Let ‘Em Play

By August 23, 2013 4 Comments

Youth sports can be one of the best things for a child’s athletic, social, and psychological development when coached properly. However, I am concerned about some of the things I see happening in youth sports today. In particular, I am concerned with the nature of club sports. I don’t really know if the majority of them, regardless of sport, are really out there in the best interest of the kids.

Most of you know that I am a high school coach, so I am speaking strictly from my perspective. I see too many youth, club, and even high school coaches who don’t allow their athletes to be involved in other sports or activities. As a head girl’s basketball coach, I try to be as flexible as possible when our athletes are involved in other sports. I believe it’s good and important for our athletes to be involved in other sports and encourage them to participate in them. I think it’s beneficial to play multiple sports as it helps overall athleticism.

Every year millions of kids in our country are involved in youth sports, many of which participate in club sports. Did you know that close to 70% of these kids are burnt out and quit by the age of 14?  Why is this happening? I believe one factor is that these sports are demanding too much from these kids. It’s go, go, go all the time and the kids never get a break.

In my opinion, I think too many coaches are selfish and really don’t have the kids’ best interest in mind. In talking with many coaches from different states such as Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, and Iowa, it seems as though a big problem is athletes being discouraged from participating in other sports. Coaches are too focused on winning games, having players at every practice and game. Unfortunately I’ve heard of athletes playing time being threatened if they miss for another sport. Many times an athlete will finish a high school sport season and go immediately into a club season in that same sport. I am seeing and hearing more cases where the club coach will tell the athlete that they don’t want them playing another high school sport while involved with the club team. This occurs in baseball, softball, volleyball, soccer, and basketball. It’s all over.

Now, if a kid is true standout in that sport and has a great shot a Division One Scholarship, I get that it may be beneficial to focus on one sport all the time. But the truth is that very few high school athletes receive athletic scholarships. According to the NCAA only about 2% receive scholarships. Less than 1% of high school athletes go onto the professional level. So my question is why?

Why do coaches not want their athletes to participate in other sports? My opinion is selfishness. Too many coaches place winning on a pedestal and don’t look at the big picture. I may be a throwback but I believe the athletes who are able to play multiple sports are usually the better ones. Here are some famous professional athletes who stood out in other sports while in high school, some even collegiately and professionally: Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Bo Jackson, Matt Holiday, Deion Sanders, and Steve Nash.

Another problem is that in club sports the kids play too many games and don’t practice enough. The ratio here in the U.S. is out of whack. Our kids play more games than they practice. How does that help fundamental skill? The ratio should be equal. I had a high school coach tell me his basketball team played over 40 games this summer. Some club teams play over 50 games in a summer. That’s too much. You should always have more practices than games played. How are players truly getting better if all they do is play games? We played 16 games and had 20 open gyms this summer. Playing too many games also leads to sport specific injuries, but this is another topic for another day.

I think it’s good for kids to participate in club sports, but I do not think they should be limited to one sport year round. I believe it’s a benefit for a kid to be well-rounded and involved in multiple sports. Remember, less than 1% go on to the professional level. We need a call to action. We should not have a close to 70% burn out rate for kids by the age of 14. Club and high school coaches, share your athletes. Encourage them to participate in other sports.  We need more communication and understanding amongst coaches, players, and parents.

Bottom line: Are we really looking out for our kid’s best interest? Right now, I don’t think we are.

I know this will bring a variety of views and opinions. I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially from coaches and athletes.

As always, thanks for reading, have a great week, and be an RGP today!


Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Kyle, You’ve hit the nail right on the head here. My husband has coached for 28 years and all three of my kids played sports up through college. We ran into coaches especially at the high school level who were very narrow-minded about their athletes and almost punished them if they missed the preseason open gyms or conditioning because they were playing another sport. As a high school coach of two sports, my husband always encouraged his players to play other sports and bemoaned the fact that many of the other coaches did not work together for the benefit of the kid, but jealously guarded their own sport. I wish my son or daughter would have played basketball for you in high school!

  • kelmendorf says:

    Wow, thank you Janis! I can’t think of a better compliment. Thank you for taking the time to read and share your thoughts and experiences, I appreciate it! Where does your husband coach and what does he coach?

  • Zach says:

    Hi Kyle,

    Good article and well written. I am a youth club soccer coach in the Chicagoland area I work primarily with 9-14 year olds. I agree with you on a small note and disagree with your opinion on a large note. I completely agree that there should be more practices than games. Although fun and rewarding, an overabundance of games compared to practices is downright useless. However, I must counter your opinion on the point of view of the coach when it comes to “selfishness” of wanting their athletes to be a 1 sport player on two accounts. First, What lessons are being instilled in multi-sport athletes? It’s OK to sign up for several sports and sacrifice their maximum potential for growth in a specific sport? How about the teammates that are depending on the multi-sport athlete when they’re not there? If young kids are supposed to develop both individually and as a team, how is this possible when the multi-sport athletes aren’t around? Second, contrary to your view on coaches being concerned with winning (although there are those that exist), coaches are teachers wearing shorts. If a student doesn’t show up for practice, they miss out on a lesson or two. If a student consistently doesn’t show up for practices, they miss out on entire chapters of lessons. Over time multi-sport athletes will not have grown much at all in all of their sports because they missed out on valuable lessons with which their devoted and committed teammates are well equipped. High school and college coaches are way more results based than youth and club coaches because the latter are focused (or at least should be) on development. How can a multi-sport athlete develop if they’re not there? And, on a final note, another valuable lesson multi-sport athletes miss out on is committment. If team player cannot commit to a team they’ve signed up for, they should not be deemed as a team player. Those are my two cents. Again, thanks for sharing.

  • kelmendorf says:

    Hi Zach,

    Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment, I appreciate it. You bring up interesting and legitimate points, which is great. Good dialogue is always healthy and welcome. My biggest concern with an athlete playing one sport is burnout. Less than 6% of HS athletes go on to play at the collegiate level, hockey is the exception with 11%. Less than 1% in any sport make it to the professional levels. Burnout among youth athletes is rising. I can’t argue with your points on character and being a good teammate, they’re valid. But why not allow kids to play mutliple sports and experience those things from different angles? Why go from season to season playing the same sport? If you look at the percentages the payoff for a college scholarship is low. Even the very best athletes in the world are multiple sport athletes (see examples in article). I really don’t think it’s beneficial at a young age for a child to only be labeled as a baseball or basketball kid. Kids should be exposed to all sports. Close to 50% of youth athletes suffer from burn out by the age of 14. Too often it’s more about the parents & coaches than the kids. Now if a kid really is a legitimate prospect and has a legitimate shot at D1 scholarships and making it to the professional levels, then it might be wise to focus on that one sport. But again, you’ll find that most of those athletes were at least two sport stars in HS. It seems as though we have a fundamental disagreement on this, but that’s ok. It promotes healthy dialogue, and that’s what this all about. I really appreciate you taking the time share your thoughts!
    All the best,