Are Adults Killing Youth Sports?

Growing up I played multiple sports through high school, as an adult I’ve now coached youth sports, worked in the sporting goods industry, and have two very active child-athletes in my house who play at all levels of competition from Recreation to A-level travel ball. All of this lead me to a disturbing conclusion: Adults are killing youth sports. 

Now don’t get me wrong there are good natured Parents and Coaches out there who do their job, support the kids and let them succeed or fail as needed. However, it seems more frequently I’ve observed:

  • The Dad lurking behind the back stop shouting corrections to their child after every pitch
  • The Mom cheering & laughing when the other team makes an error
  • The grumbling collection of parents in the peanut gallery questioning every move the coach makes, a judgment call from the umpire, or making sarcastic remark for why their child is on the bench
  • The coach who chews out players for missing a sign on the base paths or making an error in the field

I’ve witnessed this not just at the ultra-competitive Travel ball levels but at the Rec level as well (where it may actually be worse). You know the story, parents drop tons of cash to have their kids participate in these leagues, spend more money than they need on overpriced sporting equipment, take private lessons to “stay on top”, and then helicopter over their kids and place unrealistic expectations on them.

It’s no wonder then when you look at the participation of youth sports it’s on shaky ground. We’ve created a rat race that does the exact opposite of its intentions; creating stressed out kids, with shots to their self-esteem, having them leave the sport because it is “not fun anymore”. What happened to the pick-up game where a pack of kids from the neighborhood would find an open space and play (football, baseball, basketball, hockey, etc.) for hours?

We’re now at a crossroads between “over-scheduled youth” & “the video game era” and if we continue on this trajectory our society may be in trouble with the next generation.

So what does this have to do with anything? Sports? Business? Life? Well, a portion of my audience works directly in the sports industry and another portion has their own kids who may be active in sports.

  • Can we build a cognitive app that picks up a negative tone and emits an electric pulse to a poorly behaving adult? (only partially kidding)
  • Can we build brand campaigns and products that put a mirror up to these situations to challenge our behavior?
  • Can we institute a “players only practice” policy at our kid's league?

Above anything else, I’m asking that we start a dialogue and examine our role as Adults and challenge our responsibility to drive positive change. One small step by each can drive an amazing ripple effect in our future.

I'm curious, If I'm the only one that feels this way...Let me know what you think.