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
Sports Forum Podcast
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, with over 150 camps in 30+ U.S. states and Canada. We discuss problems in youth sports today, including single sport specialization, the growing gap between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the high drop-out rate in competitive sports, and the growing mental health challenges young athletes are dealing with today.
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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.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
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.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
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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