Why do adults have to ruin youth sports?

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One of my co-workers sent me a link to a New York Times article a couple weeks ago that talked about a disturbing trend of increased injuries in youth sports. More kids are being overworked and burned out at younger and younger ages, causing many more athletic injuries. While the health aspects of this phenomenon are interesting by themselves, I was even more interested in the psychological and social aspects. There s a portion in the article that I found particularly interesting:

The problem was put into focus three years ago by the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. In a report in the academy s journal, Pediatrics, Dr. Joel S. Brenner wrote, Overuse injuries, overtraining and burnout among child and adolescent athletes are a growing problem in the United States.

The goal of youth participation in sports, the council said, should be to promote lifelong physical activity, recreation and skills of healthy competition.

Unfortunately, it went on, too often the goal is skewed toward adult (parent/coach) goals either implicitly or explicitly. As more young athletes are becoming professionals at a younger age, there is more pressure to grab a piece of the professional pie, to obtain a college scholarship or to make the Olympic team.

If only it were this simple. We could start an educational program for adults explaining that about 0.5% of all high school athletes ever become professionals. That would be the easy part. Unfortunately, I think the problem goes much deeper than that, into our human nature. I think our society s emphasis on being first and winning has crept wholly into youth sports. I think the shame of being the parent of the worst player and the glory of raising the best player on the team has trampled over the true point of youth sports. It s amazing to me how adults (coaches and parents) can ruin something as great as youth sports. Some of my best memories growing up were playing Little League baseball. I m not naive enough to think there weren t problem parents and coaches back then because I m sure there were. But they seemed to be in the minority to me. Now, I ve just started on this journey as a father in youth sports. My son is playing 5-6 year old T-ball (let me emphasize T-ball), and I m an assistant coach. Assistant coach at this level essentially means assistant to the head cat herder because basically all we re really doing is herding cats. Make sure Nathan runs to second base, not right field, and James isn t sitting on the ground eating dirt. That s the extent of our coaching pretty much. To the kids, snack time at the end is pretty much the greatest thing ever. When they ask who won the game, I say it was a tie, 82-82, and that s just fine with them. However, our league commissioner, for the second year, proposed the idea of an All-Star game at the end of the season. Each team would pick three players, and they would get new jerseys just for the game (again, I want to remind you this is T-ball). Thankfully, our coach voiced his disagreement with the idea and said the Tigers would not be participating. A few other teams agreed and are out as well, but they will still be putting on this All-Star game, regardless. Ugh. There are so many opportunities for players who excel at a sport to be recognized for their abilities, but I am firmly confident that 5-6 year old T-ball is not the time. Unfortunately, I m well aware that our league is not the only one that does things like this. And it only gets worse the older the kids get. The explosion of select teams and travel teams has killed some of these kids childhoods. A 10- or 12-year-old boy should not be playing 50 baseball games in a season. A 13-year-old girl should not be traveling across the country for volleyball tournaments. I think parents and coaches have taken the youth out of youth sports. You have to wonder if some of these kids are even having fun anymore! When I was growing up, most of the kids were actually kind of happy the baseball season was over so they could spend the rest of the summer at the pool. And this also gets back to the health issues described in theNew York Timesarticle. When you have a long break between sports, a kid s body is able to recover and build strength back up. Without that break, those same little bodies can definitely break down. I hope my son and daughter will be fortunate enough to be in a youth league where the emphasis is on kids having fun. Don t get me wrong; I would love to see them succeed in whatever they do. But I want them to become good sports, good teammates, and do all of it with a smile on their face. That will be most important. And, after all, isn t that the way it s supposed to be? What were youth sports like when you were a kid? Do you see some of these problems with your grandchildrens sports leagues? What do you think can be done about this disturbing trend? Drop me an e-mail atgerry.fey@erickson.comor leave a comment here. Related Materials: New York Times article about growing number of youth sports-related injuries.

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I agree. And the youth leagues as a concept are not to blame either. It's the adults that screw them up. I think these leagues have value for kids, but I'm with you Dasch-hound.

