By Ken Reed
The Huffington Post
October 10, 2014
Young athletes, ages 10-14, are often putting in more time on their sport than professional athletes do.
Pediatric orthopedic surgeon, Ron J. Tucker, who’s done a plethora of ACL knee surgeries on young athletes, says the paradigm has changed from kids growing up “playing” sports to becoming professionalized athletes.
Super-organized, adult-driven youth sports leagues and tournaments have replaced pick-up games, where kids organize the action by calling all their friends and telling them to meet in the park in 30 minutes to play a game.
Adults — coaches, parents, league administrators, sport trainers, etc. — pressure kids that show some talent for a sport, to show “commitment” by specializing in a single sport.
As a result, Tucker is seeing a lot more repetitive stress injuries in young athletes. These types of injuries were once quite rare in children.
The issue of coaches and parents obsessing about all-state teams, scholarships and pro contracts has become so commonplace that psychiatrists have dubbed the condition Achievement by Proxy Syndrome.
Once again, as is the case with virtually every contemporary sports issue, the reason for this problem is WAAC and PAAC: win-at-all-costs and profit-at-all-costs thinking.
Youth sports are now big business. More and more adults are making their livings off of kids playing games. And a lot of these adults are pressuring kids to specialize in a single sport in order to excel and earn college scholarships — and maybe pro sports riches. This despite evidence that shows that specialization is counterproductive to those very goals.
“Counter to the prevailing notion that early specialization is key to a pro career, studies show that future elites actually practice less on average in their eventual sports than near-elites and that most U.S.-born big leaguers play multiple sports through high school,” says Sports Illustrated writer Alexandra Fenwick.
David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, contends that research shows elite athletes typically play multiple sports in their youth.
Moreover, studies show that kids who specialize in a single sport before age 16 experience more overuse injuries, more emotional burnout (often resulting in the child giving up the sport completely), and have less time for family activities.
As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics has come out against youth sports specialization. Therefore, kids — and their parents – who focus on one sport before they’re old enough to drive a car are going against doctors’ orders.
It’s time for a serious reality check for everyone involved. What are the odds of a kid actually getting an athletic scholarship or playing pro ball?
Statisticians believe that you have a better chance of being murdered than becoming a professional athlete. The odds of landing a full-ride Division I athletic scholarship are a little better but not much.
When you consider overuse injuries, emotional burnout, and research studies that reveal that kids who specialize in a single sport don’t have a better chance of earning a college athletic scholarship, the question becomes “Why are we doing this to our kids?”
The answer may simply be that what we’re doing collectively as adults in the United States when it comes to youth sports is a classic case of cultural insanity.
As a society, we need to start focusing more on sports as a vehicle to build teamwork and leadership abilities, improve sports skills, enhance fitness and health, gain experiences that teach lifetime lessons and shape values, develop friendships — some for a lifetime — and have fun (what kids want most from sports participation), and less — much less — on scholarships, pro contracts and gold medals.
Until we do, Youth Sports World will continue to be a place where common sense too often goes to die.
Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans.
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Episode #8 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Save College Sports From Overcommercialization and Professionalization? – The guest is Dr. David Ridpath, a sports business professor and past president of the Drake Group
Episode #7 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Brain Trauma and CTE Risk in Sports With Dr. Ann McKee – Dr. McKee works in the field of neuropathology and has demonstrated that “mild” repetitive head trauma can provoke chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a devastating neurodegenerative disease.
Episode #6 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Need for Quality Physical Education in Our Schools is Greater Than Ever – The guest is Clayton Ellis, one of our nation’s leading advocates for getting our young people to be more physically active.
Episode #5 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Youth Sports with Positive Coaching Alliance Founder Jim Thompson – Thompson started Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) in 1998 to help create a movement to transform the culture of youth sports from “win-at-all-costs” to a positive, character-building experience.
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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.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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.
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