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Improving the Culture of Youth Sports


This morning, TIME published a piece about how money has ruined youth sports. For those that don't want to read it, these are the two paragraphs that I think sum it up best:

"The creep of intensity in sports, driven by parents, has moved to younger and younger ages for the kids. It has migrated from the professional level to college to high school to middle school to the various local travel teams for our eight-year-olds. The educational component of sports is diminished. It’s less about the process and learning teamwork, discipline, that there is a connection between practice and improvement.


Now the goal is to make the next rung on the way to the prize. Make the travel basketball team as a nine-year-old so you can make the middle school team, then varsity, then win a college scholarship and the NBA contract."

The article gives a lot of great data about the changes in professional sports in the 20th century as well as the financial opportunities that came with it. It covers the 'What' (Professional Sports became a billion-dollar industry) and the 'Why' (Parents and Players want success for their kids), but the 'How' is the elephant in the room.

In 13 years of coaching I can recall only a few families that expected their kids to be The Next Big Thing without external influence. Typically, this was from parents who came from successful athletic backgrounds that had the same hopes and dreams for their own children. But what about the thousands of others who didn't come to that conclusion naturally?

I went to five websites of some of the bigger local youth sports organizations in the area. Here was the first thing I saw on each site:

Website 1: 13 trophies sitting on a table (9 of the 10 pictures that were on a loop involved trophies).

Website 2: Trophies on both left and right banners. Numbers on the amount of national championships and all-americans next to the organization name.
Website 3: National Championship Banners, followed by college commitments below the banners.
Website 4: A list of colleges where former players have gone. numbers of national championships as well as alumni that went on to play at college.
Website 5: Announcements regarding college signings and tournament victories on a newsfeed.

Anyone seeing the trend?

As the TIME article explains, this generation of parents did not grow up in a time where youth sports functioned like this. I was a 90's kid, and while there were park district leagues, most of our athletics outside of schools was conducted by simply going outside and playing with friends. So for these people, youth sports are uncharted waters - and they look to organizations like the ones above for guidance.

If all of the 'elite' organizations promote results (and only the positive ones) instead of the process, why are we shocked when parents and players fixate on those results? If it's being promoted as the 'norm' by the people that are leading the charge, doesn't it make total sense that this is what parents and players would come to expect? Organizations want families to focus on the development and what they're being provided, yet we rarely see that as what's front and center when programs are marketed.

It's not all doom and gloom though. Other organizations are starting to fight the current trend of youth sports. Changing the Game Project and I Love To Watch You Play are examples of organizations looking to help fix the culture of youth sports. I'm lucky enough to be part of a panel at the Way of Champions Conference, a 3-day retreat designed to help coaches build a successful program while creating a healthy environment for the kids. I continue to meet directors and coaches that are taking steps to promote the process over the results, as well as ensure that all participants in their program get the same attention and opportunities. Not surprisingly, the majority of families that

There are challenges ahead of us, but the more we as coaches/directors set the tone on what youth sports should be, the more parents and players will follow.