The Race To Nowhere In Youth Sports

I’m borrowing the title from a provocative education documentary that talked about the pressure we place on young students with obsessive homework and kids not wanting to go to school because of the stress.

How does this apply to youth sports?  Recently I was made aware of a rising 9th grader being aggressively recruited by the top college programs in the country in his particular sport.   The player has a YouTube video that is a marketing video with highlights from his “showcase” matches.  He also posted a picture on Instagram visiting one of these top universities.   Mind you that this boy has YET to start his high school career!   Why is this acceptable?

Why do parents allow their children to play this game and allow their kids to be tampered with in this way?   The NCAA should forbid any recruiting activities until a player has finished his or her sophomore year.   A rising freshman should be focusing on the transition to high school, getting good grades, and figuring out what their passion is academically.  How does a player at this age know what he or she wants in a university?    I also feel bad for the  sibling of this player, who is a rising junior and starting her college journey, only to have it take a backseat to her “younger” brother who really has no business talking to college coaches yet.

Look, it’s terrific that there are young players who have this kind of standout potential.  But these kids will still be “available” in a few years, but the pressure is being passed on from the universities to the high schools to the parents, and now, the students.   An unintended result of this behavior?   We’re now seeing young players specialize in one sport before they even start high school, losing the opportunity to enjoy their high school sports career.   And finally, we are seeing club teams take priority with college coaches at the expense of school teams.   It seems that playing for your high school just doesn’t matter much anymore, and that is also truly sad.

If this trend continues, it is possible that we may see the end of high school sports (which I’m sure many administrators would just love since it’s more taxpayer money for other activities) and kids will only play for club teams (which cost a fortune by the way).

There is absolutely no legitimate explanation defending such behavior, where it is permissible for rising 9th and 10th graders to aggressively recruited by college programs.   It is ok to strive for excellence in sports, but at the same time, kids should develop their mind and spirit as well.   And there is a time and a place for college recruiting, but not when a player hasn’t even stepped into a high school classroom yet!

Why are we Celebrating this Feat?

I like to write about youth sports and what I believe is the ongoing degradation of youth sports.  The focus on “winning at all costs” is quite concerning, and we seem to fail to teach our kids about sportsmanship, respect on and off the field, and teamwork, to name a few traits you pick up from the athletic fields.   Time and time again, we see teams beat down other teams, as winning and showing “no mercy” seem to rule the day.  We see kids blow their arms out or sustain other concerning injuries at very early ages, usually do to lack of rest.    I’ll write more on this in future posts.

CNN is highlighting a story about a high school pitcher who struck out all 15 batters he faced – a five inning perfect game and a 10-0 blowout.  Why should we celebrate this?  There was so much information conspicuously omitted from the story.   How many pitches did the boy throw?   How many days rest did he have?   Why was he left in the game when his team was blowing out the other team?  If there was such a skill gap, why would the coach let his team abuse another team in this fashion?   Was it really that important to strike out every batter he faced?  What did the pitcher gain from this experience?   Is this truly what we call the challenge of competition in sport?   As someone who believes unequivocally in the work of the Positive Coaching Alliance, I feel this coach, and this team, needs some serious training.

As a former Division I baseball player, I don’t celebrate this feat with the little information provided.

Hello World

After several years using Squarespace, I have decided to return to WordPress, the platform where my blog first started!   I hope you, my readers, continue to enjoy my various posts which I have re-coined as “Plain Talk about Education and our Youth.”

More posts to come soon.  Thanks for continuing to follow me on Twitter and Linked In and I hope we can continue the civil discourse that has made our country great.

My Blog Is Moving!

Changes are afoot with the blog I have authored the past eight years.    Over the next week, I will be migrating my blog to WordPress.   I may also be unveiling a new title for my blog, so stay tuned on social media as I promote the new blog so you know where to find me.

I am grateful to those who have followed and enjoyed my posts these past several years.   The freedom of expression is what makes our country great, and while I have enjoyed the largely civil discourse at times, I appreciate you allowing me the privilege of speaking somewhat intelligently about issues that matter:   public education, youth and sports.

Onward!

What Public Education Could Learn From David Bowie

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes

 – Excerpt of lyrics from “Changes” by David Bowie

Today we lost one of rock and roll’s greatest musical artists.   David Bowie was the consummate chameleon.   He constantly reinvented himself, and this song eloquently captured that essence.

