Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘teenagers

Do youth sports cause drinking and fighting?

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2628274547_b74d91a86aWe already know youth sports causes drinking and fighting in parents. But what about the kids?

If you’re male, they do, and if you’re female, not so much, according to a paper presented Nov. 9 at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting.

The paper was presented by Susan Connor, injury prevention research manager at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.

Connor, who focused her study on teenagers, says youth sports participation — noted as 60 percent for boys and 48 percent for girls — “has obvious benefits in promoting physical activity.” Unfortunately, one of the major activities is 12-ounce curls.

For males overall and subsets of Black and White males, sports team participation was associated with increased levels of fighting, drinking, and binge drinking. For White females, sports team participation was associated with decreased levels of fighting, depression, smoking, marijuana use, and unhealthy weight loss practices. For Black females, sports team participation was only associated with increased binge drinking. Conclusions: Sports team participation appears to have both protective and risk-enhancing associations, primarily for White high schoolers. Results indicate that healthy lifestyle benefits are not universal and do not apply equally across genders or racial/ethnic groups.

So except for Elizabeth Lambert, sports appears to keep white girls’ behavior on an even plane. As for everyone else, particularly males, well, Connor’s research gives a hint as to why so many athletes show up in the police blotter.

Why is this so? Connor doesn’t say. This is merely a statistical study, with analysis based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2007 Youth Risk Behavioral Survey. (The 2009 survey is scheduled for release in summer 2010.)

However, other studies try to get at that nut. A Women’s Sports Foundation report in 2000 found that most athletes drank no more or less than nonathletes, but that “highly involved” athletes — both male and female — drank to excess. Why would that be the case? The foundation chalks it up to elite athletes’ tendency to be more risk-taking than the general population and authorities’ willingness to overlook the personal foibles of the local stars, thus providing unwitting adult encouragement of a longstanding jock drinking-and-fighting culture.

Written by rkcookjr

November 9, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Why kids quit sports: a question of cost-benefit analysis

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Quitters never win? Dr. John obviously never played youth football.

The conventional wisdom is that by age 13, kids are quitting youth sports in droves. Maybe a little beforehand, maybe at that age, but 13 is the Berlin Wall of youth sports, scaled only by those who can avoid the Checkpoint Charlies of lousy coaches, crazy parents and any predisposition to being a spazz.

A lot of people see such a mass decline as a national scandal, such as whomever handles the Web site for NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. “According to a Michigan State University study, over 70% of kids quit sports by age 13,” it says on the Avalanche Cares youth sports and parenting site. “For professional sports, that is the equivalent of losing one potential Michael Jordan or Mike Modano a week. In addition, there is no way of knowing the impact on the talent pool of business leaders and other professions where continued sports participation helps develop critical life skills.”

I don’t see it that way. I don’t believe Barack Obama’s plan to turn around the economy rests on whether some 11-year-old is pissed off at his basketball coach, nor do I believe the Michael Jordans and Mike Modanos being lost — believe me, the recruiting apparatus is sophisticated enough that someone with that level of talent has an agent by age 7.

I’m also not of the mind of another theory, that kids quit because they’re spoiled brats who can’t handle life outside the everybody-gets-a-trophy bubble.

I think it goes like this: kids do a basic cost-benefit analysis of whether a sport is worth their time. They take into account their own interest, their likelihood of advancing to higher competition (I don’t mean pro or college — it’s even whether they think they might someday make the junior high team), their enjoyment of the atmosphere surrounding the sport, and the overall time the activity takes.

The first item is the most important in the cost-benefit analysis. If a child is truly interested in a sport, he or she will stick with it no matter what the competition, the dickish coach, the insane parents or the 10 hours a week of practice. If a child is not, the rest of that stuff will suddenly start mattering.

This factors into the question of whether you should allow your child to quit a sport. I’m a believer that once you start a season, you should finish it. You’ve made the commitment, after all. But I’ve never forced my children into a specific sport because, in my own cost-benefit analysis, it’s a pain in the ass and a waste of time for me to shuffle kids to play sports they don’t like, that I then have to sit and watch them not enjoy. I’ve got four kids. I don’t have time for this.

