By Ken Reed
What’s best for the kids?
Whenever I speak to a youth sports organization, I always start with that question: What’s best for the kids?
Too often — in many cases, unintentionally — youth sports administrators, volunteers, parents and coaches let their adult egos drive the policies and decisions they make.
“The only way things will change in youth sports is if enough parents decide they’re going to use another model,” according Jay Coakley, a sports sociologist.
“Things will change in youth sports when parents begin to focus on the well-being of their kids.”
The original intent of youth sports was to assist in the holistic development of children — physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. Instead, young children are being turned into mini-professional athletes. The result is an epidemic of overuse injuries, emotional burnout, and forced sport specialization as early as seven years old.
“We all need to think more deeply about the insanity of our youth sports culture, with its focus on early specialization in one sport, and especially, its seasons without end,” says Michael Sokolove, author of Warrior Girls.
The Aspen Institute’s Project Play initiative unveiled a “Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports” earlier this month. It’s something that is much needed in Youth SportsWorld. It was developed by a group of human rights and sports policy experts. There are eight rights:
1. To play sports: Organizations should make every effort to accommodate children’s interests to participate, and to help them play with peers from diverse backgrounds.
2. To safe and healthy environments: Children have the right to play in settings free from all forms of abuse (physical, emotional, sexual), hazing, violence, and neglect.
3. To qualified program leaders: Children have the right to play under the care of coaches and other adults who pass background checks and are trained in key competencies.
4. To developmentally appropriate play: Children have a right to play at a level commensurate with their physical, mental and emotional maturity, and their emerging athletic ability. They should be treated as young people first, athletes second.
5. To share in the planning and delivery of their activities: Children have the right to share their viewpoints with coaches and for their insights to be incorporated into activities.
6. To an equal opportunity for personal growth: Programs should invest equally in all child athletes, free of discrimination based on any personal or family characteristic.
7. To be treated with dignity: Children have the right to participate in environments that promote the values of sportsmanship, of respect for opponents, officials, and the game.
8. To enjoy themselves: Children have the right to participate in activities they consider fun, and which foster the development of friendships and social bonds.
Project Play leaders are encouraging youth sports administrators, coaches and parents to use these rights as “guardrails” in designing and implementing all youth sport activities.
Above all, adults involved with youth sports need to constantly ask themselves, “What’s best for the kids?” If that question isn’t always top-of-mind, organized youth sports can easily detour into activities to meet the needs and desires of adults. And when that happens, instead of being a positive experience, youth sports can hurt children physically, mentally, emotionally and socially.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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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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