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
Sports Forum Podcast
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 long-time member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
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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.
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.”
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.
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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