Youth sports in America has lost its innocence. The awful truth is, what once seemed pure and incorruptible has become more like a monopolized business. Somewhere along the road youth sports transitioned away from “the love of the game”. Teaching sportsmanship and social development through sport has taken a back seat to business and the dominance of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).
It’s not clear exactly when the transition occurred but there was a 8me when our kids gathered at the local playground or park for spirited pickup games, free of interruption by parents and coaches. It seems those days are long gone, everything seems supervised and scripted today. The best athletes are constantly recruited and cherry picked from their local communities to form Super Teams, where the message is all about winning. I understand being recruited.
Another effect of the AAU era is the sport specific direction young athletes are steered to pursue. As a youth, I participated in ALL sports, rolling from one to the next as the seasons changed. I played baseball in the spring/summer, football and soccer in the fall and completed the cycle with basketball during the winter months. Today kids are encouraged to pick one sport and in some instances forced to participate year long.
In my opinion, that philosophy can be detrimental to the development of our youth in many ways. Including the following:
- It diminishes the fun factor and the sport becomes more like a job
- Lack of total athletic development – different sports can enhance different skill sets
- Socialization – broadening the circle of friends and teammates youngsters encounter
- Undo pressure to perform by Coaches and even more importantly Parents.
My hope is that it’s not too late to correct some of the issues facing youth sports in America, but change has to come from us as parents first and foremost. As a father my goal is to show my young son how sports can teach many valuable life lessons. NOT to force him into developing into an elite athlete so that he can land a huge shoe contract. I will continue to encourage him to experience and participate in all types of athletic activities with the ul8mate goal of having fun.