May 10th, 2017

In American urban centers and suburban communities, there appears to be no shortage of activities that parents can offer their children in order for them to stay physically fit, socially engaged, and constantly learning. Yet, despite the myriad of recreational and athletic opportunities our youth can choose from, children are often led down the wrong path by their parents and coaches, says John O’Sullivan, in “an adult driven, hyper competitive race to the top in both academics and athletics that serves the needs of the adults, but rarely the kids”:

We have a generation of children that have been pushed to achieve parental dreams instead of their own, and prodded to do more, more, more and better, better, better. The pressure and anxiety is stealing one thing our kids will never get back; their childhood.


Every parent wants their children to be successful, and many parents will do everything and sacrifice almost everything to make sure that success is achieved. For many parents and coaches, (and, perhaps, for our society at large), success is very often measured by individual performance rather than overall individual (not to mention team) health in a system that O’Sullivan says, “sucks”:

It sucks for parents, many of whom do not have the time and resources to keep one child in such a system, never mind multiple athletes. There are no more family trips or dinners, no time or money to take a vacation. It causes parents untold stress and anxiety, as they are made to feel guilty by coaches and their peers if they don’t step in line with everyone else. “You are cheating your kid out of a scholarship” they are told, “They may never get this chance again.”

It sucks for coaches who want to develop athletes for long term excellence, instead of short term success. The best coaches used to be able to develop not only better athletes, but better people, yet it is getting hard to be that type of coach. There are so many coaches who have walked away from sports because while they encourage kids to play multiple sports, other unscrupulous coaches scoop those kids up, and tell them “if you really want to be a player, you need to play one sport year round. That other club is short changing your kid, they are not competitive.” The coach who does it right gives his kids a season off, and next thing you know he no longer has a team.


But mostly, it sucks for the kids:

Any sports scientist or psychologist will tell you that in order to pursue any achievement activity for the long term, children need ownership, enjoyment and intrinsic motivation.Without these three things, an athlete is very likely to quit.

Children need first and foremost to enjoy their sport. This is the essence of being a child. Kids are focused in the present, and do not think of long term goals and ambitions. But adults do. They see “the opportunities I never had” or “the coaching I wish I had” as they push their kids to their goals and not those of the kids.

They forget to give their kids the one thing they did have: A CHILDHOOD!


O’Sullivan is hoping for a future with continued abundant choices for exploration and enjoyment, but also one with more balance so that kids will experience childhood with less stress — for them, and for everyone else involved. That’s a path to success that parents, coaches, and children might eventually appreciate.



(Back pat and photo: Jim Troup)



2 Responses to A Race To Nowhere

  1. I think we need to educate our children about the styles of universally-admired coaches, like John Wooden and Jimmy Valvano.

  2. I read a statistic that most kids quit sports by the age of 13 for this exact reason. Being involved in different activities creates such a well rounded individual, it’s sad that so many parents and coaches are obsessed with the idea that their kid could go pro (news flash: they probably won’t). I hope for my kids’ sake they have the opportunity to be on different teams well into adulthood.


    Ned Ketyer, M.D.

    Ned Ketyer, M.D.

    Dr. Ketyer has special interests in developmental pediatrics and preventative medicine, specifically how nutrition and the environment affect health. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont and his medical degree from Northwestern University Medical School. He completed his residency at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

    As one of the founding physicians of Pediatric Alliance, PC, Dr. Ketyer served as its president from 1997-2004. He has been practicing general pediatrics at Pediatric Alliance since 1990. Dr. Ketyer and his wife have three boys and live in Pittsburgh's South Hills. 

  • Note: The information included in these posts is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

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