I think I may have learned more about relationships, imagination, cooperation, and getting along with people when I was playing in the neighborhood than I did on the baseball field.

If we as adults would stop talking out of both sides of our mouths, we might be able to teach our kids lessons of sportsmanship and acceptance.

Kudos to you, gerryf, for making it a point to teach your kids the concept of good sportsmanship. Pass it on! (Now, if only other adults would do the same.)

Hi Anne,

If that truly has happened to your 11 year old, then the league and coach should be ashamed of themselves. Unfortunately, I do know that this can happen. Maybe if you explained to your child that he might enjoy this other league better, he might understand the change. It is sad when children get in the middle of adult disputes.

That said, I wouldn't downplay the value of a youth league building community between parents. I know that some of my parents' best friendships were formed through the Little League I played for in Omaha, NE. In fact, those friendships are as strong today as they were then. I also think that if the atmosphere is solid in the youth league, parents forming a community can really look out for kids. I also think that kind of thing is missing from our society these days.

Kids sports are a great primer for life in general. There are winners and losers in life, just like in a baseball game. Baseball or any other sport should not be PC'd with participation trophies and everybody being a winner as it cuts the legs out from underneath the kids. Work hard and you will be rewarded, it truly is that simple. Without winners and losers the desire to achieve is diminished. However, there is a problem in kids sports and it's the parents. Often times its the parents that are living vicariously through their children and hoping to realize their unfulfilled dreams from childhood. This is in large part what destroys the experience for kids. There is no team building in most kids sports, it's all individual recognition and effort for their kids and their kids alone.

When did we stop letting kids be kids? Childhood can be (and should be) such a precious and magical time, and it seems we grown-ups have gone out of our way to turn children into mini-adults--making them participate in all sorts of organized sports and activities, dressing them up for pageants, scheming to get them in the best schools (and they're not even out of diapers yet!).

I remember running around in the neighborhood with lots of unstructured play time. I remember going to pick-up ball games and more structured league games, but the tone was more about having a good time and playing hard, not winning at all costs and having to perform perfectly.

It's not the kids' fault. Grown-ups have to stop being so self-centered, trying to fulfill their own unrealized ambitions through their children.

I agree but the question is how to stop it. It seems sports for kids has become more of a social network for adults?? Your kid makes the team if you as the parent are liked enough?? My 11 year old just got taken off his rep baseball team that he just made for a 4th year because, essentially, the coaches wife does not like me, oh and she happens to be the team manager. Now my 11 year old has to try out for an new town with kids he does not know and is crying about it, what do I do let him quit his fav sport? I played team sports growing up and my parents barely knew who the other parents were or even the coaches at most times, back then it was really about the kids.

It's the coaches egos that ruin the sports. The sports are for the kids, not the coaches or parents It's turned into a political game.

It seems this is on old post, but I would like to add my two cents. My son plays 10-12 year old baseball, and there are approx 16 kids on the team. The coach has been telling my son that he hasn't started any of the games because he hasn't been there when they make the starting line up. I intentionally left work early yesterday to get him to the field early. He was the fourth kid to arrive at the field, yet he still did not start in the game.

He was put in during the third inning and removed after the fifth inning so he could get in his two required innings. There is one head coach and six assistant coaches. My son's Dad is one of the assistant coaches, yet my son is the only coach's son that hasn't started a game yet. Don't get me wrong, my son is not the best on the team, nor is he the worst. And not only is my son playing ONLY the required innings, but there are other kids on the team that are only in for the required innings as well.

I think the coaches lying to the players and making excuses for them not playing is inexcusable. I am considering sending my son to another team next year, but like the post above, I think he'll be upset to leave his friends. I think this is sending our kids the wrong message. Oh, and by the way, our team hasn't won any games yet this season. Perhaps the kids would be more inclined to do their best if they all had equal playing time?

It is supposed to be about having fun, getting exercise, learning to play and support each other as a team, learning how to play the game, and learning good sportsmanship. It's not about winning.

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