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Step one in raising a healthy and happy little athlete: shut up

The irony of the situation isn’t lost. I know it amuses everyone around me. Yes, my name is Jim and I am a Soccer Dad. In my striving to be a detached, skeptical and even-keeled grownup, there is a major chink in the adult armor: I am a loon on the sidelines of my daughters’ U-8 and U-10 soccer games.

So far during the good, clean fun this season, I have thrown a cap in disgust at the soccer gods, vehemently questioned a number of refs’ calls and vomited.

Thankfully, I am not alone. Despite my ridiculous behavior, I have seen far worse.

Tuning us out?

According to the Nine-Year-Old, and her increasingly independent sidekick, the Six-Year-Old, they don’t actually pay any attention to me when they’re playing. Apparently, I haven’t irreparably scarred them.

Yet.

But seriously, there have been times when I’ve seen parents lose any sense of perspective and take out the frustrations of their own unfulfilled sports fantasies on their children’s shortcomings. And this behavior is sad. After all, it really is just a game.

Skewing ourselves

Sports metaphors underpin our society. We refer and revert to them whenever the opportunity arises. As parents we’ve taken these images and our “win at all costs” attitudes to our children’s athletic and other extracurricular activities. This approach is bad for us and the kids.

A recently published book from the American Academy of Pediatrics seeks to change parents’ perspectives on youth sports and eliminate unhealthy, obnoxious and out-of-control behavior. It’s worth a read.

Sports medicine pediatrician Paul Stricker wrote “Sports Success Rx! Your Child’s Prescription for the Best Experience” to help young athletes maximize potential and minimize pressure. His approach is broad, wise and patient, and focuses critical attention on how young bodies work, grow and mature. Understanding what’s going on mentally and physiologically with a child can help parents and coaches have reasonable expectations about what a player is capable of achieving.

Stricker starts with a simple lesson that pediatricians are taught: children are not small adults. Too many parents, myself included, tend to think of their kids as smaller versions of themselves. Not good. It is imperative to understand where children are developmentally to determine how much training they can take. As with many aspects of life, balance is essential.

Stricker’s book buoys the argument that unrealistic expectations, intense physical and mental stress and overuse injuries don’t have to dominate our youth sports culture. Parents can make a difference and foster a lifelong passion for sports in their little athletes.

If you’re trying to raise healthy and happy little athletes of your own, take a look at Stricker’s book and give some thought to where you and your kids are in this big game we’re in.

Contact MBJ editor Jim Laird at jlaird@msbusiness.com.

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