By Ken Reed

There is no legitimate reason that kids, ages 10-12, need to travel across the country to play in a soccer, basketball, baseball or softball tournament. But it happens all the time in today’s world of youth sports.

Youth sports vultures (aka entrepreneurs) understand that parents — mostly of the middle-class suburban variety — want their “elite” youth sports athletes to have the very best. Boy or girl, it doesn’t matter, there are virtually year-round travel and select teams across the country to feed off parent egos. And many of these elite youth club teams aren’t confined to traveling by good old fashioned vans and SUVs. Some elite boys and girls soccer teams now travel by airplane to major cities around their region to play tournament and — believe it or not — league games.

In effect, these kids are being professionalized before their young bodies and minds can handle it. The results too often aren’t pretty: emotional burnout, overuse injuries, and kids dropping out of sports by age 13 because the fun is gone.

Why is this happening?

“A lot of parents have a belief that says, ‘How well my kid does on the field reflects on me as a parent,'” says Jim Thompson, founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance. “One of my mentors, John Gardner, once said, ‘The toughest thing kids have to face is the unfulfilled lives of their parents.’ I think there’s a lot of truth in that.”

A couple years ago, ESPN’s Tim Keown wrote one of the best columns I’ve read on the insanity of youth sports. “The days of simply playing ball with your friends is over,” wrote Keown.

“It’s a different world out there for the preteen athlete, with ‘Elite’ and ‘Select’ commonly turning up in the names of our youth sports teams and leagues. We’re having tryouts for 10-and-under traveling baseball teams, and we’ve got 10-and-under basketball teams traveling the country playing against other fourth-graders at God knows what cost to the parents’ bank accounts and the kids’ psyches. All in the name of … what? Trophies? Exposure? A leg up on a college scholarship? The egos of the parents?”

Here’s the kicker: Well over 50% of these kids burn out –emotionally or physically — by high school. Of the “elite” players that are still playing, a lot of them have been passed by kids who physically simply matured later.

“Here’s what the dream-peddlers don’t tell you: Anyone who has spent more than five innings watching 10-year-olds play baseball — or one half of a basketball game — knows that athletic ability in a kid that young is directly related to physical maturity,” wrote Keown. “The kid with hair under his arms in sixth grade is going to hit the baseball farther than the prepubescent kid who can’t get out of the dugout without tripping over his own feet. It’s really not that hard.”

It’s a crazy youth sports world out there. Parents, beware of the youth sports vultures and your own egos.

What really is in the best interests of your child long-term?

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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