The Microwaving of Youth Athletes

In the softball world, coaches will often tell me how good or bad they believe a young athlete is going to be when she gets older? And, I often say “how do you know?” I believe the answer is, you do not. You may guess right, but you do not actually know.

There are people who are paid millions of dollar to identify talent in athletes who are beyond puberty and FAIL. Exhibit A: Tom Brady. Someone cut Michael Jordan from his varsity high school team.

These are the visible examples, the ones with happy endings. But what about the thousands of kids we weed out of the system that never come back to sports again?

When did youth sports become about talent identification instead of talent development?

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the LTAD Playground with lots of experts in the field who are passionate about changing the problems around physical literacy in our country that are leading to things like the obesity epidemic. There are a lot of issues causing these things, including lack of quality physical education programs, but the one I am most passionate about and involved with is the state of youth sports.

Youth softball IS A MESS. A lot of these issues are prevalent more or less in all youth sports, but the key problems I see are:

  1. Early specialization
  2. Lack of evidence-based instruction
  3. Over-training (both in duration of “seasons” and quantity within seasons)
  4. Lack of oversight of coaches (no requirements for background checks, continued education, etc.)

We are trying to microwave our athletes by applying adult training models on developing kids, giving ourselves credit for successes that are unrelated to development, valuing wins and schedule over the physical and emotional development of the kids. Development is non-linear. Youth sports is about the process and progress of the kid and not the numbers or results.

Yesterday Joe Eisenmann said he believed that all problems have a solution, and I agree. So, where do we begin?

To truly make an impactful change, I believe it’s going to require us all to work together. When I say all, I mean ALL. We need top-down conversation as well as grassroots movements. We need softball working with volleyball, we need private organizations working with their community organizations, we need parents working with coaches. In the end, our end goal has to be giving the game back to the kids. Kids play sports because they are fun, they like being challenged, they want to be with their friends, and they like the excitement of competition. We should be structuring youth sports to ensure those things are happening, and that the environment is safe for our kids.

I am ready to make this happen. Are you?

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