INTRODUCTION:

“What happened?”

What if I told you that . . .?
*balanced excellence, not specialization, is the key to athletic success and life?
*athletes only get better playing in games, not sitting on the bench?
*nothing a child does before puberty is a solid indicator of future athletic success?
*health is the leading indicator of future success for an athlete?  (that includes structured rest)
*playing for fun can help teams win way more than playing a sport just to win?
*just because you specialize in one sport, doesn’t mean your talent is special?
Let the journey through this book, just like your journey through youth sports and life, reveal to you the extrinsic message that will trigger the internal, intrinsic change in your own journey through youth sports and life.
Are you frustrated and tired of paying fees and footing the bill for your child’s participation in youth sports? Is the time you spend year-round going to practices and attending games wearing you down? Does your son or daughter find playing youth sports to be a chore, a job? Does it seem that the farther the player goes “up the ladder” in competition, the more problems arise and the less fun the player has?  Are the bulk of your financial contributions to your child’s participation in youth sports being used to support the development of one or two “star” players (not your child) on the team?  Do you and your family feel left out, alone? Do you feel the need to look at other options, but can’t figure out what they are and how to find them?
Are you thinking of volunteering to coach a team, but are unsure of what you’re getting into? Are you presently a coach who finds things just aren’t going the way you thought they would? Are you finding it difficult to get objective advice from people, worried they may have a hidden agenda?
Whether a parent or a coach, would you like some pointers and tips that will give a better feeling about what you’re doing? Are you just plain confused about the whole “youth sports” thing and would like to know what happened to the “fun” you experienced when you were young and part of a team?
Families and players are leaving youth sports en masse because of adverse treatment by coaches, players, and parents. Fun has been replaced by angst, bewilderment, and sometimes anger.
Why is all this happening? What are the short- and long-term consequences of people feeling this way?
One of my goals in writing this book is for people to understand how important balance is in achieving happiness and contentment in youth sports and life.  I’m really trying to help calm the angst and tense atmosphere so prevalent in today’s youth sports world.
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Youth sports are supposed to be fun. The number one goal is for the young athletes to enjoy playing their chosen sport or sports. But, how can they do this given the current state of things?
There is a way. It’s called “balanced excellence.”  Balanced excellence is a mindset that allows everyone, including but not exclusively players, coaches, and parents, to benefit from the desire to excel in all areas of life in a balanced manner. We should strive for the qualities of excellence pertaining to and including humility, sportsmanship, and accountability. There is no ulterior motive or long-term financial goal. It’s all about fun. Enjoyment and learning life skills are the only real goals of the experience of playing youth sports. Everything else, winning, getting better, scholarships, will take care of itself, but only when this essential base is established.
Children want to be able to trust that the people and the teams they are with will include them in play. Trust is a huge part of youth sports and life that has been somewhat devalued. In life, how does trust, or the lack thereof, affect us on a daily basis at work, in school, and in relationships?  Children should benefit from this trust placed in coaches, parents, and teammates. Life lessons ought to be positive in nature. Children want to be happy. So, what happened to playing youth sports for fun?
Why has a primary goal of youth sports become a vehicle for Division I athletic scholarships? What are the consequences of this transformation? Why is the journey through a child’s playing youth sports now mostly for the reward, the glory? Athletes, coaches, and parents think that the more you win the better you are, and that is not necessarily the case.
College coaches want to see athletes in team sports working hard and playing well with others, not just winning. Why are youth sports so “goal-orientated?” Youth sports have morphed into a Tsunami, a wave of epic proportions, crashing over children and their families, leaving a swath of destruction in its wake. The allure of athletes playing for Division I schools and, possibly professionally, has become so enticing that for reasons we will explain in this book, we can’t see how unrealistic a goal that allure is to most children’s dreams. How did this happen? When did this wave begin to take over our lives, creating an undertow pulling our children, us, coaches, schools and businesses in its wake?
Will adults pass on to their families, and those generations to come, the stress-related environment created by the time and money spent on their children’s participation in youth sports? Will parents rationalize the manipulation of rules to justify their behavior? Will they fall into the undertow of “the rules apply to everyone but their children?” In turn, will the children then embrace that same attitude in their lives and the lives of their children? What consequences will, though unintentional but inevitable, come from this?  Will young players’ reputations carry through and adversely affect them and other players’ ability to improve?  What will be the fallout?
