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Is Money Ruining Youth Sports?

New research shows the more parents spend on their kids' sports, the more likely kids won’t enjoy playing them.

Patch File Photo
Patch File Photo
By Melinda Carstensen

Is money taking the fun out of sports for kids?

That’s what Travis Dorsch, a Utah State University professor and former professional football player, analyzes in his latest research.

In a study, he argues that the more money parents spend on youth sports, the less likely their kids will enjoy them.

“When parental sports spending goes up, it increases the likelihood either that the child will feel pressure or that the parent will exert it," Dorsch told the Wall Street Journal.

Previous research has shown sports participation can benefit kids physically, socially and mentally. They seek out fun, physical activity, and personal fulfillment in sports, studies show.

But Dorsch’s research harkens to the “tiger mom” and “helicopter parent” debates, begging the question of how much — or little — parenting allows kids to enjoy those benefits.

Jay Coakley, a University of Colorado professor emeritus of sports sociology, told the Journal that parental spending factors into a child’s sense of ownership of his athletic career.

"Kids are being labeled as burnouts when actually they're just angry at having no options in their lives," Coakley said.

Researchers surveyed 163 parent-child pairs about parent support and pressure, sport enjoyment and motivation to participate.

Increased spending didn’t harm a kid’s enjoyment or his motivation to stick with the sport if he or she saw their parent’s spending as support. Often, though, kids associated  more spending with more stress.

Utah State University researchers found kids were more likely to feel pushed too far if their parents spent 10 percent or more of their income on sports.

Some of the most successful athletes today, from Tiger Woods to Serena Williams, have thanked their parents for their support and defended them under public scrutiny.

Olympic gold medalist Natalie Williams, now a basketball coach at a Salt Lake City school, told the Deseret News that negativity and a lack of effort are two telltale signs that kids are feeling too pressured.

Dorsch said parents can help mitigate that risk at home.

"As parents, often the first question we ask is, 'Did you win?'" he said. "We can reframe that to be, 'Did you have fun today? What did you learn?' This reinforces to the child that we're focused on the process and not the outcome."
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CowDung May 30, 2014 at 08:51 AM
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Alan Vanderbilt June 11, 2014 at 07:13 PM
Parents ruin sports..
sportsnut July 14, 2014 at 07:39 AM
Alan I agree. Parents coach to get their kids and kids friends a leg up. Kids are choosen too based on parents and kids being friends. Take AAU and All-Stars and positions in each sport. Parents coach because they want their kid in prime positions, kids are friends with certain kids or because a family does not like someone but the kid has talent not playing. You need "out of area" coaches to come and determine if a kid is "that good" to be at the next level not "locals" whom coach because that is the only way the kid will get playing time.

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