A Kansas City documentary talks to young athletes about being made to feel 'Not Good Enough'
An estimated 70% of children quit organized sports by age 13. Filmed in the Kansas City metro, the new documentary "Not Good Enough" discusses the mental strain that young athletes feel from perfectionism and competition, and how adults can better approach the game.
Youth athletes have to balance social lives, being a student, household expectations and face the pressures of the digital age — on top of having to focus on the game at hand.
Evan Skidmore, now 13 years old, says that at times, the pressure felt like bricks on his shoulders. Eventually, he was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts.
"I just felt like everything was too much at that time," Skidmore said. "And then you just felt like you had to give up, because I mean, those bricks are too heavy every time."
With year-round activities, youth sports are a $30 billion industry that can come with immense value. Children can learn social skills, teamwork, while physically exercising their bodies and their minds with quick decision-making.
But what is meant to be a fun childhood activity has become a high stakes and emotional investment — for some adults. Coaches, parents and adult spectators add pressure to the game, yelling from the sidelines at players, opposing teams and sporting officials.
The demands from adults has a clear impact on some children's mental health, and can cause young athletes to step away from sports entirely.
In Kansas City, the Royals and Blue KC surveyed 200 kids from local schools about the pressure they feel from parents. The athletes' words were compiled into singular letters that were displayed at various sporting complexes.
"The goal was to place them at the exit point when those parents and his kids were going to have that interaction of getting in the car," said Tony Snethen of the Kansas City Royals. "We wanted them to take a step back and say, 'Whoa, is this letter directed at me?' And, 'How can I be better?' We wanted to give the kids the voice."
The effort became the focus of a new documentary called "Not Good Enough," to raise awareness for mental health challenges for young athletes.
While altercations at youth sporting events are on the rise, it's not just aggressive physical behavior causing mental strain.
"Sometimes, it's just the car ride home and it's that deep analysis that parents often engage in," said Kristin Gernon, behavioral health specialist at Blue KC.
Parents' intentions may be good, but even well-intentioned comments about performance can chip away at a child's self-esteem and wellbeing.
Gernon suggests allowing the child to drive the conversation, using open-ended questions and taking the focus off of game performance.
"You want to focus in on sportsmanship," said Gernon. "Noticing those things about their personal characteristics that are gonna make them good human beings and good adults later on, not just athletes."
For Skidmore, coaching advice is better received when he's not preparing for or decompressing from a game.
"It's so much easier to take constructive criticism when... you have the game out of your mind," said Skidmore.
- Evan Skidmore, 13-year-old athlete
- Tony Snethen, vice president, Brand Innovation & Agency lead Pine Tar Collective, Kansas City Royals
- Kristin Gernon, LCSW LMSW, Behavioral Health Training & Development Specialist