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Optimum Performance: How much should we push our kids to excel in sports? |

Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. — While at tennis practice standing next to Richard Williams — father and coach of Venus and Serena Williams, arguably two of the best professional female tennis players ever — I was reminded of the Williams’ commitment to excellence. I also was mindful of the sacrifices these women made during their childhood to get where they are today.

Combined, the Williams sisters have 24 Grand Slam singles titles and 26 doubles titles. It is said that practice makes perfect, and perfect practice can lead to success. I believe that you should “train like you play and play like you train,” which has been my approach when preparing Serena for her long seasons and, at times, grueling matches.

Recently HBO premiered a documentary series, “State of Play.” The first episode was entitled “Trophy Kids” and followed four California-based parents and “their individual obsessions to develop their children into star athletes.”

The executive producer of the series, Peter Berg, commented that, “it raises the questions of how much do we push (our children) as parents. What should we reasonably expect? Where are the lines?”

One storyline in the documentary involved a divorced father of a 15- year-old football player who was benched by his coach. The father verbally pressed his son on the ride home from the game, asking him “why (the son) didn’t confront the coach about his playing time.”

Whether it be an aggressive coaching style or an overbearing parent, it’s important to recognize when dedication becomes too much for a child to emotionally and physically handle.

“Parents looking for long-term success (in sports) for their kids may be counter to a child, who is looking for love, caring and understanding,” Richard Williams said.

Noted orthopedic surgeon James Andrews has seen his fair share of athletic injuries. Andrews has practiced medicine for the past 40 years. He operated on New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in 2006 after Brees tore the labrum in his right shoulder. In 2010, Sports Illustrated listed Andrews as the only physician among the top most powerful people in the NFL.

In an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer earlier this year, Andrews discussed the rising rate of surgeries he has performed on young athletes, some as young as 12. He attributed those injuries to coaches who don’t understand the necessity of “off time” and to parents who push their children too hard in the hopes of raising the next superstar athlete.

According to Andrews, parents who believe that placing a football or baseball in their 3-year-old’s hands will result in a college scholarship and a pro career need to understand that the odds against accomplishing this goal are “very, very high.”

Billy Fitzgerald, athletic director for the past six years at the Newman School in New Orleans, along with being the school’s baseball coach for 35 years and basketball coach for 28 years, said “too much emphasis is placed on results versus performance.”

Andrews determined that there were two critical factors that lead to youth injuries in sports: specialization and professionalism. Specialization comes when an athlete plays sports year-round with little rest between seasons, resulting in an increased risk for traumatic injuries. “Almost half of sports injuries in adolescents stem from overuse,” Andrews said in the interview with the Plain Dealer.

Professionalism is the act of training a young athlete under the same conditions as a professional athlete, particularly during year-round activity.

“Some parents have lost sight that athletics is suppose to be fun,” Fitzgerald said. “We have too many games and not enough practice.”

So where do we go from here?

Richard Williams suggested, “we should listen to our kids and really get to know how they think.”

They key word being — “listen.”

Link: Optimum Performance: How much should we push our kids to excel in sports? |