Kids and Sports: How Adults Can Ruin It

A question on HubPages today got me thinking about youth sports. My mind drifted back to the days when I was a kid and my experiences in Little League baseball. I remember the fun was less than it could have been because of some of the adults that were involved. While it was an overall good experience, some of their actions are still a stain on my memory.

Now I realize that if you ask most any kid, they will tell you that adults can lessen the fun of a lot of things. Usually it is because a parent is stopping their kid from doing something that is dangerous or stupid, or probably both. That's ok, the kids will understand later on when they become parents themselves. Especially when their kids become rebellious teenagers!


That's not what I'm talking about here though. This article is about how adults, through the things they say and do, ruin participation in sports for kids. I am talking about younger kids here, say elementary to early middle school age. I understand that as kids get older, more responsible direction needs to be given to them as they reach higher levels of competition. Responsible direction, being the key.

But for the younger kids it needs to be fun. They are just learning a particular sport and they are learning about teamwork. They are also finding out if playing sports is for them or not. Participation in youth sports can be a great experience but I know it isn't for everyone.

Before I move on, let me say that I know the “adult” behavior I'm about to describe occurs in many youth sports, not just baseball. But since that is what I remember most, I'll use Little League baseball as my example. You can insert whatever sport you want in place of baseball.

“Throw the bum out”!

We'll start with the “fans”. Usually these are parents, siblings, or family friends. Most are great and encourage the kids in a positive manner. But there's always at least one. If you've got kids that have, or do, participate in sports then you know who I'm talking about. Maybe it was someone's drunken father. Maybe it was a player's “overenthusiastic” mother. Maybe (I hope not) it was you.

The problem “fans” can do a lot of damage to a young kid's sporting experience. Imagine a kid who is just learning to hit the ball or to catch it and make the play. They're trying to do the best they can so they don't let their teammates down. That's a kind of pressure they probably haven't experienced before. They feel bad enough on their own if they make an error. They don't need some “fan” pointing it out to them. Talk about making a kid feel bad.

When that happens it gets replayed later by the kids when they are together in the neighborhood (or even at school). For example, they'll say “Man, so-and-so's dad is a real a**hole. Did you hear him yelling at the game yesterday”. Whichever kids were the victim of the yelling get to re-live it again with their friends. It's worse yet if it was one of their parents. Yeah, kids talk like that, don't fool yourself into thinking they don't. Think back to when you were a kid and you'll know what I mean.

My mom once showed me an article about this very subject that was in our local paper. The writer had been at one of his kid's ball games. A young kid was at bat. With each swing and miss some “fan” had yelled and booed. Finally, on the third strike, the fan had yelled “throw the bum out” as the kid went back to the bench crying. The game was no longer fun for him.

Throw the bum out is right. The bum who is supposed to be a grown-up.

The Coaches

The coaches I had ranged from great to, well, absent. I had some great coaches who really helped us along. They understood that we were kids and this was about having fun. If we won, that was great too, but having fun was most important. See, they knew the secret of sports participation for young kids. If they have fun, they'll come back again next year. If they don't have fun, they won't be back, but they will find some other type of fun. It may not be good fun.


At the other end of the spectrum was a coach who didn't even show up for our games. We suspected the evils of drink as the reason, but that was just a guess. When he didn't show up, someone's father or brother became our “guest coach for the evening”. They usually did the best they could but they only had a couple of hours with us and then it would be someone else the next game. Our motivation took a serious nose dive under these circumstances. Many of us didn't come back the following year. The teams were all re-picked each year, so we knew we probably wouldn't be in the same situation, but by then most of us had said the heck with it.

I've also seen some coaches take a "win at all costs" approach with their team of young kids. These were the worst. They pushed kids that were probably 10 years old, give or take a couple of years, like they were in the running for the World Series. I think their highly inflated egos must have been at stake. I wasn't ever on one of those teams, but I didn't see many smiles on the players who were. They weren't having any fun.

The Parents

Coaches can have a big impact, both good and bad, on young players, but they will come and go. It is what you say and what you do as a parent that your kid will remember the most. The behavior of some parents falls into the descriptions listed for fans and coaches. Don't be one of the jerk fans when you're watching your kid play. Give positive encouragement to all the kids. You don't want to be the parent the kids are talking about the next day.


If you're helping your kid learn the sport, don't be overbearing. Your 10 year old will not be a star by age 12. They are just learning. Let them have fun doing it. Then, if they enjoy the sport and stick with it, they may be a star at some higher level of competition some day. But also understand that sports aren't for everyone and that is fine too.

I remember the kids on my teams that came from homes where they were neglected, ignored or abused. That was in the days when you just didn't talk about those things. They were often the ones who didn't try very hard. I didn't understand then, but I do now. There was no self-esteem, and no reward or praise in their lives. Baseball was just another thing they did with low expectations. They just went through the motions. They weren't having any fun.

Don't Ruin It

Time for self reflection (don't you hate that). Are you described in this article? Good fan or bad fan? Good coach or bad coach? Good parent or (dare I say) bad parent? Be a positive influence. Don't be one of the bums.

