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
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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 and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
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.
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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