“Knowledge is power.”
— Sir Francis Bacon
I spent a number of hours this past week looking through some of the most recommended and trusted youth sports websites. There are hundreds — if not thousands — more, but these contain important information and views and will lead you in any direction you wish to follow.
So while this writer (oh, no — he didn’t just refer to himself in the third-person) uses the following week to take a deep breath and let the fast-twitch muscles in his typing fingers recover, please discover what others are saying about the present state of youth sports.
If you have a topic you’d like to discuss or are interested in joining our panel of concerned parents, coaches, and league administrators, send me an email.
You can’t lobby for change — whether it is rules, philosophies, or safety measures — by hiding behind your Oakleys. Let me see the fire in those eyes!
The National Alliance for Youth Sports: Of the roughly 40 million boys and girls playing sports in America, approximately 75 percent will drop out by the time they are 13. According to a University of Maryland critical survey on youth and sports in America, every year the attrition rate is 35 percent, and by the age of 11, most of the better players will get channeled off to select travel team opportunities. Read more about how to decrease the dropout rate in youth sports.
Regis Tremblay (www.thecenterforkidsfirst.org): More than 40 million young athletes participate in youth sports.
1. Four million unpaid and untrained volunteers coach them.
2. The prevailing youth sports system in the U.S. has been organized and run by well-meaning parents using a business model that focuses on “products, results, and the bottom line,” instead of one that places the needs and wants of children first. It is a system that is rife with ugly political agendas that harm kids and polarize adults. John Gerdy, in his recent book, Sports: The All-American Addiction, says: “Our expectations regarding sportsmanship have become so low as to be virtually nonexistent.” The belief that organized sports build character, contribute in positive ways toward education, and improve the health of the general population is completely unfounded.
3. Hardly anyone believes that sports teach integrity, respect, ethics, and fair play. In fact, everywhere we look, we see just the opposite. Problems on the collegiate and professional levels find their roots in a system that selects the best and forgets the rest. The time is ripe for systemic change that deals with the causes and not just the symptoms of these problems. The most appropriate way to address the issue is through the formation of a not-for-profit organization with broad community support that can collaborate with other similar organizations throughout the country.
The July issue of Pediatrics: Carries a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics offering guidelines to protect children who specialize in one sport from "negative physical, physiologic and psychosocial effects that may result from intense training and competition." Great call! Many parents — including some like ourselves whose children are committed athletes — recognize how out of control the youth sports scene has become. Even on the elementary school level, kids' sports can rival pro leagues in intensity. Youngsters work out with personal trainers in the offseason. We cheer the news that an organization with the AAP's clout and prestige is providing parents with ammunition to resist this intense, destructive competition.
Mark Hyman (www.untilithurts.com): Near the end of a long season, 14-year-old baseball pitcher Ben Hyman approached his father with disappointing, if not surprising, news: his pitching shoulder was tired. With each throw to home plate, he felt a twinge in his still maturing arm. Any doctor would have advised the young boy to take off the rest of the season. Author Mark Hyman sent his son out to pitch the next game. After all, it was playoff time. Stories like these are not uncommon. Over the last 75 years, adults have staged a hostile takeover of kids' sports. In 2003 alone, more than 3.5 million children under 15 required medical treatment for sports injuries, nearly half of which were the result of simple overuse. The quest to turn children into tomorrow's superstar athletes has often led adults to push them beyond physical and emotional limits.
Bob Bigelow (www.bobbigelow.com/book.html): Bigelow calls for meeting the needs of all of our kids, rather than adults' needs to compete through our children. He argues that we need to seriously reconsider elite travel teams, especially for younger kids. These can create overuse injuries and burn-out, and discriminate against late-blooming young athletes. Just Let the Kids Play goes well beyond typical calls for better coaching, training, and improved sportsmanship. In his book, Bob offers practical ways for creating new approaches to play that better serve the physical and emotional needs of our children.