By Ken Reed
Youth sports are popular year-round, but especially so when kids are on summer break from school. Baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, and even summer basketball and volleyball leagues and tournaments, are all going at full speed right now.
When we talk about youth sports, we’re typically talking about organized youth sports. And that means adults are running the show. If I’ve learned anything from playing youth sports, coaching youth sports, researching youth sports, writing about youth sports and even doing a short documentary about youth sports, it’s that there’s TOO MUCH ADULT IN YOUTH SPORTS.
Adults — usually well-meaning — tend to put too much pressure on kids, which leads to early sports specialization, overuse injuries, emotional burn out, and 80% of kids dropping out of youth sports by the time they reach age 13. The primary reason kids give for quitting? It’s not fun. And why isn’t it fun anymore? Their top answers have to do with overzealous and overbearing adults — parents and coaches.
The following comments are from kids about their sports experiences. It’s a Top 10 list, in reverse order, of kids’ advice for parents (as gleaned from comments by Sports Illustrated for Kids readers). There are lessons here for all parents and coaches of young athletes:
You many not want to hear this but most kids have a lot to say about their parents’ involvement in their sports lives, especially what they don’t like about it.
10. During car rides to games or practice, kids don’t want you to tell them how to do this or that. “I am not stupid,” said one 12-year old.
9. Kids can get psyched for a game without your help. “I hate when parents say, ‘Are you ready? We’re going to win, ‘like they’re playing,” said one kid.
8. It’s your duty as a parent to sit quietly and watch your kids do wonderful things. Kids get bummed out when you miss games or yak it up too much with friends in the stands, “We’re sweating and playing the game, and they’re busy socializing,” complained one girl.
7. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, kids don’t want you to talk. Typical comments: “Parents think they know the rules, but they don’t.” My mom asks annoying questions.” And “I hate when my mom tells me to do things even when she doesn’t know the first thing about sports.”
6. Even if you do know what you’re talking about, kids don’t want you to talk (unless you’re the coach). “I hate when parents tell us to do the exact opposite of what the coaches say,” said one child. Added another: “If your parent isn’t the coach, he or she shouldn’t try to be one.”
5. Kids wish you would practice what you preach about sportsmanship. “My mom always wants me to be a ‘good sport,’ but a lot of the time she blames the loss on the ref,” claimed one kid. “Arguing with the refs is not only embarrassing, but it takes up time,” said another.
4. Kids often can’t hear you yelling when they’re concentrating on the game. Sometimes, they can. Either way, they don’t like it. “Parents yell advice you don’t -hear because you’re so into playing the game. Afterward they say, ‘Why didn’t you listen to me?” complained one child. Said others: “I feel embarrassed when my parents yell so loud that the whole town can hear.” And “They yell and scream and look like dorks.”
3. After they lose, kids don’t want to be told it doesn’t matter. Typical reactions: “I hate when we get knocked out of the playoffs and my parents say, ‘You’ll get them next time!” and “When parents try to cheer you up after a loss, all they do-is remind you of the score.”
2. After they lose, kids don’t want to be told that it does matter. “Parents take losses harder than we do,” wrote one boy. And one girl: “You win some, you lose some, no big deal! Get over it!”
1. Kids just want to have fun. Parents just don’t get this, kids say. Many kids would rather play on a losing team than sit on the bench on a winning one. “The thing that bugs me the most is that my parents take it too seriously,” summed up one child. “They act like it is school.”
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
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, and has a long involvement with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport (now called the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition). We discuss the state of college athletics today, given the pressures of NIL, the transfer portal, sports gambling and huge media contracts. McMillen then provides great perspective on the poor state of physical fitness our young people are experiencing today.
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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.
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.
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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