No surprise: Adults still the worst thing to happen to youth sports

It’s entirely possible that I misheard a WCCO-TV promo last night for a piece running tonight on youth sports, but it sounded as though a local father was threatened with a gun because of an argument over a play at a youth sporting event.

The saddest part? That’s not at all surprising to anyone who’s been involved with adults at youth sports leagues.

In Mississippi, for example, a referee is being held on charges of killing a coach this week. The coach had been complaining about some of the calls against his team. His team? They were seventh-graders.

What’s wrong with us? Just about everything when it comes to adults and youth sports, writes Jay Atkinson in the Boston Globe Magazine:

Three out of four American families with school-aged children have at least one playing an organized sport — a total of about 45 million kids.

By age 15, as many as 80 percent of these youngsters have quit, according to the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine. One reason is the gap between the child’s desire to have fun and the misguided notion among some adults that their kids’ games are a miniature version of grown-up competitions, where the goal is to win.

In 20 years of coaching youth and high school sports, I can say unequivocally that adult expectations are the number one problem. As we approach summer, when the living is supposed to be easy, too many families are searching the Internet for a private batting instructor, a summer hockey program, an expensive strength camp, and that elusive AAU coach who can get their 11-year-old to improve her jump shot.

This is a misguided attempt to accelerate a process that may not even be occurring, since most young athletes will never reach the elite level.

Adults who are chasing future athletic scholarships aren’t particularly good at math, he notes. One percent of high school athletes will get a Division I scholarship, but on average the amount is far below the money families spend on developing their little star.

The writer Edna St. Vincent Millay once noted that life is not one damn thing after another, it’s one damn thing over and over. That applies to specialization in youth sports, too.

Hockey season, which once ran from Halloween to St. Patrick’s Day, now starts in late August and wheezes to a halt in April. Then there’s 10 weeks of “spring hockey,” summer hockey camps, and so on. Basketball, soccer, baseball, and gymnastics — same deal.

I’ve seen many promising teen athletes “retire” at a time when their interest in sports should be peaking.

Some kids are sick of playing, and some are sick of playing in pain. A 2013 study of 1,200 young athletes showed those who concentrated on a single sport were 70 percent to 93 percent more likely to be injured than those who played multiple sports.

The beauty and the joy of playing sports, he says, “is sovereign territory and belongs to the kids themselves.”