What’s the Rush? How to Avoid The Troubling Dilemma of The Hurried Athlete

Are you in a hurry to rush your child's sports technique development? Before you answer too quickly, let me ask you: Is most of his young life full of structured practices, lessons, and games, with little or no free time? Are you in a hurry to help him improve his skills, perhaps more quickly than he wants to? Are you being sucked into sports specialization? In 1981, psychologist David Elkind wrote a book called The Hurried Child. He argued that kids are being turned into adults far too quickly, and described the traumas of kids forced prematurely into grown-up activities and roles. The Hurried Child mindset has slowly but surely taken over youth sports as well. Many parents have felt the urgency of seeing their kids get better, quicker, and in their rush to push their kids towards athletic success, they are pushing their kids away from sports, rather than towards it. Alistair McCaw, world reknown trainer of athletic champions, explains that developing sound fundamentals is key because kids need to develop their neuromuscular abilities and the ABS’s (Agility, Balance, and Coordination). This is a process that cannot be rushed; it should be done slowly and carefully, to last a lifetime.

Rushing the process of a child’s sporting development is like trying to bake a cake and rushing the process. You take it out to early and it will flop. They say that when you rush something, you usually mess it up. Well the same applies for rushing a child’s development in a sport. What’s happening today, is that coaches and parents are trying to create a good player without first creating a good athlete. It’s like putting the cart before the horse. It seems the minute a kid shows promise or some talent, the focus quickly switches from development to winning and competing.

How to Avoid Letting your Child Become a Hurried Athlete The answer to avoiding the Hurried Athlete Syndrome is pretty simple:

  • Variety. Have your kids try different sports to develop many athletic skills and most importantly, to have fun! To be a great player, you must first be a great athlete. Professional and Olympic athletes usually come from athletic backgrounds with many skills, and not just sports specific.
  • Free time. Time magazine notes: “Kids who once had childhoods now have curriculums; kids who ought to move with the lunatic energy of youth now move with the high purpose of the worker bee.” Don’t schedule every minute of your kids’ lives. Be sure they have plenty of time to just be kids.
  • Encourage Play. When kids don’t play freely, they miss out on self-discovery and exploration. Brian McCormick, author of  Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development, says that when kids only develop in a scheduled environment, they are in an atmosphere of pleasing parents and coaches rather than playing for the sake of playing. They play in competitive environments at an earlier age where people focus on their performance and they worry more about how they look or perform as opposed to staying in the moment and engaging in an activity for the sake of playing. The result, says McCormick, is that many athletes quit at an early age because the sport loses its fun.
  • Wait. If your child continues playing and truly loves the game, there will be a time in his athletic development when training and specialized coaching are appropriate and in fact, very beneficial. All three of my kids benefitted from private coaching experiences. Unfortunately, more and more, parents seek this specialized training before their child plays the sport and develops the desire to train to be a better player.

How often do we as parents see our kids push to get what they want NOW? Adults do the same thing, I fear, when we hurry the process to see our kids improve, excel, and achieve success. Let’s purpose to enjoy the journey more and rush our kids less.

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