Posts Tagged ‘education’

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I received a call from a parent a couple weeks ago wondering what to do. His daughter, who is seven, had participated in a “Placement Camp” for her local soccer club. Up to this point she has played rec soccer and the expectation was that she would take part in the club’s team formation for next year. My friend’s daughter likes soccer, but she isn’t any more serious about it than she is about other things she is learning how to do.

There were two teams created for the seven-year-old group and my friend’s daughter was placed on the lower level team. The placement was not in dispute. My friend called because he wondered if the information he received about cost was reasonable. He and his family were being asked to pay $1000 for ten months of soccer and over $300 in team uniform fees. She is seven. She is unsure she even likes soccer all that much. The time commitment was a lot and the bill for her exploration was going to be $1300.

I gasped first, muttered an expletive, and then encouraged him to find some other form of soccer programming for his daughter to play.

“Won’t she get behind?” he worried.

“Maybe,” I said, “but this youth sports thing is a marathon, not a sprint. You don’t have to pay that right now as she’s learning what 7-year-olds learn. If she learns to love it enough to keep working at it, she’ll catch up.”

For the hundreds of thousands of families who pay a lot of money for youth soccer (or hockey, or baseball, or basketball, or gymnastics, or swimming, or… you name it), they will likely jump all over me for thinking the cost to participate in youth sports is getting outrageous.

“We have to pay for good coaching,” they’ll argue.

“Uniform fees run that steep.”

“We’re paying for a higher level of competition.”

“We have to travel to get good competition and exposure.”

“People around here can pay that much.”

Well, obviously, if your association or youth sports group asks people to pay that, they can afford it. (that’s actually not always true, but I’ll save that for another post) The environment and the market will only bear what it can. All I know is that where I live during the schoolyear, a 10-month travel soccer fee of $270, with a uniform fee of $90 is more than some families can pay. Where I live, we may never have the programs to compete with the affluent areas, and in reality, the kids from towns like ours are running a marathon too, but they are on a completely different course. The youth sports marathon course for kids who are not from affluence is a harder course. The hills are steeper, the obstacles more difficult, and to be honest, they start a few miles back when they start. Yet, most of the time we are asked to compete against communities that are not like ours at all.

When it comes to youth sports
Where there is competition, there is divide.
Where there is money, there is disparity.
Where there is both competition and money, there is disaster.

As of August 30th, 2017 Time magazine claimed the youth sports industry was worth $15 billion. “Elite” teams exist in every single sport and with those higher levels of programming, comes a higher bill to pay. I am more and more convinced that “elite” refers less to the level of athleticism and more to the actual elite members of our society. For some families, they rarely consider the impact of their choices. Competition is stiff enough, they don’t need to worry about the poorer families who cannot afford the same opportunities.

Youth sports is just another arena where the “haves” are finding ways to participate and when the “have nots” are left behind, no one really cares. If we want to have a real conversation about the participation numbers of kids on athletic teams, we can no longer ignore the existence of capitalism and the willingness of parents to do everything they can for their own kids. Too often they make personal choices with little to no regard for other kids who are not able to afford the same programming. It’s a dog eat dog world, though, right? So why does it matter? It matters because when kids drop out of sports, or are unable to be a part of teams that encourage physical exercise, belonging, and endless life lessons, we all lose.

I live a dual life. For part of the year our family lives near where I grew up in a suburb of Denver, Colorado. It is an area of affluence with gated communities and the highest level of sports offerings around. During the schoolyear we live in a small, rural town in one of the poorer counties in all of Wisconsin where travel teams are challenging. I see the differences.

My Colorado friends jet-set around the country to take part in high level tournaments, showcases and sports experiences. Intense travel and commitment starts in practically every sport when the kids are ten and eleven, sometimes younger. They pay exorbitant fees for expert coaching and high-end equipment and some of the travel includes 10-day trips to Europe or weeklong tournaments in Hawai’i. This doesn’t even touch the specialized training or camp opportunities they finance. I don’t begrudge my friends for providing these opportunities for their children. They have every right to spend their money how they want. I’m not sure they even have a responsibility to the poorer kids who will never have those experiences, but I do, and I struggle because of it.

