This summer has been the least busy I have ever been with sports, which has actually been really nice.
Therefore, I have had the opportunity to watch my younger siblings compete in baseball, softball, soccer and wrestling. We got back from vacation about a month ago and haven't had an evening at home because of someone having an event each night. It has honestly been a crazy month and I am just looking forward to being able to eat home cooked meals in July again. But now that I am the spectator, rather than the athlete at these sporting events, I have been getting to witness first-hand a little bit of the madness in youth sports.
Don't get me wrong, I have had a very positive youth sports experience growing up. Youth sports have helped me mature, taught me to compete and control the controllables. I am fortunate because many people have taken a lot of their time to help me get better. I also feel extremely lucky because my parents and my teammates' parents have always positively supported me, which unfortunately is not always the norm.
I believe that youth sports have taken a complete 180 from when my parents were competing in them. Club teams, for any sport, have become the recruiting target, rather than high school athletics. I went to a Division 1 softball camp last summer and the first thing the head coach asked me was, "what travel team do you play on?" After I told her my team name, which isn't one of the top affiliated club teams in NE, I really didn't get a single look the rest of the camp. I feel as though someone can be an average player and still get recruited because of the club team name on their chest.
I found this situation concerning, and I have found many more concerning situations in youth sports today, but in my opinion the root of the problem boils down to three things: parents making the sport about them, the pressure to be excellent, and the "win at all cost" attitude.
Parents making the sport about them:
I have seen this time and time again. A parent will put their kid in a sport that they aren't the best at, or maybe even really want to participate in, just so that parent can feel satisfaction that their kid is associated with that certain "high caliber" group. But, when their child strikes out at the plate or gets pinned on the mat, the parent feels embarrassed and/or angry. Parents too often seem to want to relive their childhood through their children and therefore project their interests and desires on to them in order to hopefully attain the goal or status that they weren't able to themselves as a child.
The pressure to be excellent:
I think kids today are feeling the pressure from parents and coaches to be exceptional. I recently went to my sister's fifth grade graduation in mid-May where each child was recognized and a little snippet was read about them, which included the answer to "what I want to be when I grow up." There were definitely more careers of professional athletes than there were that of doctors, lawyers, and teachers. Granted they are young kids, but the pressure to be the best has never been higher. I believe that parents, coaches, and kids are fearing mediocrity to the point where they will sacrifice their humdrum time to chase a dream that is often times unrealistic.
Win at all cost attitude:
Parents' and coaches' egos are what make winning and losing a big deal. Kids are capable of moving on from a loss with ease because they realize no walls are truly crashing down on them. After my nine year old brother's baseball team lost by a significant amount at one of his recent tournaments, his main concern after the game was eating a cookie from Subway. And honestly, that is what a nine year old should be worried about after a loss. This attitude creates hostile environments and "winning at all costs" takes away from one of sports' biggest lessons: how to lose and how to pick yourself back up again.
Now, this is not a direct hit to sports, because I love sports and have been playing them all my life; this is just my point of view on the hot topic of youth sports and the direction they are going. I am thankful that I didn't have to endure too much of the insanity and I am hoping for the same with my siblings.