Guest Column - April 2008
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National Alliance for Youth Sports: Be Smart

Starting Kids Out Right in Sports

By Fred Engh

magine handing a 6-year-old a copy of War and Peace and watching the look in their eyes when you tell them to begin reading it.

Or how about plopping a 5-year-old on a bike without training wheels? Check out their reaction when you encourage them to start pedaling by themselves.

Really ridiculous scenarios? You bet.

And even more disastrous results.

Obviously, a child still learning basic words has no chance of getting past the first sentence of a classic novel, and one who has never been on a bike before won't get far at all before tipping, crashing and, of course, crying.

So, when it comes to youth sports, why do we continually adopt the basic mindset of the above and set children up for automatic failure that crushes their confidence and sabotages their self-esteem?

This is what happens in many communities all across the country: We throw kids a colorful uniform, hand them some equipment, and that's pretty much their welcome to this wonderful world we call organized youth sports.

Toss in scoreboards, standings and all-star teams, and it's easy to see why the fun for many kids fizzles quicker than being told they need shots at the doctor's office.

Think about what happens in youth baseball and softball, for example.

Many programs use regulation hard balls for the kids at the youngest age levels, so do the math: An uncoordinated child combined with a hard baseball bouncing off their shin when they're unable to field a grounder cleanly or worse, conking them on the head when they're trying to corral a fly ball, generally results in a lot of pain and frustration, as well as increases the likelihood that the child will want to quit the sport for good.

And who can really blame them?

Things can't get much worse than that when you figure that early childhood experiences in youth sports are supposed to be about fun and learning—while in an ultra safe environment.

After all, children's memories of their first season in T-ball are supposed to be happy ones, not ones that have them tossing and turning at night and looking to give up on the sport before they've even had a chance to really learn what it's all about.

It's time recreation agencies revamp their thinking on how they handle their programming aimed at the younger sets as well as their teaching approach with these highly impressionable youngsters.

Thankfully, an ever-increasing number of agencies have been doing something about this troubling aspect of youth sports, and if you're not yet, you should be, too.

Let me explain.