The Exploitation of Youth Athletes

The Exploitation of Youth Athletes: A Sports Issue?

In the past few years there have been several scandals involving the exploitation of young athletes, which include high school football players, college basketball players and even professional baseball players. Some argue that these cases are just isolated incidents; others believe they represent a trend that could lead to widespread abuse if not stopped.

While it may seem like such abuses would only affect children or those without resources, the truth is much different. According to some estimates, one in every four American children will experience physical or sexual abuse during their lifetime.

These types of abuses are often perpetrated by family members, teachers and other adults who have power over the victim. They may also occur when a child’s behavior does not conform to what is expected from them at home.

One of the most common forms of abuse involves coaches abusing their position as educators to sexually exploit their charges. Such coaches may use threats of suspension or expulsion to keep their victims quiet about inappropriate relationships.

Other times, they may physically force themselves upon the children, sometimes while wearing uniforms.

A second form of abuse occurs when parents allow their children to participate in organized sports. While many parents do not realize it, they are allowing their kids to become pawns in a larger game where the winners take all and the losers suffer for life.

The obsession with winning for adults often leads to youth sports becoming a form of child abuse.

A third form of abuse involves the use of drugs or other banned substances to improve athletic performance. According to some professional athletes, such actions are all-too-common in major league baseball and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

In fact, many prominent players have suffered from serious health problems related to steroid use, including heart attacks and liver failure.

In some schools, the pressure to succeed is so great that children will use banned substances in an effort to improve their athletic performance. This has been most notable with the recent arrests of several high school students for using steroids.

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In fact, one Florida high school had 34 students test positive for steroids or other banned substances in a single year.

While there are several causes for this type of behavior, it often occurs in schools where there is a need to improve the athletic program. As a result, teachers and coaches may pressure kids into taking banned substances in the hopes of winning championships.

A final form of abuse involves parents who place their children in sports for the wrong reasons. Instead of letting their kids pursue the sport they enjoy or have talent for, some parents force their children to participate in order to fulfill their own dreams of glory through their offspring.

The effects of such abuse can be long-lasting and far-reaching. In fact, many child psychologists believe that placing kids into organized sports is a form of abuse.

One such psychologist claims, “A youth sport is the only situation where adults take children away from their normal lives, put them in uniforms, assign them to a team and tell them what to do every day.”

While there are certainly benefits to participating in youth sports, some parents fail to see the damage that can result from forcing their children into activities they may not enjoy. The most common effects of this type of abuse include low self-esteem and a fear of failure.

Such children may also be more prone to substance abuse in the future.

There are many reasons that youth sports are considered abusive. In fact, there are nearly as many reasons as there are types of sports.

Some of these reasons include:

1. The possibility of injury.

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One need only turn on the nightly news to see reports of catastrophic injuries resulting from youth sports. One of the most dangerous sports, in this respect, is football.

Many parents are unaware of the long-term effects that repeated head trauma can have on their children. This includes conditions such as depression, memory loss and increased risk of suicide.

Another injury-related problem involves overuse. Children involved in youth sports are at greater risk of developing various stress-related injuries.

As a result, they are more likely to experience growth plate fractures and tendinitis. In more serious cases, kids can sustain permanent nerve or muscle damage.

Then, there are the less serious yet equally concerning injuries. These include things such as sprained ankles and knees, bruises and the like.

While these types of injuries tend to be more commonplace among children engaging in youth sports, they often go untreated. This is mainly because the children don’t want to be seen as hurt or injured. As a result, these minor injuries can lead to more serious problems down the road.

2. Poor coaching.

While we tend to think of professional athletes having abusive coaches, the same types of behavior exist at the youth level. There are many coaches who accept the role without truly considering the impact their coaching decisions may have on developing young people.

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As a result, they misinterpret or downplay their responsibility to mold and shape their players both physically and mentally.

In fact, many youth coaches have little to no formal training. This problem is made worse by the fact that some see the role as nothing more than a shortcut to building their own resumes.

They are interested in using the position as a stepping stone to better jobs rather than focusing on the importance of developing future players.

For these reasons and more, youth sports are a breeding ground for poor coaching practices and a host of negative experiences.

3. Over-Commercialization.

Youth sports are big business. From equipment to apparel to travel expenses, it costs a lot of money to be involved in youth sports.

