SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: What are the Biggest Concerns Today?

It’s a fairly straightforward question that I asked this AM on my radio show. And as I suspected, the responses were plentiful and all over the sports parenting landscape.

As I jotted down notes from the callers, we had lots of opinions. Specifically:

Too much specialization in one sport at an early age.

The increasing cost of travel teams in all sports.

The fear of exposing one’s kids to concussions in football and other contact sports.

The monetization of youth sports as private coaches, camps, and travel teams become everywhere.

The loss of athletes who play 2 or 3 different varsity sports.

HS Coaches who insist that their players do not listen to instruction from outside experts.

The age-old debate about “trophies for everyone.”

This was one of those shows where I could have easily filled up three hours with discussion from the callers. Seemingly, everybody has an opinion, and a strong one, when it comes to youth sports today.

What about Having Fun?

Yet of all the calls that came in, there was one observation that DID NOT come in. And that surprised me.

That is, whether our kids today have as much fun or draw as much enjoyment from playing sports as we did when we were growing up. When today’s parents (or even grandparents) reflect on their own childhoods, there was very little parental involvement or organized leagues. Kids were allowed to enjoy their fun and recreation without the constant rush and need to accelerate one’s skills to a higher level. Not having try outs for travel teams at ages younger than 12 or 13 allowed kids to have the freedom to master athletic skills at a more leisurely, and presumably, more fun pace.

I fully understand those days are long gone. But judging from the number of issues that were discussed this AM, and the fact that there are so very few answers or solutions, it sure would be nice to find a way to allow the next generation of athletes to first develop a sense of joy and elation from playing sports….and then wait a few years before exposing them to the endless struggle to develop, win, and get to that next level of competition.

I see this all the time with baseball these days. Kids with talent focus so much time, energy, and money on travel baseball, private instruction, and so on that it’s always surprising to me that when a ballplayer finishes playing the game on his HS varsity, or even in college, more often than not he usually just walks away from the sport. Amateur and semi-pro baseball teams — which used to be plentiful and full of kids in their 20s and 30s who loved playing baseball – are now drying up everywhere and are fast becoming extinct.

What happened to all those top baseball players?

That suggests to me that all those kids who grew up working so hard to develop and master their ability in baseball — well, perhaps they didn’t really actually have a passion for the sport. Maybe they just felt a sense of obligation to their parents to play. And when the dream ended, they no longer had any desire to keep playing.

That may be the legacy of today’s sports parents.