Being a Good Sport Helps Kids’ Mental Health

As young athletes head back to fall sports, a doctor reminds parents that their behavior in the stands – good and bad – can impact a child’s mental health.

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CLEVELAND – Young athletes are excited to hit the field this fall after many sports were cancelled because of the pandemic.

But as parents head back to the stands, it’s important to remember – winning isn’t everything.

Joe Austerman, DO, of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, said sometimes parents can get overly competitive and critical at youth sporting events – and it can have detrimental effects.

“They internalize a lot of this – even if it’s meant to be constructive – kids can internalize this and see this as a criticism; that they’re failing, and you’ll see very quickly that kids become disengaged,” he said. “And it creates a snowball where they become frustrated and irritable; they don’t learn these important skills of social behaviors in a correct way.”

Dr. Austerman said a high percentage of kids around the pre-teen and early teen years drop out of sports, often because of frustration.

When kids drop out of sports, they tend to engage in more social media and isolating behaviors.

He says parents should use sports as an opportunity to focus on big picture goals – like managing disappointment.

He admits it’s easy to become emotionally invested in your child’s sport.

However, he encourages parents to check-in with their emotions and not allow themselves to get caught up in the moment for the sake of their child’s mental well-being.

“Be proactive. Think – ‘This is going to be a charged environment for me. I think I need to calm myself down and think about this first.” Said Dr. Austerman.  “And just thinking about it, and putting some energy, knowing that you’re going to be in this charged environment, can actually help deescalate before things become a problem.”

Dr. Austerman recommends parents focus on the real benefits of youth sports – exercise, learning how to navigate social relationships, controlling emotions, having fun and being engaged.

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