Emily Whitaker Poetz, a mother of three in Clemson, South Carolina, is among millions of parents dusting off their lawn chairs and preparing to enroll their children in sports programs in their community this spring.
About 71.8% of youth between the ages of 6 and 12 participated in youth sports programs in 2018. Poetz says she’s had only positive experiences with the programs in her area, which allow her kids to explore different athletic options.
“We don’t let even my sport-crazy kid specialize in just one sport,” she says. “Instead, we make sure he takes breaks so he isn’t playing something continuously all year.”
Poetz also looks for other ways for her children to channel their energy throughout the year, such as enrolling one of her sons in a private training program to teach him how to work out safely with the experts.
Although Poetz’s experiences have been largely positive, other parents may find themselves navigating other issues on the sidelines, such as dealing with overbearing parents or preventing sports overuse injuries.
Dr. Skye Arthur-Banning of Clemson University’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management department wrote a book to help parents navigate some of these challenges. Called Youth Sports in America: The Most Important Issues in Youth Sports Today, it provides an expert’s perspective on 37 different issues parents may face in a sporting environment.
Because some of the issues in the book fall outside his area of expertise, Arthur-Banning assembled a team of academics and practitioners throughout the country to write about specific topics. An M.D., for example, wrote a chapter on concussions. References are provided at the end of each chapter for further reading.
“The book was written for parents, coaches and administrators and tries to address questions each may have, such as the benefits of playing on an organized team, pay to play, and how to prevent or protect a child from being pressured into playing with an injury,” he says. “This is a guidebook that can help them whether they’re on the sidelines or volunteering as a parent-coach.”
Banning brings a unique perspective to these issues. He researches and teaches amateur sport by day, officiates soccer games on his evening and weekends, and watches his two young daughters play community athletics on weekday evenings.
His advice to parents with concerns about how team sports are being managed is to pay attention to what your child tells you about their experience, and to talk to your local parks and recreation department when issues start to feel out of control.
“Community recreation is there to help children explore healthy activity and encourage teamwork and cooperation,” he says. “Parks and recreation managers want to make sure that children are playing in a safe and supportive environment, so don’t be afraid to talk through concerns with them.”