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  • Writer's pictureDon Draxler

Killing Our Youth Sports: Who’s the Drivers?

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

Top 20%, Are the Most Vocal and Influence Our Youth Sports

In the realm of youth sports, a significant power struggle unfolds, where the vocal 20% often wield disproportionate influence, potentially causing irreversible harm to the entire sporting landscape. This dominant voice tends to overshadow the silent 60%, composed of parents and coaches genuinely concerned about the well-being of young athletes. Let's not forget the last 20%, those kids who reluctantly participate, their enthusiasm dampened by various factors. It is imperative to address the overbearing influence of this vocal minority to safeguard the sports journey of our children.

20-60-20 Rule

One of the driving forces behind this issue is what we can call the "20-60-20 Rule." It's a concept widely acknowledged, suggesting that the top 20% are the decision-makers and the most vocal. Unfortunately, even those with the best intentions of helping our kids excel in sports can unwittingly cause harm. The 60% majority seeks a safe, enjoyable environment for their children, focusing on their social, physical, and psychological development at age-appropriate levels. It's the last 20% who often don't care much either way, leading to minimal participation from both kids and parents. It's time to stop allowing the top 20% of adults to dictate children's development.

Once there was a mom who said to me that the lesser players shouldn’t be playing in the game and have their opportunity in practice. She thinks that only the players who seem better in the present should be first in line. She was referring to 9-year-olds.

Cherry Picking Players to Secure Wins

Premier leagues, often seen as the predators of local leagues, exert a powerful allure on parents. They entice with promises of identifying and nurturing their child's 'unique' talent. Figures like Chris Panayiotou from Rush Soccer advocate commendable philosophies, but sometimes organizations like Rush Soccer can lose sight of child development in their pursuit of victories. Elevating young children to so-called ‘elite programs’ exacerbates the issue further.

“In our region, FC Barcelona youth academy recruits the best players from surrounding clubs and should continue to do so. Having said that two things occur. First, they get the best players. Second, they weaken the opponent by taking their best players. This is not a complaint in any way. It is to suggest that they will win the majority of their matches year in and year out regardless of the efficacy of their coaching. A win is not a reliable metric for talent progression.”

- Excerpt from TOVO Institute coaching course, Barcelona Spain

Pre-Pubescent Children

Dr. Richard Bailey is Head of Research at the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education, ICSSPE raises a vital perspective: the unpredictability of pre-puberty development. We must resist prematurely labeling or pigeonholing children based on their early abilities. Adopting a long-term approach that considers development after the maturation phase is a more sensible strategy.

“Little kids’ football is not adult football, whereas that’s a big problem within – sport in general. Is that adults get involved with small kids and they think that they are just small people playing the adult game. And little kids’ football is all about dribbling and shooting and taking risks and playing with freedom…”

-Tom Stratham, 30 year youth coach for Manchester United, UK

The emphasis on competition has seeped deeply into youth sports. Many coaches and sometimes parents tie their self-worth to game results. However, it's crucial to remember that children, unlike adults, don't fixate on the outcome. They quickly bounce back, irrespective of wins or losses. Therefore, we should shift the emphasis from mere results to the holistic growth and enjoyment of the sport.

Parents must exercise caution. While college sports scholarships are limited, clubs, both local and premier, might exaggerate the potential sports future for kids. Dr. Bailey's insight becomes invaluable here – children aren't mini-adults. We need to restructure youth sports, keeping the children's needs at the forefront, rather than retrofitting adult templates onto them.

Who Can Be the Change Makers

The impetus for change lies within our communities. Parents, coaches, and local leaders can champion this change. By emphasizing safety, inclusivity, and creative engagement, we can sideline the overly influential 20% and create a more balanced and enjoyable sports environment.

Let's challenge conventions. By involving children in decision-making, we can reshape sports to better suit their preferences. This might mean adjusting game formats, field sizes, or even the equipment used.

"No lines, laps or lectures."

- Well-known phrase by coach educators

Introducing alternative training methods, such as obstacle courses for swimmers, can revitalize the sporting experience. Such initiatives prioritize the journey over the destination, aligning more closely with a child's viewpoint.

Ultimately, the aim is to ensure that youth sports remain a domain of joy, expression, and growth. By recalibrating our approach and listening more to the young participants, we can ensure they have a fulfilling and fun-filled sporting journey.


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