I’ve written a piece similar to this one called “The Importance of Youth Sports: A Building Block for Success”, in which I describe how important youth athletics are to the growth of the our next generations. Here, I want to describe how conventional, fundamental youth leagues are being brought down by commercialism and a high value on competition, trophies, and winning.
Coaching youth football has been a special opportunity for me. I get the chance to not only work around and teach a sport that I am truly passionate about, but I also get to positively influence values and cooperative skills for a team full of kids.
I’ve coached youth football for four years now and I love it- however, I have noticed a decline in participation. When I played, in the same organization, practice fields and parking lots were filled. Now, there are empty spots in the grass, and plenty of spaces to park. What is happening?
Now more than ever, children experience an immense pressure to perform from their parents. According to Christina Corbin’s 2019 Fox News Article, Experts Cite ‘bully parents’ in Decline in Youth Sports Participation Nationwide, she uses a direct quote from clinical Sports Psychologist Dr. Marshall Mintz to give insight on what parents are doing to their kids. Mintz states that he’s seen “young athletes who throw up on the way to games because of the pressure they’re experiencing”.
This sort of issue is very detrimental to a child’s success. It is very important for youth sports to serve as a fun way for children to learn essential life and team-building skills, which is not possible if they are forced to feel like they need to excel beyond unrealistic standards.
Another threat to the foundation of youth sports has been the commercialism of the platform. Instead of simply providing local teams for kids to come play for (despite talent level or financial issues), there are now “elite” level organizations that are forcing traditional youth leagues into extinction.
Jack Urquhart’s 2015 piece for Universe Narratives (BYU University) highlights the extreme elitist groups and how they are ruining youth league sports. He points out that elite leagues were “created to give kids opportunities to play more games against better teams, and travel further to do so” which has lead to the industrialization of youth sports ( a now 17 million dollar industry according to Fox).
This not only corrupts league owners with the thought of profit, but it takes away from the old-school values of helping children learn and have fun doing so. By creating these groups and favoring them for the competition, society then is excluding those are aren’t seen as “talented enough” and also preventing those without the proper financing an opportunity to play. Why should we only value those with talent and money? What does that teach our youth? Do we really want them to feel as if they aren’t good enough to play because their parents can’t afford to put them in AAU basketball leagues?
This problem is only growing worse, as kids continue to feel discouraged when it comes to participating in sports. Jeremy Engle wrote an article in 2019 for the New York Times about the decline of youth athletics in America. He shows us a horrible truth- “children from age 6 to 12 who regularly participated in an organized team sport declined to 37 percent in 2017 from 45 percent in 2008”. He also states that”80 percent of youth athletes quit sports by age 15”, which just shows the accumulation effects of parent pressures and over competitive leagues.
Overall, we need to recognize the issue that is at hand- youth sports are dying. No, not as an industry, but the values that should be taught through this platform are definitely being impacted in a troubling way. Instead of learning key life skills, kids are being overworked and fed the thought that they need to achieve greatness.
Coaching, just as any leadership role, comes with responsibilities. At a youth level, winning should NOT be held above all. Instead, it should be more about learning ways to stay in shape, figuring out how to handle adversity while using teamwork to overcome it, and to even just have fun playing a game.
Things will only get worse as these children progress. We see Asia Mape state in her 2019 article for USA Today High School Sports that “1 in 5 teens suffer from clinical depression”, which could very well be correlated to the toll sports have taken on their young minds. If kids are faced with performance pressures at a young age, then it will surely carry over into the next level. Then on top of being scared that they won’t play well, they also have to handle the increased pressures to maintain their GPA in school, perform well in a work setting, and balance a social life.
Sports should be a fun form of learning- not a source of extreme pressure to perform. If we continue to encourage competition and devalue the educational aspect, we will create a system in which youth sports will break down fundamentally. Help stop the issue and help make a difference. I have put my everything into giving back to my local youth football organization as a coach- and if you were an athlete or even just know enough to influence kids in a positive direction, then you can give back too.
Corbin, Cristina. “Experts Cite ‘bully Parents’ in Decline in Youth Sports Participation Nationwide.” Fox News, 30 May 2019, https://www.foxnews.com/sports/experts-cite-bully-parents-in-decline-in-youth-sports-participation.
Engle, Jeremy. “Are Youth Sports Too Competitive?” The New York Times, 1 May 2019. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/01/learning/are-youth-sports-too-competitive.html.
“How the Pressure to Be Perfect Affects Kids, and What Parents Can Do about It.” USA TODAY High School Sports, 14 May 2019, https://usatodayhss.com/2019/how-the-pressure-to-be-perfect-affects-kids-and-what-parents-can-do-about-it.
The Decline of Youth Sports and the Efforts to Save Them « Universe Narratives. https://universe.byu.edu/narratives/decline-of-youth-sports/. Accessed 22 Sept. 2019.