I coach the boys’ high school soccer team in our rural Wisconsin town. We compete against schools with robust travel programs that take place the nine months outside of our high school schedule. Travel soccer is not an option for many of the families who live here, even at the $270/year amount. Our travel is minimal and includes mostly away games in the Twin Cities (an hour away).The kids who take part in our travel teams can generally afford it, but there are a number of families who never take part because it is more than they can commit or pay. Soccer for my guys is a low-budget, low-commitment endeavor for sure.

The other side of the coin deals with the families from our town who do have a bit more in resources. Those with more capital are willing and able to take their kids out of our community entirely to pay more for the programming in a larger more affluent place. We lose kids on both ends. Even in our house, we have a couple of kids for whom we’ve made the “exit” decision and I have admittedly agonized about our choices.

There has always been a variety of experiences available to families with money. The experiences are not the same for those without money. Add youth sports in front of the word experiences and all of a sudden it becomes a choice we’re making about how we are educating our youth. All of them. It is not unlike the private education/public school debate, but it is essentially an extension of that.

Does every child deserve an education? Do they all deserve the same sort of education? Do all kids deserve a chance to participate in sports? Do they all deserve a chance to get just as good as the next kid, or to play as long, or to have a similar enhancing experience?

Some of the decisions that keep the machine in motion come down to fear. My friend was afraid if he didn’t pay the $1000 his child would fall behind. Those who can afford it have more to lose if they choose not to pay-to-play. In the affluent communities, there is always another player to take the spot. Thankfully my friend was able to find a program with a much shorter time commitment and a reasonable fee for his daughter’s current level of interest. There isn’t always that choice.

Our family’s decision to engage in the pay-to-play model is more about geography and numbers of participation, but I  agonize because it is still an impactful decision to leave a small community to travel outside of our town. Every exit takes potential resources that would be useful if families were to stay.

For my part, I choose to continue to engage in two worlds. We can afford for our kids to have sports experiences and we have tried hard to keep the experiences at a level that reflects their interest and/or commitment. The older they get and the more they personally invest, the more their dad and I are willing to invest financially. For the soccer kids I coach in our community who don’t have the same resources, I do what I can to provide the highest level of coaching and experience at little to no cost to their families. Coaching the high school team is the best way I can give back to the sport that gave me so much and offer anything I can to the kids who will likely never have more experiences than what I can provide when they play for our school team.

A recent article in Atlantic Magazine further illuminates the growing gap between the affluent sporting families and everyone else. It is an important piece and I am not sure the truth of it can be ignored much longer.

If the youth sports playing field is going to be leveled, who will do it? It won’t be the for-profit companies making hand over fist off of eager families. It won’t be the poorer families who don’t hold the purse strings. It could be the affluent sporting communities if they were to think generously about the value of a system of inclusion and enhancement, but I am not confident that will ever happen. My best guess is that legislation is the way to achieve equity in youth sports, but that sounds like a hard, arduous fight.

What do you think? Should society at large care about the trajectory of the privatization of youth sports? If so, what are some potential fixes that could make it happen?  

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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We need to make a decision people. Yes, all of us grown-up-making-decisions-paying-registration-for-youth-sports people…we need to decide about something I believe may be the most critical decision for the future of youth sports.

What do we want for our investment?

Do we want youth sports to work as an engine for education or do we want our hard-earned dollars, volunteer hours and time commitment to result in a fun, entertaining experience for families and kids?

At the very least we have to decide what is more important.

Professional and college athletics are expected to provide high levels of entertainment in this country. Should youth sports provide the same?

It’s not that education can’t be fun and it’s not impossible for kids to learn something from an entertaining experience, but the lack of decision about what youth sports is supposed to accomplish is creating an environment that doesn’t effectively do either.

So here is a completely unscientific description of the differences between the educational and the entertainment model of youth sports.

In an educational model:

  • It is enough to notice small improvements.
  • There is a longterm goal in mind.
  • EVERY moment a child is involved with a youth sports experience, is a learning moment.
  • Wins are great, but learning is better.
  • The experience, improvement and education of EVERY child involved matters.
  • Attention is paid to the lessons being taught on and off the field/court/ice and the end goal is education of the entire child and not just the physical aspects of competition.
  • Parents and coaches parent and coach the children.

