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 #10 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: An Issues Discussion With Paul Dolan – Dolan is the Cleveland Indians Owner and CEO. He discusses the use of Native American names and logos by sports teams and the decisions to drop the Chief Wahoo logo and the upcoming change to the team name. Other baseball topics include health and safety, possible MLB rule changes and youth participation in the sport.
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Episode #9 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Issues With Ralph Nader – Nader is a consumer advocate and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century” by Time magazine. He is the founder of League of Fans.
Episode #8 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Save College Sports From Overcommercialization and Professionalization? – The guest is Dr. David Ridpath, a sports business professor and past president of the Drake Group
Episode #7 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Brain Trauma and CTE Risk in Sports With Dr. Ann McKee – Dr. McKee works in the field of neuropathology and has demonstrated that “mild” repetitive head trauma can provoke chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a devastating neurodegenerative disease.
Episode #6 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Need for Quality Physical Education in Our Schools is Greater Than Ever – The guest is Clayton Ellis, one of our nation’s leading advocates for getting our young people to be more physically active.
Episode #5 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Youth Sports with Positive Coaching Alliance Founder Jim Thompson – Thompson started Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) in 1998 to help create a movement to transform the culture of youth sports from “win-at-all-costs” to a positive, character-building experience.
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.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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.
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