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Focus on Fundamentals

08/06/2015 21:54 ● Published by Sandy Kauten

The youth sport movement in America began in the 19th century with the start of the mandatory-schooling movement.  

Sports were seen as an important element in teaching “American” values of cooperation, discipline, hard work, and respect for authority.   

Youth sport opportunities in the early 19th century were facilitated by educators and teachers who were guided by principles of age appropriate growth and development as well as a big picture, long term educational outlooks that focused on the needs and learning abilities of children.  

And the ultimate goal of team sport participation/education was for America to produce healthy, proud, compassionate, and productive citizens.

Competitive children’s activities have certainly evolved since they began in late 19th-century.  Starting in the the 20th century, organized youth groups eventually took on the responsibility of providing children with sports activities.  

This movement was paralleled by the advent in the 1960's of the self esteem movement - where every child got a ribbon - and a higher stakes college admissions culture, that created a "growing competitive frenzy over college admissions as badge of parental fulfillment.” (Historian Peter Stearns)   

Competition was the buzz word of the 1990's and has continued to ramp up the anxiety for parents in this decade who are seeking the magic solution when it comes to a meaningful youth sport experience. It is hard not to get caught up in the arms race of winning championships, national titles, and world championships for kids aged 4 to 14 playing youth sports in America.  

Youth sports has thus in the 21st century, evolved to become more about the end result and winning rather than the educational pathway for long term development through learning and love of the game. 

For parents of children in the 21st century, the youth sport scene is a challenging one.  Parenting has in fact been deemed the most competitive sport in America as Mom’s and Dad’s seek to navigate the current youth sport culture that has them scheduling personal trainers, budgeting for travel, making appointments with physical therapists and orthopedic surgeons, and purchasing the latest in performance enhancing equipment, all the while giving up family dinners and vacations. 

It might be then both disheartening and yet welcoming at the same time for parents to know that in 2015, there is now a national crisis within the ranks of youth sports.  

According to the Aspen Institute's Project Play 2015 report, kids are leaving sports in a significant way.  2.6 million fewer kids are playing basketball, soccer, track & field, baseball, softball, and football. (Sports & Fitness Industry Association - SIFA - data provided to the Aspen Institute, based on 2013 statistics)  

The reason: “Today, adult led competition dominates and try-out based, multi-season travel teams for as early as age 6, siphon players from and support for in-town recreation leagues that serve all kids.   The emphasis of performance over participation happens well before kids’ bodies, minds, and interests mature.  

We tend to value the child who can help win games or whose families can afford the rising fees.  The risks for that child are overuse injuries, concussion, and burnout.” (Farrey, Tom, Game On: The All American Race To Make Champions of Our Children, New York:  ESPN Books, 2008)

Despite the loss of youth sport participation however, research still shows that kids who are involved in sports are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, get involved in gangs, will have a later on set of sexual activity, and are more likely to do better in school and have positive peer relationships.

So what to do?  

The Aspen Institute’s Project Play suggests that we adopt a sport model that welcomes all children based on broad access which leads to sustained participation.  

Up to age 12, youth sport programs and activities should focus on a child’s ability, confidence, and desire to be active.  The program:  Sport for All, Play for Life -  responds to the growing body of research that supports a sampling period of sport activities through age 12, even for elite athletes.  

Indeed, contrary to popular assumption, athletes are more likely to play at the college level and beyond if they wait until later to specialize in one sport. (see www.ProjectPlay.us)

Both health and performance are served if the preteen years are treated as a development zone with activities that build physical literacy. (Epstein, David, “Sports Should be Child’s Play,” New York Times, June 11th, 2014)

Project Play also identifies eight promising strategies that stakeholders can use to help every child become physically active through sports.  They are:

  • Ask Kids What They Want
  • Reintroduce Free Play
  • Encourage Sport Sampling - Multi sports rather than specializing
  • Revitalize In-Town Leagues
  • Think Small
  • Design for Development
  • Train All Coaches
  • Emphasize Prevention 

The eight promising strategies of the Aspen Institute’s 2015 Project Play are almost back to the future with regards to the goals that America’s fore father’s and mothers had for 19th century youth; that through sport their children would become healthy, proud, compassionate, and productive citizens of the world.

We’ve come full circle and now is the time to give the game back to the kids and and get out of their way.

Beverly holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Human Performance from the University of Oregon (1988) and her level 4/5 National Coaching Certificate from the National Institute of Coaching in Victoria, British Columbia. She helped write the draft for Canada Basketball’s Long Term Athlete Development Plan (LTAD) and has done skill and coaching clinics in Canada, Italy, Jordan, and the US.  Beverly also  coached the Oregon Women's Basketball Team from 2001 to 2009 and the Canadian National Basketball Team from 1997 through to the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. She was elected to the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame (2003), the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame (2003), the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (2004), and the University of Oregon Hall of Fame (1992)

Beverly is presently the Executive Director of Emerald KIDSPORTS.


Parenting, Today, Today sports, youth sports, sports culture, development and sports, health

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