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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Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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