In the entertainment model:

  • Scoreboard, record and overall season achievements are how success is measured.
  • It is better to win NOW because there is no guarantee there will be a chance to play later.
  • Pre-game drinking and mid-tournament partying is all part of the entertaining sports experience, it is just how the family enjoys the season.
  • It is not worthwhile or fun unless the team wins and the athletes playing have great performances.
  • The best players should play because the best players improve the chances of winning.
  • The sport exists to produce the highest level of physical achievement possible.
  • People attending are fans and can behave as such (including the entertaining berating of refs)

So, where do you fall on the spectrum of Educational or Entertainment in youth sports? Should there be a difference between youth and college/pro? Should there be two sorts of youth sports programming to satisfy the desires of families: an educational league and an entertainment league? In which league would you sign your kid up to play?

I’m not sure we can have our cake and eat it too.

Meagan Frank is the author of the Choosing to Grow series, a national speaker, athlete, coach, and mother of three. A 1997 graduate of Colorado College, Meagan was a four-year starter and senior captain on the Division I women’s soccer team and lettered in Division III women’s basketball. She has coached recreational, high school, elite, and college-level teams for both boys and girls.

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Copyright 2015       Meagan Frank   Choosing to Grow         http://www.meaganfrank.com

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Before taking the ice, the locker room was filled with tension. There were silent tears, migraines, upset stomachs, throwing up, pale faces, wringing hands, and chest palpitations.

You would think this was the scene I observed prior to the Olympic gold-medal game, right?

No. This was the state of the locker room just before a U10 girls’ hockey tryout. U10, meaning the girls were UNDER the age of ten. Eight and nine-year-old children (and some of their parents) were as stressed out as any military recruit arriving for the first day of boot camp.

It’s hard to believe this is something caring adults create for children… on purpose. It is disheartening to acknowledge that adults have devised this system. The only hope is that enough adults will get together to stop scenes like this from happening every tryout season in every sport where elementary-aged teams are decided.

No matter the sport, conducting tryouts and creating A, B and C-leveled teams for elementary-aged children is a practice that needs to be changed.

If we, as the collective adults who run youth sports, decide that sports for kids are educational (a forth-coming blogpost), then Developmental Psychology defends the idea to cut tryouts for kids under the age of 12.

I’ll refer to the philosophy of psychologist Erik Erikson. In an article describing his philosophies, Kendra Cherry describes his theory of psychosocial development, and the fourth stage refers to children from ages six through eleven.

Cherry writes, “they strive to master new skills. Children who are encouraged and commended by parents and teachers develop a feeling of competence and belief in their skills. Those who receive little or no encouragement from parents, teachers, or peers will doubt their ability to be successful.

According to Erikson, this stage is vital in the development of self-confidence. Success leads to a sense of competence, while failure results in feelings of inferiority.”

Telling children they are “less than”  or “more than” their peers because of an A, B, or C-leveled designation can be incredibly damaging to kids.

Reinforced in the book Your Family Compass: A Parenting Guide for the Journey, author Jenny Hanlon, M. Ed., says, “It’s imperative for teachers, parents, and coaches to eliminate comparisons of children based on their abilities. There is no need to point these things out, as many children are already aware of their abilities in comparison to others. Having an adult point them out creates feelings of inferiority.”

Through tryouts, adults evaluate and decide the placement of children based on ability. The adults may understand that the kids could grow out of this placement, but the kids often do not fully understand that. Too often they start aligning themselves in other social settings based on the designation. “I’m a C kid.” or “I’m awesome, I’m an A kid. You suck…you just made the C team.”

Children who believe they are inferior during this critical stage of development struggle to gain the confidence necessary to push through to a place of competence in the skills they are attempting to achieve. I have a hunch this feeling of inferiority plays heavily into the decision for some twelve and thirteen year olds who decide they will NEVER be good enough to compete and then quit sports altogether.

Once children reach middle school ages of eleven, twelve and thirteen, they are formulating their identity outside of just competence, and they can better process where they rank along a physical skill scale.

When Left to Their Own Devices What Do Kids Do Naturally?soccer player

Have you ever observed a group of kids organizing a pick-up game? I know those games are more and more infrequent, but the pick-up games I’ve observed come together about the same way each time. Kids naturally level teams to be even. They don’t stack one team when they play. Instead they do quick analysis of the participants and make the teams as fair as possible. Kids want to compete, but they instinctively recognize that it is simply NO FUN if the teams are uneven.

More often than not, the argument I hear for defending “leveling” teams is that the better players are held back by less talented players so it is better if all the “good” athletes are on the same team and competing with other associations who have leveled their teams too. They ask, “What does it teach talented kids who are thrust together with less talented athletes?”  Well, all indications are that it teaches them all good things.

