Want to make the high school team? Want to be recruited for college? So many parents feel the pressure to force their kids all in too young, especially when colleges in sports likes women’s soccer and lacrosse are scouting middle school age events. (The NCAA, sadly, has refused to take action, even though the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Associations have drafted and supported proposals banning contact with kids before September 1 of their junior year! Even the Ivy League has asked the NCAA to put a stop to early recruiting.)
The youth sports system, aptly called the “youth sports industrial complex” by ESPN writer Tim Keown, is failing our kids, especially when it comes to early sports specialization. We are robbing our kids of their childhood and the opportunity to experience the joy of participating in multiple sports.
We are stressing out families who are just trying to provide opportunities for their kids.
We are creating financial and commitment obstacles that prevent kids from sampling numerous sports, and finding ones that fit the best.
We are creating a generation of injured, burned out kids who stop sports altogether, leading to a lifetime of health issues.
Perhaps worst of all, we are failing to develop fundamental movement skills in our kids – often termed physical literacy – by focusing on sport-specific form and skills before kids have learned to move correctly. In other words, we teach technical skills to athletes who do not learn to run correctly, jump correctly, or land correctly, and then we wonder why so many are injured.
The reason kids are being asked to play a single sport has little to do with science and psychology, and more to do with the business of youth sports. Our youth sports organizations are not forcing children to play a single sport year-round because the physician’s, sport scientists and child development experts are recommending that pathway. They are doing it because if hockey doesn’t, soccer will. If baseball doesn’t, lacrosse will. If our club doesn’t, our neighboring club will, and we will lose all our players. Even as organizations such as USA Hockey, US Lacrosse, and US Youth Soccer have come out with position statements encouraging multi-sport participation, on the local level many of their affiliate organizations have not followed through.
We are not serving our kids. When it comes to youth sports too often we are focused on the needs of the business, and ignoring the needs of the child.
See this article about the dangers of sport specialization from the Changing the Game Project.