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Here is an example of how “elite” youth sports teams actually mislead parents, coaches, and players into believing that they are being competitive at a high level at an early age. What is in fact happening is that the outcome (players leaving a sport) is predetermined to eliminate potentially good athletes. The deck is stacked to allow higher developed children more playing time at the expense of other children who start out more slowly, or whose families cannot afford to pay the high price of youth sports participation.
Competition can be enhanced for those who need more game experience and time to reach their potential. They can be given equal playing time pre-puberty to give them time to grow and develop without the pressure of having to win, win, win. Rigged competition becomes prevalent for the players whose families can afford to pay, instead of players playing against the best players in a completely free and open competition.
            Development of a player to perform to the best of his or her ability is stunted because the competition is lessened through the narrowing of the pool of possibly better opponents when the pay for play teams eliminate those children whose families cannot afford to pay for “elite” travel teams.
            You only get better playing against better competition. Winning has become a tainted goal filled with false results. As a way of keeping the inner circle intact, those who are more skilled early on in life are assured to have a better chance at success because they pay for their play. But it does not work that way in reality. It’s a journey, and athletes develop at different times in their lives and at different levels of mental and physical development.
            In this case there is a track record proving that there is no correlation between performance in youth sports pre-puberty and future results as to the excellence an athlete can attain later in life. Yes, there are very good players at an early age, but the reality is that they are very few and far between, and they do not necessarily continue to grow physically and develop.
            Let’s look at competition. If we are truly competitive, don’t we want to see who the best is? Do we want to find who is best from a very small sample of players?  Can we find that out at such an early age? All the data from scientists, researchers, doctors, and most college coaches says, most emphatically, no. By definition, the fewer kids we have playing, the less competitive it is to find out who is the best for that age group. Since many youth sports teams are trying to win at an early age, they weed out the lesser player early on and give a false advantage to a player that may have more skills early on in life.
            What is important here is that the children get a chance to play. The journey of youth sports before puberty should be strictly about fun and participation. Kids need to learn if they want to play. They need to see other kids play, and learn both good and bad about competition. Players need to know that if they do well or struggle that, at an early age (pre-puberty), they will be given repeated chances to succeed. Perseverance works both ways, for the coach as well as the players.
            This short-sighted approach leads to the more skilled player getting more playing time, and it puts the late-developing player at a disadvantage because they cannot develop while sitting on the bench watching others play.
            A local high school rivalry is the impetus for my next hypothesis. The opposing varsity team won their game by a substantial score. The modified team from that school got clobbered by the same school that they thrashed at the varsity level. This is another example of how puberty changes everything. It is very doubtful that the winning modified team’s success will carry over to the varsity level, because many of the players won’t still be playing that sport. It hasn’t, not for the last three years in this rivalry.
 Let’s compare these two games to taking a test in school. We will say that our baseline for academic performance is at ninety percent correct, meaning that this is the norm we want for execution. If we take a test of one hundred questions and we get five of the first ten wrong, can’t we still get a ninety percent on the test by answering eighty five of the last ninety questions correctly? Can a student get a ninety percent on the test after only answering the first ten questions? Absolutely not. He has to take the whole test.
Does the student/player get a pass on this test because he aced the last test? NO. Can another student raise his grade point average up by working harder and taking another test? YES! Does the teacher teach to ninety percent of the students, or to the whole class?
Here is one other coach’s thoughts about this event and how it relates to the children playing youth sports; “Last night, I had yet another opportunity to coach young men at a sporting event. The age group was middle school (seventh and eighth grade), the sport was football, and our opponent was our rival. What did I care about? I cared about our young men doing their best and representing their school for forty eight minutes. The result was that all forty seven members of our team played for their school against their rival in a game that hopefully resulted in a lifelong memory.
"What about the game? It is indeed only a game. Unfortunately for our opponent, they were not very strong this year, so we were able to get some quality playing time for all of our players. I feel my job as a modified football coach is to generate enthusiasm for the sport and game I coach until puberty takes their physical development to its natural conclusion.
We could have scored more than fifty points in the game, but to what end? I strongly believe that you need to love the game you coach, respect your opponent, and then beat them in the contest. Winning by fifty points does nothing but disrespect your opponent. The real question is, does this same philosophy exist within your own organization or among your own peer coaches across the nation? Our rival at the varsity level could have beat our varsity team by over fifty points but elected to forego the painful, punishing result in lieu of maximizing his teams' experience on the field by playing all of his players. The big picture result? Year after year their program produces state champion caliber competitive teams.” J.F.

Written by : VJS