Matthew Clark of the GateHouse News Service examines whether situational influences have made youth sports too competitive. We excerpt a portion of his story below.
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. . . [S]ome would argue that youth baseball and softball have changed dramatically over the years.
“I think that it has changed a lot with the invention of the traveling team,” said 13-year Major League Baseball veteran Dan Smith Jr. “It has taken away from community baseball.”
Not just that, but some may say the fun has been taken away from playing baseball in youth years.
“Overall, for kids today, there is too much pressure,” said coach Mike Watt. “They travel, and in most situations it is just win, win, win, and not so much about learning the fundamentals about baseball … it is about finding the best nine players you can find on the field, and I think that has taken some of the fun away from it.”
There are some that believe that parents can be part of the problem.
“If you look at the percentage of children who are obese today, we need to have them active and enjoying sports,” said Dr. David Hurford, chair of the psychology and counseling department at Pittsburg (Kan.) State University. “We don’t need parents living vicariously through them and making them feel bad for their performances.”
Looking back, Smith said traveling teams were really not part of the norm when he was playing summer baseball as a youth.
“I think traveling and competing has its place, but it certainly does not make the player. I just played normal youth baseball, and we took one overnight trip a year.”
With traveling teams, Watt said some kids do get left out and that can cause division among kids and parents at early ages.
“As far as chemistry goes for high school players, what they do as a youth will affect them when they are in high school,” Watt said. “If they stay together, play together and work together, they seem to really enjoy it and they are closer than if they split up.”
But Smith said it goes even beyond traveling teams.
“My dad never expected me to go on and play but now parents are all about lessons and camps,” Smith said. “Parents want to give their kids every edge, but there is no substitute for going out and playing catch in the backyard.
“People want to replace hard work and repetition with getting their kids on a traveling team or in some academy but that is really no replacement. There is no secret and there is no shortcut because this is a game of repetition.”
Chuck Killingsworth, a professor in the Health, Human Performance, Recreation department at Pittsburg State University, said spirited competition has its place in youth sports, but it can get out of control.
“There is nothing wrong with competition, but, especially with youth sports, it needs to be fun,” Killingsworth said. “There is nothing wrong with encouraging, but when things get out of hand, kids tend to drop out because the sport is just not fun anymore.”
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