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Many Experts Don't Support Elite Youth Sports Teams

Commentators from ESPN to the New York Times decry the trend of kids specializing in one sport from an early age.

If you are happy with elite youth sports teams and have no problem with youngsters specializing in one sport from an early age, please pass over what is written below.

This column is for those who have written to me regarding their unpleasant experiences in this youth sports super culture. You need to realize that you are not alone. We have numbers. We have brilliant and talented people who are passionate in their beliefs. We have a collective voice that needs to step forward and come together.

And that’s what this week’s column is about: Showing you that many experts are with us.

I’ve brought some reinforcements along for your reading pleasure. I’ve started you out with a "teaser" with a link to the entire story.

So take my hand and we’ll stroll together through the words of others!

"'Travel ball,' in this world, is meant as a synonym for 'better ball.' Parents say, 'Oh, he plays travel ball,' as a means of separating their kids from the riff-raff who don't see fit to spend thousands of dollars to travel all over the place with their 9-year-olds. And if it's 'year-round travel ball' — a red flag across the orthopedic medical community for the dangers of repetitive overuse — all the better. It's a status symbol, one promoted by parents and justified by the guys who collect tournament fees, and it's the main reason baseball in this country is widely becoming the province of wealthy suburbia."

— Tim Keown, ESPN.com

"Real life story: fourth-grade girl in Grand Island plays softball during summer, begins volleyball in the fall, and then starts basketball in November. By the time she begins basketball in November, she is asked to continue playing volleyball during the winter, and her softball coach wants her to come to the batting cages weekly to hit softballs, even though softball won’t begin officially again until the following spring. So this fourth-grader is going to school and having organized practices for three sports during the week before Thanksgiving has even rolled around. She says to me, 'Mr. Jensen, I would really like to play soccer, but I don’t have time.' Even more important than soccer, when does she have time to be a kid?"

— Jeremy Jensen, theindependent.com

"In Connecticut, the high school sports governing board prohibits athletes from playing on traveling club teams in the same season they play the sport in high school. Other states have enacted similar rules, sometimes leading to lawsuits challenging the rules. So far the high schools have prevailed, although many school officials fear this clash will ultimately be won by travel teams — when they replace high school sports altogether.

"The shame of it is you see how hardened these 14-year-olds are by the time they get to high school,'' said Bruce Ward, director of physical education and athletics in San Diego's public schools. ''They're talented, terrific players, but I don't see the joy. They look tired. They've played so much year-round, they are like little professionals.''

— Bill Pennington, The New York Times

"If you’re a town administrator or athletic director, it should be your responsibility to put a stop to elitism in sports. The results would be the opportunity to keep more kids involved and active therefore cutting down on the many bad things that happen when active options are taken away from kids.

"If you’re a parent of a child on a travel/select team you’ll selfishly glance right past this issue, but if you’re a parent that has young children not yet involved in organized sports, this is your opportunity to fix it now and demand change."

— Scott Lancaster on Sports

"We've turned sandlot fun into serious business. Children don't play at sports so much as work at them. They start athletic 'careers' before kindergarten. By the time they are eight or nine, the talented ones swear fealty to a single sport and commit to year-round 'training' of such rigor that pediatricians wince.

"The best athletes move into the elite arena of select and travel leagues. Basketball teams of 9- and 10-year-olds — kids still learning the multiplication tables — are groomed for national championships."

— Drew Lindsay, Washingtonian

"The downside to these select systems, though, is heavy indeed. The toll that select teams take on individual children, including those who are cut and those who participate intensely, and on youth sports systems in general, is insidious."

"You hear this impact in the disdainful way some adults say the words 'recreational' and 'intramural.' To those adults, those other sports systems are for children who can’t make the cut, not for those who have a real shot at future athletic success."

“When I was in sixth grade — if you had put me in a gym with thirty other boys in my class, I would have been ranked twentieth, maybe even twenty-fifth in terms of skill, coordination and maturity. I could have been cut easily during my preteen years."

- Bob Bigelow, Just Let the Kids Play (Bob eventually went on to become an NBA first-round draft pick.)

Hey, it’s like I’ve said all along, “Who am I, right?” I’m just a guy with five kids who’s been involved in youth sports in almost every capacity for about 25 years.

(For those of you who made it this far) I hope this helps you to realize that you are not alone in your line of thinking.

Just know this: If you truly are serious about addressing the issues that are most important to you, all you have to do is step out of the crowd. And if I can help with that in any way, please reach out to me.

We don’t even have to agree. The important thing is that we get it right for ALL of our children.

Just Another Guy June 11, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Complaining about this is like complaining about the weather. So long as parents are running the show this will always happen. I know that sounds jaded but that is the reality. The system in place would work if we as parents were honest about our children's abilities and their desire to compete. But, we aren't. We all think our kid is the "Next...." or worse we are living vicariously through them trying to capture a moment we wish we had as a child. No sport is any better or worse at this, just look at the teams your child is on whether they are part of Super Team or a In-House development team, you will see at least one parent acting out. Now I believe that any town sponsored program should not have a super team, but they should be trying to have teams based on like abilities and desires. I do like the idea that if someone is a writer they are an "Expert"
Ron Goralski June 11, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Just Another Guy: I do think through pressure from like-minded parents, we can flush out some of the parents that are ruining youth sports. I truly do! They need to be called out and forced to play by the rules. Too many times the bad seeds are the people in charge. I'd love to have my "Jerry Maguire" moment without fear of repercussions. That will have to wait another 4 years though. As far as my label? I'm only an expert at what I know I'd like to see changed. And that's it. I'm not pretending to be anything else.
Ron Goralski June 11, 2012 at 10:54 PM
I don't like the word "expert" either. But as far as youth sports goes there are a few people that are considered experts for whatever reason.
chris moore June 13, 2012 at 02:00 PM
I saw Bigelow speak. His points are obvious. Tell me about the 11 year old who never gets any better as it turns out but is the best player at 11. Should he not be able to play against better players while he is one of them? Why does shutting a kid out ruin him? What about the positives for the kids that make the team? None of this is addressed by Bigelow or anyone else. Tennis players and golfers travel to the best competition and always have, no one complains. A team sport does it and it's criminal? I'm not ever going to buy it. Sure, there are some major problems, but you're focus is extremely one sided.
Ron Goralski June 13, 2012 at 02:24 PM
There's a lot of us out here Chris. Many feel too intimidated by the good 'ole boys to get into a public discussion. But I've got the emails locked away. I guess there are a lot of us one-sided people out there. And I've answered all of those questions in one way or another in previous columns. And just to prove I wasn't the only one with such an extreme focus, I pulled others into it this week. As far as Bob Bigelow - his book can stand on its own and when read in its entirety it makes perfect sense. Chris - this column was for the silent majority. I warned you in the first paragraph :)

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