There’s one at every Little League game: that parent who berates his kid from the stands for every missed ground ball, or the coach who makes his players run postgame sprints while the other team has a pizza party. No one likes that guy, but he might be inflicting even more damage than we think: In fact, says the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), multiple studies of youth hockey and soccer teams show that pressure from competitive coaches and parents who prioritize winning led to players who were more likely to cheat and use performance-enhancing drugs.
Enter TrueSport, a Colorado Springs–based department of the USADA that teaches parents, coaches, and kids how to take care of their bodies, exhibit good sportsmanship, and understand that the final score isn’t the only—or even the primary—reason to play. In 2012, the USADA started TrueSport to evangelize these messages, after nearly two-thirds of the nearly 9,000 American adults surveyed in its 2010 “What Sport Means In America” survey agreed that winning was overemphasized in American sports. “We really have to establish a strong foundation,” says TrueSport senior manager Jennifer Dodd. “That way, if young athletes are faced with any pressure to use performance-enhancing drugs, they are more likely to make good decisions.” To that end, TrueSport offers lessons (available at truesport.org) for adults and kids on the usual athletic fare—such as nutrition and hydration—but also about bullying, accountability, and leadership.
TrueSport ambassadors, such as Trevor Tierney, co-founder of LXTC Lacrosse (which runs clubs and clinics across Denver) help spread the word. Tierney says he grasped the concept of positive team culture by the age of 10 thanks to his father, University of Denver lacrosse head coach Bill Tierney, who has coached his way to seven national lacrosse titles with Princeton and one with the Pioneers. “He preaches that competition and winning are important because they’re great challenges that help athletes learn more about themselves on and off the field,” Trevor says. Winning matters, but as TrueSport advocates, the approach to victory matters more—and that lesson starts with parents who help kids develop the character they need to make healthy choices about their attitudes and their bodies. “Sports are a tool,” Tierney says, “not a way to live vicariously through the kids.”
By The Numbers
83%: Percentage of American adults who feel that youth sports should teach positive values, such as teamwork and fair play, according to the USADA’s “What Sport Means In America”
35%: Percentage of American adults who think kids’ sports actually embody those values, according to the same study.
Mind Over Matter
Three ways to help your kids cope with the stress of everyday expectations. —Davina Van Buren
Psst, parents: Got your hands full with a child overwhelmed by a perfect storm of screen time, competitive sports, and academic pressure, which manifests as temper tantrums, defiance, depression, or bullying? Helping your kids practice mindfulness—being present in the moment rather than fixated on past or future events—is one hopeful solution, says Anne-Marie Desmond, the creator of UB.U. The organization leads mindfulness programs in Eagle County schools by emphasizing the connection between the brain, body, and breath to reduce stress and anxiety. Here,
she shares a few tips to help at home.
During a meltdown, ask how your child is feeling inside and what’s happening physically (crying or sweating, for example). Soon, she’ll become more aware of the relationship between her emotions and her body, and be better equipped to calm herself.
Stress causes shallow and constricted breathing. While your kids are calm, practice belly breathing—inhaling and exhaling through the nose so the diaphragm expands and falls—to counter the nervous system’s “fight, flight, or freeze” response, which might be triggering behavioral issues.
Use a chime or tone bar to practice listening and focus. Ask kids to concentrate—without counting or rushing—solely on that sound until it completely fades away.