Thursday, October 23, 2008

A pro athlete's take on youth sports

Here's my silver bullet for fixing the adult-generated problems that hamper youth sports: put professional athletes in charge.

A simplistic fix, of course. But the observation comes from a series of conversations with basketball players to tour golfers about kids, sports and the expectations of parents. To a person, the ones I've chatted with complain that sports for kids have become far too serious. As pros, sports is their job. They're opposed to turning sports into a job for 11 year olds.

Billy Andrade, the PGA Tour golfer, was particularly firm on this point. He told me his parents were pretty much removed from his golf life as a kid. They didn't attend all, or even most, of his tournaments, and he felt no pressure from them to succeed on the golf course. Turning pro one day wasn't on any of their minds. Now, he said, some parents see sports as vocational training. Put a club in a child's hand at age 5. Raise a millionaire. "The problem lies in the money." he told me. "If there were no prize at the end of the rainbow, would families be doing these things? I doubt it."

The more Billy Andrades speaking out, the better for youth sports. So the Positive Coaching Alliance, an admirable organization, has it right by enlisting many former and present pro athletes to speak about kids and sports. On its advisory board sits a who's who of past and present pros: Jack Kemp, Bill Bradley, Jennifer Azzi, Shane Battier, Larry Brown and Phil Jackson, among others. This video, featuring Jackson, is terrific.

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