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Youth sports – some comments on what they do for adults

January 10, 2013

A review of Mark Hyman’s book, Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids, gives food for thought with respect to sport in YA literature… Reviewer, Eric D. Miller, writes:

“Journalist Mark Hyman’s book, Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids, offers an excellent overview of the dark side of contemporary youth sports for academics, parents, and coaches alike. Hyman’s goal clearly stated from the beginning was:
. . .to tell the story of adults and their role in shaping youth sports in America today. . . My hope is that it sparks debate about the proper role for grownups and advocates for a more kid-centric approach to games that, after all, are supposed to be about kids. (p. xi)
If there is a villain to be had in this tale, it is the parents of the youth players and their coaches (who often are parents of some of the players). Hyman discusses some absolute horror stories where parents have resorted to physical violence or psychological abuse in cases where they
were distraught over their child’s athletic performance. He also includes cases where coaches failed to recognize or simply ignored physical injuries of specific players. These abuses notwithstanding, Hyman does not suggest that most parents or coaches purposely try to mistreat players.
On the contrary, he quotes a physician (Dr. Joseph Chandler) who states:
These parents are not bad people. They mean well. They absolutely mean well. There is just too much emphasis on winning and not on developing players or having a good time. (p. 132)
Interestingly, Hyman contends that the harmful zeal put forth bymany parents and coaches goes much beyond the simple desire to win games. He argues the very provocative and convincing case that:
Adults rely on youth sports to feed an array of our emotional needs. The frustrated jocks among us long to see our progeny succeed on the wrestling mat or diving board, where we never could. There’s the affirmation that is attached to raising a namesake who is a standout player. If a child is the most gifted athlete on the block, it stands to reason she was raised by the most gifted parents. (p. 19)
So, parents have a very strong psychological investment in seeing their children succeed on sports fields – even if it comes at the expense of their child’s enjoyment of pure play. An athletically gifted child may actually provide psychological benefits to his or her parents. Hyman notes that parents do not just have a psychological investment, but a financial one too – and this factor may motivate parents to push their children into unpleasant situations.” (p.109)

It had me asking:
How are parents represented in YA lit that explores the world(s) of sports?
Are the parents’ characters developed through the protagonist’s engagement with sport?
In what ways are parents affected by young protagonists’ sporting activities?
Are the parents in such books using their child’s sport for any personal purpose (or are they supporting their child’s desire to play)? 

Is sport shown to deepen the parent-child bond? To the benefit of both?

Ref: (italics added to stand in for quotes) Eric D. Miller (2012): Until it hurts: America’s obsession with youth sports and how it harms our kids, International Journal of Play, 1:1, 109-111 [‘Review of: Until it hurts: America’s obsession with youth sports and how it harms our kids, by Mark Hyman, Boston, MA, Beacon Press, 2009, 146 pp., ISBN 978-0-8070-2119-4. $15.00’]

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