Examining the state of youth sports today
A recent video The Six Stages of Youth Sport (above) has gone viral, offering a comedic (and realistic?) view of how families experience youth sports today. Youth sports have become serious business, with increasingly more families spending exorbitant amounts of time and money to support their child’s athletic career. But that’s not all — today’s sports families travel and often miss family and social events, and busy student athletes struggle to find time to participate in school and community clubs and activities — not to mention just hanging out with friends.
With sport specialization, travel leagues, sport burnout, and many more issues for sports parents to deal with, it makes sense to take a closer look at the state of youth sports today. With that said, I will now provide additional depth and analysis in an attempt to go beyond the comedic portrayal of the six stages of youth sports.
The six stages of youth sports (from the video):
1. Total ignorance. The video makes a good point: Youth sports today start early! In fact, serious youth sports start very early, with travel leagues and specialized training now offered to kids in elementary school. The reality (for better or worse) is that if you begin your child in youth sports at age 10, he or she may well be years behind the competition.
2. Just for funsies. Many parents initially sign their kid up for sports with the idea of it being a fun, casual thing to do, but then things change when they notice that their kid appears to be a little better than the rest of the kids on the team. It is at this precise juncture where many parents enter the next stage…
3. Competitive curious. Travel leagues! Parents soon learn that what started as a minimal sport commitment can turn into what feels like a full-time job when taking in to account costs, travel, and balancing work and school responsibilities. Often these parents do not know the realities of “making it” in sports (less than 5% of high school athletes will play in college, and far fewer will ever play pro sports), but soon find themselves caught up in the intensity of youth sports today, with some deciding they will…….
4. Drop everything. What if my kid is the one?? When parents begin to think that athletics could be the ticket to eventual college and pro sports, it is not uncommon to see the kid’s schedule filled with multiple teams, ongoing travel, camps and clinics, and basically a life that revolves around sports exclusively.
5. Schedule shock. Did I mention how sports can take over your life? And when I say “take over,” that’s not an exaggeration. Along with the total investment in sports come many life experiences and endeavors you will not be able to do, including activities to help your child become “well-rounded,” something every college board longs to see when reviewing applications. Talk about a catch-22 trying to do travel sports and help your child become well-rounded!
6. We forgot our kid. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this entire conversation is how common it is for parents to dive head-first into travel sports before learning if their child really wants to devote that much time to sports! While you would think the first thing parents do is have this discussion, it has been my experience that in far too many cases this conversation comes after sport decisions have been made — if at all. Remember, just because your child is good at something it does not mean he or she loves — or even likes — doing that activity
While it may be exciting to think about “what if?” when it comes to your child becoming a pro athlete one day, the reality is that he or she has a better chance at becoming a rocket scientist or brain surgeon if you look at the odds. Sure, your child may be talented, but there are also very talented kids at fields and sandlots across the country making it important to take a wide lens view of youth sports, especially as it applies to sport intensity, commitment, and goals. Sadly, as I have witnessed firsthand at my practice, many kids eventually leave sports on their own (meaning not due to injury or being cut) because sports feel more like a job than something fun to do, leaving them tired, bored, and burned out from sports. This trend is not correcting itself, making it important that you play an active role in your child’s sport experience by getting sound information, weighing out all options, and talking to your child directly about what he or she would like to do before making any final family decisions.