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For many kids, organized sports aren’t much fun anymore.

Overbearing parents, over-the-top coaches and overzealous competition are frequent images associated with youth-athletic leagues today. Though playing ball often used to embody the enjoyment of being a kid, the experience for many youngsters is too serious and stressful – and ultimately not worth it.

My son is just six and already I feel the heat and pressure. I've witnessed other parents at the sidelines yell, boo, and act aggressive toward struggling players and opposing adults. It's truly mind blowing to me. I didn't grow up playing sports, and I just want my little guy to have fun. I don't care if he is a budding athlete or a future fan, I just want him to have the experience, get some exercise, and be part of a team. Is that too much to ask at this age (at any age, really)?!

Maya Castro, author of The Bubble: Everything I Learned as a Target of the Political, and Often Corrupt, World of Youth Sports shared five tips for parents to take the toxicity out of the game. 

  • Strive to be a mentor. Castro says parents and coaches have a great opportunity to use sports as a teaching tool for life. “The learning aspect of the game needs to be the focal point of youth sports,” Castro says. “Sports should be an extension of family values and behaviors. Good parents and coaches tie in the ups and downs of competition with the challenges in navigating adult life.”

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  • Model positive behaviors. Part of the negative image of youth sports is related to parents yelling at coaches, referees, opponents, or even their own kids. “There are enough critics in the stands hurling profanities and insults during a game,” Castro says. “Parents should set the right example for their kid – and for adults who obviously haven’t grown up.”
  • Enjoy the moment. Too many parents and their young athletes are fretting the future. “Too often it’s all about winning and getting the scholarship,” Castro says, “but my parents told me there was a time when kids actually enjoyed playing for the sake of playing, and parents won just by getting to watch them play. We need to get back to that. Without it, memories are wasted.”
  • Be encouraging. “Celebrate the effort, not just the result,” Castro says. “This goes for youth coaches as well as parents. When kids do some good things, don’t let the mistakes cloud your post-game comments. Be honest in discussing room for improvement, but not at the expense of making them feel like they have to play perfect to get praise.”
  • Make education first. Castro and many observers of youth sports say parents have lost perspective by thinking their kid is on the fast track to a scholarship or a pro career. Statistics show few advance that far. “In the meantime, kids are exhausted from travel leagues and tournaments,” she says, “and the way their future through sports is emphasized, education becomes a distant second.”

Next up: Are you a soccer parent? You've got to check out this must-have sideline SportsPod!

This is not a sponsored post. Tips courtesy of Maya Castro.

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