Youth sports have seen a dramatic change over the most recent decade. Ten years ago, kids in high school and middle school were encouraged to participate in various sports and develop multiple skills. A gradually growing trend has reshaped youth sports leagues for present day athletes.

Year-round sports make a new demand of young athletes.  Too often these year round programs are aimed solely the goal of winning. With new emphasis on victory over development, kids are being turned away from teams. Unfortunately, this often happens before an athlete has grown into their ability and we are missing the opportunity to find athletes who bloom later.

The Crisis Facing Youth Sports:

New studies find that youth sports are facing a crisis unlike before.  According to the Sport and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), athletic participation for kids aged 6-12 has dropped down almost 8 percent over the last decade.

Introducing a competitive agenda at an early age impedes crucial skill development that should be nurtured during those ages. Discouraging multi-sport play and informal game play leaves kids discouraged, feeling sports inaccessible to them.

The Divide

Recreational Leagues Versus Specialized Leagues

Recreational leagues encourage fun and inclusion. This often means relying on volunteers to help get the kids involved.  Because we are relying solely on volunteers the kids may have fun but not learn the skills they need to develop are they grow.

However,  in many specialized leagues the idea of game comprehension and creative skill development has been left behind and created an elite approach to youth sports. A hypercompetitive selection process beginning at a young age shapes a psychological and social attitude. The value on winning has overtaken the value rightfully placed on education and enjoyment. And this specialization often means a kid forgoes playing other sports.  This not only causes burnout but can lead to injuries. 

Ideas of Success

The Concept of Winning

Participation in team activity is an important part of youth development.  The goal of youth sports programs should reflect the value placed on the long-term development of young athletes.  By allowing a shift in youth sports, leagues and organizations have demonstrated there is greater value being placed on winning as opposed to the mental and physical health of athletes or the learning that should be part of the game.

At API, we love to win, but we also believe that sports are a metaphor for life and the lessons learned on the field go far beyond the field, often being taken into adult life.  We want our athletes to understand their game and while we want a sense of commitment to the team, we also want out athletes to play additional sports.  We want them to learn that sports is about more than winning.  It’s about teamwork, perseverance and life lessons. he goal of youth leagues and organizations should be to create an inclusive space for all athletes. Making sports accessible to minorities and other hopeful athletes will have a long-term effect.