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Focus On Youth In Youth Sports

For many who saw the news of an Aurora father bounding on to a wrestling mat to toss his 11-year old son's opponent out of the ring their immediate reaction was probably something along the lines of, "What else is new? Just another out-of-control sports parent becoming violent at a youth sports contest."

But if you did you would be missing some important lessons the incident teaches about the state of adult organized youth sports in this country.

There are myriad reasons why parents act out at their children's sports events.

The stresses of sports competition can overwhelm the coping skills of parents increasingly led by our winner-take-all society to believe that a child who fails at sports will fail as an adult. Given an environment in which survival virtually requires parents to become overly focused on and invested in their children's success in sports it is no wonder so many act out in inappropriate ways.

Yet in this instance, the father, Ray Hoffman, wasn't acting out because he was over-involved. He was actually reacting as most parents do to seeing his or her child being injured. Seeing his son's arm being held behind his back in what he thought was an illegal hammer lock, Hoffman felt - rightly or wrongly - that he had no choice but to protect his child from injury by intervening on his son's behalf. Can many honestly say that your natural urge as a parent to protect your youngster wouldn't have brought you to a boiling point?

More importantly, that Hoffman found himself having to make such a split second decision raises a much larger question about today's youth sports: Why was an 11-year-old even competing in as violent and dangerous sport as wrestling at such an early age, an age when kids are losing natural flexibility because their bones are growing faster than their muscles and when it is virtually impossible to know just how good a wrestler he will be after he reaches puberty and his body matures?

America has become a society of excess: super-sized everything. Youth sports are no exception: more of just about everything; practices, games, tournaments, competition, select teams, travel, media coverage, money, burnout and injuries.

The only thing youth sports have less of is kids having fun and just being allowed to be kids. Instead of sheltering them as much as possible from the pressures of the adult world, too many parents are introducing their children to those pressures at ever earlier ages. What is being lost in the process, however, is much more precious: their childhoods.

Simply put, we are asking too much of our children, too soon, before they - and their parents - are ready for the physical, psychological and emotional stress of intense competition.

And to what end? In their desperate search for an edge in the battle for spots on high school varsities and for college athletic scholarships, too many parents are buying into the idea - one that many youth sports organizations and coaches actively promote - that more (teams, practices and competition) and earlier (travel teams at age seven!) is better.

It a mindset that is not supported by hard scientific evidence but is driven instead by folklore, myths, half-truths, a herd mentality, the ever-burgeoning youth sports industry, and, most of all, by adults too intent on winning.

It is time to shift the focus to the word "youth" instead of "sports" before it is too late.