Three things wrong with youth sports

Jonathan Bennett

This summer I’ve had a chance to spend a lot of time in and around the youth sports world. Between coaching a travel basketball team and watching my son play Little League baseball, I’ve been startled by some things I’ve seen and left wondering if there are better ways to do other things.

Here are a few thoughts that have come to mind recently.

There are too many games. My son played baseball this year, and after the third practice of the season we played our first game. From that point on, we didn’t have a single team practice. It wasn’t the coach’s fault. He tried to get practice times on multiple occasions, but the fields were booked with games. My son simply didn’t have enough practice. What he needed was fewer games and more practice time to hone his skills. Significant improvement cannot happen in games only. It’s during organized practices with lots of proper repetition that improvement takes place.

Here’s just two of several ideas I have on this topic. Why don’t we cut 25 percent of all youth sports games and instead have 25 percent more practices? How about having special instructional days when the league hires a professional to do training for coaches so that they can implement highly productive, age-appropriate training for the teams they coach?

Parents and coaches are crazy. Unfortunately, this isn’t a surprise to most people. This past weekend, I was at a high school basketball tournament and I saw a coach berate multiple players using every curse word in the book to do so. His team wasn’t playing particularly well, and I just sat there behind the bench stunned at how this man modeled how to act when facing adversity. Like many coaches, when things were going well he was all excited and when things weren’t going well he decided foul language and screaming were the answer.

And don’t get me started on parents. I worry when parents put so much pressure on their son or daughter, overly criticize when they make mistakes and don’t give encouragement or praise when they do something well. I would love to see parent-training options for youth sports leagues. Parents need as much guidance and “coaching” as the young players do. Maybe a little education on the role of a parent in youth sports could go a long way at developing awareness for parents who simply have no clue.

Quit with the overuseand specialization. Over the weekend, former Atlanta Braves great John Smoltz was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame. During his induction speech, he took a few minutes to talk about an ever-increasing issue in youth baseball. He referenced the multiple Tommy John surgeries by young pitchers today and the overuse of arms that has become a serious problem.

Here are a few words from his speech, “I want to encourage the families and parents that are out there that this is not normal to have a surgery at 14 and 15 years old. That you have time, that baseball is not a year-round sport. That you have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports. Don’t let the institutions that are out there running before you guaranteeing scholarship dollars and signing bonuses that this is the way… .”

These are great words from one of the best pitchers of all time. Hopefully parents and kids will take this to heart.