Youth Sports, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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Life in the USA
Education in America
Youth Health and Fitness

Youth Sports Issues
More than 40 million American children are involved in competitive sports, a major increase over just ten years ago. Youth soccer is one of the most popular, but young people also flock to Little League baseball and Pop Warner football leagues, basketball, hockey, gymnastics, skateboarding, snowboarding and mountain biking, cheerleading, and many other activities.

Equipment and uniforms, depending on the sport, can often be quite costly for the families involved. To outfit a young ice hockey player, for example, can cost a family $5000 a year. Even sports that require simpler equipment, like basketball, can force a family to spend hundreds a year just for appropriate shoes. Competitive team sports can also entail significant outlays for transportation to events far from home. Teams, parents and schools often have to conduct fund raising events for these purposes, or attract sponsorship from local businesses. In addition to these fund raising events, parents and teams will often find the best deals available like finding the best basketball shoes, hockey sticks, or baseball bags for sale.

The popularity of youth athletics is one major counter-trend to the rise of childhood and youth obesity. Athletics can be character building, as the young athlete learns to overcome setbacks on the playing field and get through minor aches and pains on the way to athletic achievement. Team athletics is highly social and promotes a sense of belonging and involvement.

Youth athletics does lead to injuries and sometimes death, of course. The real societal issue, however, is whether American children are being pressured by circumstances, their schools, and especially by their parents to move beyond exercise, fun and camaraderie into the realm of serious, high-pressure, professional-level sports.

Parental involvement in youth sports often moves beyond support into outright pressure to perform. Sporting matches may see parents screaming and shouting from the sidelines, criticizing coaches and referees, even physically assaulting other parents and coaches. In one prominent case an irate father killed another as a result of a dispute at a youth hockey match. Another father, enraged that his daughter had been suspended from her softball team for missing a game to attend a prom, brutally assaulted the team’s coach with an aluminum baseball bat. At a football game for six and seven-year-olds, a father who believed his son wasn't getting enought playing time was arrested after pulling out a gun and threatening the coach. Groups like the Citizenship Through Sports Alliance and the Web-based Center for Sports Parenting monitor these kinds of abuses. In a poll, the Center for Sports Parenting reported that 40% of parents had seen some sort of physical abuse occur among parents or coaches, with a full 85% witnessing verbal abuse at one time or another.

Many parents push their children to specialize in one particular sport, at the expense of general health and conditioning, often in the hope that their child will eventually be offered an attractive college athletic scholarship. They may try to motivate and coach their children to an unrealistic extent, calling for levels of devotion that add unbearable pressure to the child’s life. Family life often suffers because of sports schedules, and pressure on one or both parents to support and transport the young athlete. The phenomenon of the “soccer mom” and, to some extent, the “soccer dad” has its aspects of cliché in American popular culture, but also a strong connection with the reality of American youth sports.

The section on Soccer Moms explains the full scope of the term in American life.

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