Insight: Are Adults Ruining Youth Sports?

By Kim Eng, Director of Athletics

I’ll admit, this may seem like a strange question to raise given that I, myself, am an adult whose income revolves around youth athletics. Nonetheless, it is a topic that has been on my mind for years as I’ve watched youth sports transform from an extra-curricular pastime into a huge money-making business. Kids are starting sports earlier and earlier in life (67% of boys and 47% of girls are already on a team by the age of 6) and are getting more and more overscheduled as they’re often asked—or pressured—to play on multiple teams.

The sad truth is that 70% of kids will quit sports by the time they are 13.  The most common reasons given for this, when children are asked, are because they aren’t having fun, there’s too much pressure to win, and they have a fear of making mistakes. In fact, just today I received an email from a parent asking if we could pull their son from our team because he didn’t feel like his skills were good enough to play with the rest of the team. Although my coach’s response was right in line with our school’s athletics philosophy and mission (EPS sports are based around teamwork, growth, and development), the email chain still gave me pause. It reminded me of when, years ago, I received a lengthy email from one of my son’s coaches about how their basketball team needed to work harder and put more effort into their sport to get ready for the “next level”. My son was in 4th grade, and I assumed they just meant getting them a little more prepared for 5th grade. But as I read on, it became clear the coach meant something far more grandiose. They were suggesting that my son and his friends were already falling behind, in grade school, and would (perish the thought) not be prepared to play at the high school, college or pro level.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a competitive person and I love to win. I love cheering on our student athletes and celebrating EPS team accomplishments more than anyone.  But speaking as a parent myself, I think it’s important for all of us, the adults on the sidelines, to not lose sight of why most kids play sports to begin with. They want to try something new, challenge themselves, and have fun with their friends. If we lose sight of that, I’m afraid we’ll be “losing” in a sense—regardless of the point total on the scoreboard.