Parents poison youth sports

Joe Rydel, Sports Editor

Sports are supposed to be fun. They are an escape from everyday life and an opportunity to spend time with friends and forget about the stresses that come with being an adolescent. However, it is becoming more and more common today that kids dread going to their games and practices. The reason for this is that parents are too hard on their kids when it comes to
performances on the field, ice or court. Youth sports are not as pure as they used to be; kids are moving away from their communities in pursuit of wins and club teams rather than playing with their friends from school. Parents are at the forefront of this madness, and it is clear to me that parents are entirely what is wrong with youth sports today.
Having been an umpire for the past five summers and seen firsthand some parent-to-kid interactions around the baseball diamond, I think I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen an entire team pulled off the field during a game because they made too many errors; I’ve seen a father hit his son for striking out looking at a perfect fastball; and I have seen parents and coaches alike screaming at the kids for making an error. So many baseball dads out there today forget that sports are supposed to be fun. Instead of having fun with their son around the great game that is baseball, these fathers live vicariously through their children, forcing their kids into being the athlete they couldn’t be when they were a kid.
Thousands of dollars are spent a year in pursuit of this dream. You can pay to have your child take pitching lessons with a former major leaguer. But sorry there, Dad; it is incredibly unlikely that little Johnny at the age of ten will throw a 95-mile-per-hour fastball with a slider that breaks a foot across the strike zone. Sorry there, Dad, but paying thousands for your little all-star to play hockey in an out-of-state tournament every weekend will not make him the next Gretzky. No amount of private shooting lessons will make your little pride and joy score like Michael Jordan could. Dad’s wallet only goes so far, and too much of these specialized lessons and grueling hours practicing burns kids out. What makes kids good at sports, and what keeps them coming back, is the pleasure that they get playing them. 
Rather than paying some professional thousands to work with your kids on their weight lifting regimen and all-natural diet at the age of twelve, let them explore and enjoy sports on their own. Let them play with their friends from school at the risk of losing more than they win.  Let your kid soak up the summer playing wiffle ball in the backyard with the neighborhood kids while sporting a Kool-Aid mustache on top of it all. 
Parents need to take the time to make sure their kids are having fun with what they are doing before they waste their hard-earned money turning their children into tomorrow’s superstars. The chances of this happening are slim to none. There will only be one Babe Ruth, one Wayne Gretzky and only one Michael Jordan. Kids will not remember all the private lessons they were dragged to or the grueling hours of practice they were forced into. What they will remember, without a doubt, are the memories they made and the absolute joy sports brought them. Sports were meant for the enjoyment of children. Adults only screw it up. Let the kids play.

This article first appeared in the Friday, January 26, 2018, Edition of The Echo.