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I am pleased to see folks reflecting on the status of youth sports.  As a parent of two elementary school students, I have seen the successes and failures of sports programs in my community.

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I seldom have an opportunity to discuss extracurricular activities in my newsletter, so I was thrilled when an acquaintance recently brought a thoughtful article on youth sports to my attention.

Published on the Changing the Game Project website, "The Race to Nowhere in Youth Sports" details "an adult driven, hyper competitive race to the top" that "produces bitter athletes who get hurt, burnout, and quit sports altogether." 

Athletic competition is healthy for children.  Aside from the obvious physical benefits, sports can teach kids the value of practice, hard work, teamwork, and excellence.  Participants learn how to deal with failure and celebrate success graciously.  Most importantly, it is an opportunity for children to have fun, while allowing parents to share in their joy.  In my experience, the vast majority of parents assume that youth sports are designed for health, character development, and enjoyment. 

A growing number of parents and coaches, however, contend that youth, collegiate, and professional sports share the same goal — win at all costs.  (In fact, I hear that elementary schools now offer "paper only" classes.  Zing!)  For these adults, their extreme goals require extreme measures…and apparently a lot of screaming and yelling.  I call these parents and coaches "Gordy Gronks" (See Quote of the Week below).

Two examples of this behavior come to mind.  In the first instance, I observed a father berating his child during a soccer match.  And it was not just any soccer match.  It was a three-on-three soccer game for four- and five-year-olds in a town-sponsored league.  Like most boys and girls at that age, his son was simply trying to dribble, pass, and kick the ball without tripping over it.  Apparently, dad expected his five-year-old to display Ronaldo-type skills and land an endorsement deal with Adidas by the time he turned six.

My experience with a youth lacrosse league was much worse.  Numerous parents lined the sidelines to bark orders at their children, while coaches turned a blind eye to their obnoxious, and potentially harmful, behavior.  In response to their parents’ goading, the young players became more aggressive to their opponents on the field and less willing to encourage younger and less skilled teammates, including my son.  We unloaded his lacrosse gear at Play It Again Sports and never looked back.

Upward Sports, a Christian organization that works with local churches to sponsor youth sports, is one outstanding alternative.  Upward programs encourage competition but do so in a constructive, edifying way.  It is unfortunate that other youth sports programs do not. 

Facts and Stats

Who are the most overbearing parents in sports?  Find out here.

Acronym of the Week

ESPN — Entertainment and Sports Programming Network

Quote of the Week

"When Gordy Gronkowski’s five boys were little, he used to line them up in the backyard and chuck tennis balls at them. Hard. At first, he knew, the boys would be scared. But to be good at sports, you can’t be afraid of the ball. And so the balls would come, and the boys would have to catch them. Eventually, they did.

"Gordy started this when the boys were 4 years old."

Gronk Gym: How The Gronkowski Boys All Got So Good At Sports" by Eric Adelson, The Post Game, December 22, 2011

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