The culture of sports has progressed in the United States vastly over the last couple of decades. Professional athletes are becoming increasingly more athletic on a yearly basis. This, in turn, has raised the bar creating more pressure on young adults and children to be more athletic. There has been an increase in opportunities for children, some as young as 4 years old, to play a sport. An outcome of this rise in opportunities is the creation of crazy sports parents, like Richard Williams, that push their children to no end. Is this chance to be involved at such a youthful age a potential risk that society should be monitoring?
Some parents don’t consider the risk of injury when signing up their kids for a sport. Playing a sport while so young can also be extremely beneficial. It gives the children a chance to socialize with other kids of the same age. Teamwork is another value one can learn while playing on a sports team. Being on a team forces the players to work together. Whether the child realizes it or not, the value of teamwork they’ve experienced will carry into their adult lives. For most participants, this experience will be positive and for others, it may be negative. Regardless, they will always remember being a part of something bigger than themselves.
Chrystal Keister is a registered nurse at Geisinger Hospital. She is a mother of two girls and has a step-son, the two oldest are heavily involved in sports. Keister and her husband never forced their daughter to play soccer. Because her body was still developing, she had a few injuries that normal children wouldn’t endure. Her worst injury was a stress fracture in her tibia from overuse.
“If they start playing sports so young while they’re still developing, their bones are still pretty weak,” Keister said. “It kind of puts them at risk for stress fractures, bone breaks and tendonitis. That all can lead into adolescence and adulthood.”
Being part of a team or sport shouldn’t be an issue for society. However, there is a small percentage of sports parents who sign their children up for the wrong reasons. Some parents are insane when it comes to their children and sports. Most of the time, this is because the parent played a sport in the past and was very passionate about it. Not being able to let go of the past, they get too involved and try to make their child the next superstar. This involvement is when the child begins to be at risk of injury.
Children are constantly growing, they can’t handle all the stress that frequently playing a sport can put on the body. For some kids, it worked though. Their parents had them on constant training schedules and in some instances, they were on strict diets. This is what their childhood was; they never had a chance to just be a kid. Richard Williams is a prime example of what a ‘crazy sports parent’ is like. CNN Sports posted the article, “Richard Williams: ‘I was so close to being killed so many times,”
Williams is the father of Serena and Venus Williams, arguably the best women tennis players in the world. But is being the best worth not having any normal childhood memories? Before his daughters were professional athletes, Williams was constantly putting them through extreme scenarios. At one point, a whole crowd around the tennis court was yelling at them while they were practicing.
“In order to be successful, you must prepare for the unexpected,” Williams said. “I wanted to prepare for that.”
For the Williams family, it seemed to have helped when the daughters were in a tournament in 2001 and had to put up with a terrible crowd. One spectator openly threw racial slurs at Williams. Serena ended up at first place despite the crowd around her.
This obsession with trying to create your child into a professional athlete is a dream that so few achieve. What do all the athletes get when they don’t make it as high in their careers as anticipated? Some walk away from the sport with no injuries, but may realize they missed out on a normal life as a kid. For others, the injuries received over the years caught up. They could potentially experience symptoms that people 20 years older must deal with. Unfortunately, there are a few that have both issues to cope with.
Shayne Riley is 21 and is the oldest of four other brothers. The boys’ father was a great athlete in his prime. Now, though, he is known to be the ‘crazy sports parent’ wherever they go. All four boys are phenomenal athletes that excel in whatever sport they play. What many don’t know is that they were constantly being forced to train and practice. Their father was so controlling with anything sports related that concerned the boys. It got so bad that their mother left due to the strain put on their marriage. She was worried it would be detrimental to their health but he insisted it was fine and for the best.
“He never punished us for doing something wrong on the field,” Riley said. “He just insisted he knew what was best for us and it was his way or the highway.”
It’s parents like Riley’s and Williams that are too involved when it comes to their children and sports. Making a child exert too much activity, over an extended period of time, can result in injury to the child.
“We have to try and take the pressure off younger children,” Keister said. “We need to try and change the culture of sports so that youth can thrive, feel proud and successful in their own way.”
That won’t happen on its’ own, especially in today’s athletic community. Professional athletes won’t stop raising the expectations. Parents need to weigh the pros and cons when signing up their kids for a sport, as well as take into consideration if they are being too demanding. Could you live with yourself if your child sustained an injury that they must live with for the rest of their life?
Riley and his brothers: