Parenting Young Athletes

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The Elmont Panthers youth football team are seen in a huddle during a game on Sept. 24, 2017. (Photo by L. Bostick)

If you look throughout local community parks, school fields or recreational facilities, you will be sure to find some sort of youth sports league having a game or practice. According to the Pew Research Center, children between the ages of 6-17 are involved in some form of extracurricular activities, with athletics being the most popular.

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At the age of just nine or 10, some athletes can be required to practice three days a week. In order for these children to make practice on time and get their school work done, their parents have to be involved. However, commitment is a “two way street” between the child and the parent.

“Parents certainly play a vital role in managing young athletes, however it is a two way street that can lead to problems if they are OVER eager (or even over committed) to their child’s development in sports,” said SPORTIME Lynbrook regional director, Jason Wass.

Trayshawn Hayes is the mother of two young athletes. Her 11-year-old son has been playing football for the past five years, and her 8-year-old daughter is going on her third year of gymnastics.

She says her children know that playing a sport “is a privilege and a commitment,” and Hayes agrees, that it takes prioritizing and “time management” to keep these young athletes focused and ready to compete.

“As soon as my son gets home from school he has to do his homework immediately.  He knows school is number one. If he has a lot of homework, there is no practice that day,” says Hayes.  She says the same thing goes for her daughter.

Andrea Summers agrees. “School is first, football is secondary.”

Andrea is the mother of 11-year-old Joseph Summers, who plays football for the Elmont Panthers on Long Island. While she thinks it’s very important to support her son at every game, her son thinks otherwise.

“I don’t like support at the games. It’s embarrassing,” says Joseph. “My mom’s very loud.”

Joseph has been playing sports for three years.  He started out playing soccer, but now he’s on the football team.  Whatever sport he decides to play, his mom and brother are right there to support him.

The commitment for these young athletes may be overwhelming at times, but there are great health benefits to playing sports.

“Regular physical activity benefits health in many ways, including helping build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints; helping control weight and reduce fat; and preventing or delaying the development of high blood pressure,” (GAO, 2012).

Andrea says she knows that physical activity is great for her son Joseph, who is more on the husky side. During the football season, she notices a big difference in his desire to even be active.

“When he’s not playing football he goes right back to being sluggish. However, during football he loses a good amount of weight, 15-25 pounds because he’s playing something that he loves” says Andrea.

According to Jason Wass of SPORTIME, he finds “that it is much easier for youngsters to get in and stay in shape than adults. Setting up healthy habits for exercise (along with nutrition and other lifestyle choices) are easier when they grow up in that environment.”

Coach Shadu Branch has been part of a team of coaches for the Elmont Panthers for five years. This year he is coaching the nine and 10-year-olds. His son plays on the team and he agrees that being a sports parent can be expensive, so make sure the sport they’re playing is something that they love.

“It’s very expensive,” says Coach Branch. As parents, Branch says, “we have to take it pace by pace” with young “student-athletes.” He advises other sports parents to ”make sure it’s something they want to do.”

Andrea Summers and Trayshawn Hayes said after the focus education is clear, they want to make sure their children “have fun.”

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Elmont Panthers youth football players all smiles after a big win on Sept. 24, 2017. (Photo courtesy of L. Bostick)

“I think it’s horrible when parents talk down to their children,” Summers said during a recent game.

“Moms and dads during the game have to allow us to do our part,” Coach Shadu said. Shadu says trust is important. “It’s hard for a child to figure out at a young age who to listen to, coach or parent, so parents have to trust us.”

Wass said it best, managing young athletes on and off the court is a “two-way street.” However, Trayshawn Hayes suggests not putting the child in sports in their priority is not school.

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