The School Newspaper of Winston Churchill High School.

The Observer

The School Newspaper of Winston Churchill High School.

The Observer

The School Newspaper of Winston Churchill High School.

The Observer

Young athletes need realistic expectations

Wunderkinds fascinate us. People who show extraordinary ability at  a young age challenge our perception of what is possible and inspire us to do better ourselves.

They must also be handled with care, particularly in the realm of youth sports.

As an audience, we are excited by the opportunity to predict the next big thing.  However, a younger athlete makes for a riskier guess. If the athlete pans out, then we guessed right. If not, there is always better luck next time.

Julian Newman is a fifth grader who starts for Downey Christian’s varsity basketball team in Orlando, Florida. Over the last few months, a video of the 4 foot, 5 inch point guard has gone viral.

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Regardless of Newman’s athletic accomplishments, he is too young. He is too young for the national spotlight; he is too young to be ranked nationally, and he is too young for people to be predicting basketball as a future career.

The problem with obsessing over impressive youth athletes is that all too often, they fizzle out.

Whether it be an enormous amount of stress, a disappointing growth spurt, an injury, or a myriad other things that can go wrong, youth “phenoms” are not built to last. There is no conceivable way anyone can project how good a 10-year old will be as a 17 or 18-year old.

Take Freddy Adu, the local soccer sensation, who was the youngest player to ever play in the MLS. According to, he was offered a $500,000 four -year contract at only 14. While the 23 year old cannot necessarily be considered a bust, he did not come close to fulfilling the unrealistic expectations set for him before he even got his driver’s license.

While I would love to see Newman fulfill all of his basketball dreams, the track record for child prodigies is not a good one. According to U.S. sports psychology consultant Alan Goldberg, some gifted young athletes crash and burn due to overtraining or falling out of love with their sport, while others have breakdowns when they fail to live up to unrealistic expectations.

Newman’s situation is painting an increasingly clear picture of the things that are wrong with our youth athletic system. When such an intense spotlight is placed on an athlete from such an early age, the odds are stacked against him.

Even if he does continue to have an impressive high school career, gets recruited to college, and goes on to the NBA, he will have done nothing but live up to expectations set for him much too early. If, on the other hand, he stops playing basketball for whatever reason, he will be branded a failure.

Growing up is hard enough as it is, its difficulty does not need to be compounded by the watchful eye of the entire country. So, while you can appreciate Newman’s dazzling display of athleticism and talent on the basketball court (and I hope you will, it is quite impressive), do not get too caught up in future predictions. More often than not, you will wind up disappointed.

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Young athletes need realistic expectations