Dropping the ball: Why parents might be ruining youth sports


By Brittany Garguilo and Christopher Leelum

The ceiling lights of McKenna Elementary School’s gym in Massapequa were awoken one by one as each pair of tiny, squeaky sneakers hit the court. Screeches of joy were met with swishes of the net, and ricocheted off of padded blue walls. Parents watched intently or socialized over the bouncing balls that called in the beginning of another Catholic Youth Organization basketball season.

Though it may be hard to believe, this snapshot of kids and sports is one that has been disappearing nationwide over the past five years.

From 2009 to last year, participation of children aged 6 to 17 in team sports has dropped 4 percent, according to a study released last month by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. 1.6 million less kids played basketball, baseball, or soccer in 2013 than in 2008, and 70 percent of kids quit playing sports by the time they reach 13.

Though there are no similar statistics for Long Island, Darius Trojanowski, President of LIAthletics.com, a kind of youth sports search engine, said he doesn’t expect the trend here to be as drastic.

“To the question of how Long Island has fared in comparison to the nation, it’s pretty well,” Trojanowski said. “Because of our demographics here, the fact that we are in an affluent area, and that school participation is strong, any declines are likely minimal.”

What or who is to blame for this? The study points to parents as a key factor.

“The parents make it too serious now,” Lisa Carnabuci, ex-director of Mineola’s Police Activity League, said. “It’s one of the reasons I gave up coaching. All they want to do is win. Parents became too overbearing for the coaches, so imagine how overbearing that is on the child.”

Eddie O’Connor, a Clinical Sport Psychologist, and Fellow and Certified Consultant through the Association of Applied Sport Psychology, wants parents to be an influence in their children’s lives against today’s culture.

“The question I ask is, can a parent go counter-cultural?” O’Connor said. “The world has really become achievement-oriented, especially with ESPN, scholarships, and social media. Everyone is comparing themselves to each other and we celebrate greatness.”

Carnabuci believes that Long Island’s competitive culture is much more direct.

“You know the slogan, we’re ‘Strong Island’,” she said. “We’re a hub for kids to be high achievers. When I visited Vermont and watched soccer games there, there wasn’t as much emphasis on parents screaming.”

The SFIA also add sport specialization, the recession, and bad coaching as other factors in the decline.

But ultimately, the decay in the child-sport relationship is heavily influenced by the parent.

“[The parents] have to decide if they want their moral values to revolve around sports,” O’Connor said. “There is no right answer—there has to be a balance from the earliest ages.”


About Christopher Leelum 7 Articles
Chris Leelum is a junior Journalism and Philosophy double major at Stony Brook University. He really likes the combination of writing, analysis, arguments, and ideas. But more importantly, he likes Liverpool, Blake Lively, the New England Patriots (even though he's never been to Boston), and Twix candy bars.