Looking at successful educational situations, most American schools have moved away from a fixed-leveling model and more toward a sliding rule method designed along growth potential instead. The Finnish educational system has achieved great success with this and one of the things they have adopted is a mixed classroom full of all talent levels.

Putting different levels of talent on the same team is NOT detrimental to the development of a child, and I would argue it could actually be more beneficial for the overall development of both the talented and the untalented players.

For the more talented players, I would hope it could be used as a teaching ground for humility and sportsmanship, an opportunity for positive leadership and teamwork, and a place to have fun playing a game that all the kids are LEARNING. In an ideal world, the coaches would recognize what each athlete brings to the team and help the kids recognize those strengths in each other.

We have had the unique opportunity in our house to be a part of intense tryouts for teams in a couple of the biggest sports associations in Minnesota as well as to be part of a pair of associations in Wisconsin that are small enough that tryouts are rarely necessary. Last fall, at the start of their first season in the small town, all three of my kids were literally jumping for joy that tryouts would not be happening for them. At the end of the season I asked my oldest, who is almost 14, whether he wished he had been on a team of similarly-leveled talent after tryouts or on a team with varied talent that didn’t require a tryout. He said he would choose the team that didn’t require a tryout even if the talent of the players was not all at the same “level”.

Educators have learned a lot about educating the elementary-aged child and it needs to translate onto our fields, courts and ice rinks.

Imagine for a second that your third grader had to try out for math class. Depending on the results of two tests he would either be in the class or not in the class. That’s absurd, you might say. Every child has the right to learn math. My contention is that every child who signs up for a sport has the right to learn that sport too, and it shouldn’t come at the cost of positive psychosocial development. Not to mention the resource gap between the A teams and the C teams. (I’ll save that for a future post too)

The System Would Need to Change: So How Can We Do This? ID-100234295

I’ll start first with some of the counter-arguments I heard while doing my research.

Argument 1: “This would be too hard to implement. It’s just easier to keep doing what we’re doing.”

True, status quo is easier. Just because this is the way we’ve always done it doesn’t mean it is the best thing for kids or for the development of athletes overall. Honestly, if you have ever been a part of the headache of tryouts, you know that it is tough enough exactly the way it is. It is just a different kind of hard to navigate making evenly competitive teams from all the talent in the association.

Of course, every association has to abide by this huge philosophical change in order for it to work. If there is a group that wants to tip the playing hand in their favor, it dismantles everything. So let’s say in an idyllic world every association does the same thing. All players under the age of 12 are placed in levels by age and then within the association the teams are put together as evenly as possible.

How would teams be chosen?

There are a couple ways to choose even teams. One way would be to pool the kids together for a number of practices at the start of the season. A committee of coaches would then work together to create even teams from the talent in each age group.

Another way to do it would be to get an idea of talent-level and then ask the kids/families to indicate friends (or carpools) with whom they would like to play. The team-deciding committee would do what they could to put two or three of the friends together, according to this request, while still making the teams even (kids perform better when they play with their friends anyway…and the families will likely have a better experience).

Choosing by coaching lottery (like a draft) would also make the teams pretty even once they are set.

An added bonus: making the teams leveled within the association helps with the overall team identity of the association at the same time. This is especially true if teams are mixed up year to year as the kids grow.

Argument 2: “High school is cut-throat and kids need to be prepared for tryouts.”

I agree. You wouldn’t want to send a kid to high school without having some experience with the stress that goes with a tryout. With this approach, there will be tryouts… when the athletes are 12 and older, and for two years before they start high school. Plenty of time to prepare for the impending stress of high school evaluation.

Argument 3: “What about commitment level? There are the REALLY competitive families who want an intense youth sports experience.”

Offer heavy schedule, medium schedule, and light schedule teams. You can still put teams together according to the numbers who sign up for that “level” of commitment. The more kids who sign up for a heavy schedule, the more teams you make for that group.

A recent article in the Star Tribune highlights the frustration of folks who want to give their kids a chance just to try hockey but who feel it is an ALL or NOTHING endeavor. This is not unique to competitive hockey, and it really shouldn’t be this way. With different scheduling opportunities families could give their kids a chance to try a team sport.

I think more than anything, cutting tryouts will enhance a spirit of teamwork that is currently lacking in youth team sports. The current system rewards players for acquiring individual skill in the off-season so they can make a higher level team. It pits families against one another when teams are named and players have either found a way to be on the right list or have done the right things to be noticed. Working hard at being a team player, no matter the level of the teammates, is not something we are teaching kids to do.

