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Little Champions- Could we be pushing too hard?

We love our kids. We want the best for them. We want to give them everything we didn't have. As the stakes grow higher in youth sports- scholarships, prestigious awards, and just plain old bragging rights- coaches are seeing a growing trend of parental involvement. But when does that involvement cross the line between supportive encouragement and pushing young athletes too hard? In my own experience coaching, I've seen a parent pinch an under 8 swimmer to encourage better relay performance. I've even seen a High School State champion publicly rejected by his parents for not having the meet they thought he should have. Swim Coaches spend nearly every weekend witnessing parents who allow their emotions to get the better of them. Watching as they apply added pressure to an already stressful situation. Sitting in the stands can bring out the worst in all of us. I understand that there is little to do but watch and obsess. But coaching and motivating isn't the parents' role. Your job is to support, encourage and cheer your swimmer on. PERIOD. Strategy, technique, and development rest squarely on the Coach's shoulders. One key factor that I wish parents would remember from their own time competing- success does not come from external motivation but within.

You might drive them to the meet but you don't have the right or the power to drive their motivation. Studies have shown that pressure affects performance. Coordination and focus can decrease, heart rate and breathing can speed up, as well as foster race anxiety and panic attacks. And there are many ways we might be unintentionally applying pressure. Such as buying a 7-year-old $500 tech suits. Expectations of performance due to such extravagance more likely will lead kids away from sports than to excel in them. Athletics teaches kids teamwork, respect, leadership, and sportsmanship. But how do they learn anything if parents run interference on every problem or decision they try to make. How will they learn to problem solve if the message you are sending them is that you don't trust them or their decisions? Sports are the place to learn and grow. Where else are they given such an opportunity? To some athletes, pressure is as real a problem as an injury. I guess the real question is... are we past the point of no return?

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