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 #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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