This past week the following article about ‘Elite’ youth sports was featured on ESPN.com:
This is a topic I’ve had strong feelings about for 15 years, but I’m more interested in your thoughts.
I’d really like to hear your feedback on the article and on the state of youth sports below.
Dedicated to your success,
Good reminder about the reality of some youth sports Pat. A reminder of the opportunity we have to play a positive role and why organizations like the IYCA and NAYS are imperative to the future of the culture of youth sports. The founders of these organizations respectively have said:
“Our collective passion to recapture the innocence of play and fitness for children and teenagers worldwide knows absolutely no boundaries.” Brian Grasso
“ I’m a firm believer that sports iis the greatest tool we have in today’s society to help children develop positive character traits and life values. But when the focus shift from what’s best for the young participants to what’s best for others, that’s where the problem begins.” Fred Engh – Why Johnny Hates Sports
These ideals could lead to some interesting conversations with zealous parents. Remaining steadfast to the principals of long-term athletic development should go a long way in assuring parents that doing what is best for the athlete (their child) is the common goal.
This is never a purely black and white issue….
Our societey seems to be confused when it comes to kids these days…we say they are the “lazy, soft, un-disciplined generation”, and on the other hand we are “crushing” them with adult pressures at a young age.
Which is it?…Is it possible to be both encouraging, positive, disciplined…and fun?
How about more challenging competition for the kids who enjoy playing and want to, at an appropriate age, and with seasonal breaks and a variety of other activities…and the parents and coaches just treat them like they would any other kid.
And for the kids who just like to play…for crying out loud, just let them….I played one season of little league baseball, and quit.
In late middle school and early high school, my friends and i starteedplayed “stickball” baseball with tennis ball and pool cue sticks in parking lots during the summer..and wouldnt you know it a few of us ended up on the varsity baseball team by our junior year.
Llets teach kids to be quality human beings with good healthy lifestyle and movement skills…and if they get more interested in sports, so be it…
As we like to say at our facility…lets just let the kids be kids.
Well said Shawn. We are constantly looking for that “perfect” balance of competition and fun and you know what–kids can pretty much gauge that for themselves.
If a kid wants to be challenged more, they’ll usually speak up about it (or offer body language cues). If a kid is disinterested you’ll certainly know that right away.
This shouldn’t really have to be rocket science but parents/coaches/snake charmers might have other interests besides the child’s immediate happiness at stake.
Growing up, all of my friends and I played sports all year round, whatever was in season. We played in organized leagues but we always also played pickup basketball, baseball, soccer, football. None of us were ever burnt out, stressed or pressured into doing anything we didn’t want to do. We naturally gravitated towards the sports we wanted to play more in HS. I think that’s a pretty easy and acceptable model to follow.
If a kid has a passion for a sport they will go out and do it and find out all they can about it. Elite sports should be left to older teens, not 10 year olds. They should leave the sports alone at this age because kids have enough pressure trying to find their place and identity outside their families and they should have a place to unwind and enjoy just being kids at this age. Life is too short and being in such a highly competitive sport should be retained for older teens not little kids.
I have select soccer players and I coach and train soccer players at the academy level.
At the younger ages in the academy/select programs, parents push these kids way too hard, they play too many games and don’t practice enough for the game schedule. If these clubs would follow the recommendations put out by US Youth Soccer this wouldn’t be a problem – recommended practice to game ratio 3-4 to 1, with 1 game per weekend. I would imagine other sports have similar recommendations?
My kids love playing soccer at this level, with the whole team at around the same skill level – that’s what having the select does for you. You are able to group together kids with similar athletic ability and passion for the sport. It builds a strong team that trust their teammates’ abilities as much as they trust their own.
If the parents and coaches would just chill and realize they are not raising up the next Messi and probably not even a collegiate player – the kids would stay in the game a lot longer. What’s the goal- raising kids to love playing all types of sports for life.
I think it was a great article, Pat, and thanks for sharing it.
I would agree that early specialization is dangerous to children’s athletic careers both in regards to overuse and burnout. It seems like the age at which kids have to select a single sport is creeping it’s way down and down. Not to mention the inflated egos and sense of entitlement it’s creating. I also liked the authors point about physical maturity being a huge factor in childhood athletic dominance, as I remember quite a few 6 foot beastly Jr. High basketball players who turned into 6 foot average High School players.
That all being said, I think that the structure and politics of collegiate sports are a huge driving factor in this madness. Using myself as an example, I was a pretty good junior golfer, but my parents couldn’t afford to pay for me (nor did I want them to try) to travel across the country and play in the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) tournaments. So, instead I played around my state and in high school. I did end up playing college golf, but only got offers from smaller local schools. It was frustrating because I saw kids that I was better than getting D1 and D2 looks from schools all around because they had travelled to these tournaments, paying thousands of dollars for each trip. All they had to do was play well a time of two and college coaches (who only look at these elite leagues and tournaments) would be calling, but because I played against “weaker competition” they didn’t even give me a glance.
