THE BLOG
01/21/2016 02:51 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Greatest Problem in Youth Sports

This coming Saturday we have four basketball games: 8:30, 11:00, 12:30 and 7:00. One game each for our four oldest kids.

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To some of y'all, that sounds ridiculous and chaotic. To me, it sounds awesome. I can't wait. My wife is in the first boat with y'all.

I'm coaching in three of those games and will be the cheerleader dad from the stands in the fourth.

But as much as I enjoy days like this coming Saturday, I have to keep reminding myself of one thing.

It's the thing that I'd argue is the biggest problem in youth sports. The problem is that we're making these sports about the adults and not the kids that are playing the youth sports.

Let me caveat my logic (or lack thereof) with a few things:

1. I think it's perfectly fine for kids to want to win at whatever sport they're playing, at whatever age. Participation trophies aren't what you get in the real world, so I'm fine with them being competitive and wanting to win. I like that actually.

2. The youth sports culture is incredibly intoxicating and it takes the best-intentioned people (me included) and turns us into something we're not proud of. We've witnessed threats to players, coaches, referees. Insults to opposing players, even their own children.

3. Studies are showing that multiple sports benefit a child's athletic ability far more than being specialized in one sport so the pressure from parents and coaches to "pick a sport" at an early age is ridiculous in my opinion.

4. The only sports I played beyond high school were intramurals and sports where you could have a beer in the parking lot afterward, so again, not the expert here.

So let me explain where I see the biggest problem in youth sports being played out. The problem is that we've made it about us and not them.

Parents (again, me included when I'm at my worst) have turned this into a social form of competition and entertainment. It packs our calendars and fills our weekends.

But shouldn't it be about teaching them to enjoy whatever game they're playing?

We travel from practice to practice, game to game, oftentimes so we can be "proud of" watching little Johnny play a dozen sports. It's entertainment.

But shouldn't it be about them learning to compete in healthy ways?

And if we admit the truth, we want Johnny to be better than neighbor boy Jimmy. Even if Johnny and Jimmy are on the same team. Not for Johnny's benefit but for ours. It's the ugly side of competition.

But shouldn't it be about teaching them how to be great teammates?

What if we acknowledged this reality and worked hard at shifting the focus back where it belongs? To the youth who are actually playing the youth sports.

Because it's not about us, it's about them.

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