By Ken Reed

The low-pressure, neighborhood youth sports recreation league is nearly a thing of the past.

According to Linda Flanagan, author of a new book called “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports,” the core issue is that when gobs of money started flowing into youth sports “kids’ sports stopped being for kids.”

Youth sports have become less about what’s best for the kids involved and more about how some adults can make money from youth sports. Here’s the issue in a nutshell: As soon as you add money you change what’s at stake — for kids and parents.

And research reveals that kids hate that money is such a big part of their sports experience. In a study done by the Families in Sport Lab at Utah State University, it was discovered that the more parents spend on their kids’ sports, the less the kids enjoy it and the more pressure they feel.

Flanagan says youth sports are now a $19.2 billion industry. She also says there has been a 90% increase in youth sports spending since 2010. There are many reasons why this has happened but one is youth sports tourism. Travel sports destinations for youth sports teams are a growth industry for entrepreneurs. These facilities — which often include dorms, hotels and restaurants — pull in youth teams from across the country and host mega tournaments at their massive complexes. Parents spend a lot of money to take their kids to these events and the kids feel more pressure as a result. Year-round competitive youth club teams can often cost parents $10,000, or more, per year.

Flanagan believes today’s profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) and win-at-all-costs (WAAC) ethos in youth sports can be mitigated to an extent if coaches and parents begin to focus more on what lessons sports can teach kids — and how those lessons can be applied for the rest of their lives — and a lot less on wins and losses, awards and potential athletic scholarships down the road (a huge long shot). Flanagan suggests parents and coaches ask themselves one key question: What can my youth sport athlete(s) take from this sports season that will help them grow as human beings?

I like that. That’s a great question. Another one is to constantly ask “What’s best for the kids?” throughout the youth sports experience.

Navigating youth sports world is really not that hard once the adults involved stop being driven by their egos and begin to be driven by their souls.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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