What If Kids Ran Sports?

Have you ever thought about what Youth Sports might be like if kids ran the show?  I know, you probably have visions of “mass chaos” jump into your mind!  However, take a second to consider several “non-sport” issues, where kids set the example for adults…
  • How often have you seen video on your news feed of children helping other children, without regard to age, race or gender?
  • How many times have your own children or grandchildren “amazed” you with an astute answer or comment in response to an adult question?
  • Ever heard of Jack Andraka, who developed a new, low-cost test for pancreatic cancer at the age of 15? SeeTEDx Talk (July 2013)
  • Savanna Karmue, who wants to be a cardiologist, started making informational YouTube videos at age 8 & started a non-profit (Happy Heart Advice) by age 11!
Many adults will likely ask… “Why would you put the kids in charge?  What possible good could they do, with limited experience and resources, not to mention limited maturity?”  Take a second to think about these points from the landscape of Youth Sports today…
  • Frequent examples of adults “out of control” at Youth Sports events
  • Abuse of coaches and officials (some of whom are kids), by adults
  • The “industry” of competitive Youth Sports has grown to ~ $17B/year (according to WinterGreen Research, Apr 2019)
  • Parents going into debt to “train & promote” their children in search of a college scholarship
  • Sadly, a statistic that has existed for over a decade… 70% of kids in the U.S. stop playing Youth Sports by the age of 13
Let me flip the script and pose this question… “How could kids mess it up any worse than it already is?”  Maybe placing kids in charge of intent, process and goals would inject some “sanity” into the current system?  Maybe, just maybe…placing kids in charge would result in MORE kids, playing MORE sports, for MORE of their lives?

To get a feel for where we are and where we need to go, let me offer two articles with a wealth of ideas and information.  First, is the AspenInstitute’s 2019 State of Play report, where they propose revitalizing local “in-town” leagues to give more kids access to fun and affordable sports experiences.  Second, is a recent Blog Post written by John O’Sullivan, entitled Reimagining Youth Sports in a Post-Covid-19 World (Apr 14, 2020).  In it, John presents an argument there will never be a better time to “reset” Youth Sports, than after this pandemic subsides.

In the context of our current situation, let me offer a “specific solution” that places kids at the heart of executing the intent, process and goals to “reset” the Youth Sports experience in the United States!
  • Start at the “grass roots” level in communities and neighborhoods around the country, to rebuild the “recreational” leagues (Way of Champions Podcast interview with Nate Baldwin, Appleton, WI).  Revitalizing local recreational leagues will help…
    • Reduce drive times and cost for families
    • Encourage more children (and families) to join-in
    • Foster relationships within communities and encourage a “stakeholder” attitude among adults and children alike
  • Form a group of (or a single, National) non-profit organization(s) to promote and involve kids in the process of fixing Youth Sports.
    • Create an adult “Mentorship Committee” (for legal reasons), to serve as “guides” to the HS aged Board of Directors, Advisory Groups and Leadership Cells throughout the community.
    • Recruit a HS aged “Board of Directors” from among exemplary HS students (athletes, as well as general population), who work together with their Mentors to adjudicate rules and make decisions about initiatives proposed by the advisory group(s).
    • Create Middle School “Advisory Groups” to facilitate two-way exchange of ideas between the Leadership Cells (in the leagues) and the High School aged Board of Directors.  Their primary function is to gather and curate the input from the leadership cells, to form initiatives for submission to the BoD.
    • Create “Leadership Cells” by age group (eg, ages 10, 11 & 12) with adult guides to facilitate.  These cells would gather input “from the masses” in their various Youth leagues and submit ideas (for changes or adjustments) to the Advisory Groups.
  • As kids age & mature, they could be nominated to positions in the next level (for continuity).  To keep the process “fresh,” however, each level would maintain a distribution of “new” and “legacy” positions within the structure.  This would help grow the organization (from the inside), while avoiding “group think” or “dogma.”
  • This process could be applied to any and all sports in a given community, with representation from every sport (on a mass board), or sport-specific “cells” to ensure representation.  It would also open up more opportunities for different kids to be involved, as opposed to the same multi-sport athletes holding positions for several sports.
  • The same “structure” could also support the addition / inclusion of other related “extracurricular” activities to promote entrepreneurial involvement by more students, including those who choose not to pursue athletics.
    • Cheer groups in support of teams within their league
    • Audio/Visual opportunities for kids interested in broadcasting or video pursuits
    • Concession or merchandise opportunities for kids interested in business
To most adults, this probably sounds far-fetched and ridiculous.  If so, consider the alternative…continued growth of an already bloated “competitive” Youth Sports culture, where 70% of kids stop playing organized sports.  This lack of activity (over time) then contributes to becoming part of the 42.4% population of American adults with obesity issues. See CDC Report (2017-18)  The obesity epidemic in American contributes to a host of other long-term, underlying health conditions that raise medical costs, decrease productivity and shorten lives!

What type message are we sending to the majority of America’s youth, if we abandon fun and healthy ways to experience physical, mental and emotional growth as they socialize.  I’ve heard it said that “Sport is Neutral” (with regard to value) to the individual athlete.  The “benefit” of sports is when the adults and organizations running the activities set the conditions for learning valuable life skills.  When sports are positive, fun and inclusive…everyone has a chance to learn and grow!  My position is… Kids can take us there!


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