Hypercompetition in Youth Sports

Hypercompetition in Youth Sports

At CoachUp, we're all about competition and spirited efforts, but, as always, it's important to keep things in perspective. Considering this, unless your child is an extraordinary athlete, then the odds of him or her playing professionally are slim-to-none. In "I Hate To Break This To You, Fellow Sports Dad, But None Of Our Kids Are Going Pro,an exceptional piece by Jeremy Toeman, he categorizes children into three groups: exceptional athletes; interested, with basic skills; and all the rest. According to Toeman, about 60-80% of all kids playing youth sports fall into the interested, with basic skills category. As Toeman defines it:

"These are the kids having fun playing the sport. They really enjoy it. They probably aren’t scoring every game (or ever), but that’s okay, because they are digging it."

Ultimately, the problem with the youth sports system is one that parents are generating by pushing their kids to be great athletes when chances are they will not be. This hypercompetitive culture robs most of the meaningful experience that youth sports can provide. Toeman explains:

So my point, if you are wondering, is this: why have we, the parents, allowed a system to evolve that is focusing on the wrong outcome? Why are we pushing kids so hard to be great athletes instead of encouraging them to have fun, build skills, build confidence, and a million other great things that can come from youth sports.

Truly, to me, Toeman's piece speaks volumes, so I’d like to expand on his argument a bit further and talk about hypercompetition's impact at the high school level. Unfortunately, this mentality on youth sports is sustained, and often magnified, as athletes get older. Athletes and their parents believe that they'll go professional in their sport, often foolheartedly, and then compound that mistake by choosing their higher education with that in mind. This, of course, does not take into consideration other important factors. Athletes should be using their involvement in sports to enhance performance in the classroom instead of detract from it.

What I mean is this: youth sports teach athletes lessons and values that may or may not be taught in the classroom or through a textbook -- these include important life skills like discipline, time management, self-confidence, teamwork, leadership, and perseverance. However, letting sports dictate your collegiate path can be extremely detrimental because the harsh reality is that even if you’re fortunate enough play collegiately, your athletic career will most likely end there. Don't forget about Toeman's remarkably compelling statistic -- less than 1% of college soccer players play professionally and that's one of the easier sports to break into, all things considered. Therein lies the biggest issue: less than 1% makes it, but many believe they will go professional in their sport. This is where we as a community of athletes, parents, and coaches can, and should, do better. As you are making decisions on your collegiate career here are some questions to keep in mind:

  • Does this school have my anticipated major?
  • Do I like the location and proximity of the school?
  • Do I want a small school or a big school?
  • If I get hurt, or choose to stop playing my sport, are there other activities and clubs on campus I could get involved in?
  • Do I see myself growing here?
  • Will the school challenge me intellectually?
  • Can the team use my skills?
  • How do I mesh with the team?
  • Can I see myself playing for this coach?
  • Do my values align with the team’s core values?

It seems like a no-brainer, but keeping these questions in mind can increase your college value and can lead to a better future. At the end of the day, Toeman’s article is an important one for everybody -- athletes, coaches, parents, counselors, etc -- to recognize the reality of sports. Once we all understand the benefits of athletics as a meaningful opportunity to grow and learn real-life experiences, we'll all come out of youth sports far better off. 

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