Add another developing concern being seen more frequently in youth sports today: Keeping stats. While we have become accustomed to sport statistics as kids get older into high school, we might want to take a closer look at sport statistics as they apply to youth sports. Since youth sports are for kids, not adults, it might help to better understand why kids play sports, what they like best about playing sports, and what factors lead to sport burnout, and eventually quitting. But before we do that, it is important to reiterate that youth sports are for kids, and we should create youth sport experiences with that focus exclusively in mind.
Do kids want stats?
In recent years I have had conversations with parents who tell me about the number of assists their kid had in a basketball game, or their kid’s earned run average in baseball. While the parents glow with pride when reporting these numbers, I can’t help but wonder if their kids feel similarly? For example, how many kids even know what an earned run average (ERA) is in baseball? In fact, how many adult baseball fans can even tell you how this statistic is derived?? If kids can’t tell you about the nature of sport statistics and how they are collected and used in youth sports, how is this enhancing the youth sport experience for kids?
Rather than overwhelm kids with stats and direct their attention toward numbers rather than fun, we might want to revisit why kids play sports in the first place (hint: it’s not to lower their ERA). Listed below are the most common reasons why kids, not adults, play youth sports:
1. To Have Fun
2. To improve their skills
3. To be with friends
4. To do something they’re good at
5. For the excitement of competition
6. To become physically fit
7. To be part of a team
8. For the challenge of competition
9. To learn new skills
10. To succeed or win
Notice, there is no mention of tracking statistics, comparing stats against teammates, or marketing their stats to college coaches. What you do find from kids, when asked, is that they want sports to be fun, something to do with friends, to get fit, to be a part of a team, and to enjoy competition.
When we introduce statistics into sports at young ages, the numbers steal from the sheer fun of playing sports. Sport statistics can also yield inaccurate numbers (some kids will grade high but my not be as talented as the data suggests, while others may score low, yet have an abundance of potential not yet caught by data). Some kids will use their stats to taunt others, while some kids may quit sports prematurely because the numbers do not (yet) illustrate that they are any good.
Making things even more difficult is when we try to attach predictive validity to statistics captured from kids who have yet experienced puberty. How can you properly gauge athletic potential from kids who still might grow a foot in height, put on significant muscle mass, or simply find a greater interest and motivation in the sport as the child ages? Similarly, for some kids with early positive statistics they will inevitably experience sport burnout in the future, so what good is the data collected from kids that we later burn out from the sport?
With new technologies emerging daily, it’s easy to get caught up with the bells and whistles in youth sports. As we continue to collect data and measure up kids at earlier and earlier ages, we need to sit back and examine if we are really doing this for the kids, or us? Kids are pretty clear about why they play, and rarely have I had a kid in front of me talk about his or her stats instead of the overall experience they are enjoying with their sport. If kids aren’t asking for sport statistics, why are we bombarding them with data they are not seeking?