Archive for September, 2017

TRENDS IN SPORTS: New Study Suggests Fewer Kids Are Playing Sports

A new study was just released this past week which  suggests that fewer kids between the ages of 6-12 are participating in sports. In fact, the number of kids playing organized team sports has dropped by a stunning 8 percent over the last decade.

Now, if this is really true, that is quite a drop off. And it’s very troubling.

The study comes from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association and the Aspen Institute. They claims that back in 2008, 45 percent of kids ages 6-12 played in team sports. But in 2017, that number has dropped down to only 37 percent.

Why the decline? The leading theory put forth by these two groups is that because travel teams have become so well accepted as the vehicle for kids to get ahead, it’s now become a case of  financial “haves and have nots”when it come to youth sports.

“Sports in America have separated into sport-haves and have-nots,” said Tom Farrey, executive director of Aspen’s Sports & Society program. The group released its research at its annual Project Play Summit on Wednesday in Washington and it was reported in the Washington Post. “All that matters is if kids come from a family that has resources. If you don’t have money, it’s hard to play.”

The conclusion that they are putting forth is that because youth sports have become so expensive in this country, that it’s increasingly becoming strictly the domain of the affluent. That is, that unless a kid comes from a household which makes at least $100,000 a year, it’s going to be very difficult for a youngster to pursue sports on a travel team.

As a result, kids from poorer families are just giving up team sports.

First off, I sure hope that isn’t the case. And let me just say this: while there might be a grain of truth in that theory, in my opinion, it’s a very small grain. If anything, in my observations, kids from less fortunate economic families are even more eager to make a travel team and to chase their dreams in sports than kids who come from more comfortable backgrounds and have other options. In effect, sports is exceedingly important to gaining that college scholarship or to go pro.

Furthermore, many travel programs like to boast that one’s economic status shouldn’t be a concern – that if a family needs some financial help, the travel program will waive fees and the like. In other words, if the kid is a really good athlete, then the travel team will somehow come up with the finances for that kid to be on the team.

So, in short, I don’t know if that theory of haves and have-nots really is the reason why the enrollment numbers are shrinking. True, one caller this AM said he has two boys playing on separate travel baseball teams, and the total cost runs more than $5,000 a year. That’s indeed an issue, and one that squarely needs to be addressed by travel team programs who can pretty much charge whatever they want for a kid to participate.

AN ALTERNATIVE THEORY

Here’s another theory which I propose: Do you think that kids today are walking away from sports at increasingly younger ages because the kids realize early on that they are not the ones chosen first, or who aren’t a lock to make the travel team? And as a result, rather than play on the local rec team, they just give up and walk away from sports.

I hate to even suggest that, but I think that might explain the so-called drop off in kids playing sports.

In other words, if the kid senses that they are not going to be a star, why bother? And their parents – also recognizing that their kid is only average in athletic ability — they allow their youngster to walk away from sports. I mean, why spend all that time, money, and effort with your 1o or 11 year old if they’re not going to become a top player?

That might sound strange, but I fear that’s the kind of philosophical approach more and more sports parents are taking. And if true, what a shame. Kids under the age of 12 haven’t gone through adolescence yet, they haven’t had a chance to learn about the key and essential “life lessons” that team sports can offer, e.g. learning from adversity, learning how to be on a team, and so on. These are vital lessons.

But if the kids are walking away, those lessons are lost to them. What a shame.

 

 

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: Why Don’t Parents Trust HS Coaches More?

On this morning’s show on WFAN, now that our kids are all back to school, and all of the fall school sports programs are in full practice and games, I wanted to spend some time talking about HS coaches. And specifically, just how complicated coaching kids in school has become in recent years.

That is, I want to remind parents that being a HS coach these days is a lot different from when they were growing up in school, and that, once I review some of the responsibilities and pressures that coaches have to confront, well, I’m hoping that  today’s Moms and Dads might have a moment to reflect on just how tough these jobs are.

But in thinking about the overall relationship between coaches and our kids, I think the overriding and pressing question is this:

As sports parents, why don’t we trust our kids’ coaches more?

Now, I recognize that’s a very bold and accusatory question. But the truth is, for too many sports parents, there’s a general uneasiness or wariness that our kids’ HS coaches are somehow not doing a good enough job, or that they are not sharing our own perspective on how talented your kid is, or that even the HS coach places too much emphasis on the team’s success and can jeopardize your kid’s health in order to win.

These are serious concerns, to be sure. But based upon the outreach of calls this AM, this is a topic of pressing interest, especially from coaches. In fact, let’s go over a job description for a typical HS coach:

1. Coaches have to organize every practice session…have to spend time preparing game plans for the upcoming opponent….have to, in many cases, read scouting reports of the opposing teams, or spend copious amounts of time watching videotape of opponents as well as of their own players.

2 -They of course have to be with their athletes at all of the practices and games or events…which usually is after school hours or on weekends…

3 – They have to know the rules of their sport intimately as well as recent rule changes..they have to know the various game strategies….they have to know the basics of first aid, such as CPR, concussion protocol, and so on.

4  -They have to not only get to know each of their athletes well, but they also have to literally teach, or coach, each kid on the finer points of their game. That’s the essence of coaching.

5- Along those lines, the coach needs to develop a kind of rapport with each youngster, as in, some kids need to be given total positive feedback, others respond better to sharp criticism, and so on. It’s up to the coach to learn how to handle each youngster’s psyche.

6-And coaches have to remind their players about good sportsmanship and then enforce it….remind players about adhering to the school’s Code of Conduct…remind them constantly about the dangers of social media….remind them to keep their studies in order and in good shape.

