sports psychologist & clinical psychology

TOO MUCH PUSHING IS LIKELY TO BACKFIRE ON PARENTS

Shanghai Daily – Jan 26, 2006 – Scott Soshnick – 2006-01-21 Beijing Time – EVERY parent who has a child playing sports should spend a day with Dr Lyle Micheli, director of the Division of Sports Medicine at Children’s Hospital in Boston.

If they watched Micheli poke and prod kids with scarred knees, elbows and psyches, perhaps mom and dad wouldn’t be so quick to press their children into competition.

“Let me use a clinical term to describe parents today,” says Kevin Leman, a psychologist in Tucson, Arizona, and the author of 28 books on family dynamics. “They’re nuts.”

Some 30 percent of Micheli’s visitors suffer from a preventable overuse injury called osteochondritis dissecans, or OCD, where a piece of cartilage or bone breaks off in a joint.

“Parents get so caught up in coaches telling them their kid is promising,” Micheli says. “Parents push more, the coaches push more and kids are reluctant to say anything. It can be catastrophic.”

One of Micheli’s patients last week, a teenage girl who injured her hip on the basketball court, kept playing because a teammate fouled out and she was needed.

“She just NEEDED to play,” Micheli says after leaving the examination room, mimicking the overbearing parent’s explanation.

Micheli’s horror stories include a 9-year-old gymnast with a stress fracture in her back.

The kids who make it to Dr Micheli might be the lucky ones.

While surgery certainly isn’t fun, at least it corrects the problem.

What about the kids whose problems are emotional, not physical? A limp is easier to spot than depression.

There’s a good chance those kids will never reach someone like Dr John F Murray, a Palm Beach, Florida, sports psychologist who frets that parents are doing more harm than good.

“What is below the surface is much more pervasive and longer lasting than a twisted ankle or broken arm,” Murray says. “Kids will do anything to please their parents and coaches.”

{Note from Dr. Murray: The key here is balance. Parents need to be smart and to know that their kids play sports first for the love it. Scott does a great job in this article of showing the ugly side of youth sports and the dangers of pushing kids who don’t enjoy it, or acting without proper knowledge about injuries and limitations. This is an area where sport psychologists often help parents find a balance. Many kids do love their sports, and benefit from direction and a push at times. But irresponsible training that leads to injury or depression does nobody any good. If your kid truly loves it you know you’re doing a good job. Seek professional advice from a good coach, physician or sport psychologist if you have doubts}

Bob Boone has a unique perspective on sports and adolescence. Not only did his father, Ray, play Major League Baseball, but so do two of his sons, Aaron and Bret.

According to Boone, his father never pushed him to play baseball, which is probably why he succeeded at it.

Likewise, he never imposed his wishes on his kids.

“If you put too much pressure on them it’s no fun for kids to play. It becomes work,” Boone says. “Not many people succeed in life without enjoying what they’re doing.”

Some kids are so desperate to stop playing that they fake injury. It’s easier to fake an injury than to tell a parent who has spent time and money on private lessons that the desire to play has waned.

“They use an injury as a way out,” Micheli says. “It’s the honorable way out, so to speak.”

Hard-core sports fans might remember the cautionary tale of Todd Marinovich, whose father, a former National Football League player, drilled his son from infancy to become a quarterback.

Marinovich led the University of Southern California to the 1990 Rose Bowl as a freshman. Problems surfaced soon after.

The kid who never tried junk food or watched cartoons was arrested on drug charges the following season. Repeated arrests ended his brief NFL career.

“Parents aren’t protectors today,” Leman says. “They’re pushers.”

Keep pushing and don’t be surprised if one day Dr Micheli is pulling on your child’s knee and asking where it hurts.

(The author is a Bloomberg columnist. The views are his own.) Parents get so caught up in coaches telling them their kid is promising…Parents push more, the coaches push more and kids are reluctant to say anything. It can be catastrophic.

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

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