• Sumo

By Ken Reed

The twin forces of WAAC (win-at-all-costs) and PAAC (profit-at-all-costs) continue to damage the integrity of pro, college and high school sports. But they have also severely damaged youth sports. An area that used to be a bastion of innocence no longer is.

There’s too much adult in youth sports and it’s hurting our kids.

Less than a quarter of America’s children, ages 6 to 12, participate in youth sports these days. There are many reasons why participation is so low but they are all based on adults focusing on their own needs and interests rather than what’s best for the kids.

Youth sports are filled with unqualified coaches who spend more time with young children than their school teachers do. They are too often WAAC coaches who derive a lot of self-esteem based off their win-loss records in youth sports. Youth sports entrepreneurs — or vultures as I call them — are using kids as income enhancers via club travel teams, showcase tournaments, camps, personal training, etc. The sad fact is youth sports have become professionalized and over-commercialized.

One outcome of this situation is that kids from low-income households play sports half as often as children from homes earning $100,000+. These low-income kids are three times as likely to be physically inactive and that inactivity hurts their academic performance and leads to more health (e.g., obesity) and behavioral problems.

“If we’re really looking at being a more inclusive and healthier society, we should probably get these kids playing together more out on the field — everybody, not just certain populations that can afford it,” says Lisa Delpy Neirotti, an associate professor at George Washington University who conducts youth sports research.

Many of the kids whose parents can afford high-cost travel teams and training programs end up quitting because they find sports no longer fun due to overbearing coaches and parents.

Surveys show kids play sports for fun and to hang out with friends. It’s pretty simple. But adult egos subvert those simple desires.

“When you let the adults hijack youth sports, their priorities are going to take the place of what the kids want,” says Bob Bigelow, an author of several books on youth sports problems.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

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