I had a conversation with an old high school teammate the other day about the change in youth sports over the years.
We played three sports together during our youth years. We both enjoyed each new season and each new sport. It would be impossible for either of us to be a three-sport player in the current youth sports climate.
Any current coach – of any sport, of any gender – would think it would be a crazy question to ask if any of their players participate in any other sport. Nearly every high school coach readily divulges that the athletes in their sport lift weights and participate in various leagues in that sport throughout the entire year. It begins at the elementary level.
No one even considers that young kids would have an interest in multiple sports. The focus has become a road to a college scholarship and with the right break even a break into the big time.
This is not a new topic of discussion for me, but with most people I may as well be talking to the man in the moon – most think I am nuts. No doubt that may very well be true but one thing no parent or grandparent can deny is the huge expense to belong to a competition team, for private lessons, for special uniforms and travel. It comes close to equaling the cost of college tuition.
A close lifelong friend has five grandchildren who play competition baseball, softball and soccer. One of his daughters has two sons who are three years apart and both play on competition teams that play all over the country. Each weekend the father and mother trade trips with each son. Last summer alone the oldest boy played close to 85 games and the younger boy played about 75. Each grandson plays for a team with five different uniforms and various other warmup jackets and pullovers.
We laughed. On the Independence teams we played for, we had a single uniform that lasted the entire three or four years we played on that team. It was a big deal to get a new baseball hat at the beginning of the season.
His daughter’s family spent thousands of dollars last summer on all the mandatory expectations. Parents feel compelled to pay for all of this in order to give their children the opportunity to play. I understand this as a father and grandfather. It is hard to put a price on how much sports/organized activities will positively influence a young person. A family feels guilty if they are not financially able to allow their kids to be a part of a competitive traveling team.
My oldest granddaughter is a first grader in competitive dance. She has three expensive dance costumes for her performances. She is 7 and has already danced on the stage at the Kansas City Music Hall. It obviously isn’t just a phenomenon of sports. A friend who was a cheerleading sponsor at a local high school several years ago has two granddaughters in competitive dance. Her son and daughter-in-law spent $25,000 last year for dance related expenses.
Young people should have high goals and a chance to chase their dreams but not if it wreaks havoc financially for the family. It has all snowballed into a gigantic expensive industry. As if it isn’t already enough to play 85 games in three months, the offseason promotes the need to take private lessons.
I have always been one of the biggest advocates for youth sports and activities. All these activities teach kids, teamwork, dedication, hard work and how to win and lose. The question becomes, is it really necessary to have five different uniforms and travel the world in order to accomplish this?
Common sense needs to prevail instead of a “keep up with the Joneses” mentality. As a grandparent it is really difficult to say no to my grandchildren but careful consideration needs to be given to the long-term payback.
My fear is that we are losing perspective on the fact that sports and activities should not be just about learning and excelling but should also be fun. Youth sports is about positive experiences with teammates and coaches that will be remembered with fondness.
No doubt my friend and I would have never known one another for 58 years because our parents would never have been able to afford for us to participate! I am glad I grew up with the people I did in youth sports and during the time I did.
• My quote of the week comes from NFL Hall of Fame coach Don Shula: “If I see something that can be successful and even if it’s not my style, I’ll investigate it a little further. If it looks worthwhile, I might incorporate it. I’m not so hard-headed as to ignore something just because it might be a little different than what I’m doing.”
Tim Crone, a William Chrisman High School graduate, is a former activities director and coach for Blue Springs High School and is a host of a weekly radio show, “Off the Wall with Tim Crone,” on KCWJ (1030 AM) 6 p.m. every Monday. He writes a weekly column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org