Long story short, it’s all about exposure and politics. Parents and kids both have their eyes on college scholarships, and until there is a change in the structure of recruiting and exposure, these leagues will grow and grow and specialization will get younger and younger. Just look at some of the 12-14 year olds that are verbally committing to colleges. It’s insanity.
I’m glad there is a group of people who are fighting back against it, but we have an uphill battle. I’m glad the IYCA and it’s members are up for the challenge!
If your good, get on a good team and have fun. If your great, get on a great team and play against everybody around the nation. You only get better. I played “travel” basketball from my 8th grade summer year through my junior summer year of high school. everyone on my team played division 1 basketball and some of us played “semi pro” basketball (overseas, USBL, NBDL). It’s the most fun I ever had. You learn a lot and are well prepared to ball AT THE NEXT LEVEL. What do you think happens when you get to college? You still have to make your grades, and travel all over the state or nation to play ball. if you’ve never done that, you won’t be able to adjust and adapt. I know a lot of people don’t like the “travel” tag or the “specialty” tag of youth sports, but I have to say, if your kid is really good, put him around really good people so he can get better. If you want to get smarter, you would probably hang around people who are a lot smarter than you, wouldn’t you? There’s nothing wrong with asking more out of your athlete. And there’s nothing wrong with allowing your athlete to see the game in a different manner than other kids do. Prepare your kid to be the best they can be… no matter what it is they choose they want to be the best at. As long as you don’t force them; as long as they know you love them no matter the outcome; as long as they continue to have fun; and as long as your communications lines are proper, how can it hurt. Maybe, our nation would be a lot different if we asked our kids to excel in all things, and not just sports. Maybe we should challenge our kids to be the best “straight A traveling team” in the nation? One last thing… most kids who are “great at a young age” know they are great at a young age, and are typically more self driven than other kids. It doesn’t take much to get the most out of these kids because they bring their best effort all the time, and expect to get better also. Just something else to think about…
It seems at least where I live the system of youth athletic development is broken or almost broken. We got a my 10 year old daughter and a group of her friends together to train them through a variety of sports throughout the year. At 10 they were being told that it was time to pick one sport and train year round. We did not agree with the philosophy so we started our own group. Observing other teams at a soccer tournament this weekend I saw a lot of parents who needed to relax. I was describing the situation to my brother and he said the parents sounded like the Cobra Kai coach from karate Kid. That described it very well. Parents encouraging their 10 year old daughter to be very physical on the soccer field.
I think there is also an education problem with many coaches. My son’s first week of middle school athletics was not the most positive experience. A less than encouraging coach making the non-football playing boys run about 1.5 miles in 100+ degree temperatures on the first full day of athletics. He squirted water at them (that was their drink) as the boys ran past. He told the boys they would not play if they did not run the entire distance. The kids here are not acclimated to the weather since they spend most of the summer indoors or in a pool. The coaches, principal, AD and school superintendent heard from me. Things were better at the end of the week. It just seems that the coaches care mainly about the top athletes and not the other kids. My son is ready to give up on athletics after the first week of 7th grade.
Amen. Let kids be kids. I am a middle school athletic director. On one hand, I do schedule more practices in a season than other middle schools in my area (one weekday off per week), but the season has a limited number of games and I and our coaches try to keep some balance to life. We could schedule lots of away games an hour from our town, but we choose to play locally most of the time. Again, this is for the sake of maintaining balance in a kid’s life and in family life too. Don’t get me started on what club coaches are pressuring our soccer and lacrosse players to do…..
Seems like the coaches are a lot at fault here. Both the travel soccer and baseball coaches really press to get year around commitments and they don’t hesitate to say your kid won’t make his HS team if they play multiple sports. People are blaming parents but its really the coaches that have gone psycho.
I ran a local basketball program for 15 years until I finally gave up the fight. Most popular sport in town and grew to be the largest in the state, growing from a few hundred to over a couple of thousand
Dealing with coaches, rules were made that tied the jackass fathers hands.(you know the type.. first in line to sign up to coach, so they could exploit the system)
My favorite coach was the guy I would ask to coach and his response would be,”I don’t know anything about the game”. My response would be…. I can teach you to be the best coach in the world in 15 minutes. On the other hand, no one can teach you how to be good and fair with kids, and that’s the coach I’m looking for.
My explanation for “getting” youth sports would have to be the kids that approach it as just another activity gain the most from it. They’ll play the sport for an hour ,go to piano lessons, and so on, and enjoy them equally. At the end of the day they are the ones benefiting for the exposure and perspective of many activities
Not that I wasn’t competitive. The last team I coached went on to win their HS regional tournament and finish 2nd in the State tournament. So, there is an alternative and balance, but it’s a tough road believe me