Times have changed

Story by Mark McFarland, Sports Editor

Mark McFarland 2Sports were fun for many children when they were younger, but as the competition started to heat up, so did the pressure. Although there are still parents and coaches out there preaching to their kids to go out, have fun and try as hard as they can, the times have definitely changed. Parents want their kids to be the next big thing; coaches at all levels want to say the kid they coached is the next big thing. So what changed? What made sports go from having fun with friends a couple nights out of the week to kids being put on a pedestal and pressured to be better than they are?

To this day, when kids start out playing sports at a very young age, parents and coaches try to teach the kids the values of competing for fun. This obviously happens before the competition becomes fierce. The teachings of parents and coaches at this young ages instills in the kids that sports are there to have fun and to be active. The contradiction of teachings in the ages between four and eight years old confuses the kids as they begin to get older and into the real competition.

There are shows like Friday Night Tykes, showing how competitive even youth leagues can be. This show in particular is based in Texas. Children, who are eight or nine years old, put on football pads for the first time in their lives. During the show the coaches are constantly yelling  and threatening the kids to make them play better. What makes the show, even more interesting is that the parents let it happen. Many of the parents just stand there and watch as the practices continue to go on in the hot Texas weather.

The coaches never stop nagging the kids, telling them to do this and to do that, sometimes going so far as to tell the kids to “try and hurt the other players.”

The games are a different story. Not only are the coaches screaming, but the parents are just as bad. One can only imagine what must be going on in the heads of these kids who are put through the rigorous drills high schools and colleges are doing. These kids are eight or nine.

Practices are so intense kids are passing out and throwing up during their five-minute breaks. People may say this has to be dramatized because it is a reality TV show, and in some aspects, that’s true.

So let’s focus on real life. Anyone can walk to a local ball field of any sport on any given day and see the same thing happening. Kids are being screamed at by their coaches because they went 1-for-3 with a walk and an RBI, but they made an error in the field. Even though the kid helped contribute to the team winning the game, the kid gets berated for making the one error. Go to any soccer or basketball game and anyone can tell just whose kid is having a bad game or whose mother or father just takes the game too seriously.

Fast forward to high school, and the same things are happening, but no one ever asks what the kid is going through. Their coaches and parents have been telling them for years – it will make them a better athlete it will help them reach their goals of becoming a professional athlete. All of those statements may end up being true, but does anyone ask if the player sees it that way? No. Nowadays it has become something of a parents’ and coaches’ dream more than the kid’s dream to succeed and reach their goal of playing professionally.

Times have changed. Kids learned at a young age to have fun and to love playing their sport. Once they turn eight, it shifts. It turns into trying to make their parents and coaches proud, which turns into a never-ending cycle.

Many times these parents and coaches who take the sport way too seriously are putting the pressure on the kids because they may have failed at reaching their goals when they were playing sports.

It is a sad thing to see great athletes at young ages who have such potential to become an amazing athlete give up and quit their sport because of the pressure being put on them. Where has the fun gone? How is it that something that was meant for fun became such a grueling process of pressure and never-ending failure?

Sports were invented to teach life lessons and to be something people can go out and relieve stress with. Now it has turned into something causing the stress. Kids are getting injured and being forced to play just because the parent or coach wants them to be “tough” and to win a plastic trophy.

The lessons of youth sports have gone from learning to have fun to learning to win at all costs. It has gone from something someone will enjoy playing for the time they can to something others will look back on and be crushed if they failed. The parents and coaches of this generation need to take a step back and look to see where the times changed and what they can do to get the world of sports back to where it should be. 

If the world of sports went back to playing the game just for fun without the pressure, maybe younger generations would not be scared to fail. The pressure of not failing weighs heavy on the kids and causes them to quit when they were just getting started. Yes, times have changed, but it’s time to change them back.