Youth sports in­dus­try chew­ing up kids, par­ents, money

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - DR. AN­DREW JA­COBS

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.”

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