I appreciated Kelly Breckunitch’s article on Aug. 30 about youth sports. I have made my career in college sports and have been increasingly concerned about the professionalization of youth sports and its impact on the development and psyche of young adults we see at the college level.
Historian John Thelin describes intercollegiate athletics as higher education’s “peculiar institution, their presence is pervasive yet their proper balance remains puzzling.” I find youth sports just as “peculiar” as Thelin finds intercollegiate athletics. The number of games kids are playing, the early specialization and the financial and time commitment are, in my opinion, at unhealthy levels. Further, the justification for it is flawed.
Breckunitch notes that often the specialization is to try to get a college scholarship. I can appreciate wanting to find scholarships to pay for college. However, for most, they would likely get as much, or more, scholarship money by spending more time on homework and ACT prep exams.
My encouragement for families is to not make their lives all about sports. If your kid likes sports, have them play in local leagues at a young age. Or, better yet, tell them to get their friends and play sports in their backyard. As they grow older, there will be time for taking sports more seriously. However, don’t let your kids define themselves by sport. What happens when they are done? The overwhelming odds are that they will be done by the age of 22 if they have done exceptionally well. I have watched many struggle for years to figure out life, and purpose, without sports after they are done collegiately.
While I do not have this issue figured out, I have come to the conclusion that this increased (and often unhealthy) focus on athletics is an identity problem in our culture. When you step back and think about it, it makes no sense. Now, I am not anti-athletics…far from it. I think it can be an important part of the maturation process for young adults. I have seen it be an invaluable part of the educational process for many student-athletes. However, this only happens when sport is kept in proper perspective.
— Dr. Rob Ramseyer, Athletic Director, Friends University