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


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