What is the purpose of youth sports? This may seem like an easy question to answer, but wrapped up inside of it, there are a whole host of misconceptions and ideas that must be unraveled to get to an answer.
Is the purpose of youth sports to encourage physical activity? There’s a strong correlation to involvement in sports and lifelong exercise habits that promote a healthy lifestyle. There is no doubt that finding enjoyable sports and activities increase the probability that children will grow into healthy adults.
Should we focus more on the achievement of higher level skills in youth sports? Through sports, children learn the necessary skills to become high achievers into their high school and college years. For an elite few, this could lead to college scholarships and a professional career. For countless others, these skills will lead to a life calling and career in coaching.
Are youth sports really that great at increasing activity levels and promoting skills? The world is filled with obese parents who took part in sports at the youth levels and continued to play the sport through high school. Youth sports have been prevalent for decades and yet the obesity epidemic continues to grow worse.
On the other hand, while there are professional athletes who started their career at an early age, there is an equal number of stories of professional and collegiate athletes who picked up their sport in high school. The truth of the matter is that most professional athletes are a result of winning the genetic lottery. This isn’t to say that hard work isn’t a huge element of their success. The work that it takes to be an elite athlete is massive, but without the proper genetic start to work from, this hard work is never going to lead to a professional career.
So, if youth sports are not an overall effective mechanism for developing a healthy lifestyle or creating the next pro athlete, what is their purpose? Their purpose is to teach young people how to set goals, work through difficulties, and accomplish these goals. The best part of this lesson is that it can be applied to create healthier, happier adults—regardless of their chosen field.
This isn’t to say that youth sports are not an effective tool for developing a healthy, active lifestyle and skills in sports that can benefit participants at higher levels. These are simply outcomes from focusing on the more important goal of youth sports. When young people learn to set goals and work toward them, they will be more likely to find activities that interest them and allow them to stay healthy. In addition, the ability to set goals and create a systematic way of making progress toward these goals will benefit them as they grow older and begin to compete in higher level athletics and academics.
Modern U.S. sports are in a stage of peril. As more and more media outlets turn their attention to youth sports in an attempt to create marketing material, the focus of youth sports has gone from developing young people to showcasing developed athletes. This creates a major problem because youth coaches are now focusing on achieving results and not developing the skills needed to achieve those results.
Focusing on results creates two major issues that undermine both of the outcomes that come from focusing on the process of developing skills. By focusing on the results, coaches undermine the joy and skills that come from a development approach.
By focusing on the results of the sport, the coach creates a message to their players that the most important part of the game is winning. While no one likes to lose, and I think it’s important to encourage a competitive atmosphere on your team, if the only reason to play the game is to win, then the enjoyment that comes from the game is undermined. This creates a mindset in the athletes that sports are only there to win and does not promote the love of activity that creates a lifelong healthy lifestyle.
The other major negative effect of focusing on the outcome over the development is the decrease in skill development. When coaches become more focused on making sure they win the game, instead of developing skills, they tend to neglect some of the key fundamentals.
The ironic part of these result-driven coaches who stress wins over development is that, by focusing on the development, wins will naturally come. This has been made famous by arguably the most successful college football coach in history, Nick Saban. Coach Saban focuses on the immediate moment and completing that task at the highest level possible. By focusing on winning each individual moment, the team develops the skills necessary for success, and results will come naturally.
This is nothing more important for the future of our country than youth sports and the people that coach them. In no other setting do we see such a diverse group of people working together to achieve a common goal. As guardians of youth sports, we must make sure we use it for the development of our young people remains the primary goal of youth sports and we do not cave to the media pressure to turn youth sports into entertainment.
KEVIN CHRISTOFORA found his calling when he began to coach little league. He has coached the Mountain Valley Little League (formerly the Woodstock Little League) since 2008. More than a pastime, Kevin loves working with children. He prides himself in teaching them that it’s about more than a game: it’s about honor, respect, and community. As president of the league, he enjoys working with the parents and community members that all have one main interest: the kids.
Written for children ages three to five, Kevin wrote The Hometown All Stars as a bedtime story to get kids interested in the national pastime again. His goal in writing these books was to get kids out of the house and onto the field – “less screen, more green.” He believes in the valuable lessons that children learn from playing the game: teamwork, discipline, strategy, and thinking before they act. In addition, he wants to bring back the joy of being outdoors and playing — something that kids in recent years have lost.
An engineer by education, Kevin gave up the corporate life to move back to his hometown to carry on the family business and become the local butcher and a dad. He has found more happiness becoming a baseball coach than he ever had before. He hopes to pass the excitement of the game to other children with The Hometown All Stars book series.