Courtney was the best basketball player on her eighth-grade team. Her parents attended every game, her name was headlined in the local paper along with her top scores, and the high school coach was already planning her upcoming season. The words "college scholarship" were bandied about the house, and her medals were hung in the hall. Everyone thought she was destined to be a star.
It wasn't until the day Courtney overdosed on pills that her parents realized the pressure was too much. Terrified that she couldn't live up to the expectations of her coach, her family, and her community, Courtney attempted to kill herself. What should have been an enjoyable diversion had turned into a nightmare for the whole family.
Extreme? Maybe. Yet in an era where winning is encouraged at all costs, where the evening news carries stories of a mother who put out a contract on her daughter's cheerleading rival and a father who killed another father over rough play at a youth hockey game, competitive sports have gotten a black eye. Pressure put on kids to perform may result in depression, falling grades, and behavior difficulties.
For the most part, organized sports are beneficial to our kids. As parents, we want our children to learn teamwork, to handle disappointment and loss constructively, and to respect authority. At their best, organized sports can be a great character-building tool. The trick is to help our children find the middle ground between doing their best and becoming overly competitive. Our goal should be to instill in our children a sense of what healthy competition looks like.1