Let The Kids Play- The Need For Real Change in Youth Sports

This is part two of an article by Bob Bigelow, author of the book Just Let the Kids Play and former NBA player weighing in on the need for change in youth sports. 

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…Just Let the Kids Play by Bob Bigelow

There are frankly though way too many serious youth sports issues that have been well documented in the major media over the past 10 to 15 years.

Some of the more serious issues include:

  • ADULTS ARE FOCUSED FAR TOO MUCH ON WINNING AT THE EXPENSE OF MEETING CHILDREN’S NEEDS.  Most children are simply concerned with playing and having fun.  A landmark 1992 study of 26,000 children by Michigan State University’s Institute for the Study of Youth Sports showed kids put fun, socialization and learning new skills as the top reasons for playing.  Winning is secondary in importance.  Programs that overly emphasize performance and winning put greater pressures on youngsters, and can lead to high drop out rates.
  • Coach shouting at youth athletePARENTS AND COACHES OFTEN BEHAVE IN INAPPROPRIATE AND EVEN DOWNRIGHT ABUSIVE WAYS.  The over-emphasis on winning can cause parents to worry excessively about their children’s performance, coaches and referees to yell at each other about calls and at the kids, and even lead to outright violence and abuse.
  • CHILDREN ARE OVER-SPECIALIZING AT EVER YOUNGER AGES.  Today, kids who play the same sport risk over-use injuries as the same muscles and joints are used continuously.   Pediatric groups report an alarming five-fold or more increase over the past decade in joint, muscle and tendon injuries, and the associated surgeries that are often needed to correct these.

Understanding the Root Causes Provides the Direction for Change 

Parents let the kids playThe root cause is simply too many adults who watch, or are actively involved in youth sports, experience the tension of watching their children perform “on stage” every week.  They eagerly hope their child will perform well and succeed (and what parent doesn’t), and dread that their child may fail.  Parents experience strong and natural parental emotions, in the context of their children in a competitive situation.

This often brings to the surface the innate and intense emotions many parents (and parent coaches) feel on behalf of the most precious things in their world, their kids.  This is specifically based on my review and analysis of Dr. Shane Murphy’s recent watershed book, “The Cheers and the Tears”.

I believe that simply overlaying a “veneer” of training and behavior pledges does not reduce the primal feelings that occur as parents and coaches see their children “on stage”.  This very consideration is absolutely crucial to identifying the real solution!  Rather than “Band-Aid” fixes, the solution lies in changing the way youth sports programs are run.

The current focus on using competitive adult sports models for kids is just not in their best interests.  More games, tournaments and play-offs do not make for better kids’ sports. More emphasis on learning new skills, participation, fun and properly managed competition is what will best meet children’s needs and keep them coming back!

The Fundamental Problems in Youth Sports Call for New Solutions

The vast majority of today’s efforts to improve youth sports involve educating parents, coaches, and administrators, with the hope that education will change behavior.  While of value, I believe changes must be made to the very way youth programs are structured – that is, by changing the very play models.

This is based on the continued proliferation of problems in the face of over 20 years worth of education and training programs, my review of numerous studies conducted by key youth sports researchers, and pilot programs that I have been involved with.  These all provide very insightful perspectives on why parents and coaches become over-involved in youth sports and what the real solutions must be.

I truly believe that by actually changing the way youth sports programs are structured, that adults’ underlying emotions will be minimized, and much of the resulting over-involvement will disappear.  In addition, the kids will learn better skills and have more fun!

My Mission – Improve Youth Sports Participation, Positive Learning and FUN!

My mission is to dramatically reduce this appalling figure in communities that implement programs that improve the way kids play sports.  I have the programs to do that.  I would love the opportunity to pilot these in your community!

My catch phrase is simply “Youth Empowerment through Sports” or Y.E.S. for Kids!  “Empowerment” simply means giving youth sports back to kids so they can have greater opportunities and involvement in their sports experiences.

Bob Bigelow

For more information, please email me at bob-bigelow@comcast.net or check out his site at BobBigelow.com

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