By Ken Reed
Youth sports entrepreneurs want to get into parents’ pockets. And parents are afraid of their kids getting left behind in the youth sports rat race.
Greed and fear is a toxic combination and it’s hurting our young people.
J.J. Adams had an excellent feature article on this topic in the Vancouver Sun recently.
Adams interviewed several youth sports experts and medical professionals about the issues leading to overuse injuries and emotional burnout in our youth athlete population.
“The business of sport has become big, and it feeds off the primary human motivators: fear and greed,” says Matt Young, a fitness company innovator. “Every parent has a fear of missing out.”
And greedy youth sports entrepreneurs (sport trainers, club sports administrators, showcase and travel tournament organizers, etc.) continue to sprout up to tap that fear for their own financial gain — well-being of the kids be damned.
“The elephant in the room is the $15-billion-a-year industry that is youth sports,” says Dr. Tommy John, son of the former Major League Baseball pitcher who made history by being the first to undergo the experimental tendon surgery named for him. “It’s billions of dollars that people are gaining putting out a message that states, ‘Your son or daughter must compete year-round … compete early on, specialize early on,’ ” he said.
“It’s a fear campaign coming at the parent who only wants the best for their kid. Their biggest fault is they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get the best for their kid. Unfortunately, they don’t understand it’s not the appropriate way a human develops, nor is it the healthiest manner of going about creating the best athlete possible. But we’re dealing with a billion-dollar industry. So not only are we having to rehab them orthopedically, they’re also seeking psychiatric care for anxiety, attention deficit and depression that stems from them trying to overachieve early on, before they’re even able to.”
It’s sad stuff. We’re breaking our kids. And our adultification of youth sports is driving kids out of adult-organized youth sports leagues at a fast rate. According to an Aspen Institute study, there’s been a 23.5% drop in U.S. athletes, ages 6-12, over a five-year period.
The reason most often cited by kids who drop out? It’s not fun anymore.
“The adultification of sports has left out who it’s supposed to serve — those young men and women,” says Young.
At the foundation of the multi-faceted youth sports problem is early specialization in a single sport. Single-sport specialization is driven by adults — parents and coaches — not the kids themselves. When asked, kids say they would rather play multiple sports vs. playing a single sport year-round.
“We’re not only depriving them of an opportunity to play other sports and activities, but what about things like band, art, drama, music, computer science, reading — all of that stuff that should help them become well-rounded people?” asks Glen Mulcahy, founder of Paradigm Sports, a resource for coaches and parents.
“If they specialize, they don’t have the time for any of it. We’re making them little robots, really early, and it’s no wonder they burn out really fast.”
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans, why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks, and the fact the vast majority of players are for more protective netting in stadiums.
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Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
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.
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.”
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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