Some families are priced out of the activity while others go into serious debt in an effort to provide their children with every possible opportunity.

Whatever the case, youth sports have become so expensive that many parents are forced to choose between one sport and another. Others are forced to take out loans to cover the expenses while still others are leaving their children unattended after school in order to fit all of their training in.

There are also a number of hidden costs that parents may not immediately think about. For instance, there is the cost of childcare.

With both parents working and one or both traveling long distances to and from work, many parents are forced to leave their children with someone else. This can cost a couple hundred dollars a week.

There is also the issue of time. Many parents don’t realize how much time their children are committing to these sports.

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It’s not uncommon for kids to spend five hours or more a day training and practicing. This leaves very little time for schoolwork, family and chores.

All of these expenses and sacrifices have led to youth sports becoming a breeding ground for over-involved parents. Kids aren’t allowed to enjoy the game as much because they are pushed too hard by their parents.

Naturally, this can create a negative experience for everyone involved.

Negative Youth Sports Experiences Can Lead to Serious Consequences

Youth sports can have both short-term and long-term effects on kids. In many cases, these experiences can lead to serious problems down the road.

Some of these issues include depression, anxiety, eating disorders and a whole host of other problems.


Depression is widespread among youth athletes. The root cause can be attributed to a number of reasons including over-training, over-specialization, social alienation, injuries and the pressure to always be perfect.

All of these factors can lead to a loss of enjoyment for the sport which leads to burnout. Over-training and burnout often lead to injuries which can cause kids to become discouraged and lose their motivation.

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Eating Disorders

While there has always been a connection between athletes and eating disorders, it seems to be more common in today’s sports culture. Some of this can be attributed to over-specialization as some sports encourage certain body types.

However, the biggest reason has to do with appearance based awards and praise.

In many sports, there is a tangible measurement of success and that is how fast you are, how high you jump, how strong you are and how big you are. For men it’s size and strength, for women it’s appearance.

Either way, it creates an environment where some athletes will do anything to gain a physical advantage which often leads to eating disorders.


Anxiety is also a common problem among youth athletes. As stated earlier, the pressure to be perfect can create a situation where kids are always expecting to win.

Anything less than a win can be seen as a failure in their eyes and they will be anxious before, during and after the game.

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Social Isolation

Some youth athletes are so obsessed with their sport that they begin to socially isolate themselves from their friends and family. Some kids will even change their social circles by associating with other athletes and not others.

The reason this is a problem has to do with the fact that kids are missing out on important social development. They are supposed to be learning about themselves and the world around them but they aren’t doing it in the area of socialization.

This can lead to major issues down the road.


As stated above, burnout is probably the most common problem among youth athletes. This is when kids become so burned out on their sport that they lose their passion for it.

This can happen due to the reasons mentioned above in the depression section. It can also happen if the child experiences a major loss such as a team member getting injured or other kids making fun of them.

Once a kid loses their passion for a sport, they are unlikely to participate in it anymore. It doesn’t matter how much a kid plays a sport, if they no longer enjoy it, they will ultimately quit.

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This is one of the main reasons why youth sports organizations are always trying to prevent burnout before it happens.

Some kids can handle the pressures of sports while others crumble under the pressure. It seems to vary from kid to kid and there isn’t much that parents and coaches can do except monitor their activity.

When burnout occurs, the kid will usually quit their sport on their own.

This is a major concern for parents because most of them are footing the bill for this participation. There are a lot of hidden costs that are never accounted for such as travel expenses, equipment and apparel.

Some sports are also more expensive to participate in than others. It doesn’t matter if your kid is the best swimmer in his or her age group if you can’t afford to send them to weekend competitions.

Sources & references used in this article:

The exploitation of youth athletes in South Africa by ZS Dlamini – 2018 –

The impact of American tackle football-related concussion in youth athletes by F Gilbert, LSM Johnson – AJOB Neuroscience, 2011 – Taylor & Francis

Making a case for early sport specialization in youth athletes. by P Christianson, J Deutsch – Journal of Youth Sports, 2012 –

Don’t trust me with your child: Non-legal precautions when the law cannot prevent sexual exploitation in youth sports by J Peterson – Tex. Rev. Ent. & Sports L., 2003 – HeinOnline

Intensive Training in Youth Sports: A New Abuse of Power? by M Lang – Bullying and the Abuse of Power, 2010 –