Project Play Promotes 10 Steps to Improve the U.S. Youth Sports System
By Ken Reed
At this point, the problems with the American youth sports system are well-known: it’s too expensive; the economic gap between the haves and have-nots is growing; specialization in a single sport is happening at younger and younger ages; overuse injuries are becoming more common, overbearing adults (parents and coaches) continue to take the fun out of sports for kids; high school sports participation is declining, physical education classes are becoming an endangered species; and the country faces an officials shortage due to the abuse officials face from fans and coaches.
The humongous challenge we face is how to effectively address these issues in a chaotic Wild Wild West youth sports environment — an environment in which there isn’t a national sports commission or federal organization to establish youth sports policy (like most Western countries have.)
Recently, Tom Farrey, founder and executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program, including the program’s Project Play youth sports initiative, wrote an excellent piece outlining 10 steps that if followed could vastly improve the youth sports system in the United States. It is well worth taking a few minutes to read.
Within the article, Farrey highlights several organizations that are getting youth sports right, including the Cincinnati Recreation Commission, which requires youth sports organizations that rent their facilities to require coaches to participate in four-hour sessions that cover first aid and basic skills, plus sections on organizing and running practices, communicating with parents, and treating children responsibly.
Farrey contends that in the absence of a national sports commission, American youth sports policy needs to start with the National Governing Bodies (NGBs) responsible for developing more than 50 sports in the country. That responsibility includes “serving as the ‘coordinating body for amateur sport activity’ at all levels, supporting research on sports medicine and safety, and growing participation rates.” Unfortunately, serving in that role is an unfunded mandate. As such, going forward, the NGBs should be funded by a federal agency, or perhaps the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, to carry out that mission.
Farrey’s essay has many other good ideas for improving the youth sports system. The challenge will be finding ways to coordinate and integrate ideas like the ones he proposes. Farrey recognizes the enormity of the challenge, but also its importance.
“Look, I’m under no illusions about the challenge of adjusting the model,” writes Farrey.
“There are plenty of entrenched interests fearful of change. But this much I also know from talking with thousands of leaders at all levels in sports over two decades: Just about everyone thinks we can do better.
“Give them a seat at the table to work on the puzzle, and let’s see what they can do.”
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
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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, 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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