There was a time when young athletes could play a variety of sports year-round and enjoy the challenges each one possessed, as well as develop a camaraderie with their teammates and a sense of everyone pulling their own weight, no matter what their talent levels were.
That time feels distant when compared to today’s youth sports world, where young athletes are under increased pressure to perform at a high level so they can get a college scholarship and perhaps an opportunity to play professionally.
This is disconcerting, especially when you consider the essence of sports is – and should be – about reveling in the spirit of competition. When you place the emphasis on individual achievement over building bonds between people, this essence is lost.
Some recent youth sports trends bear this point out. There are a growing number of sports with statewide travel leagues in New York – most prominently, baseball and soccer – that give athletes a chance to play a sport nearly year-round. The problem is, it comes at the expense of potentially playing a second or third sport that they may find equally enjoyable. And in the cases of sports such as hockey, lacrosse and basketball, there are several local clubs that travel around the United States in search of tournaments to showcase their handpicked athletes in front of collegiate and pro scouts.
Colleges are doing nothing to discourage this sort of youth sports mania, either. Coaches aren’t shy about recruiting players who haven’t even reached their junior seasons in high school. Case in point: the recent announcement by Niskayuna’s Lucas Quinn of his verbal commitment to play lacrosse at national power Syracuse University. Quinn is a freshman who hasn’t played a second of varsity lacrosse at Niskayuna yet, but his efforts for the school’s junior varsity team last year (94 points) and for the Albany Power – a local travel lacrosse team – were enough to convince the Syracuse coaching staff that he deserves a spot on their team in four years.
While it’s good that Quinn has his collegiate future settled, we wonder about other youth athletes who are playing in this highly competitive atmosphere – ones who might not have the skill level of their teammates but still want to play for the fun of being part of a team. We occasionally hear accusations from parents about high school coaches who are deliberately playing certain athletes over others. While we recognize that coaches have the right to determine who plays in terms of doing what’s best for their teams’ success, it’s easy to see how such behavior can leave some players wondering if they’re not better off staying home and playing video games. That’s frustrating to the athletes and parents involved, and it goes against the concept of building a true sense of team spirit among all of the athletes.
Athletes are not created equal. That is true in every sport. But when it feels like youth sports are becoming more specialized and geared toward celebrating only the best of the best, it goes against what sports were supposed to be in the first place: a chance for people of all abilities to compete against each other.