Ending the Excess in Youth Sports Will Require Cool Heads Around One Table

fast break dunkWho made the new rule that you can only score on a fast break?! Don’t bother dribbling, passing, running plays or setting a pick. Just run and gun. Time outs and man to man defense are for sissies.

That’s where, it seems, we find ourselves today, in sports, in business, and in our personal lives. The sad thing is, we think we’re winning.

  • In sports, early achievers bring home championship trophies bigger than they are and often fizzle a few years later.
  • In business, early success means greater demands and 24/7 job expectations which layer anxiety on top of poor health practices and land us in crisis or illness or worse.

Experts from the American College of Sports Medicine predict that this generation – the one now coming of age – will be the first to have a life expectancy less than that of their parents.

Disease, illness, sickness and exhaustion are the inevitable outcome of a life lived at break-neck speed. But we carry on, as if when we outrace our opponents, society’s ills will stop to consume them and allow us to go free. Free to our reward. Free to our success. Free to glory and honor and praise.

But we don’t arrive free. We are burdened by the expense and the toll born in the pursuit. The life we have been racing toward is actually the life we have been living, and we have left it in bits and pieces along the way. There is no going back and picking it up. It is spent.

The object of life shouldn’t be scoring on the fast break. That’s for one hit wonders who peak and fizzle and are never heard from again. Our objective should be longevity; healthy longevity in the game, in play and in life. That is prosperity. And it’s not expensive. It just takes perspective and the willingness to stick to a game plan. we have to learn not to panic when others pursue the fast break life.

This is easy to say and seems easy to do. Everyone loves to take it easy, right?

But what if your arch rival is calling extra practices and signing up for more tournaments while you’re resting? What if your office mate is coming in on weekends and racking up the overtime while you attend family events and plan vacations?

The pressure to do more to be more is nearly overwhelming. Everybody loves the fast break slam dunk. But it’s not good for us, and it’s definitely not good for our kids. In our heart of hearts, we know this, but we don’t seem to be able to help ourselves.

“Are You Asking Me Why I’m Doing Something I Know is Bad for Kids?” is the title of Chapter 12 in Michael Sokolove’s excellent book, Warrior Girls. This was the response of a tournament director questioned about the heavy schedule of games. He is a businessman and this what the marketplace demands. “If I don’t give parents what they want, they’ll go to another tournament down the road with a 4-game guarantee.” We, the parents, the people paying for our kids to play in these tournaments, are the marketplace.

And the triangle of finger-pointing begins:

  • Tournament directors blame the parents for wanting more games, so college coaches get a good look at the their kids.
  • Parents blame the coaches for signing up for too many tournaments, with too much travel, at too high a cost.
  • Coaches blame the tournament directors, who are pressed for fields, schedule at all hours to get in all those games.
  • TD blames parents who blame coaches who blame TDs and the kids are the losers – even the ones who win.

As long as we are all pointing a finger at the other guy/gal who is driving this bus, we are doing a disservice to our young athletes. If we truly want to put the health of our kids, all of our kids, first, we need to gather around one table and agree on the limits of training, competition and play that will be permitted. Any other solution leaves us where we are: looking over our shoulders fearing that someone will pass us. They might “take advantage” of our rest days and call a practice or schedule yet another match, even though it’s frigid, or there are heat advisories or the kids have already played 3 games this week. circle of coaches

  • What if coaches, administrators, tournament directors, parents and health professionals all gathered around the same table to decide on their first and only objective: what is healthy and productive for our kids?
  • What if we enacted rules that limited the numbers of games, the numbers of practices and the number of minutes kids could engage in competitive sport activities?
  • What if everyone had to take a break from demanding sports for a designated length of time? No exceptions.

No one could rush ahead, so no would feel pressured to adopt the fast break. Families, teams and their coaches would need not worry whether someone else was training while they were resting. This way we could actually get some much needed rest.

  • Parents could re-locate their free time.
  • Coaches could spend time with their families or on their own pursuits.
  • Tournament directors could schedule without remorse.
  • And kids could return to the field with the vigor and enthusiasm needed to train and play their best – which would make their coaches happy, their parents happy and the college scouts happy.
  • Those who weren’t scouted would have time to pursue the things that will have more bearing on their lives than soccer: friends, studies, community service, internships, family and recreation.

If we, as leaders in sport and advocates for our children and youth, had the courage to take these steps, we would save so many young athletes from illness, injury and long-term disability.

First we must embrace our One objective: sustained health for our kids.

Don’t worry, the very talented athletes will still shine and can still opt for select training, administered by trained professionals who know how to minimize overtraining and protect against injury. The rest, the huge majority of our kids, would just play. And that would be very, very good. What a day that will be!

Perhaps then, when our kids have kids they will teach them, maybe even coach them to play these great games. We will return to healthy sport and rigorous competition, where each generation is healthier and lives longer than their parents did.

The fast break is a terrible strategy for a life. Live long and prosper is what we really want, for ourselves and our kids. That’s what Fit2Finish is all about.

Comments are closed.