Conditions in Youth Sports and (especially) Baseball*
*I apologize. Although I have researched the statistical numbers posted herein thoroughly in the past, they may not be completely up to date.
What’s RIGHT about Youth Sports
Before I jump into the issues which need scrutiny and work, let me state that youth sports; even “travel ball” can be fun; a LOT of fun. To participate in the pursuit of a common goal as a family ; to take trips together with all the attendant perks of fast food, cheap motels, hours on the road together on the road with your family, etc. are great, great great!!! However …
… THE MAIN ISSUE is that ...
... youth sports is now a $16 - $19 Billion a year industry. (Yes, that IS, in fact a “b”) and the carnage that has been left in the path of this growth is unmistakable.
Lack of Participation and opportunity
78% of all kids drop out of participation in ALL sports by the time they are fourteen.*
Minimally this means that youngsters DO NOT HAVE OPPORTUNITIES to learn how to “play” or how to “benefit” from “play”; to develop essential motor skills, and to learn the great “life lessons” that sports is capable of teaching.
As a society we are heading full speed on the express train toward epidemics of obesity and its impact on health issues. Our children are not playing. They are sitting!!! Who is this going to impact? Everybody. Who’s going to pay for this? Everybody!!!
These issues are pervasive. They apply to all sports; basketball probably being the most offensive.
I have been involved with baseball for nearly thirty years so I will cite baseball primarily from my own experience but the issues and problems apply across the board in all sports
There is a complete lack of regulation.
There is no mandatory certification or licensing process in youth sports; no established “guidelines” for working with children or their parents; no proper teaching/training in either IMPERATIVE “physical” or “psychological” issues.
To use an easy example in sports; a “fitness trainer” cannot get work in any commercial gym without certification; doctors or lawyers or other professionals would not be allowed to practice their trades and sell information and impact lives without some DOCUMENTED PROOF OF A SKILL LEVEL which PROTECTS THE CONSUMER. These rules exist everywhere in society; except in youth sports. What does that say about our culture? Not much!!!
As the character of Maximus yelled in GLADIATOR: “Are you entertained?!!?” We should do MORE to protect our children!!!
This is why there are literally (what amounts to) ABUSES in inappropriate workouts; pitch limits, etc. that have resulted in literally “epidemics” in injury and kids and families dropping out of participation.
It is also why oftentimes players get to the point of looking for opportunities to play at upper levels and DO NOT HAVE APPROPRIATE SKILL LEVELS.
This lack of regulation has created an industry with “a license to kill” in marketing.
Any marketing expert will correctly state that most “buying decisions” are emotional rather than based on reasoning and the “parental emotion” is perhaps the strongest emotion on the planet.
ALL OF US WANT THE BEST FOR OUR CHILDREN. Without some form of guidelines and correct EXPECATIONS this emotion can and is manipulated constantly by the youth sports industry. Parents feel that they are “competing” with other parents or “not performing well as parents” or “being left out” unless they participate full bore in these competitions; whether it is appropriate or not.
Parents are encouraged to spend, spend, spend … and then spend some more in pursuit of this dream whether the investment (and even the pursuit) is intelligent or not.
There is the imposition of adult standards of performance on children.
Training is often dominated by the “perception” of adult performance guidelines; standards which are inappropriate and even dangerous for youth athletes.
Money money money; it’s a gas!!!
Parents / families who aggressively and actively pursue this dream spend an AVERAGE of $50,000 over the lifetime of a youngster through high school. Lessons, tournaments, showcases, etc.
Sheesh … !!!
The risk oftentimes does not realistically warrant the investment
Only 7% of all the high school baseball players in the country will earn a spot on a college roster. Of that population (which is successful in making a college team), 30 – 33% will drop out or be asked to leave. The NCAA Compliance Director we work with tells me that 50 – 60% will transfer.
Participation in a college sport is a LOT of work. It is a “once in a lifetime” experience but demands a LOT of sacrifice relative to school, work, and social interests.
Pursuit of this goal requires PASSION above all else; a willingness to “do the required work”. This is why interestingly enough even “average” players who come to the end of their high school careers in possession of passion will often succeed and surpass other more athletically gifted athletes.
The financial demands have a devastating impact on participation.
As Mr. Andrew McCutcheon very accurately and poignantly points out in his article, there is “little to no” opportunities for financially impaired families. Horrible Horrible Horrible.
There is an almost dangerous obsession with winning; over and above development and teaching of both team concepts and individual performance.
Programs are “sold” on their winning records rather than individual development. You cannot have both. You COULD have competition if there was proper administration and management.
This practice leads to “abuse”; children not being given opportunities to play and develop; overuse and burnout.
We have placed over 60 athletes in college or professional baseball and virtually every one of these young men was not successful at lower levels but persisted and were successful.
High level athletic performance; especially in a game as difficult as baseball is incredibly difficult. It is not for everyone.
Success in any endeavour requires intelligent, patient, persistent and consistent hard work and a LOT of sacrice. It could be sports, music, medicine, business; whatever!!! The pursuit is not for everyone. It most certainly is NOT for the PARENTS. It is a choice which needs to be MADE by the child and then SUPPORTED by the PARENT; not pushed. Discipline and productive work habits need to be acquired by all children and applied to all of life’s endeavours; from school to personal relationships and group/team achievement; not just athletes.
How to fix the problems …
Unquestionably the answer lies with the consumers: the parents. If they stop spending money on inappropriate activities and events the industry will change. Let’s be simple:
LICENSING / CERTIFICATION
There MUST be an appropriate process which protects the consumer. That process should involve teaching the game at an appropriate age and skill level and dealing with children and parents
DEVELOPMENT AHEAD OF WINNING
In many European countries athletic “development” is emphasized over competition in children through age fourteen. This enables children to participate and learn fundamental skills but also affords opportunities for “specialized talent” to develop. FUN should be emphasized over anything: Take the kids to a ball game. Have a hot dog, for Chrissake!!!
There needs to be more opportunities for minority, low, and even middle income families. This could be accomplished with scholarships from affiliate sponsors combined with volunteer and better instructional programs.
REALISTIC EVALUATION for CURRENT and PROJECTED SUCCESS; i.e. how to “… get what you NEED in order to get what you WANT!!!
These events often do not supply even remotely useful information for players. Either they want you or they don’t!!! Pack up your gear and go to the next one … and don’t forget your checkbook!!!
TOTAL BS!!! How can you possibly find your appropriate opportunity unless you know what it is and how to achieve it. REALISTICALLY!!!*
*I had a parent last year tell me that 1. Thirty schools were following his son. (Database BS.) I commented, “So if I come to a game there’s going to be 30 guys with clipboards and guns!??!) 2. … a college coach approached his son complimenting him that, “I love your slider” which is great except … his son doesn’t throw a slider.
REALISTIC KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS INVOLVED AND REQUIRED FOR SUCCESS AT THE NEXT LEVEL
Are families REALLY aware of who is at these events? Not decision makers. Not head coaches. Are they aware of roster sizes and opportunities? Are they placing education, finances, geography, school size and social environment and a realistic opportunity to play and develop AHEAD of the pursuit of that DI scholarship?
We all love our wonderful game. It is the best ... by far. Let’s make it better!!!