High school athletics, as we know it, is in jeopardy of becoming extinct if an alarming trend continues.
How would a business survive if it lost 70% of its customers? That's the percentage of young athletes who will quit playing a sport by the time they are 13. Add to that those who opt to play for their travel or club team full time and you have an alarming number of teenagers doing something other than playing on their high school team.
The reasons are simple. For those who quit, they don't consider sports fun. For those who decide to specialize with their club team, they think or have been promised an edge over the rest of the competition and a fast track to some college scholarship money.
While there is no guarantee of either, parents are still anteing up plenty of cash in the hopes their "investment" provides a lucrative college scholarship by the time little Susie is a senior in high school.
I'd like to concentrate on those who decide quitting is better than playing a sport which has become as mundane as a 9-to-5 job.
There are plenty of outside influences and people to blame. And, there isn't a quick fix. We, as a society, didn't get to this point overnight and a quick fix for today's youth sports mess is not the answer. The answers, however, lie with each and every one of us.
I remember researching a column I did for a newspaper I used to work for called "Thanks For The Memories." It featured significant athletic achievements of the past. My column usually coincided with the anniversary of the event. I stumbled on a column written in the 1950s about Little League Baseball.
I remember reading how league officials changed the times of the games from the afternoon to the evening so parents could watch.
That's more than a half-century ago!
I kid you not, after the change, there were nothing but problems when the parents stepped in. If you don't believe me, think back when you were a kid and played a pickup game in the street, alley, playground or field near your house. Everybody played, the ones who couldn't stop arguing eventually quit and went home and we had a great time. (The kids that usually quit were the ones with the out-of-control parents!) Anyway, it was unorganized, but we had so much fun.
Whether you are a player, coach, parent, grandparent, friend, umpire, whatever your involvement in youth sports, you are part of the problem. Therefore, you have to become part of the solution. Encourage your son or daughter, do not discourage. Promote their self-esteem and reserve the criticism for the right place and time. Most importantly, be patient. For every Tiger Woods, there are multitudes of children quitting sports because what was fun for them has become a chore because of our drive and determination to be the best.
Let them be the best they can be at that moment in time and let the competition come from within. Otherwise, the future of youth sports as we know it might eventually go the way of the drive-in movie, service station and T.V. dinners (I think T.V. dinners are called frozen entrées now). I don't know about you, but I want to watch my grandchildren play sports someday!