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Comments 19 comments

Romian1 profile image

Romian1 5 years ago

Here is one example I came across that really talks about adults ruining it for the kids.

docbruin profile image

docbruin 5 years ago from USA Author

Hi Romian1. I agree, that story is a perfect example. It is too bad, as we keep seeing this kind of thing over and over, and it has been like this for years. At some point it would be nice to see people take the best interest of the kids into consideration. Thanks for your comment!

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Eddie-Perkins 5 years ago

This is very good Doc Bruin and much needed. I often wonder what happened to just having fun when you’re a kid. I couldn’t agree with you more. Keep bringing good practical information we can use like this.

docbruin profile image

docbruin 5 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for your comments Eddie. It seems like, as I remember it, that we had a lot of fun as kids. I may be wrong, but I just don't see that anymore in this hectic world we live in today. I wish the world could slow down so everyone could look at what is really important and enjoy life each day as it comes.

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Kieran Gracie 5 years ago

Well written article, docbruin. There always seemed to me to be a fine line between the school asking parents to support their children's sports and those parents who took this request too far. From my own memories of playing games (rugby and rowing in my case) the shouts from the sidelines tended to merge in to just a general noise!

docbruin profile image

docbruin 5 years ago from USA Author

I agree that it is a fine line and one that some parents cross even if they have good intentions. I know what you mean about the sideline shouts just blending into one noise. I remember that being the case when I played hockey. I think the more spectators you have the more that happens. Thanks for your comment!

ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois

I have witnessed way too much of parental interference at sports and even at the younger ages that you mentioned. And it's not always loud shouts from the sidelines, sometimes it is more subtle - constant correction, quietly pulling your child aside to give them pointers, and so on. Sports should build kids up and I have seen time-and-time again where this is not the case. Even well-meaning volunteer coaches of young kids can tear down their self-esteem.

docbruin profile image

docbruin 5 years ago from USA Author

You are so right about the constant correction, ktrapp. I didn't mention it in my hub, but I certainly experienced that when I was a kid. It didn't bother me, but I agree that some kids could really suffer from that, especially in the area of self-esteem. I'm glad you brought this up because it is a big part of the problem. Thanks for your comment!

Dave Sibole profile image

Dave Sibole 5 years ago from Leesburg, Oh

Great points. Adults ought to grow up.

docbruin profile image

docbruin 5 years ago from USA Author

Hi Dave! I agree completely, the kids often act more grown up than the adults. Thanks for your comment!

mythicalstorm273 profile image

mythicalstorm273 5 years ago

This was great and spot on!! I remember i was the unofficial assistant coach with my brother-in-law for soccer one year and I had a blast and so did the kids! My poor niece who trips over a blade of grass loved it so much, but then she found out I would not be coaching the next year and never wanted to join soccer again... but still loves to kick the ball around with me in the back yard. Seeing those kids bloom was worth all the effort and I would even tease them to try and get the ball from me... it was a fun game and it made them all better because we were playing other games besides soccer that improved their skills. Still we had the parent that was too hard on their daughter and they showed up half an hour early for practice so she could get her warm up in before the team... she loved soccer and was REALLY REALLY good, but I always told my brother that someday she would rebel and it would be because of her parents. Once again great hub!

docbruin profile image

docbruin 5 years ago from USA Author

I think you make a great point about kids reaching the state of rebellion. I have seen that happen where a parent thinks their child will be a star in some sport, then pushes and pushes, ultimately taking the fun out and driving the child away from the sport altogether. That's sad! It sounds like you had a a lot of fun coaching and with your perspective I'm sure you were a great coach that the kids loved playing with! Thanks for your comment!

Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

Interesting point of view. As a teenager I was more into reading than playing games but as an adult I have often acted odd with the young adults. When I was in school my principle insisted that everyone must attend Marshal Art class. My couch was very rude. And I usually hid in the bathroom.

docbruin profile image

docbruin 5 years ago from USA Author

I understand Vinaya. Even though I was active in sports and with friends in the neighborhood, I also had those days when I just wanted to be alone and read or do whatever. I'm sorry to hear that you had a bad Martial Arts coach. I've seen that kind of person and they can make you miserable as a kid. It's sad to know that anyone has to go through that kind of experience. Thanks for your comment.

Jokylu profile image

Jokylu 5 years ago from Waratah North, Victoria.

This is an excellent and very well written hub. You really do have a good handle on the psyche of young people in competitive sports. You are so right in that they are at a vulnerable stage when they are young and trying to find their place in the sporting arena. As adults we can be a positive or negative influence in their progress and future involvement. Thank you for sharing

docbruin profile image

docbruin 5 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for your comments Jokylu. I wrote the hub because of what I had seen and experienced, and what I saw it do to the kids with me. I was blessed with a resilient nature, so these things didn't really bother me personally, but I felt bad for them. Now I am sad to see that things really haven't changed since I was a kid.

ecoggins profile image

ecoggins 4 years ago from Corona, California

This is a much needed hub. Well-written with understanding. Prophetic. Thank you for addressing such an important problem.

docbruin profile image

docbruin 4 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for your kind comments and for reading my page, ecoggins!

CarNoobz profile image

CarNoobz 4 years ago from USA

My parents were pretty cool about sports and didn't push me to play at all. I liked that and tried a similar approach with my older boy. But he didn't want to even try them, and now he's doing...other stuff...and I REALLY wish I had pushed him a bit to try out for sports.

Too much of a good thing is bad, but so is too little. Good hub =)

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