Written by rkcookjr

September 15, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Posted in parenting, Sports

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A new look at kids quitting sports

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You’ve heard the stat thrown around many times — three-quarters (or something like that) of kids quit organized sports by the time they’re 13. Often, this number is presented as some sort of en masse protest against the overcompetitiveness of youth sports, a mark of its failure to develop players’ skills and love of the game.

A Canadian study says that’s only sort of true. It’s not exactly peer-reviewed, but numbers examined by the youth registration software company ITSportsConnector make for some interesting grist for the youth sports participation mill.

The study, looking at 1.7 million registration records for youth soccer clubs, notes that “teenagers don’t quit; they just stop being attracted.” Meaning, many young soccer players try the sport for a year, then quit. At younger ages, there are enough new players to replace those who have moved on. But as players get older, and the barrier to entry become higher, there aren’t enough new players to replace those who have quit the sport.

Looking at the following chart, there is some decline in returning players as they move through the teenage years. But the real falloff is among new players.


From ITSportsConnector:

Conjecture is that there is no good path for new teenage recruits into a sport where the length of playing time has a significant impact on short term skill level.  Unfortunately, bypassing this group leaves out late bloomers or converts from other sports. This result, consistent with observations that sports silos develop over time, indicates the barriers to entering a different sport are too high to overcome.  To engage teenage prospects, more of the marketing effort will have to target this age group and fast track a development program, focusing on short term competency for late joiners.

The misconception that teenagers lose interest in sports comes from looking only at total player counts that give the false impression of a significant down turn after age 12. This can cause the misalignment of programs and funding that misses the point. …

More study is required to verify these findings, within a multi-sport context, and to determine the causes behind these results. The irony of this situation is that the involvement in sporting activity is commonly seen to have its greatest value in the teenage years, combating both anti-social activity and sedentary lifestyles for adolescents.

The study is intriguing. It seems to posit that it’s not that kids are discouraged in sports in general by age 13. It’s that they might become discouraged, or at least sick of, a particular sport. But the way the youth sports world is set up, there are few opportunities for someone who is 12 or 13 or older to pick up a new sport, even on a rec league level. So they don’t play at all.

I’m not sure how or who won run the short-term sessions for late joiners that this study talks about, but it’s an interesting idea. Or another idea, which I’ve pounded home, is expanding rec and intramural opportunities for kids interesting in playing a sport and having a life.

Brian McCormick at The Crossover Movement, where I saw a link to this study, used it to restate his desire (in basketball) to create an Elite Development League for serious high school players, and leave school sports for, well, students. I’ll let McCormick speak:

If players now do not try a new sport in high school because of the intimidation factor, if you remove the “superstar players” and make the high school leagues more like Division III college athletics and less like Division I athletics, more opportunities open for players who otherwise would not play high school basketball.

I also believe that one mission of youth development programs should be to offer leagues for players cut from high school teams, especially freshmen. If freshmen had another competitive outlet during the high school season, more players would stay involved in the sport and players would have a better chance to make a team after being cut.

As it stands, in some districts, if you do not make the 7th grade team, you should find a new sport. The 8th grade coach picks almost the same team as the 7th grade coach because the players “know the system” and these kids feed into the high school, where the high school coach believes that the kids from the 8th grade team are the better players. Isn’t 7th grade a little young to decide who should and should not ultimately play varsity basketball? But, if there is no other outlet for those players cut from their teams in 7th grade or 9th grade, how can they improve their skills and game awareness at a higher rate than those who made the team? While the difference between two players may be very, very slight in 7th grade, the kid who makes the team, practices every day, plays in 20-30 games, etc. will have a big advantage over the player cut from the team who does not get the practices, games or repetitions (not to mention the affect on the players’ confidence).

So, how can we recruit more high school kids to basketball, rather than cutting more players? Who should develop these supplemental programs? School districts? Parks & Recreation? If we really want to use organized sports to combat childhood obesity, shouldn’t the goal of youth sports be to include as many players as possible, not to eliminate players as quickly as possible?


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You hear some version of this stat so often, you figure eventually it’s going to be a Paul Hardcastle song. Somewhere around three-quarters of kids participating in organized sport quit by the time they’re thirteen. Thirteen. Thirteen. Th-th-th-th-th-th-thirteen.