There will be a time when the cream rises to the top and the best of the best can compete for the entertaining pleasure of the parent-fans. Twelve-year-olds are a good age to introduce this sort of competition. For the kids who are younger than that, we need to start thinking like educators and use a holistic approach to service ALL athletes better than we currently do.

 

Meagan Frank is the author of the Choosing to Grow series, a national speaker, athlete, coach, and mother of three. A 1997 graduate of Colorado College, Meagan was a four-year starter and senior captain on the Division I women’s soccer team and lettered in Division III women’s basketball. She has coached all levels of teams for both boys and girls ranging in age from 4-22. 

You can find Meagan:               fb           twitter-logo-1       www.meaganfrank.com

Copyright 2014 Choosing to Grow

The above information is part of an ongoing book project:

Choosing to Grow For the Sport of It:  Because All Kids Matter

There are too many indications that we are a society in crisis.

It’s evident in media coverage and popular television shows.

In-fighting among our leaders runs rampant. The obesity rate continues to climb for all of us. Young men are perfectly satisfied  with mediocrity and feel no sense of drive to even move out of their parents’ homes. Young women lack confidence in their own abilities, and/or character, and follow media examples to defer to what they can offer sexually or how best they can engage in dramatic displays of dysfunctional relationship.

What does this have to do with how we coach young athletes?

IT HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH HOW WE SHOULD CHANGE OUR APPROACH TO KIDS!

The best estimate that I could find for participation in organized youth sports activities in the United States is 30- 40 million children.

That is where we need to go to start building creative, energetic, enthusiastic, well-rounded people who are going to make a positive difference in the world.

Analysts and commentators talk regularly about a seeming lack of leadership.  I contend that there can be no leaders without the freedom to create. Secondly, leaders come from a place of inspiration, and if we squash the efforts of the fledgling leader to explore opportunities for themselves…we will continue to spiral as time goes on.

That’s what’s missing in youth sports, you know. Kids have lost the freedom to be creative, to think for themselves, to make mistakes and find a way to fix the problems all on their own. We are killing kids’ desires to lead.

Dr. Vicki Harber, a Professor in the Faculty of Physical Education & Recreation at the University of Alberta and a member of the Canadian Sport for Life Leadership Team, wrote an article entitled Physical Literacy for Confident, Creative, Healthy Children. In it she discusses the very tragic reality of today’s modern child.

We need to listen to this!  We need to be willing to let go and let kids be who they are meant to be. Our job as parents and coaches is not to mold children like piles of clay into a pre-determined statue. Instead our job is to celebrate the innate abilities that these kids already have and encourage them to explore their potential all on their own.

How do we do that when our youth development has become so structured and programmed?  Kids don’t have the opportunities, or the time, to go out on the playground and imaginatively play. They want to be with their friends who are signed up for teams and activities, so they sign up too.  The problem is, when they get there, the structure remains adult-driven, and what the kids really NEED is lost in the programming.

So build it in…

As coaches of youth teams, how is creative play built in to your practice plan? Schools have recess, choice time, and movement exercises where the kids can form some autonomy.

Why can’t we do that for the sports teams?

Let kids be a part of the practice plan.  Ask them what they want to do, and don’t get annoyed that all they want to do is play games.  All they SHOULD be doing, at most youth levels, is playing games.

Kids are crying out for help. They are dropping out of youth sports at an alarming rate. They are giving up on activity altogether because it was never fun from the start. Be challenged by this. At whatever level you participate: as a parent, as a coach, as an administrator…take a good hard look at how creativity is built into the sports experience and how creative leadership is celebrated for all of the kids who participate.

If we are dissatisfied with where things are, we need to be working to make it better. It’s a matter of principle:

“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

Thomas Jefferson

Our kids deserve more from us. They deserve a chance to be kids…to develop passions…to be celebrated not for doing things just like everyone else, but instead for coming up with a new idea.  Let’s bring that to the sporting arenas!

I know I’ll revisit this topic, and any thoughts on the subject are welcome. The dialogue is necessary, and I hope you’ll engage with comments and suggestions.

For more information on Meagan Frank or her current book project: Choosing to Grow: For the Sport of It you can visit her website:  www.meaganfrank.com

2012 Copyright   Meagan Frank                                                Choosing to Grow