When Linda Flanagan started coaching running, she was thrilled to be able to pass on her love of the sport to another generation. But after she started, she quickly noticed that the parents on the team didn’t seem to share that goal. “There was a lot less concern with what the race could do for [the students] as individuals – like with what it might do for them for college,” says Flanagan. “It got me thinking, what do we do with these kids? I found that depressing.”
Flanagan focuses on this trend in his new book, “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania are Ruining Kids’ Sports – and Why It Matters” (Portfolio). It’s a phenomenon any parent of a young child will notice – the workouts several times a week, combined with games every weekend – all for kids who haven’t even hit their teens.
Flanagan cites the change in youth sports as beginning in the late 1970s, when a recession and high inflation withdrew public funding from parks and community sports. “And then private groups filled that void. After Disney purchased the Wide World of Sports Complex in 1997, it became a model for municipalities across the country. So you had a sports infrastructure for young people. This is how the money angle began. It became profitable. The level of intensity has increased with changes in colleges and universities, and the fact that sports can give applicants a better chance of admission.
“There is this pressure to choose a sport and do it all the time. It took away the fun of the sport and the kids don’t enjoy it as much,” says Flanagan, who is a founding board member of the NYC chapter of the Positive Coaching Alliance and a member of the 2020-21 advisory group for the program. Reimagining Sports from the Aspen Institute. initiative. “To be great in a sport, it has to come from within. All this activity by parents to involve their children is counterproductive.
To moms and dads who want to rebel against the system, Flanagan offers this: “I think parents need to reclaim their agency. If they hate it and the whole family is apart [by the intensity and time commitment of practices and games], you don’t have to accept it. Parents need to regain their sense of control and work with other parents to say, we don’t want this to happen. And if there are not enough relatives, you have to do it yourself.
New York Post