Maya Castro is the author of The Bubble: Everything I Learned as a Target of the Political, and Often Corrupt, World of Youth Sports.

For many kids, organized sports are not much fun anymore.

Overbearing parents, over-the-top coaches and overzealous competition are frequent images associated with youth athletic leagues today. Though playing ball often used to embody the enjoyment of being a kid, the experience for many youngsters is too serious and stressful, and ultimately not worth it.

“The politics, as well as the overemphasis adults put on kids to see a college scholarship as the ultimate goal, is ruining a kid’s ability to get the most out of sports,” said Maya Castro, author of The Bubble: Everything I Learned as a Target of the Political, and Often Corrupt, World of Youth Sports (

“This overemphasis has created an environment amongst the parents and coaches that is similar to a mafia. We badly need changes in this toxic, political and corrupt environment. And it must start with the parents.”

Castro, who says her own experience as a young soccer player was tainted by misguided and misbehaving adults, offers ideas on how adults can improve the youth sports culture:

Strive to be a mentor. Parents and coaches have a great opportunity to use sports as a teaching tool for life. “The learning aspect of the game needs to be the focal point of youth sports,” Castro said.

Model positive behaviors. Part of the negative image of youth sports is related to parents yelling at coaches, referees, opponents or even their own kids.

Enjoy the moment. Too many parents and their young athletes are fretting the future. “Too often it’s all about winning and getting the scholarship,” Castro said, “But my parents told me there was a time when kids actually enjoyed playing for the sake of playing, and parents won just by getting to watch them play. We need to get back to that. Without it, memories are wasted.”

Be encouraging. “Celebrate the effort, not just the result,” Castro says. “This goes for youth coaches as well as parents.”

Make education first. Castro and many observers of youth sports say parents have lost perspective by thinking their kid is on the fast track to a scholarship or a pro career. Statistics show few advance that far.

“Whether a kid decides to keep playing sports or to walk away,” Castro said, “he or she should be able to do so without deep regret in having wasted their time.”

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