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Youth Sports in America: The Most Important Issues in Youth Sports Today
Pagevii(8 of 425)
vii During America’s colonial era and its first decades of existence, youngsters played sports in farm pastures or on frozen ponds, with no adult supervision and only a few loose rules that were enforced by the kids themselves. When it got dark, the children were forced to go inside and get cleaned up for bed, their thoughts already calculating the odds that they would be able to do it all over again the following day, after school or chores were completed. Flash forward to the early 1900s, when organized youth sport began to take shape in American communities. These com- petitions, which took place largely in the school setting, were seen as a way to enforce “American” values like respect, teamwork, and self-discipline. Organized youth sports quickly surged in popularity. Yet no one from a century ago could have predicted what youth sport would look like today: highly organized, ultra- competitive, and a significant economic force in many communities. Indeed, Time magazine estimated in 2017 that kids’ sports in America has become a $15 billion industry. Not surprisingly, this environment has placed additional pressure on young athletes to perform and advance, and while the average high school athlete has only a 1–2 percent chance of ever getting an athletic scholarship for college, far too many parents and children believe that the football, volleyball, or soccer star in their household will someday be among that select company. Some argue that this progression from backyard baseball games to Little League World Series on ESPN amounts to child exploitation, and that sport’s capacity to deliver both fun and personal growth to young athletes has been somehow dimin- ished. Others suggest that despite the excesses of modern youth sports, they remain a valuable vehicle for youth development, helping kids grow into responsible, hard- working adults. Which of these characterizations is true? Or are there elements of truth in both pictures? These questions are important ones for any parent, coach, administrator, or athlete looking to get involved in youth sports. Youth Sports in America: The Most Important Issues in Youth Sports Today examines the most important topics and issues swirling around this cultural phe- nomenon. We have enlisted the help of many of the top experts in their respective Preface