Do we put too much pressure on young stars?

Jessica Judd

In an era when sporting success is expected at a much younger age and the winning is often much more important than the taking part, there is a lot more pressure on young sporting stars to start hitting milestones much earlier. This pressure comes from a whole range of different sources, including a media that glorifies only winners and winning, ambitious coaches, other members of the team and friends and family who, whilst all they want is for a young sportsman or woman to succeed, may not realise how much that adds to the pressure they are already under.

Evidence has emerged from scientific studies showing that young sportspeople are burning out at an early age when trying to reach impossible goals they have been set. Symptoms such as exhaustion and serious disillusionment with the sport they are trying to succeed in can result in a devaluation of commitment to the sport. These symptoms come from gruelling training regimes, which are often being enforced onto fairly underdeveloped bodies, incredibly busy schedules that leave little time for socialising or down time, and being pushed to be stronger, faster and better at a younger age than those who have gone before. Particularly in hugely competitive sports such as football, high standards are expected from the start and those young athletes who don’t make the grade are simply culled.

This level of stress can have both a positive and a negative effect, depending on the character of the individual. On the positive side, such pressure at an early age can build confidence and coping mechanisms, can be incredibly motivational and can encourage young athletes to reach ever higher and further. On the negative side it can cause an over emphasis on perfectionism and an inability to deal with failure, as well as achieving ‘too much too soon,’ leaving the athlete with little to aim for, or with serious physical injuries from too much training.

A recent example of the dangers of over hype is Freddy Adu a footballer who plays for Bahia in Brazil and who was named ‘the new Pele’ because of his phenomenal skill. However, already his performances in matches is failing to match up to the headlines, something that many commentators are attributing to the pressure created by the hype around him. Rob Denmark, coach to athlete Jessica Judd (pictured above), who has recently seen some fantastic successes said of his coaching responsibility “it’s more important to lay the foundations now for her to develop and be successful in the long term,” indicating that low pressure long term development is his coaching method of choice.

Where stress is kept under control, at every level sport can have a really beneficial impact on children’s’ development, increasing fitness, confidence and keeping weight under control, as well as developing motivation and helping children learn how to achieve goals. Activate Sport runs a series of sports camps that offer some great physical and mental benefits for children of all ages. See our website for more information.

photo credit: AdamKR via photopin cc