The Physical, Mental & Psychological Damage of Youth Sports

Brandon McIntyre

There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that participating in a sport plays a major factor in a child’s life. According to the National Council of Youth Sports, “60 million kids participate in sports. Studies have shown that 60% of youth athletes specialize, typically prior to age 12 and starting as early as age 8”. Former NBA player and Oscar Award winner, Kobe Bryant even preached how important sports are for kids. “…there’s no greater metaphor for life than sports itself. The fact that we can have a collection of athletes that come from different backgrounds, with different beliefs, different political views, but yet can figure out a way to understand each other, how to work well with each other towards a common goal … there’s no better metaphor for life than that.”

(Graphic showing the difference between a regular brain & CTE brain.)

Despite the importance it can bring to a child, there is an extremely dark side of youth sports that many kids and parents are not familiar with. Not only do sports obviously pay a physical toll on the developing bodies, but a mental and psychological effect as well.

The physical and mental risks for kids are higher, because kids are still growing and developing their body and mind. Certain sports that involve some sort of collision and attacking, can damage a child long-term physically and mentally. Many parents don’t allow their children to play sports like ice hockey, lacrosse, boxing, or football because of the potential head injuries that can cause brain damage, such as a concussion and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).

There are substitutes for these sports that are much safer, like flag football. “According to the Center for Diseases Control (CDC), youth tackle football athletes ages 6-14 sustained 15 times more head impacts than flag football athletes during a practice or game and sustained 23 times more high-magnitude head impact.” However, most kids are encouraged to play tackle football because of their parents’ expectations.

According to Kathryn Hatter “Parents generally are the worst judges of their child’s ability. The emotional investment clouds judgment and blinds parents from seeing that their child may not be gifted in sports. Instead of identifying this lack of ability, some parents push harder and push the child too far.”

(Group of baseball teammates sitting on the bench watching their game.)

“When children lack ability but are forced to compete, they are placed in humiliating situations where they continually fail. Instead of cultivating healthy self-esteem from sports participation, repeated embarrassment can cause the child to become stressed, anxious, withdrawn, and depressed. The child also may develop a negative sense of self due to the poor performances, instead of looking to character traits, actions and other abilities to build healthy self-esteem.”

However, parents are not the only culprit behind the mental corruption of kids when it comes to sports. Kids from all across the country can be seen online winning trophies, getting famous on their social media accounts, getting recognized by professional athletes, and as of recently, getting paid to play their sport, many kids that develop later (Late Bloomers), are often left behind as if they’re not as advanced in a specific sport as others are at their age.

This eventually leads them to quit playing, believing that there is no benefit and no future when playing the sport. It’s similar to how people will go online and see someone their age and post pictures of them with a bunch of money, a big house, lots of cars, while they’re in a situation that has none of those things, making them feel less of themselves.

However, social media in sports is a double-edged sword, because even famous young athletes have problems of their own due to overexposure. Overexposure is something kids aren’t expected to handle because this tends to bring outside voices and opinions, harshly criticizing these athletes by their own peers, or even other adults out of envy, jealousy, disdain, or even profit. Amelia Kopel talks about the difficulty of growing up as a National youth Tennis champion.

Seeing a child play on the court or on the field is truly an amazing thing to see. But as they continue to grow, they will experience doubt, self-esteem issues, expectations from themselves and others, depletion in other life skills due to the obsession with their sport, and injuries. Are you prepared to see your child go through these pains?

(Amelia Kopel serving in a tennis match.)


Trudell, M. (2017, December 15). Kobe Bryant before Rafters night: Q&A. Los Angeles Lakers. Retrieved March 3, 2022, from,they%20will%20be%20great%20partners.

Parkview(2019, September 27) How much is too much? the dangers of Youth Sports Specialization. (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2022, from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2021, May 19). Comparing head impacts in youth tackle and flag football. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 3, 2022, from, K. (2017, September 26). The effect of parents pushing their kids in sports. How To Adult. Retrieved March 3, 2022, from

Categories: Culture, Health, Sports

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