How to navigate youth sports in today’s competitive culture
For coaches, parents and athletes, navigating the complexities of youth sports can be a challenge. As a parent of two baseball players, one of which plays at the college level, I know this first hand. For some, youth sports are no longer an activity taking place in our neighborhood parks and school yards with the primary purpose being physical fitness and friendship. Today, athletes belong to academies and travel-teams that emphasize winning, have high expectations and hefty price tags.
Local sports psychologist, and author of “Just Let ‘Em Play”, Dr. Andrew Jacobs, has worked with athletes from high school students to U.S. Olympians. About 5 years ago he began to notice significant changes in youth sports, and parents started requesting books on the subject. “I realized there was not a lot out there, and what was had been written from a singular perspective.” He explains “That’s what makes our book unique. It is written with input from three different people: former Kansas City Royal and three-time Major League Baseball All-Star pitcher Jeff Montgomery, Hall of Fame and former U.S. Olympic swim coach Pete Malone and myself.” Jacobs continues, “There was a real need for a resource like this. That need was the motivation behind writing the book.”
In “Just Let ’Em Play”, Dr. Jacobs, along with his co-writers, tackle several complex issues facing youth sports today. When should a child start playing and at what level, how to embrace failure, sportsmanship and defining the roles of coaches and parents are just a few topics addressed. At its core, the book impresses the need to keep sports fun. “The adults have taken over. It has become more about winning and the business of it all.” Says Jacobs, “Children are being instructed what to do instead of being allowed time for free play. There is no time for fun.” Some of what he is referring to is the lack of unstructured play taking place. What once required little more than a group of friends meeting up after school now consists of paperwork, league fees and complex tournament brackets.
Dr. Jacobs has seen the effects of these changes in his private practice. “I see a lot of clients who have had their self-confidence shaken or destroyed by coaches. They feel pressure, and parents want them to win and get scholarships. They are stressed and fear letting people down.” He continues “I spend a lot of time talking with parents also, because it all really starts with them.”
Sports in general are an integral part of our culture. If used correctly, they can provide vital learning opportunities for many of life’s hardest lessons. “Just Let ’Em Play” provides practical advice based on years of knowledge from experts whose sole purpose is to help ensure young athletes have a positive experience throughout their entire athletic career.
If you are a coach, parent, or involved in youth sports in any way, “Just Let ‘Em Play” will prove informative and applicable in your current situation as well as be a source to refer back to in the future. “The hope”, states Jacobs, “is that this book will serve as a guide to help families navigate through youth sports, and that someone learns how to balance the desire to win with the need to maintain the fun.”