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Commentary: The cutthroat reality of high-level sports for children

Elite sports for children require high-levels of commitment and competitiveness. These teams operate like businesses. With payments, recruitment, uniforms, tournaments, practices, schedules, registration, and responsibilities, a lot of money, time, and resources put into it, children work very hard to be able to play on these teams.

Many parents will have their children join sports teams when their kids are young. However, as these children grow, so does the competition within these sports.

Out of the 41 million children under the age of 18 who play organized sports, 70% will drop out of the sport before the age 13 (1).  Some may say this is due to kids not being good enough, however they do not take into account the fact that many sports have tiers of competition.  For example, soccer has recreational, signature, and club levels (with increasing commitment and competition).

Many talented and dedicated athletes face burnout and injury as well.  As a result, they drop out of their sport.

Dr. James Andrews, nationally esteemed orthopedist, called children’s overuse injuries an “epidemic” in 2005 (2).  The New York Times reported, “Doctors in pediatric sports medicine say it is as if they have happened upon a new childhood disease, and the cause is over aggressive culture of organized youth sports (3).”

In Rhode Island, one swimmer went 8,000 yards every day (despite severe arm pain). She would intentionally dislocate her shoulder in order to minimize the pain.  After surgery and a lot of physical therapy, she was done.  She ended up quitting competitive swimming at 15 (4).

Children also drop out due to pressure from parents and coaches.  This creates a very dangerous environment for children who wish to play sports.

With some parents getting so caught up in the hype themselves, they may force their children to play sports when the children don’t even want to. As a result, children will act out. Some children will even fake serious injuries to avoid playing sports.

One Colorado dance teacher had told a story about parents forcing their children into high-level dance classes. These children would fake serious injuries at the age of 2 just to escape dance class. This high level of competition can also prove to be dangerous.

Parents can get so caught up in the sport that they don’t realize the toll it has on the children. A specific case was when a father was charged with assault for grabbing and shaking his 10-year-old daughter’s face mask at her hockey game.

Forty-five percent of children said they had been yelled at, called names, or insulted during games or practices, and 8.2% were pressured to hurt another player (5).

One parent went so far as to hire a hit man. Texan Wanda Holloway was convicted of solicitation of capital murder in 1991. She hoped that by killing the mother of her 13-year-old daughter’s cheerleading rival, the girl would be too traumatized to compete for a spot on the junior high cheerleading squad. The worst part is that Holloway’s daughter didn’t even want to be a cheerleader (6).

The amount of competition involved in these sports leads people to commit horrible acts in an attempt to surpass others. Like many other areas of competition, it requires us to take a step back and realize the impacts that our words and actions have on the youth of today. It should be easier and safer for children to participate in sports without feeling pressure from parents and coaches.


1 O’Sullivan, John. Changing the Game: the Parent’s Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids. Morgan James Publishing, 2014.

2 Dealer, Dennis Manoloff The Plain. “Noted Surgeon Dr. James Andrews Wants Your Young Athlete to Stay Healthy by Playing Less.” Cleveland.com, 27 Feb. 2013.

3 Pennington, Bill. “Doctors See a Big Rise InInjuries for Young Athletes.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 22 Feb. 2005.

4 Overman, Steven J. Youth Sports Crisis: Out-of-Control Adults, Helpless Kids. ABC-CLIO, 2014.

5 “Recommendations for Communities.” National Alliance for Youth Sports.

6 Reporter, Daily Mail. “’I Didn’t Even Want to Be a Cheerleader’: Daughter of Crazed ‘Pom-Pom Mom’ Finally Breaks Silence over 1991 Texas Cheerleading Murder Plot That ‘Ruined Her World’.” Daily Mail Online, Associated Newspapers, 9 Feb. 2012.

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