Great Stuff From the Guys at Changing the Game Project
I DID NOT WRITE THIS. It is from the guys at Changing the Game Project. However, I do agree. My daughter went from town sports, to a select hockey team at 12 to a full college scholarship at 15. What these guys say works. My daughter did not play in a summer hockey tournament until the week before her 13th birthday. She had never been to Canada to play etc. However, she had excelled at town hockey, town soccer, and local summer swimming and diving. In addition, she had won a state judo championship. My 10 year old son plays hockey, baseball, lacrosse, flag football and rec basketball. Most of these are very inexpensive and provide great fun and great competition.
5 Ways Youth Sports gets the Math All Wrong
1.Youth Sports Costs Way Too Much, Way Too Soon: We are creating barriers to entry to sports that should have very few. Soccer, for example, needs a round object and some space to play. Instead, we have tryouts, “elite” clubs and travel teams for 6-7 year olds. Author Mark Hyman phrases it perfectly in the title of his great book about the cost of youth sports, The Most Expensive Game in Town. It costs thousands of dollars plus travel for some kids to play a sport that could almost be free. I am not saying that tryouts, travel, and high-level, long distance competition do not have a place in the game, but not before age 12 at the earliest. Local play and town leagues are disappearing. And worst, we have ramped up the pressure on parents to pay, coaches to produce, and kids to perform. As former NFL punter turned college professor Travis Dorsch has found in his research, our kids are acutely aware of the money we spend on sports, and it adds pressure, and takes away enjoyment for them.
2. Youth Sports Makes Poor Use of Our Kids’ Time (and Ours): Let’s compare the average day of pickup games/free play to today’s hyper-organized sporting scene. In other words, lets look at the return on investment in time.
In a pickup/free play environment, a child might walk 10 minutes on a Saturday to the park or pond to meet with friends. They organize teams and play, taking breaks every once in a while to change teams, get a drink, eat, etc. Six hours later, the child goes home. His 6.5 hour investment yields about 5.5 hours of child directed sport.
Now take our highly organized environment. A child gets in the car at 9am, and drives ninety minutes to his travel game. He arrives a minimum of one hour prior to kickoff, and a warm up commences 30 minutes prior to game time. He plays a 60 minute game, and for arguments sake he plays 40 minutes (a hockey team with 3 lines might yield 20 minutes of play or less with a coach who does not think every kid needs to play.) The coach/team spends 30 minutes changing and debriefing after the game, the player grabs a bite to eat, and he arrives home two hours later. A 5.5 hour investment of time, for one hour of play.
In a nutshell, instead of spending the vast majority of his day at play, making rules, calling fouls, playing fearlessly, and involved in self-directed learning, our kids spend most of it in a car (and so do we). We pay a lot more for a lot less time on task.
3. Ratio of Games vs. Training: Games and competitive matches certainly have their place, but our overemphasis on competition, especially at the youngest ages, is detrimental on two fronts.
First, our current environment yields a ratio of one game for one practice in many sports, which is not ideal. A well run hour of baseball practice might get every player a few dozen swings, and dozens of attempts at throwing, catching and fielding. A one-hour game might see him get 8-10 swings, and depending upon position, 3-10 additional touches of the ball. I cannot think of a sport where an athlete does not get more reps in training. Yet, at the critical ages of development, where kids need as many touches and attempts as possible, we are choosing to play competitive games that give them very few, instead of practice that will help develop technical mastery. Why do we play so many games? According to former NBA player turned youth sports advocate Bob Bigelow, “Adults want to win; kids want to play. That’s the difference. The more adult needs you add to these sports, the more adult vision, the more adult needs have to be met.”
Second, and I think this is critical; our massive emphasis on tournament play is developing slow players. Three-time World Cup soccer coach Raymond Verheijan, one of the world’s experts on periodization, training and injury prevention, first stated this idea to me. “Think about it,” he said. “In your first tournament game, everyone plays full speed, 100%. But your second game of the day, you are at 90% because of fatigue. Your third and fourth game of the weekend, you are at 80% speed. If you make the final, everyone is tired, sore, carrying injuries, and playing 70-80% of full speed. Not only are your players increasingly susceptible to injury, but in four out of your five games, they have played at a slower speed due to fatigue. Your players are rarely playing at maximum pace or making maximum decisions per minute. In a mental game like soccer, they are learning over and over to play slowly.”
4. The Age of Specialization is Way Too Young: I have written articles on this subject, and the book “Is it Wise to Specialize” so if you want more on this topic click the links. Until there is compelling science, and not simply outlier, one-in-a million examples like “look at Tiger” to show that early specialization is a better path for player development, I believe the science shows that the multi-sport pathway prior to age 12 gives your child the best chance of long term success. Outside of female figure skating and gymnastics, playing a single sport prior to the age of 12, especially when it is the decision of the parent or coach, and not the athlete, only serves to decrease ownership, enjoyment and intrinsic motivation, while increasing the risk of burnout and injury. Let your kids play multiple sports, and help them find their passion instead of trying to determine it for them.
5. Talk About College Sports Starts Too Young: As evident by the letter I received from the mom quoted above, too many coaches and parents are talking about scholarships at an age they should be talking about love of the game and developing excellence. As the mom noted, her daughter had no idea what she wanted to study, where she wanted to go to school, and likely had been to very few college campuses, yet she was being told “commit soon or else.” I have yet to meet a college coach, especially on the women’s side where the problem seems exacerbated, that likes this current system of evaluating and recruiting middle schoolers, and committing scholarships to kids 3-5 years before they will ever step on campus. Yet they also feel powerless to stop. As a result, we have a generation of college athletes heading to schools that are not the best fit, majoring in subjects they have little interest in, and transferring at a very high rate.
Its time to get the math right in youth sports. don’t you think? Here are a few steps to do so that will make it better for our kids, and better for the adults as well:
Do not force, or be forced, into having your child specialize too early. The evidence supports a multi-sport pathway.
Have your child play one sport per season, and play it with full effort and commitment.
Do not be in a hurry to get on the team that travels the farthest, or collects all the best players as soon as possible. Save your money and time until your child’s ability and desire demands it, and your family and finances can support it. Performance prior to puberty is not a great indicator of performance after it.
Find local free play opportunities, take your child and friends to the park, and let them play. Have your kids play futsal, or 3v3, do tumbling and martial arts, and build those hours on task through more efficiently through child-centered fun.
Look for quality of competition, not just quantity. Don’t be mesmerized by the coach that tells you about all the games they play, and all the tournaments they go to. Find a coach and club that talks about how much they practice, and how much every player gets to play and how they develop on their own time frame.
Stop talking about college sports too soon. Worry about your child becoming a good player, and developing a burning desire to play. College sports are hard, and demand a ton of time;, if sport is a job and not a passion, they won’t make it. Yes, some schools and sports want early commitments, but they also want great players. If your child is good, and patient, chances are she will find a school that is a much better fit then one she was in a hurry to commit to 3-4 years prior.
Let’s hit the reset button, and get the math right. Let’s start investing our precious time wisely, and our precious dollars in the right things, and at the right time. We can make the math work.
Our kids need us to.
This entry was posted on December 16, 2015 at 7:04 am and is filed under Guest Authors, Hockey, Injuries, Strength Coach Podcast, StrengthCoach.com Updates, Training, Training Females, Youth Training with tags Early specialization. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
One Response to “Great Stuff From the Guys at Changing the Game Project”
Comments are closed.