Wussification of Youth Sports?

Posted: April 18, 2011 in Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah, Youth sports
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A local radio host made a comment on his show last week that I’d like to disagree with.

A caller commented on how soft our kids are becoming. His example was that even after a season where his son’s team had not won a game, each child was still given a trophy. He went on to joke that if they had won one game a ticker tape parade would have probably been held in their honor.

The host agreed with him and called it the “wussification” of our youth.

He continued that the practice of every child making a team after the age of 9 or 10 was also a contributing factor to turning these children into wussies.

Here is the gist of the host’s point. “They (our children) need to realize that not everyone is going to be good enough to make the team. And how is this going to prepare them as adults when not every person is going to get the job they are after?”

I’m not sure where to begin. Perhaps I should state that I’ve been involved in both coaching and administrative positions in youth sports for over twenty years.

So let’s start with my firm belief that there should be a spot for every child in youth sports leading up until at least high school. I understand there are elite travel teams and that’s fine. For the players that do not make the cut however, they need to land on another team in a less competitive or equally as competitive environment.

Robbing our children of a chance to have FUN playing a sport regardless of their skill level is not going to send them into adulthood ill prepared. In fact it is at this very level where a majority of these children will have the only opportunities in their lives to play organized sports. Because yes, once high school rolls in, it becomes a competition to win the playing spots that are available.

I’m here to tell you that the playing field is usually not a level one when it comes to the fairness of how a child is judged. This is the premise to my contention and the lessor known and more controversial aspect to youth sports… the ugly politics some parents use to pollute many of our leagues. For those of you that have not witnessed it, let me give you some examples.

We’ll take baseball. The highest level typically is filled with 11 and 12 year-old players. And quite often there are barely enough spots to enable them all to play at that level together with the friends and classmates that they’ve been with since the age of five. However, Mr Coach wants his 10 year-old son along with his buddy’s 10 year-old son to play together on his team. These two children, while perhaps talented enough to play up a level, should in my opinion yield to the older players. But Mr. Coach has now taken an opportunity away from two deserving 11 year-olds who are told that they need another year at the lower level to sharpen their skills. They are in essence cut from a team of their friends and peers. In all reality this move is going to put them further behind and in some cases to the point where it can take them a couple of years to catch up to the other kids in their age group. Many times the child becomes discouraged and will leave the sport before realizing his full potential. I’ve seen it happen more times than I care to share with you. It’s wrong.

Now for the most alarming scenario of them all. And if you don’t think this exists my dear readers, you have not been paying attention. We have before us a group of three overzealous youth soccer coaches. They have egos much larger than any parent coaching a youth sports team should be allowed. All three of these egos are aboard for the ride so they need lots of space. They have been “grooming” a group of kids to become the next World Cup Champions. They play multiple sports together. When one of the less-talented “outsiders” makes a mental or a physical mistake on the playing field he is yelled at as he comes off the field to the point of tears. After the game he is ridiculed in front of his teammates. More tears. He drops out of the sport because he is deemed by this group of Knuckleheads to not be good enough to succeed on THEIR team. They have systematically squeezed him out. Now open your eyes and take a good look at this castaway. HE IS SIX YEARS OLD.

Fast forward four years. He is now ten. He’s been playing in the backyard with Dad and a few other of the neighborhood kids. Hey he’s actually really good and he’s regained his confidence. He’s ready to give it another shot! Good for him right? Aww but guess what? He’s been out of the loop for too long. While he’s probably good enough to make the elite team, he’s been long forgotten by the Knuckleheads who now control that division in the league. But he can play down a level. We wouldn’t want to put him with the other ten year-olds after such a long layoff, that would be an example of the wussification of youth sports.

Not only is it wrong, but it is proof that when an organization is run by a group that has its own agenda in mind, the children will end up paying the price.

This only begins to support the need to let every child play team sports regardless of skill-set. There is plenty of time once high school begins for our children to learn that as they get older they can expect the stakes to become higher. It’s all part of the natural progression towards adulthood.

Childhood is where we learn our likes and dislikes. It’s where we are allowed the mistakes and second chances that won’t affect the outcome of our lives. It’s where we discover courage and fear and about striking out or scoring touchdowns. But how would we have ever harnessed the power or our full potential if SMACK in the middle of the big experiment we were told to pack up and go home?

Finally I’d like to give my thoughts on another topic that the host and this particular caller talked about. The host indicated that political correctness and its intrusion upon old school sporting terms was getting out of control. His example was “suicide sprints”. It’s when kids sprint back and forth on the court or field from line to line. He laughed about his son’s coach changing the name of the exercise to “lines”. I wonder if the host has ever had to deal personally with the horrors of suicide. Or if he realizes the epidemic of teen suicides in this country. It may seem silly to some but not to the family that has been through it. Not to the sibling of a brother that is now gone. Does he need to hear, “Ok it’s time for suicides!”. Of course not. Is it a big deal that we rename such sprints? Of course not.

Many, many years ago my oldest son’s best friend was a “little person”. His mother couldn’t understand why the local youth football league had to have the word “midget” in its title. She even lobbied for change. Put yourself in her position. Forget about everything else that surrounds these discussions and imagine if you were the parent of a “little person”. Do you not think that he’s already getting teased enough and having the word tossed around in a derogatory manner? Do you not think it’s a bit hurtful to hear the word being associated with a circus side-show?

Thirteen years ago I joined a local youth football league’s board of directors in another town. My first motion was to replace “midget” with “youth”. It passed unanimously.

Do I have all the answers to correct the problems that I’ve spoken about today? Not all but probably 75% of them. But it takes a group of open-minded adults to make the proper changes. It takes checking egos at the front door. And it takes just a little bit of compassion and common sense. Until that perfect storm can converge and conquer the mentality of the Knuckleheads, youth sports will continue to be held hostage by their reckless egos.

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Comments
  1. Chris Beardsley says:

    Great blog Ron!!

    Chris

  2. Nancy says:

    Nice article Ron. We have to deal with the “politics” of basketball. It was a big secret about when the 6th grade team would have tryouts. They even had a summer league for the sixth graders without anyone other than the players knowing about it. You have opened my eys a bit more because I think it is ridiculous for trophies for each player. Finally, this year we did not have a party or trophies which was fine with the boys.

  3. Ron Goralski says:

    For clarification: I’m on the side of giving a player a memento such as a trophy or medal just for participating. Is there something wrong with a shelf full of trophies marking his way through childhood? Are awards just for winners? Quoting Steely Dan, “They got a name for the winners in the world; I want a name when I lose.”

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