Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

'Game On' by Tom Farrey: The one youth sports book you should read

with 12 comments

game-on-how-the-pressure-to-win-at-all-costs-endangers-youth-sports-and-what-parents-can-do-about-itI just finished reading the paperback version of “Game On,” by ESPN writer Tom Farrey. I have a sense of relief, in that Farrey, through extensive reporting, confirms many of the biases I had about American youth sports when I started this blog in December 2008, after the hardcover release of Farrey’s book. Namely:

1. That there is too much of an early emphasis on competition, instead of learning — and even more important — enjoying a game.

2. That there is a youth sports-industrial complex that runs from the youth leagues to the colleges and professional leagues they stock that send the message to worried parents that if you don’t pay big in time and money, your child will never even sniff sporting success past, oh, age 6.

3. That this youth sports-industrial complex has created a youth sports world that rapidly tosses aside any family who doesn’t have the means to participate, or has a child who blooms late physically or don’t specialize in a sport by the time the first baby tooth is lost.

4. That the craziness — the yelling at refs, the coaching from the sidelines, the incredible money spent, the amount of time devoted — you see from youth sports parents often is a reasoned, conservative, expected, fostered result of points No. 1, 2, and 3, because parents, trying to do their job in advocating for the best interests of their children, have to resort to extreme means if they want their children to match even the limited athletic success they might have had in their generation.

5. That this system, for the most part, satisfies no one — it leaves millions of kids tossed aside with no options for even casual physical activity or team play, it squeezes out otherwise talented kids who can’t pay the cost of admission, and it doesn’t even guarantee the creation of a deep bench of elite-level athletes.

Farrey, backed by ESPN’s relatively deep pockets, was able to travel the globe to unlock the story of how American youth sports got to where they are. (While I tweaked columnist Rick Reilly for calling out USA Today — and not his own employer — for ESPN’s own kiddie-pornish promotion of youth sports, the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader has given Farrey and other reporters the resources to do some great investigative work in this world and otherwise. That’s part of the yin-yang of being a big sports journalism organization and an even bigger sports promoter.)

My favorite part about Farrey’s book isn’t a specific part. It’s his whole approach. Farrey, like many of us who trade in this space, has his personal reasons for his interest in youth sports. Namely, the persons you’ve spawned who play them. (I have four personal reasons; Farrey has three.) But Farrey doesn’t make the book about him and his worry for his children. Instead, by reporting out the history and evolution (or de-evolution) of youth sports, Farrey makes “Game On” about the future of the country, not the future of his kids, or just kids in general.

Farrey ends with some of his own ideas of reforming youth sports, but I’ll get into those at a later date. I’ll bring them up later, when I finish a post I’m planning about why school sports is destined to die.

Advertisements

12 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Bob,

    I was happy and surprised to read this post today.

    I discovered your blog about two weeks ago, which happened to be the same day I discovered “Game On”. I am up to “Age 9” of the book and have found that I, like you, finally have discovered some research (courtesy of Farrey) to back up my hunches.

    The bottom line is that we do too much, too soon with kids when it comes to youth sports. “National Championships” for 8-year olds? That’s silly.

    Matt Gingrich

    March 15, 2010 at 10:20 am

  2. Thanks, Matt. And thanks for seconding the recommendation of “Game On,” which people should read not just because it’s a good book, but also so Tom Farrey has the financial means to stop riding his kids to get a sports scholarship to pay for college. (Note: everything after the “but” is not true.)

    Bob Cook

    March 15, 2010 at 10:55 am

  3. Bob, good job highlighting the major points of Tom’s book. I worked closely with Tom at ESPN, and can verify that he is a meticulous reporter who did a great job with a subject that continues to fly under the radar despite your and Tom’s best efforts. ESPN is planning a big expansion into high school sports, which will only further fuel the exploitation of young boys and girls playing sports. Leadership skills learned on the playground while choosing sides and organizing games are just two of the many problems stemming from the pressures of the youth sports industrial complex. Thanks for bringing this book to our attention.

    Jon Pessah

    March 15, 2010 at 11:26 am

  4. Bob,

    I meant to mention earlier that “Game On” lends support (backed with solid numbers) to those of us who believe, as you do, that “Your Kid’s Not Going Pro”. 🙂

    Matt Gingrich

    March 15, 2010 at 11:41 am

  5. […] Tom Farrey’s excellent book on the state of youth sports, “Game On,” he devotes a chapter to the development of future NBA star Carmelo Anthony, and why drug dealers […]

  6. […] As you might guess, I follow a lot of coaches and youth sports advocates on Twitter, and they are THRILLED Kobe Bryant has added his voice to the oft-stated criticism of what is generally called the AAU basketball model — a highly professionalized, loosely organized development system that rewards those with the money and/or the most obvious talented with high-profile opportunities, yet little or no actual teaching of the sport. It’s a model that has affected about every organized sport in the United States. […]

  7. […] If I may name-drop for moment, a number of years ago I was chatting with Tom Farrey, ESPN reporter and executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society program, about youth sports issues, which he has covered well, in particular with his essential book of How We Got Here in Youth Sports, “Game On.” […]

  8. […] If I may name-drop for moment, a number of years ago I was chatting with Tom Farrey, ESPN reporter and executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society program, about youth sports issues, which he has covered well, in particular with his essential book of How We Got Here in Youth Sports, “Game On.” […]

  9. […] If I may name-drop for moment, a number of years ago I was chatting with Tom Farrey, ESPN reporter and executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society program, about youth sports issues, which he has covered well, in particular with his essential book of How We Got Here in Youth Sports, “Game On.” […]

  10. […] If I may name-drop for moment, a number of years ago I was chatting with Tom Farrey, ESPN reporter and executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society program, about youth sports issues, which he has covered well, in particular with his essential book of How We Got Here in Youth Sports, “Game On.” […]

  11. […] If I may name-drop for moment, a number of years ago I was chatting with Tom Farrey, ESPN reporter and executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society program, about youth sports issues, which he has covered well, in particular with his essential book of How We Got Here in Youth Sports, “Game On.” […]

  12. […] If I may name-drop for moment, a number of years ago I was chatting with Tom Farrey, ESPN reporter and executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society program, about youth sports issues, which he has covered well, in particular with his essential book of How We Got Here in Youth Sports, “Game On.” […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: