Tuesday, June 22, 2010

an amateur journalist's idea of fun

In light of the evil cow rant on The Amateur Geek, I've been requested to post a rant of my own that spawned from a sports psych assignment. I posted about it earlier in the year, I just never got around to it.

Again, I apologize for the length, but I had way too much fun writing this. Op-eds like this are the only chances I get to voice my opinion in school.

From the Cradle to the Court: Are Youth Sports Worth It?
Being someone who has been personally gypped in the sporting world, I can answer this question in one word: no. Youth sports are blown so out of proportion, and it’s detracting from the value of childhood and the concept of sports and leisure activities in general. At this point in the game, it’s all about the parents, and kids aren’t even considered most of the time. It just all leads to disaster, and something needs to be done now.
I guess I shouldn’t really be allowed to evaluate youth sports solely on my experiences, they weren’t really all that extensive. I was in rec league softball my freshman year after getting cut from the high school team, and I fully admit to being horrible; after all, I had never played before and wanted to try it out. That’s what rec league sports, and sports in general, for that matter, are for, right?

Apparently not so much. I went to that first practice and not only did I make a complete fool of myself for being kicked off the high school team and demoted to the “minors” in the first place, I made a complete fool of myself by not being able to throw from second base to home, by not being able to catch a popup without using my face to stop it, by not being able to make contact on the first pitch. All this embarrassment happened because I hadn’t grown up in the system, because I hadn’t started playing at age 5 when I wouldn’t have known whether I liked the sport or not anyway.

This early concentration on competition and drive is part of the train wreck known as youth sports. Competition is everywhere, even in school, because it is instilled in kids at a young age to win; as psychologists Drs. Richard Lustberg and Charles Deitch explain in ”The Hypocrisy of Youth Sport,” “no child says ‘I’ll stop at the Molasses Swamp and wait for you to catch up.’ They want to get a double red and finish you off.”

Sandlot sports have all but died as Little League-like sports replaced them. No more are the impromptu pickup games, which got the boot in favor of structure that captivates about two-thirds of America’s youth, according to US News and World Report in 1997. The creators of Little League and other similar sports programs were initially designed to level the playing field and include the kids who had otherwise been kicked off the sandlot teams. In reality, it has destroyed the innocence of youth sports and created a monster. Now, instead of the kids bickering over a botched ball-strike call, the parents and coaches are battling it out.

Parents are another huge problem in youth sport, ironic as it is. It is “youth sport,” after all. But many parents take it way too seriously. Too many times has a headline graced a paper describing an incident where an over-obsessive soccer mom or an overzealous football dad has knocked out a ref over a bad call. Other times, the parents prevent a kid from participating in what they actually want to do, as was the case of Ryan Jaroncyk, the New York Mets’ first-round draft pick in 1995, who declined the contract because he didn’t like the sport anymore and had only continued because his father wanted him to. Sometimes, the parents just take the rules too far, like making a girl in Little League baseball wear a protective cup “because the rules say so.”Any way you look at it, parents are ruining youth sports.

Ultimately, the kids are suffering. Because most parents and coaches don’t have the knowledge of how their athletes’ minds work, and those that do attend the classes don’t pay attention, kids get burnt out of their sport. Whether it’s due to staleness or dissatisfaction with their current performance, 70% of young athletes have said “enough is enough” by the age of 13. Practices get monotonous after a while, injuries increase, and gradually they’re undergoing what is essentially sport-depression, which is a nasty vortex to get into.
At this point in time, there’s not much society can do to fix youth sports. It’s been this way long enough that no matter how many psychology classes we make the coaches attend, no matter how many team-building pasta parties they hold, it won’t make a difference. The only way to end the problems is to end the cause. Sure, that’s illogical. Youth sports give kids a place to hang out and not be out robbing houses, they provide lessons in cooperation and work ethic, and they’re a good way to make friends. But the drawbacks outweigh the benefits, and we just need to sit back and let the kids make their own choices. If those choices lead them to use their leisure time contemplating the meaning of life or “searching for split ends, an enormously satisfying leisure time of youth,” according to columnist Anna Quindlen, rather than sports, then so be it. After all, “doing nothing is something.” Take it from someone who knows.
And that's my story. I got a 90 on it 'cause my teacher didn't like the fact that my only solution was to, as he said, "drop an atomic bomb on youth sports." Then again, he is one of the gym teachers, he was probably surprised that I took that route.

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