Young athletes’ bodies are the casualties of this $19 billion industry
By Ken Reed
I’ve been writing about the dangers of the professionalization of youth sports for more than a decade (e.g., single-sport specialization at a young age, overuse injuries, anxiety and depression in young athletes, entrepreneurs trying to make a living off vulnerable kids, etc.)
So, it is especially frustrating to discover that ACL reconstruction surgeries in youth athletes have increased five-fold — five fold! — in the last decade. The professionalization of youth sports trend is definitely going in the wrong direction.
The current episode of HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel has an excellent, albeit scary, segment on the professionalization of youth sports and the serious injuries that result.
HBO reports that youth sports is now a $19 billion industry. One of the results of the over-commercialization of youth sports is pressure on kids to specialize in one sport at 10 years old or younger. Specialization often means 11 months a year, or more, of non-stop, daily training in a particular sport. It also means expensive club teams traveling to big youth sports tournaments. In addition, it can entail private personal training sessions on top of team practices.
Increasingly, these demanding sport specialization schedules mean kids are pushing their young bodies until they give out. Orthopedic surgeons now report that ACL and other major surgeries are becoming common place for athletes ages 8-18.
One surgeon in the HBO special said the injuries, and resultant surgeries, are the result of “trying to be professional athletes at age nine.”
HBO reported that research reveals that kids that specialize in a single sport are more than twice as likely to have serious injuries than kids that don’t.
Young athletes that diversify their sports participation have better health outcomes. Moreover, multi-sport athletes also end up doing better in the sport they ultimately choose to focus on in later years than the athletes who specialize early.
Youth sports coaches, administrators, entrepreneurs, and even some parents, that promote early sports specialization are pushing a dangerous illusion.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
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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.
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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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