Usually this statistic is accompanied by a lot of hand-wringing. But I’ve never seen anyone worry about the percentage of kids who take up a musical instrument who never make it to high school band. Or the number of kids who start singing and never join a high school chorus. Or the number of kids who try out for a school play who don’t continue into high school theater.

I think the competitive aspect of sports is only reaching what it has been for a number of extracurricular activities for kids. No one ever talks about how someone should be allowed to join the school orchestra and play violin just for fun. You’re expected to get the goddamn notes right. There is nothing special about sports that gives children an inalienable right to be equal no matter what, especially as they get older.

However, what is different about sports is that as an activity, it is something that is possible to do for your own enjoyment and benefit without worrying about if your A’s are too sharp. The disturbing story about youth sports is not that the elite sports are getting more elite, but that fewer opportunities exist for kids to participate in a casual setting. Whether that’s because there’s no supply or no demand is up for debate.

so_you_want_to_quit_smA story published over the weekend by the St. Paul Pioneer Press has some interesting information on both sides of this — about the decline of organized school sports participation, and the decline of casual participation as well. The piece by reporter Bob Shaw says that according to Minnesota Department of Education information, high school sports participation is about half off the peak of 54 percent of students in 1981-82. The story doesn’t say it, but I would find it shocking if other states didn’t see similar declines.

Looking at the story and the always-entertaining comments by readers beneath it, the following reasons are thrown out for the decline. In no particular order:

— Fewer three-sport athletes (one student in three sports counts as three)

— Bigger, consolidated high schools (fewer slots available)

— Student burnout from playing every day since age 5

— Student burnout from trying to balance school, home, work and athletic responsibilites

— Video games

— Overprotective parents who either don’t let their kids run around and play on their own, or are stage moms and dads on travel teams

— The emergence of club teams as a bigger factor in college recruiting

— Working mothers (kids can’t participate in sports early in life if a chauffeur isn’t home)

— Illegal immigrants (Lou Dobbs is apparently a commenter)

— Greater diversity in schools (or, why don’t Muslims play hockey, dammit?)

— Title IX (i.e., girls killing boys sports, though the story notes in soccer and hockey, girls’ participation in Minnesota is up sharply)

— Sports being  just too damn serious

— Men controlling sports (thus turning it into a proxy for war, because if women controlled it, it would be all hearts and flowers and game-ending hugs)

— Kids not playing sports on their own, just for fun

15978253_7ce12a81ba_mThey’re coming to ruin our sports!

You might find the above reasons ridiculous, or spot-on, or both. No question, the elite levels of sports are getting more elite at earlier ages. I know it was difficult for my son to start at wrestling at age 9, when most of the kids he competed against had four years’ experience on him. He was done after a year. But it can be done. The wrestling coaches told me my son would probably get his butt kicked for two years, but he would catch up. It just so happened my son liked the wrestling practices, but not waiting around all day at some distant location to wrestle two matches. (I can’t say I blamed him.)

The more distressing information from the Pioneer Press story is that intramural participation rates have sagged so low — an indication that sports in an either-or in which you’re either an elite athlete, or not in the picture.

In the 1980s, about 74,000 children picked from a smorgasbord of 70 intramural sports. The range was impressive — everything from co-ed wrestling to roller-skating.

By 2007-08, intramural programs had evaporated — with only eight sports and 5 percent participation.

My oldest son, the aforementioned ex-wrestler, is playing as a sixth-grader in a seventh- and eighth-grade basketball rec league. It’s great he has an opportunity to play in a casual league just to have a little fun playing hoops. It’s competitive, but it’s hardly AAU ball. The league is a great opportunity, especially for kids who either didn’t make their school junior-high team, or didn’t want to bother with it.

On the other hand, the reason he is playing with older kids is because the league couldn’t get enough of them to sign up to make four full teams. Certainly the economy is cutting down on the number of families who are going to pay even relatively low rec-league fees. But you wonder if kids and their families are even interested in the few opportunities available to play casually. Or maybe they’ve been conditioned to think no such opportunities exist, or should.