The 4 Biggest Problems in Youth Sports Today
When you run an organization such as the Changing the
Game Project, you hear many youth sports stories from parents, coaches,
and players. Some stories are absolutely heartbreaking, others
Recently I encountered the absurd.
Many of us have seen the news about a volleyball player from
Washington DC who was taking her playing time issues off the court, and
into the courts. The article, which originally appeared in the Washington Post and can be read here,
detailed the story of Audrey Dimitrew, a 16 year-old from Virginia
whose family sued the Chesapeake Region Volleyball Association (CHRVA)
to force them to let her move to another team in the league. It seems
she was not getting the “promised” playing time at her club and she
wanted a change, but the league would not allow it.
The article has elicited all kinds of opinions on parenting, spoiled
children, bad coaching, and ridiculous rules and regulations in youth
sports leagues. It brought up talk of the Philadelphia dad who was suing
for $40 million because his son got cut from the track team, and the
Dallas father who brought a racketeering suit against a lacrosse camp.
They are a reflection of so much of what is wrong in youth sports today.
But can all these wrongs finally make it right, and encourage the sensible people stand up and be heard?
This situation in Virginia brings to light four major problems that
are destroying youth sports and must be dealt with. They are:
Problem #1: Parents who won’t let the game belong to kids
Why did mom and dad bring a lawsuit? Because they wanted to get their
daughter noticed by college coaches. Well, mission accomplished, every
college volleyball coach in the country now knows who your daughter
is…and I bet the majority just crossed her name off their recruiting
You don’t sue and waste precious taxpayer time and money because your
child is not getting playing time. Your daughter says she isn’t even
sure she wants to play college volleyball! Mom also wrote to the coach,
“It is important that she plays, and plays the position you offered her
of setter as that is the position she plays in high school.” Really? You
don’t get to tell a coach where your kid plays. Just be a parent, let
the coach be the coach, and let the game belong to your child. The
parents in this case have taken a teachable moment and ruined it. As
Bruce Brown of Proactive Coaching says, “Release your child to the
Problem #2: Athletes need to OWN their decisions, both good and bad
We need to put an end to the helicopter and lawnmower parents, those
who mow down all the obstacles for their kids, and give ownership to the
athletes. This is a case where a player made a poor decision on team
selection. Many athletes make bad decisions or face trying
circumstances, but then choose to live with their decision and get
better because of it. While I believe every athlete picked should have
the opportunity to play, that does not mean an athlete cannot ask
himself “what is good about this?”
When players quit a team solely over playing time or position issues,
they lose an opportunity to learn. Even without getting playing time, a
player working with a great coach should be improving every day in
practice. She could be pushing herself to get better, and earn playing
time instead of expecting it. She could find other ways to contribute. Don’t just walk away because the going got tough.
Great athletes love the game, work hard and improve everyday, and the rest takes care of itself. College coaches recruit players because they are good players, good people, good students and good teammates, not because they happened to see you in 10th grade.
Problem #3: Coaches who fail to respect the kids and the sport, and ignore the massive impact they have on athletes’ lives
Sadly there are many coaches who do not belong working with children.
I am not saying that is the case here, but it is the case in many
places. Winning does not make for a great coach. Being a great
role model and leader for your young athletes, teaching character and
life lessons, caring about your athletes, and coaching a child not a
sport, those things make for a great coach.
of the most destructive forces in youth sports are coaches that take
huge rosters of players for financial reasons, and then don’t give kids
playing time. I firmly believe if you pick them, you play them!
When we take people’s money and then sit them on the bench, it destroys
love of a sport, and drives out the late bloomers. I don’t care that
this is competitive volleyball; if the coach cannot find playing time
then she should not have been picked. Far too many teams fill
their rosters NOT for the benefit of the players (who get less playing
time or none at all) but for the bottom line of the club.
To be fair to this coach, it seems he did try to make amends. I know
firsthand that honest mistakes can be made in tryouts. You have limited
tryout time, tons of players to choose from, and multiple teams offering
a kid a spot. You are forced to offer spots with no opportunity for
additional evaluation or to get to know a kid. I have been in that
situation as a coach, and I have made mistakes in player selection.
Clearly in this case, the coach made a mistake in selecting the player,
and was willing to fix it and let her transfer to another team, so kudos
is due for that. But this was not allowed to happen because of our
Problem #4: Youth Sports Organizations that Serve Adults, Not Kids
There are far too many clubs and sports leagues that are putting
their own needs, values and priorities above those of the kids. Youth
sports has become a business that serves them, and thus creates barriers
to play for too many children.
“Should CHRVA allow players the ability to move teams when they are
unhappy with the amount of playtime they are receiving, we would be
overwhelmed with requests to change teams,” a CHRVA official wrote to
the Dimitrew family.
