At a sports parenting event this past week in Norwalk, CT, several of the attendees mentioned that in recent years, there’s been a definite downward trend in terms of kids coming out for baseball and softball, especially at the youth levels.
That got me thinking, because certainly the popularity of sports goes up and down in cycles, pretty much like everything else in life. For example, we already know that youth football numbers have decreased dramatically due to worries about concussions. And the numbers for American youth involvement in tennis has also gone down, although there’s no clear reason as to why.
On this morning’s radio show, some callers suggested that the real, underlying reason for fewer numbers in certain sports has more do with the impact of elite travel teams than with a general lack of interest of the kids. What they meant was that unless a youngster is being viewed as a star at age 9 or 10, and as a result, are good enough to make an elite travel team, then all the other kids who are pretty good but not good enough to make the travel team often discover there are no other outlets in which to practice, play, and improve their skills.
In other words, these “on the bubble” kids as a I call them, find themselves basically disenfranchised. They really don’t have any other outlets in which to play their sport, and as a result, they leave that sport, and in many cases, they leave sports all together.
This is a development that really hasn’t been well documented, and yet, judging from the callers today, this is a growing trend. Kids who play baseball at age 9 or 10 either make an elite travel team, or if they get cut, then there’s no real place to work on their skills and improve. And the result is that fewer and fewer baseball players come out each spring. By the time these kids are HS age, the numbers for baseball and softball have become exceedingly small.
Or, more and more parents are convinced that their kids truly need to specialize in just one sport at an early age. So if a kid decides at age 6 or 7 to play soccer all year round, those kids a generation ago would have tried out for baseball or softball. But these days, due to specializing in just soccer, they no longer sign up for baseball or softball.
Overall, all of this is very unsettling. I mean, how does a parent or a coach determine that a kid at age 9 or 10 is one of the elite? Especially when these kids are still years away from their teenage years and possible growth spurts and lots of other changes associated with adolescence. Nobody seems to ask that question as it relates to kids losing interest in playing sports. What happens is, from the time they’re 10 until they’re 14 and ready for HS, they have stopped playing because they were deemed at a young age as to not being good enough to make a travel team at age 10.
If we’re trying to get kids to stay in shape and learn all the life-long lessons from playing sports, well, we’re not doing a very good job of encouraging them.
THE IMPACT OF VIDEO GAMES
The other concern that popped up this AM was that more and more kids are spending more time playing electronic and video games. True, those games involve eye-hand coordination and one’s score is kept, but I think we all agree that playing video games is not really a sporting endeavor. Regardless, they are very tempting to kids, and it would seem that more and more kids now compete in traditional sports like baseball or football, but do so vicariously via video games.
What’s the bottom line? For better or worse, the travel team culture continues to have more impact on kids in sports these days than perhaps we might think.. And once again, I just wish that there were some federal guidelines or oversight to not only regulate the travel industry but also to provide sports parents with some needed help.