Friday, August 8, 2008

The Youth Sports Conundrum - How AYSO Messed Up Youth Sports For Everybody

Harsh? Yeah, I know. Here's the deal: 40+ years ago the American Youth Soccer Organization started a youth sports concept that was revolutionary. "Everyone Plays." Since that time practically all other youth sport organizations have adopted some sort of variation on that theme. Parents loved it, kids loved it. It was the right thing to do. Still is -- sometimes.

Where the concept got diluted, I would go so far as to say perverted, is when lazy parents starting transforming "Everyone Plays" into "Everyone Wins." Now every kid gets a trophy. As long as they run around on the grass they are "the best." Skill is minimized, talent is marginalized, and mere participation is rewarded. This, my friends is not the purpose of sport.

Sport, by it's very nature, is competitive. It is that competition that makes it attractive, that makes it valuable, that provides the lessons and team work we think we are teaching our children. If we give every child a trophy for just showing up, we are doing them a disservice. We are going in exactly the opposite direction that we have convinced ourselves is so important. I also think this mind sets gives our volunteer coaches and administrators a free ride on improving their own skills in and knowledge of the sport. If we bribe our young, unknowing players with prizes they won't expect us to help them learn.

I know a great many volunteers cite the health aspects of soccer. "It's great exercise!" If we only sign our kids up for soccer (or whatever) for health reasons, then we are giving our kids over to people who are not skilled AT ALL in exercise, physiology, diet, etc. They are barely trained in soccer. If we sign them up just to clear our own schedules because we need a baby sitter -- shame on us as parents! So there must be other reasons to spend the money and invest the time. Those reasons are to learn the lessons of sport and competition.

As a middle age triathlete, I now participate in that sport to test myself in competition. I rarely win. I know I never will be Dave Scott, but the spirit of competition is what gives me the motivation to train my mind and my body to get out there and get smacked in the head a hundred times in an open water swim start. But the fun of the competition is what keeps me coming back.

If youth soccer doesn't get tougher, doesn't demand more and better from it's volunteers, doesn't get younger (or at the very least, more understanding of youth culture), it's players and families will vanish only to reappear on the fields of younger, hipper sports. This will be hard for the current institutions to do. Most volunteers have convinced themselves that their organization is the best, everything is great, no need for change, kids will like what we want them to like, what do kids know about anything, blah, blah, blah. Boards of Directors feed this ignorance by not wanting to make the decisions necessary to grow their sport. Primarily, I believe, because it's too easy NOT to change. Doesn't take the hard look inward.

Lacrosse, rugby, water polo, are all just waiting to snatch your children away and really let them have fun learning to be competitive.