doctor advised her to pick up rugby instead. What made it worse was that her coach, rather than having her stop, told her to ice and wrap her wrists and stick it out through final competition.

Although she was unhappy with the situation, her father and I were pretty insistent that she take a break. A sport is not worth life-long suffering and damage, and that was where she was headed. We didn’t expect her to do nothing; we encouraged and supported her other activities including participation in theater and being a “football fox” (yeah, I know, I cringe at the name too) at her high school – a team of cheering fans who attended every game but didn’t have to toss 140 pound girls in the air on stress fractured wrists.

Sports are not the only activity available to your teen that they may enjoy and they sometimes need your help to open those doors. There are enough pressures during the teenage years and an activity that is meant for fun is not supposed to be stressful. Help your teen realize that sports are not everything, nor is winning.

Note: Kira’s wrists have since healed, thanks to the break, and she was able to return to cheerleading at Buffalo State.


How do you achieve balance with your kids when it comes to sports? Any coach horror stories? Talk to us!