Parents Aren’t Ruining Youth Sports. We All Are.
By T.J. Buchanan
A recent article in The Washington Post asked if parents are ruining youth sports. The article states, “The number of children playing team sports is falling, with the experts blaming a parent-driven focus on elite travel clubs, specialization in one sport and pursuit of scholarships for hurting the country’s youth sports leagues.”
That’s a powerful statement and should make us stand-up and take notice that something is broken with how we treat youth sports. I don’t think we really can’t point to one guilty party in all of this. There are so many reasons. Kids want to be as good as their peers. Parents want their kids to get the best opportunities. College coaches feel the need to get the best kids early. Club coaches reputations depend on them placing kids in college programs. The list goes on and on. All of these factors that encourage elite level play are contributing to the overall decline in youth participation in other sports, and put lacrosse in the same perilous position.
When all of the above become informed about what’s best for developing athletes based on what the athletes themselves want, and what science tells us about the physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development of young athletes, then we can make the changes for the positive in participation. Numerous surveys conducted in youth sports have had the following as the top reasons kid’s play sports:
- “I want to have fun.”
- “I want to do something I’m good at.”
- “I want to be with friends and make new ones.”
- “I want to get fit and stay in shape.”
- “I want to learn new skills and improve on existing ones.”
- “I want to play and participate as a member of a team.”
USA Hockey is a prime example of how this all works. Since the implementation of its Athlete Development Model, youth participation in ice hockey has risen by over 40% in just 5 years. They have put the kids first and are focusing on the reasons mentioned above. The end result; More kids are playing hockey, more kids are learning the sport better, and more kids developing better skills. All of which translate into more kids staying in the sport longer.
How do we do that? US Lacrosse is building out the resources (more on those soon), and we need key influencers in all of the above mentioned arenas to step up, and say “we’ve been going about this all wrong and here’s how it can be made right.” When we can convince people to make decision based on research-based knowledge and not with their “belief” we’ll see positive change in the number of kids staying in the game. All of us have a responsibility to help kids Learn the Sport Better, Love the Sport More, and Stay with the Sport Longer.