By Ken Reed
I often say there’s too much “adult” in youth sports.
It’s parents and coaches that push kids to specialize in a single sport at age 9 or 10, which too often leads to overuse injuries and emotional burnout. It’s parents and coaches that bring win-at-all-cost (WAAC) attitudes to youth sports fields, courts and ice rinks when kids just want to play with friends and have fun (and maybe get an ice cream cone after the game). It’s parents and coaches that focus on college athletic scholarships for young athletes despite statistics that show that only one to two percent of high school senior athletes get any type of financial aid for sports. The percentage of kids that get full-ride scholarships is well under one percent. It’s parents and coaches that act like military drill sergeants with children, driving them to drop out of competitive sports in droves before high school.
What’s going on here?
“A lot of parents have a belief that says, ‘How well my kid does on the field reflects on me as a parent,’” says Jim Thompson, founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance. “One of my mentors, John Gardner, once said, ‘The toughest thing kids have to face is the unfulfilled lives of their parents.’ I think there’s a lot of truth in that.”
Psychologists have dubbed this Achievement-By-Proxy Syndrome. It’s a condition in which adults try to make up for their own stunted athletic careers by trying to live out their personal goals and dreams through children.
As a whole, our youth sports system is broken. As our performance culture increasingly focuses on the development of elite athletes at the youth sports level (in many cases, at the expense of a “sports for all” philosophy that would significantly help address our country’s childhood obesity epidemic), our kids are getting hurt physically and burned out emotionally at a greater clip, and at an earlier age, than ever before.
Research shows that nearly 80 percent of all children who play adult-organized youth sports drop out by the time they’re 13. The reason most often cited by kids is that it’s no longer fun. The primary reason it’s no longer fun? Overzealous adults, in the form of parents and/or coaches.
Too many youth sports parents and coaches are pushing their kids too hard, and in the process, taking the passion and joy out of sports.
It’s important to note that finding sports fun is highly correlated with good performance.
As sociologist Alfie Kohn notes,” Nothing, according to the research, predicts excellence like finding the task fun.”
The bottom line is, youth sports parents and coaches need to focus less on winning and more on sports as a vehicle to build teamwork and leadership abilities, improve sports skills, enhance fitness, promote healthy lifestyles, gain experiences that teach lifetime lessons and shape values, develop friendships, and yes, to have fun.
— 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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