When looked at cumulatively, “pay for play” can run into the thousands of dollars per year. Does the cost of participation on a higher level of a sport give people the excuse to use the rationalization as a way to bend the rules in the name of entitlement? Could this phenomenon affect the judgment and decisions of most everyone involved now and in the future?
The answer is, “Yes!” That is, until we collectively agree to stop it.
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The erosion of youth sports can be linked directly to the decision to have our children play one sport year-round and to the increased monetary commitment to the “pay-for-play” concept.  When did it become acceptable to have personal coaches, surgery before an injury, and rehabilitation as a way to get back on the playing field instead of just getting healthy?  The atmosphere surrounding youth sports programs has changed dramatically and negatively over the years since this concept was created. Good kids, good athletes, are telling their parents that they do not want to play anymore. The truth is that they are not having fun. Seventy percent of all youth sports participants at the age of ten stop playing by age thirteen. There are those children who love playing their sports so much they want to play year-round.
My daughter loves chocolate, but I don’t let her have it all the time. It would make her sick!
It used to be a normal occurrence for children to play multiple sports. They played one sport for a season, putting away the equipment until the next season. They then went on to the next sport. Kids enjoyed going to practice and playing in games with their teammates. The enjoyment and improvement in skills were enhanced by having balance and diversity. This approach helped to develop the mind and body, together, through years of playing youth sports.  “Specialization” referred to the particular ice-cream or snack the player preferred to eat after each contest.
It used to be that children had fun playing sports just for the enjoyment of playing with friends.  Between sports, they could have active rest by playing pickup games in different sports or some other unrelated activity.  They could do school work or community service. These all helped to achieve “balanced excellence.”
Now, children are told by organizations, parents, and coaches to pick a sport and stay with it year-round.  Few people want to talk about where this is leading, as well as what the long-term consequences are if playing year-round doesn’t work out as planned.   There is too much ego and money involved for those close to youth sports to think clearly for the good of the children. No one wants to talk about the children, families, and coaches who have been consumed by this recent phenomenon of specialization. Many have ended up breaking down mentally, physically and emotionally by the journey and results.  They are quietly being pushed aside and their discontent is silenced as a new generation of hopefuls takes their place.  How did this transformation evolve?  Is there something going on in society that helps fuel this change?
We live in a time of “instant” gratification, information, contact, reward, and success.  Long-term goals are being overrun by short-term gratification, leading to the justification of selfish behavior.  Youth sports have enveloped good people, families, coaches, and school districts like a Tsunami, repeatedly knocking them down until they are too tired to resist.  They just “go with the flow.”  Some fear retribution; others feel they will fall behind or be ostracized by the athletic community in which they socialize and participate.
Why isn’t the idea of children having fun playing sports good enough anymore?  Why are playing multiple sports discouraged?  What happened to the enjoyment and the importance of the journey?  The value of the process itself has been, at the very least, diminished through year-round playing.  Youth sports have taken on a life of their own in importance and status in our culture.  When did having quality family time, or taking a family vacation become an interruption to the participation in year-round youth sports?  Time away from youth sports should not need an excuse and justification for an absence.  We must get back to the fundamentals of playing for fun, learning life skills, and “balanced excellence.”
Recently, questions have begun surfacing regarding what is really going on in youth sports.  The long-term ramifications of playing year-round are beginning to emerge.  The idea that children enjoy sports and learn from the experience, taking the journey, has been replaced with short-term gratification and the hope of long-term financial rewards.  Most spend more than they will ever get back.
Glory, false rewards, and debilitating spending have overwhelmed youth sports. Parents and coaches are led to believe that the way to get to the “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” can only come from playing one sport year-round. The short term reward of course, is winning. The long term reward is either a scholarship or professional contract.
This simply is not true.
My book is available from my website, frozenshorts.com in e book form now for $9.95 and the book will be out in paperback by the end of November 2012 for $15. You can follow me on twitter @VJJStanley, on Facebook at frozenshorts.com, you can reach me by email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.