Want Your Child To Be a Top Athlete? They may need to back off on sports.

Alison Escalante MD
7 min readNov 16, 2019

One beautiful summer day, I was sitting by the pool watching our kids at swim practice. As usual, we moms were talking about life, our summer plans, and our kids. One of the moms started telling us about her high schooler, the state champion swimmer. She shared how busy he was going to events where college recruiters might take notice.

Then someone turned to me and asked, “Didn’t you get recruited for your college team?” I did. We started talking about fencing, and my Division 1 college team. “Have you started your boys in fencing yet?” she asked. That’s when my mom anxiety went into overdrive. Why hadn’t I started my boys with fencing? Wasn’t that the only sport where our family might have a genetic advantage? What if they missed out on their chance?

An hour later I was online doing research. I found a respected fencing coach from the city who was giving weekly classes in our area. I signed the boys up, in hopes that they would fall in love.

Young boy plays soccer.
Photo by Alyssa Ledesma on Unsplash

Parent anxiety and youth sports.

I’m a pediatrician who has given a TEDx talk about the parenting anxiety epidemic. How could I be so immediately panicked by one conversation? Like every other parent I know, I worry about the consequences of decisions I make. Could one missed opportunity could ruin my children’s lives?

Parenthood today is a ShouldStorm. A culture of intensive parenting that criticizes us and drives our anxiety. The ShouldStorm tells us we should be doing more for our kids, and that we are never doing enough. And there are few places the ShouldStorm rages with more fury than in the culture of youth sports. We are told we should start sports early, we should help our kids find their passion, and we should make sure they get every advantage.

Still, we wonder if we want to give up our lives to a 6-year-old’s sports schedule. That is until our child gets tapped for the competitive gymnastics team or the travel soccer club. How can we say no? Soon our family time becomes their sport. They love it and we are proud. Parental visions of a bright future dance in our heads. And all the other sports parents agree.

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Alison Escalante MD

How can we take effective action under pressure? Forbes Contributor | TEDx Speaker | Pediatrician | PsychToday | ShouldStorm.com