Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Youth sports isn't totally full of crazy people. Really.

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If you were to look at media reports, Twitter feeds and this here blog, it might be easy for you to come to the conclusion that everyone involved in youth sports is either a child molester, a thief, or generally a crazy person, and that the kids are out for blood, too. However, loyal readers of Valpolife.com, the official blog of the Porter Health (Valparaiso, Ind.) hospital system — and you are a loyal reader, aren’t you? — are getting a different, radical message: that, generally speaking, kids are having fun in youth sports, and adults are helping them in that pursuit.

I’ll wait a minute for you to compose yourself before I go on.

Anyway, here is the evidence Valpolife.com is citing to reach its conclusion:

The Rutgers Youth Sports Research Council recently completed a study of over 5,000 publications keying in on the phrases “youth sports” and “violence.” Going back over 20 years, the results yielded over 1,000 citations, but many were “false positives” that focused on an unrelated topic and only passively mentioned violence in youth sports. “The investigation failed to produce any evidence to substantiate the belief that violence in youth sports had reached epidemic proportions in recent year,” wrote study author Gregg S. Heinzmann, Director of the Youth Sports Research Council.

The even better news, according to the article is that there are still “millions of volunteers and parents involved in youth sports that are doing all the right things, teaching valuable skill lessons, and providing fun and healthy environments where young athletes can compete and create lifetime memories.”

In my experience as a coach and parent, it’s an unusual day when a parent confronts a coach, or a fight breaks out, or a parent or relative in the stands is screaming at the ref full-bore. But the definition of news is something unusual, and it is unusual, believe it or not, when a coach is a child molester. You don’t hear breathless reports about the planes that landed safely that day. You only hear about the ones that crash.

Not to say that everyone is holding hands and celebrating how wonderful we all are to our children. The caveat in Valpolife.com’s sunny picture of youth sports is how money changes the dynamic. If we’re all noticing parents getting more ornery, it might be as much as protecting their investment as protecting their child. And with more school districts going with pay-to-play in sports, parents are going to, probably rightly, demand more from coaches and the whole sports experience. After all, you have a $3 T-shirt rip, it’s a minor annoyance. If that T-shirt is $100 — and you didn’t have a lot of spare cash lying around even when you bought it — that becomes a very big deal.

Indiana University professor and chair of the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies Lynn Jamieson agrees that while the data doesn’t suggest any epidemic of violence, the negative influence of financial pressure has.

“I know a woman who worked two full-time jobs so her child could compete with a traveling team,” said Jamieson. “When your life revolves around the sport and competition, the stress and frustration can manifest itself in the player and parents.”

Over 99-percent of high school athletes will complete their athletic career on the prep stage. A tiny percentage will be able to leverage their athletic prowess into a scholarship or professional contract; yet there remains an unreasonable pressure by some parents to push their children beyond a logical point in pursuit of athletic greatness with hopes of financial gain.

Jamieson suggests a better alternative for parents is to leverage a portion of the dollars spent on athletics in a college savings plan. “Every dollar spent on leisure could be saved for higher education,” said Jamieson.

Wait a minute — taking your travel team money and putting it toward college? Now there’s a radical idea.

Written by rkcookjr

January 29, 2010 at 2:20 pm

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