Improving Youth Sports: Insights from a Former Pro Athlete
Tom House, a former Major League Baseball pitcher, regularly offers keen insights relating to how we can improve upon youth sports and offer kids an exciting, healthy, and safe experience. While you might think a former pro athlete would be pushing intensity and sport specialization, House actually advises the opposite as seen in the tweet posted above. I believe House gets it right, especially when you examine his youth sport baseball advice against the backdrop of sport psychology research findings and healthy child development:
- A league available in every city. Baseball is a sport the relies on just a few key ingredients, including an open lot, baseballs, bats, and gloves (aside from the physical space most of the other items can be attained free or at greatly reduced rates at thrift stores). While other sports can be quite costly, baseball is one of the more affordable sports that can be enjoyed by both girls and boys alike.
- Parents volunteer as coaches. Sure, there is always going to be a potential conflict of interest for parents coaching their own kids, but leagues who opt for adult coaches who do not have kids in the league run the risk of a recreational fun league quickly turning into a much more serious experience cultivated more to suit only the best and most talented kids (something House frowns upon).
- Affordable to all. Here again it is not necessary to spend thousands of dollars on baseball equipment and travel expenses when kids can improve their skills by means of practicing on an open field, hitting the batting cage, catching grounders off a wall, and pitching to a catcher. Playing catch is always free, and is something kids can do anytime and just about anywhere.
- Guaranteed playing time. Yes, as kids get older competition increases and playing time becomes a premium, but what we are seeing today at the youth level more resembles this approach (i.e. sport specialization, travel leagues, and cuts). What used to be an experience for all kids is now more regularly being turned into a model that suppresses playing time for all in exchange for only the best kids seeing the field.
- Focus on fun and health. With only about 5% of all high school student athletes moving on to play college sports, I think House’s message is right on the money when he suggests focusing on fun and health instead of full ride scholarships. Ironically, when kids have fun they are in their best position to learn and improve, providing yet another reason to prioritize enjoyment over winning at any cost.
- Orange slices after the game. OK, I’ll take a slightly different position from House on this one as Dairy Queen will always take precedent over orange slices!
If you think that youth sports can be a bit intense at times, consider adopting a philosophy more like the one Tom House espouses and promote a fun, safe, and meaningful experience to the kids you parent and coach. Youth sports do not have to be mini professional sports, and we can always make efforts to keep all kids involved and teach them how to use sports as a vehicle for future life success.