Take the pressure off Young Student Athletes

One Saturday morning during football season, I attended a pop Warner football game for boys that were 8, 9 and 10-year-olds and what I saw did not remind me, at all, of the way I played sports as a child. The first thing that struck me were the uniforms. These young players were playing in professional pro-logo uniforms. They looked like little professional athletes. I then noticed that there were about six coaches for each team of 25 players. The stands were filled with parents, friends and other teams that would play later that day. So, there may have been at least 1000 people in the stands. Now, let's discuss the game! The play of each of the teams was exceptional. Each team executed intricate plays on offense and defense. The score was close and both teams were competing to win. It was amazing to watch the focus and the talent of these young superstars. However, as I marveled at the incredible play and the display of skill and precision from the youthful 8 to 10-year-olds, I couldn't help but notice the intensity of the adult involvement from the field to the stands.

Beginning with the coaches; they yelled instructions and actually criticized the players of their team during plays. It was unforgiving how these coaches made each play matter so much. Then, I allowed my attention to drift to what was happening in the stands. The importance that was being put on each play became even more apparent. The parents and adults yelled at theplayers about their performance. They expressed displeasure with the coaching and play calls as well as the performance of the referees. I would describe this as intense pressure. Unfortunately, regardless of the brilliant play of each team, one team would lose and the other would win. After the final tick of the game clock as with most sports, one team leaves in celebration as the other team walks off the field in disappointment. During this time of very mixed emotions, the intense pressure in the stands did not subside. Not only did the significant amount of criticism for the coaches and the referees increase, but criticism of the play of the 8, 9 and 10-year-old players continued as well. For a moment, it seemed as though neither team had won the game.

Instead of the players being the focal point of the game, it was the audience that took center stage. This made me think about how all athletes today are forced to endure fans in order to play the sport they love. The people watching, the fans, now play such a major role in the experience of the athlete. I would include social media as another form of criticism that each player must endure. The critique can be positive or negative, but each will affect the youth athlete adversely.

When young athletes are being critiqued by the audience at early ages, they will have a tendency to play the sport to please the observers/audience, the coach, parents, and onlookers. If the young athlete perceives that they have not pleased the onlooker, they feel that they have not done their job. The athlete no longer plays the sport for personal joy, but to bring joy to the audience. If the audience does not find joy, then the young athlete perceives he is a failure.