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 #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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