This could be said another way: “We don’t want to put in the time or
energy to make rules or run a league that serves the needs of the
players, even in situations where all parties agree that a change in
team is in the best interests of the child.” They had a coach willing to
let a player leave, a player who wanted to try another team, a team
willing and able to take her, and a policy that would have allowed it to
happen. What they didn’t have was a dose of common sense.
If they think this will open a floodgate of player transfers due to
playing time issues, why not make a rule that allows a player to
transfer midseason only once in her career? Do not allow teams who
release players to add new ones, to prevent continuous roster shuffling.
Why not have guidelines over playing time so there are no playing time
issues? There are so many solutions here.
What are we to do?
These are four of the biggest issues I see in youth sports. In this
particular situation, I think every party involved can shoulder some
blame. The athlete should have toughed it out, the parents should have
found a better venue to deal with this, the coach should have known
better, and the league could have done more. I am sure there are many
sides to this story, and I have only read the one article. I am also
sure there are many good people involved here who are getting dragged
through the mud, which is sad.
But that is not why I wrote this article.
There is something much bigger at play here.
We all are to blame for this mess, including me, and every one of us who is reading this. Why?
Because we have stood by and allowed youth sports to become professionalized, adultified, and stolen from our kids. This is not a sin of commission; it is a sin of omission, a failure to act.
Too many of us coach from the sidelines and make the car ride home the most miserable part of the youth sports experience.
Too many of us treat youth sports as an investment in a future
scholarship, and thus push for more and more at younger and younger
Too many of us have our children specialize early in spite of the preponderance of evidence that it is physically and psychologically harmful, and has a detrimental effect upon their long-term chances of athletic success.
Too many of us allow our kids to participate in sports clubs that make cuts and form “elite” teams at 7 years old.
Too many of us ask our kids after a game “Did you win?” instead of “Did you have fun and learn a lot today?”
Too many of us have deemphasized free play and replaced it with organized activities governed by adult values, needs and priorities.
The list could go on and on.
We are to blame because as a collective we have done nothing about
this, even though the great parents and coaches are the majority.
There is a huge majority of parents and coaches whom do not
like the current situation, the toxic sidelines, the over the top
parents, the bully coaches, the politics, the specialization, and the
fact that college coaches are recruiting middle school athletes these
days. We don’t like the costs, the travel requirements, or crazy commitments that make us choose between the 7th tournament of the summer or grandma’s 90th birthday celebration. If you are reading this, you are likely one of the great parents and coaches.
Yet we do nothing. We say nothing. We do not demand
change. We simply complain. And then we watch our kids burnout, dropout,
It is high time that the sensible people, the silent majority, take over this conversation. We must stand up to the parents, coaches, clubs and leagues that are failing our children. If 70% of kids quit school in 7th grade, we would make radical changes, yet when they quit sports, we just shrug. No more!
If your sideline has an over the top mom or dad who yells at
referees, coaches players, and creates a toxic environment, don’t just
complain about it. Please get together with the coach or club directors
and fellow parents and confront the behavior.
If your school or sports club does not have core values, or a proper
ongoing parent and coach education program, demand that they be
If you can get great competition for your team within a 1 hour drive,
sure, go to an out of town tournament once in a while, but not every
If your child is trying out for a team, look beyond the wins and
losses and look for coaches of positive significance, and organizations
that value human beings, not simply athletes.
Maybe the absurdity of this lawsuit is what will wake enough of us
up. Maybe all these wrongs will be the spring board for making sports
We don’t need the judicial system to fix our youth sports problems.
We need every one of you who has read this far to share this article, to
join our project to reform youth sports, and to read about reform
initiatives promoted by Project Play and others that are trying to change youth sports.
We need you to stand up and be heard, so that the next time there is a
youth sports dispute, it can be settled by the athletes on the court,
instead of the adults in one.
Let’s Change the Game!
Congratulations to Ursuline Academy, winners of the 2015-16 GGCL All Sports Trophy. This trophy represents the best performance across the League in all 11 sports.
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Congratulations to all 50 women named to the High School Girls' Multisport Athletes.
Among the list from the GGCL are 15 women:
Donna Doellman (Our Lady of Angels, 1975), Chrissy Donovan (St. Ursula, 1999), Rosemary Glaser (Our Lady of Angels, 1939), Amanda Gruber (St. Ursula, 1994), Janet Haneberg (Seton, 1988), Jessica Hoeh (Roger Bacon, 2005), Christy Hoffman (McAuley, 1997), Jamie Kirch (Mercy ,1990), Nikki Kremer (Mercy, 1995), Megan McKnight (Badin, 1998), Monica Niemann (Ursuline, 1991), Beth Osterday (St. Ursula, 1996), Jo Ann Osterkamp (Seton, 1980), Connie Sontag (Mercy, 1970), Barb Volker (Seton, 1985).