Not Pint-Sized Pros

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“Across the nation, kids of all skill levels, in virtually every team sport, are getting swept up by a youth sports economy that increasingly resembles the pros and at increasingly early ages…”–Sean Gregory, TIME MAGAZINE

Do yourself, your family, and your young athlete a favor by becoming educated about the changes in the youth sports culture over the last decade. In effect, the “youth sports industry” has monetized the activity of children playing organized sports. According to the must-read article in Time Magazine, “How Kids’ Sports Became a $15 Billion Industry,” (, it is a huge money-maker, and your children are commodities. These businesses are brokering the promise to transform your child into a prized athlete, maybe even a pro.

Parents feel pressure, as well as young athletes, to keep up with the wave of change. The current perception is that “you’re falling behind” if you are not approaching sports activities like a professional athlete. What used to be the exception is becoming prevalent: individual instruction, travel teams, relocation, national tournaments, expensive equipment for your backyard, extended hours of practice, specialization in one sport, fitness and weight training, nutritionists. Sadly, schools are now competing with these businesses for athletes who are opting to travel hundreds of miles to be seen and recruited at younger and younger ages. Playing for the local high school might not provide enough exposure in the pursuit of a college scholarship. Keep in mind the 2% statistic. That’s how many high school athletes play at the next level.

Little athletes are called by professional team names, the Angels, the Devil Rays, the Braves, often sporting their logos. Sports are now their “job,” not their recreational activity. Note that the behavior that professional athletes have modeled have trickled down to these young players. Outbursts of anger, disrespect for officials and other players, selfishness and boasting are part of what they have learned from watching the professionals. And the spectators…oh my. You would think the stakes were sky high. The behavior that some adults display at games, including yelling at referees (who are often kids themselves), razzing the other team players and parents, and disregarding sportsmanship in pursuit of winning create an environment that is not healthy, especially for children.

Parents, you must be wise in this culture of youth sports for the sake of what matters most– your child’s healthy growth and development. That includes physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual well-being. It is not appropriate to relate to a young athlete as an adult. Your responsibility, therefore, includes making sure your child enjoys sports activities and performs without undue pressure. You are his advocate, his protector, his advisor, his mentor, his parent; you are not his agent, his coach, his chief motivator, his boss. Your relationship with your child now and in the future depends on your mature and wise perspective. The choices that you make with your child should promote values that outlast the sports experience. Sports will end for every athlete at some point. What remains in terms of character and relationships are the prize.

Key Tips:

  • Navigate the culture of youth sports with discernment rather than feeling pressured to “not fall behind” in the race to the rare college scholarship.
  • Remember when sports end, the investment of resources will continue to pay off if the experience is approached with a broader perspective.

–Manage time, financial and performance pressures to ensure that the sports experience continues to be enjoyable, not only for your child but for you.


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