7-And of course, the coach is constantly evaluating the kid’s talents on a daily basis…as in, do I have the best kids as starters? Are they playing the right positions? Or are there other kids on the team that I have overlooked? Do some of these kids perform better in game situations than in practice?

8-And yes…there’s one more thing on the coach’s docket….his team is supposed to win…maybe not necessarily a league championship every year, but certainly be over .500.

9- The coaching salary? For all of this hard and endless work, maybe the coach earns a few thousand dollars for the season. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less. But certainly HS coaches are not making the kinds of extraordinary salaries that college coaches earn.

In short, you would be hard pressed to come up with a “part-time” job that is more time-consuming or more demanding than being a HS coach.

“IF I TELL YOU THE TRUTH ABOUT YOUR KID, WILL WE STILL BE FRIENDS?”

One of the callers today, who is a long-time HS coach, said this question is at the core of every coach/parent interaction. That is, coaches are hired to be objective about each kid’s talent, and rarely does the involved sports parent see his or her child in the same way as the coach. And that’s where the problems begin. Several coaches noted today that parents are so invested with their athlete’s progress, e.g. travel team play, travel team coaches telling kids and their parents how much progress they have made, how  they could play in college, and so on that what that kid tries out for the varsity and finds him or herself not even starting or having to share time, this is where the friction begins.

So if a coach tells a parent the truth about an athlete — he’s not as fast as you think, or he’s not as gifted, or there are better players on the team – that’s when parents see red and any sense of trust in the coach immediately evaporates. And that, said several callers, is when the troubles begin. Even worse, when parents see red, it is very, very hard to get them to calm down or to try and see the athlete’s talents from the coach’s perspective.

And as one coach remarked, “What the individual parent doesn’t seem to realize that even though his kid played AAU ball all summer and improved their skills, so did most of the other kids on the basketball team  — and they all improved. As such, they ALL come into practice expecting – along with their parents – that they are going to be stars. And of course, that just can’t happen.”

In sum, this is where we are these days. And for any HS coach, it just gets tougher and tougher.

 

TRENDS IN SPORTS: TIME Magazine Cover Story Reveals Youth Sports is a $15 Billion Industry

Hard to believe, but true.

I grew up during a time when youth sports were not influenced by parents, travel teams, elite camps, the college recruiting of middle school kids, and so on. When you went outside to play with your friends, you found an empty field or sandlot, put down markers for boundaries, and depending on the season, you played touch football, baseball, basketball, soccer, whatever. Markers usually consisted on somebody’s jacket or a sweater to show where out of bounds were. There were no white lines. If your (wooden) baseball bat broke, you didn’t throw it away. Rather, you took it home, found some small nails to fix it, and taped it up so you could use it again.

I know, I know. This all sounds ancient and prehistoric. No youngster today could even imagine this kind of world. But of course, it did exist, and it existed not that long ago.

That’s why Sean Gregory’s cover story in this week’s TIME Magazine had such great impact. Why? Because it summarized the out of control parental obsession with their kids in sports, and even worse, that this obsession – and that’s what it is – not only shows no sign of letting up, if anything, it’s only accelerating. On my show this AM, Sean talked about 10-year-old Joey Baseball, a talented but smallish kid who travels all around the country to play baseball. He’s able to do this because his parents are affluent and they figure that since they have the financial means to do this, why not? But as Sean also cautioned, these parents know that everything might change when their son becomes a teenager, and he may no longer be the star that he is today.

JOEY BASEBALL?

Even worse, Sean writes about other parents of other promising athletes, and how they spend a fortune to make sure their kids play on elite travel teams. Problem is, these families are not as well off as Joey Baseball, but these Moms and Dads are hellbent on making sure their kid gets an athletic scholarship. But as you know, just because your kid is a star at age 10 or 12 doesn’t guarantee they will grow into being a star at age 18. And that’s the rub.

In short, travel teams and private coaching have become big, big business, and the article details how cleverAmerican entrepreneurs have tapped into this market and made millions. Witness the U.S. Specialty Sports Association, which used to run slo-pitch softball tournaments back in the day. They pivoted to now running youth sports tournaments in Florida, and business is booming. And because USSAA is a not-for-profit, not only do they enjoy the benefits of that status, but their CEO earns more than $800,000 a year. Before you become outraged or envious, you should know that this is all perfectly legal.

Same thing with LL Baseball. As a not-for-profit operation, they like to boast about all of their volunteers, including coaches, umpires, ushers, and so on. Of course, LL Baseball doesn’t talk about having $87 million in its cash reserves, or their multi-million TV contracts or corporate sponsors. And their CEO makes close to $500,000. How much do the kids and their families who make it to the playoffs in Williamsport? Well, they get the fun of making the trip, and that’s about it.

ARE TIMES CHANGING?

Personally, I do think we’re gradually reaching a turning point in youth sports. Parents will soon begin to figure out that it’s just too much money, time, and effort to expend on a kid who may or may not make a college team. Or, as Sean pointed out, we’re already seeing this become the domain of only wealthy families who can afford the “pay-to-play” mentality.

And of course, despite their having a fancy brochure or slick website, the simple truth is that no travel or elite teams or private coaches are regulated, certified, or overseen by any state or federal agency. As a result, it’s all caveat emptor.

Here’s hoping that someday soon that real guidelines and rules are finally put in place. I have preached for a long time that this would be a perfect opportunity for the President’s Council on Physical Fitness to jump in, but alas, that still hasn’t happened.