Public education has shown an acute aversion to change – to reinvention.    This is due in large part to injection of politics in policy, the result of funding a system through taxpayer dollars.    I pray that in the year 2016, our policymakers, educators and other key stakeholders can find common ground and continue to fine-tune the existing program of reforms, and not send public education back decades.   Current proposals are in need of corrections, not removals, and I truly hope that for the sake of our children’s future, we continue to make progress, and that progress will be in the form of student achievement, college readiness, and economic competitiveness.  

Lets show David Bowie we can make this happen. 

Where’s the “fair” in college fairs?

There’s a reason why public schools have ongoing challenges.    They can’t even organize a college fair without doing something wrong.

Last week, a high school put on a college fair for students that included more than 150 colleges.   Apparently, it was organized by the parents, NOT the school.   The school system decided that all of the high schools in the system should be allowed to send students, which makes sense.   But here’s the problem.    The high school didn’t have sufficient space to include all of the students from the other high schools in the school system.    So what did they do?   Instead of looking for a larger facility, they forced other high schools to cap their numbers to only 30 students per school!   What’s more, they left the other high schools to decide how the 30 students were selected!

Some schools required students to be in the Top 10% of their graduating class in order to attend the college fair.   How is that fair?   Many of the colleges admit students far beyond the Top 25%.  I just don’t see how this school system could get away with such a policy.   I know that the admissions officers were not too pleased with how this was implemented.   For a school to say, “you’re not academically proficient enough to talk to these schools” is just plain wrong.  And I know that this school system is working VERY hard to increase the college graduation rate, not just the high school graduation rate.   This type of situation sets a bad precedent, and I am appalled that the administration has not made a public statement about this matter, nor has the local media covered the story.  

How can a public school screw up such a simple event?    Was the “fair” in this college fair?

Should Kids Play Only One Sport To Achieve Athletic Excellence?

I have written several posts about the role of youth sports in our society, and the impact parental decisions have on our children’s social development.   When I was a child, I played multiple sports.   I played soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring (as well as tennis socially but could not play competitively due to the overlap with baseball).  I even picked up golf in high school and continue to play from time to time.   I played travel baseball in the summer and could still play for my school in the spring.  I chose not to play club soccer until late high school, but many of my soccer teammates played on a club team yet could still play for their school team.   Our soccer team was one of the top teams in NJ, and one of my teammates who was an All-American/NJ Player of the Year, played multiple sports as well.  We all did it, and I was fortunate to have a successful Division I baseball career.

Keep in mind that these are all team sports, not individual ones.   So this writer has no experience watching someone develop as a track star, a gymnast, a tennis player, or even a golfer.   However, as a parent, I have been troubled by the increasing emphasis on only one sport.  Several parents tell me that it is their kids that make the decision to do this, and we are seeing the European model of soccer, for example, now championed by Jurgen Klinsmann, taking hold in the United States.   We are creating “development academies” which are supposed to act as a feeder into the MLS or national team.   Their caveat:   they “own” you for 10 months, where you are not permitted to play for your school or play any other sport.

For a long time, I felt my concerns about focusing on one sport were simply my own opinions, nothing more and nothing less.   But earlier today, an article appeared on one of my social media feeds about this exact issue.  Written by a personal trainer, it presents a compelling case about the moral hazard of one sport focus.   Take this quote by Wayne Gretzky:

I played everything.  I played lacrosse, baseball, hockey, soccer, track & field.  I was a big believer that you played hockey in the winter and when the season was over you hung up your skates and you played something else.

Many of our most successful athletes:   Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson to name a few – all played multiple sports.  What I found interesting about the article was that it talked about the “carryover” that certain sports have on others; for example, the favorable impact of sprinting on your golf swing.   In addition, Ohio State Football Coach Urban Meyer recruits nearly all multiple-sport athletes!

I worry about burnout with one sports athletes.  I worry about injuries.   Could focusing on one sport have any correlation to the alarmingly high increase in Tommy John surgeries with pitchers?  Or the number of torn ACLs in high school.

Kids need to a diverse set of experiences in their formative years.  Sports should first of all be fun, not a chore.   But yet we are all guilty of facilitating this cycle of one sport focus if you want to reach the pinnacle of the sport.  That is simply not true.   Perhaps we should take a hard look at this issue and get some empirical research to support such concerns.  I have no doubt the research will corroborate my opinion.    It’s time to act on this, for the sake of our kids.