Fear & Greed Continue To Drive Youth Sports Specialization Epidemic
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 #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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