The Ten Biggest Problems With Youth Sports
By John Yeigh
The ten biggest problems with youth sports. I adore youth sports for the many positive benefits they provide the athletes. As a sports advocate, former corporate manager, youth sports parent, and coach, I always aspire to live up to my favorite quote: John Wooden’s “A good coach can change a game, a great coach can change a life.”
Yet, I am often troubled by some of the unnecessary challenges we impose on youth athletes and their families. Here are the ten biggest problems with youth sports
- Why do we adult mentors not ensure that every team member plays at least a few minutes, innings, halves, or events of every competition? Is winning so important that we must destroy the psyche of those children we allow to be permanently parked on the bench? I get that competitive sports do not guarantee equal playing time, but zero playing time is abusive, especially at younger ages.
- Why do we drive children across four states to play a single league game when similarly competitive teams are an hour’s drive or less? Travel sports have increasingly become more about travel and less about sports. Spending more time in a car seat than on the field, court, or pool does nothing to promote youth development.
- Why do we have national rankings beginning as early as six years old? Rankings do nothing to promote development and mostly promote a false sense of achievement. Besides, rankings are inherently flawed due to the limited result cross-comparisons, exclusion of those that cannot afford to accumulate points, and potential for “gaming” many ranking systems. Sorting youth players or teams into comparable buckets of relative ability to foster competitive play is probably the only reason for an ordering of playing levels at early ages.
- Why do parents and organizers tolerate coaches who incessantly scream and yell? We somehow accept obvious bullying and toxic behavior either for the sake of winning or under some false precept of building toughness and character. Intimidation of children is never warranted as it undermines confidence and ultimately impedes success.
- Why do we force kids to play in as many as four back-to-back tournament games over a two-day weekend? We regularly subject children to double the levels of acceptable professional competition without appropriate recovery time. Excessive competition leads to a hugely diminished level of play, a significant increase in injury risk, and an escalation of potential burnout.
- Why do we scream at the referees or umpires? Sure, referees make mistakes, but we must keep in mind that youth sports are about kids playing games. Without referees, there is no game.
- Why do team organizers schedule so many tournaments requiring expensive travel, hotel, and food costs, plus huge family time commitments when closer-to-home alternatives are available? Some underlying reasons may be totally unrelated to development, such as to gain unnecessary ranking points, provide a false sense of team status, satisfy parental pressures for vicarious prestige, accumulate hotel travel points, or experience an expense-paid trip for the organizer.
- Why do we force kids to commit to a single sport and to sub-specialize to specific positions as early as age eight? Research consistently shows that early specialization is not ideal. It leads to repetitive use injuries, less well-rounded athletic development, increased emotional stress, and burnout.
- Why do we allow sports organizations to subject kids to adult-sized constraints at pre-pubescent ages? Children can be transitioned to full-sized playing parameters too early: length of game time\substitution rules; the size of fields and courts; size & weight of balls, bats, and sticks; the height of nets; and most particularly, implementation of adult collision rules.
- Why do some sports organizers run amuck with excessive and mandated ancillary expenses? These can include supplemental training; expensive uniform or equipment requirements; compulsory fundraiser participation; and specific meal, hotel, or vendor obligations. Many incremental expenses do not contribute toward youth development and are financially non-inclusive.
These ten WHY’s represent some of the most egregious youth-sport issues, and unfortunately, there are even more. My book, Win the Youth Sports Game identifies a total of 54 challenges and hurdles that youth athletes can encounter throughout their sports journeys.
We parents, coaches, and mentors own these WHY’s – we should work to fix them at every opportunity.
John Yeigh is an advocate, coach, and
sports parent who writes frequently on youth-sport issues.
To read more from John, check out his book, Win the Youth Sports Game.
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