Matt Russ has coached athletes from the junior levels all the way up to professionals. It’s a long, hard climb to the top and sometimes parents present the most formidable obstacles to their child’s success:

I worked with some wonderful parents that contributed greatly to their child’s successes. But I unfortunately witnessed more parents, sometime unwittingly and always with the best intentions, sabotage their child’s athletic future. If they had just heeded a few simple rules, or examined a few of their motives, not only would their child been a better athlete, they would have been a better competitor, happier, and healthier child.


Russ highlights three ways parents can destroy their child’s athletic future:

1. Imposing your own ambitions upon your child.

… At any rate the most important thing to understand is that a pre-adolescent child has three basic motivations for participating in a sport: to have fun, to socialize, and to please their parents. Too many children end up just doing the later, and that almost never works for long. These kids seldom last in a sport to high level competition, and may even end up quitting their sport, after years of development, because it is an convenient way to rebel against a parent. Post- competition, often the first words I hear from parents are evaluative or criticizing when they should be simply “did you have fun today?”

2. Over-specializing too early.

There has been an astounding rise in orthopedic injuries among children in the last decade. This corresponds with the rise in early single sport specialization. Kids are training too hard, too often, too repetitively and way too early without a proper foundation. Training and coaching programs have capitalized on this, often ignoring orthopedic guidelines for training children in favor or showing early results to the parents. Children do not have a stable enough platform to put high volume training upon, especially during growth phases. Injuries to growth plates, vertebral discs, meniscus tears, and tendon/ligament strain can leave a child with permanent damage. The body is not designed to repeat specific movements over and over, especially at an early age. We are designed for multi-planer movements which is more akin to “going outside and playing” vs. training. If you really want to develop an athlete from a young age you do just that- develop them. You develop skill sets and general coordination, strength, and agility that is age appropriate.

3. Focusing on a Single Sport.

A child will not self-actualize in a sport until adolescence as I mentioned above. In order to find out what they are really good at, really enjoy, and really want to succeed at they must try a number of things. This is good, this is healthy, and it keeps them from burning out in a single sport. But too many parents see a bit of talent of aptitude and want to call it their child’s “sport.” Participating in multiple sports or activities may even help prevent the injuries associated with over-specialization. You should be asking your child if they want to try different sports, or even gently prodding them to do so. Over time they can narrow their focus. Joining the traveling soccer team at an early age may keep your child from finding out that they were more talented at (and passionate about) baseball.


If your children enjoy athletic competition, and you think competitive sports will be (or already are) a big part of their lives, then please read the rest of Matt Russ’s article here.


(Back pat: John Duffy, PT)