In Defense of Youth Sports
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We hope to educate parents as consumers of youth sports. To do this requires an exercise that might seem at first glance unnecessary, if not absurd: to offer a defense of the sports our kids play. That these sports and how they are offered to us need a defense may seem counter-intuitive at a time when youth sports are bigger than ever. (NOT better, but bigger) But I contend that much of what our kids are experiencing is in fact NOT Youth Sports but more accurately, the corporatization of youth sports. Strictly speaking, even HOW we interact with our chosen sports is oddly different from even a generation ago; in the car, in front of the TV, on social media, on countless hours-long road trips, even sitting and NOT playing much if at all in tournaments and leagues NOT affiliated with any school.
But if youth sports is in need of defense, from whom or what do they need defending? On the one hand, from the major corporations who peddle their products using that sports’ stars to sell and on the other hand from grass roots youth sports organizations run amok. As consumers of youth sports we find ourselves increasingly in the grip of the Youth Sports Industrial Complex, comprised of well-meaning if not error prone parents, administrators and marketers only too eager to exploit every shift in the landscape. Together they have constructed an ideology of COMPETITION that, among other things, has convinced us of 3 pernicious myths:
- That the results, the outcomes of youth sports games and leagues define that player or team’s potential.
- That being on a winning team is more important that any actually playing on that team
- That parents are in large part powerless to confront the Youth Sports Industrial Complex.
If such an approach to youth sports doesn’t strike you as the least bit strange, that is because the multi, multi-billion dollar sports marketing juggernaut has convinced us otherwise. We forget that historically, the best players often develop externally, with some but not overwhelming involvement in the “way things are run.” European player’s larger and larger share of the NBA, for example, destroys the myth that only the best players come from Kentucky, Michigan State and “the AAU.”
While no-one has yet tested this hypothesis, I am willing to bet that there is an inverse correlation between the number of hours, days and weeks kids spend traveling and playing in tournaments and their actual development as competitive players IN ANY SPORT. Maybe it’s time we confronted this paradox: that competition is akin to taking a test, and that it makes no sense to prepare for a test by taking test after test after test.
A great analogy is the “Order of Operations” in mathematics:
A comparable “Order of Skills” in basketball might be
- Ball Control
- Ball Handling
- Developing Court Vision
- Use of both hands
- Use of both feet
- Overall Footwork (jump stops, pivots, etc)
- Shooting form
- Developing Width
ANALOGY: Competing BEFORE the preceding order of skills has been achieved is akin to taking a Physics exam with only an understanding of say Multiplication or Geometry. Both the basketball competition (ie the game, the league, the tournament) and the math test will lead to failure.
Parental powerlessness and competition for competition’s sake “de rigueur” is in a sense the official ideology of Youth Sports and so can not be expected to raise radical, searching questions about the efficacy of the culture.
But Basics can.
We are witnesses. These are our children. These are your children. These are CHILDREN. If we look away from the corporate control and “insider-ism” that both squeezes every available dollar from dutiful parents while indemnifying countless and clueless class A parents who “know best”, we are complicit in the demise of our kids sports experience.
Basics model is based on the greatest coach of all time in ANY sport, UCLA’s Coach John Wooden (See Sporting News list of Top 50 coaches here) Our goal is to help your son or daughter reach their potential ON and OFF the court. See Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success below.