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 #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan in the year 2022.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
Episode #20 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Coaching Youth and High School Sports Based On What’s Best for the Athlete’s Holistic Development – We chat with long-time youth, high school and college basketball coach Jim Huber.
Episode #19 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Capturing the Spirit of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League with Anika Orrock – We discuss the hoops AAGPFL women had to jump through to play the game they loved as well as the long-term impact and legacy they have in advancing sports opportunities for girls and women.
Episode #18 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking about the 50th Anniversary of Title IX and the Lia Thomas Controversy with Nancy Hogshead-Makar – Hogshead-Makar is a triple gold medalist in swimming, a civil rights attorney and CEO of Champion Women.
Episode #17 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports With Legendary New York Times Sports Columnist Robert Lipsyte – We chat about Lipsyte’s amazing career and some of the athletes he covered.
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.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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