Youth sports industry chewing up kids, parents, money
There’s an industry profiting from burning out kids and tapping out family bank accounts. Children are being pushed earlier and harder to compete in youth sports, which according to a recent article in Time, is now a $15 billion industry.
The money is flowing to set up leagues, tournaments, rewards, and pay coaching fees.
Parents feel pressure to sign their kids up early in a single sport for fear of falling behind their peers. Sometimes, families travel thousands of miles and spend tens of thousands of dollars to be on the right teams. And preteens who are forced into this kind of intensive sport specialization increase their risk of depression and injury.
Even for average kids, youth sports has become hyper-organized. You rarely see groups of children playing on their own at a park or a schoolyard without parental supervision. Parents are signing up their kids for organized teams as early as age 4 and 5.
The idea of your son or daughter playing on their own and having fun is becoming a serious issue.
On my most recent Sport Psychology Today podcast, available on The Washington Times website, I interviewed sport psychologist Dr. Eddie O’Connor about some of these issues. We talked about why it’s important for young athletes not to specialize in a sport until 12-14 years of age, and why they should play both team and individual sports.
But perhaps the most important thing to remember in any discussion of youth sports is that parents and kids are there to have fun. They’re playing not to win, but to learn the fundamentals of sports, teamwork and life.
The focus should be on the process of playing and enjoyment, so that kids and parents alike will have a positive experience.
● Dr. Andrew Jacobs has served as the team psychologist for the Kansas City Royals and numerous other professional, collegiate and Olympic teams. He’s hosted a sport psychology radio show for 26 years and is the co-author of “Just Let ‘em Play: Guiding Parents, Coaches and Athletes Through Youth Sports.”