Youth Sports: Drain the Swamp


cropped-LOGO-1.pngDue to public awareness over sexual assault and domestic violence allegations, amplified by the widespread scandal involving sexual assault at Baylor, Division I conferences are considering running criminal background checks on all incoming student-athletes. Unfortunately only about 2 percent of college athletic departments run formal background checks on incoming athletes.

It’s a Good Idea

In characteristic bureaucratic fashion a survey was commissioned on background checks generating replies from 567 athletic departments, 226 of which were Division I schools. The study revealed only 12 of the 567 schools (2.09 percent) require background checks for every incoming student-athlete. However, 46 schools said they plan to implement criminal background checks in the next 1-3 years, which would push the number total to about 8 percent.

The question is not about running criminal background checks. No, the question is why these “kids” have criminal backgrounds at all?

Mark Hyman, a professor of sports management at George Washington University states.

Youth sports are now designed to meet the needs of the most talented kids,”  “We no longer value participation. We value excellence fostering an elite class of pampered and entitled student-athlete with limited guidance and direction other than to excel on the field.  

The adults have won,” Hyman said. “If we wiped the slate clean and reinvented youth sports from scratch by putting the physical and emotional needs of kids first, how different would it look? Nothing would be recognizable.”

Children are playing fewer sports, and the less talented are left behind in recreational leagues with poor coaching, uneven play and the message that they aren’t good enough. Seventy percent of kids quit sports by age 13.

This is the common narrative for American youth sports today. It’s an adult driven, hyper competitive race to the top in both academics and athletics that serves the needs of the adults, but rarely the kids.

The vast majority of the parents are leading their kids down the wrong path, but not intentionally or because they want to harm their kids. They love their kids, but the social pressure to follow that path is incredible. Yet that’s the sport path many parents are following. They’re so scared that if they do not have their child specialize, if they don’t get the extra coaching, or give up our entire family life for youth sports, their kids will get left behind.

Parents are running their kids ragged fearful that another kid will take his place.  He won’t get to play for the best coach.

This system sucks.

It sucks for parents, many of whom do not have the time and resources to keep one child in such a system, never mind multiple athletes.

It sucks for coaches who want to develop athletes for long term excellence, instead of short term success. The best coaches used to be able to develop not only better athletes, but better people, yet it is getting hard to be that type of coach. There are so many coaches who have walked away from sports because while they encourage kids to play multiple sports, other unscrupulous coaches scoop those kids up, and tell them “if you really want to be a player, you need to play one sport year round. That other club is short changing your kid, they are not competitive.” The coach who does it right gives his kids a season off, and next thing you know he no longer has a team.

And yes, most importantly, it sucks for the kids. Any sports scientist or psychologist will tell you that in order to pursue any achievement activity for the long term; children need ownership, enjoyment and intrinsic motivation.  Without these three things, an athlete is very likely to quit.

Children need first and foremost to enjoy their sport. This is the essence of being a child. Kids are focused in the present, and do not think of long term goals and ambitions. But adults do. They see “the opportunities I never had” or “the coaching I wish I had” as they push their kids to their goals and not those of the kids.

They forget to give their kids the one thing they did have: A CHILDHOOD! They forget to give them the ability to find things they are passionate about, instead of choosing for them.

The Kids First

Parents need to take charge. Demand that sports clubs and coaches allow their kids to participate in many sports. You’re paying the bills, so you might as well start buying a product worth paying for. You have science on your side, and you have Long Term Athletic Development best practices on your side.

Coach, wise up. You’re the gatekeepers of youth sports, the people who play God, and decide who gets in, and who is kicked to the curb. You know the incredible influence of sport in your life, so stop denying it to so many others. Are you so worried about your coaching ability, or about the quality of the sport you love, to think that if you do not force kids to commit early they will leave? Please realize that if you are an amazing coach with your priorities in order, and you teach a beautiful game well, that kids will flock to you in droves, not because they have to, but because they want to!

You’re not a bad parent if your kid did not get a scholarship to play sports in college. Chances are great that your kids will be done with sports by high school, as only a select few play in college and beyond. Even the elite players are done at an age when they have over half their life ahead of them. It is not athletic ability, but the lessons learned from sport that need to last a lifetime.

Why not expose them to as many of those lifelong lessons as possible?

I believe there are more parents who want to do right by the kids than there are those parents whose egos and wallets have created our current path. Stop being so willing to throw away your kids present for some ill-fated quest for a better future that rarely materializes and someday your kids will thank you.

Paul Dobbs


“Inspiring Tomorrow’s Leaders”


February 3, 2017