By Ken Reed
I have long believed that in the United States there is too much adult in youth sports.
The youth sports model in the U.S. is driven by the ego-based desires of adults (e.g., Win-At-All-Costs, and Profit-At-All-Costs). Coaches and parents focus on winning championships, All-Star recognition, travel teams and college scholarships, even at the youngest ages. Meanwhile, surveys show that kids just want to learn new skills, hang out with friends and have fun.
One country has turned that model on its head: Norway. In Norway, the youth sports model is driven by the needs and desires of kids, not adults.
In a recent piece in The New York Times, Tom Farrey, a journalist, author and expert on youth sports, wrote this about Norwegian youth sports:
Imagine a society in which 93 percent of children grow up playing organized sports. Where costs are low, the economic barriers to entry few, travel teams aren’t formed until the
teenage years — and where adults don’t start sorting the weak from the strong until children have grown into their bodies and interests. Then, the most promising talents become
the most competitive athletes in the world, on a per-capita basis.
That, in a nutshell, is the sports environment in Norway.
Norway has an eight-page policy paper on youth sports entitled, “Children’s Rights in Sports.” It provides the foundation for the entire sports infrastructure in Norway. It outlines the type of sports experience that every child in the country should be provided, including coaching styles and techniques, safety measures and ways to encourage friendship-building. Most notably, the document stresses the importance of youth sports being youth-driven, not adult-driven.
“We believe the motivation of children in sport is much more important than that of the parent or coach,” says Inge Andersen, former secretary general of the Norwegian sports confederation. “We’re a small country and can’t afford to lose them because sport is not fun.”
Youth sports in the U.S. are increasingly driven by the almighty dollar — e.g., AAU, club and travel teams, showcase tournaments, personal trainers, etc. Public health, whole child development, physical education, recreation, peer relationships and good old-fashioned fun are low priorities.
Given the high burn-out rate and increasing number of overuse injuries in youth sports in this country, it’s certainly past time that the United States develops its own Children’s Rights in Sports-type policy document. And that document should be the foundation underpinning decision-making by all youth and high school sports organizations across the country.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
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.” We discuss overzealous adults in youth sports, the dangers of sport specialization, youth sports entrepreneurs and the profit-at-all-costs mindset, and the growing socio-economic gap in youth sports.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
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.
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.
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.
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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