Healthy Sports Parenting

Is healthy sports parenting possible? At elite levels of competition?

If you watched the 2020 summer Olympics (held summer 2021), you know that the stress & strain of elite competition was a big focus this year. Simone Biles had the “twisties.” Michael Phelps talked about his bouts with depression. A few months after the Olympics, Biles and other former Olympians testified (again) about the abuse they suffered at the hands of former team doctor Larry Nassar. 

We  wondered, Is it possible for a child to attain athletic greatness without suffering? Can parents’ protect young athletes’ physical and mental health when so many value “wins” over well-being?

It is, says Jeanette Hurt, a Milwaukee-based writer and parent of a young gymnast and diver. From a young age, her son had “an intense need to move,” she says. His early forays into sports — baseball, swimming, gymnastics — were positive. But when he started showing talent in gymnastics and moved up to working out with older gymnasts, Jeanette noticed some disturbing signs.

“Quinn started developing some tics; he was having a really rough time,” Jeanette says. After her son told her that an older athlete on the team assigned physical punishment to her son for “not paying attention,” Jeanette talked to a sports psychologist who pointed her toward, which outlines abusive vs. healthy coaching practices. Red flags that may indicate abusive coaching include:

  • Coaches insulting youth athletes
  • A child who is crying or doesn’t want to go to practice
  • Coaches who insist the child focuses on a single sport, despite other interests

Jeanette pulled her son out of that program and encourages other sports parents to “trust your gut.” Today, her son is thriving.

In this episode, Jen, Janet, & Jeanette discuss:
  • Recognizing – & responding to — abusive coaching
  • Supporting young athletes’ physical and mental health
  • When to let an athlete quit
  • The role of sports parents
  • Recognizing signs of athleticism in young boys
  • Should you reward kids of athletic achievements?
  • Discovering your son’s superpowers
  • Preventing & managing sports injuries
Links we mentioned (or should have) in this episode:

Healthy Sports Parenting Starts with These TipsChicago Health article by Jeanette (mentioned at 5:04) — website mentioned at 6:28 — Jeanette’s website, featuring links to her books

Coaches Speak About Youth Sports — ON BOYS episode

The Vein of Gold: A Journey to Your Creative Heart, by Julia Cameron — book mentioned at 16:32

#HeySportsParents: An Essential Guide for Any Parent with a Child in Sports, by Sharkie Zartman and Dr. Robert Weil — book mentioned at 18:09