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Parent & Community Involvement in Youth Sports

From the Show: Train Your Body
Summary: Fewer than half of children aged 6-11 meet the U.S. Surgeon General’s recommendation for engaging in moderate physical activity most days of the week.
Air Date: 5/5/15
Duration: 10
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest Bio: Tom Farrey
Tom Farrey mugshotTom Farrey is the Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program. In 2011, he founded the Sports & Society Program, whose mission is to convene leaders, facilitate dialogue and inspire solutions that help sport serve the public interest. Farrey is also a journalist whose work has been recognized as among the nation’s best and most innovative. With ESPN, his television stories have won two Emmy Awards, as well as the 2014 Alfred I. DuPont/Columbia University Award and 2013 Edward R. Murrow Award. He is author of Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children (2008, ESPN Books), an investigation of contemporary youth sports used as a text on many college campuses.
Parent & Community Involvement in Youth Sports
Some children find ways to play on their own.

But, the eras of the sandlot and unstructured play -- and of kids making up games and playing with friends for hours on end -- are largely gone.

American sports lack a commitment to inclusion and are shaped by money; leaving many children, families, and communities on the outside looking in.

Tom Farrey discusses the best ways for parents to get ALL children involved in sporting activities.

RadioMD Presents: Train Your Body | Original Air Date: May 5, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: Tom Farrey

Your trainer, Melanie Cole, is here to motivate and help you perform. It’s time now for train your body.

MELANIE: If you have children aged 6 to 11, the US Surgeon General's recommendations is for engaging at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. And one problem that’s been happening around the country is that fewer children are signing up for sports, and some are even dropping out of sports. I’m actually going through something right now in my own household, so I know that this is definitely the case.

My guest today is Tom Ferret, he’s the Executive Director for the Aspen Institute Sports and Society program.

Welcome to the show, Tom. Tell us a little bit about what's going on with that state of children and sports and gaming activity, even including the gym and recess, which in schools are being cut in favor of academics. It’s all kind of spiralling, isn’t it?

TOM: Yes it’s clearly changing. It’s almost hard to get your mind around how much it changed in the course of just one generation. I’m 50 years old and when I was a kid I played organized sports. I put on a uniform for the first time when I was probably eight years and played T-ball. Today you have kids in informs at age 3 and are playing T-ball at 6, and they are being sorted out on the travel games by age of 6 or 7 or 8. They sort the weak with the strong. They say, “You’re a good athlete, in the sport” “You’re not”, and we create this sort of second-tier kind of environment and a lot kids end up falling out shortly after that. It’s gotten a lot more, frankly Darwinian at a really early age. We’re less patient now in introducing sports to kids and we’re less patient in asking them to engage in a deep way, and really focusing more of our resources on the very best average of those who are from the upper income home.

I think all of this is really at the center of, frankly, our epidemic of physical inactivity, and it plays a role in the obesity crisis that we have in this country. A limited number of kids being told that you are the center of our sport system, and whole bunch of other kids are really kicked out of the team by the age of 12 and pushed aside.

MELANIE: I absolutely know, Tom, my children both started soccer when they were three in their little uniforms. I personally was somebody who did not let them do travel because I didn't like the whole travel system here; too much at too young. And now even with this AYSL and different things, my daughter who’s a really good soccer player – fast as a little bug--wants to drop out because the drama, the things, she just isn't really happy with it. So, what do we as parents do?

TOM: That’s a great question because parents, at the end of the day, have ultimate control over the youth sports system. The problem is that they don't know where to turn for solutions and where to go for answers. They don't know what good athletic development looks like; they don't know when it's appropriate to create a travel team; they don't know what kind of competition structures are going to engage kids most appropriately and they don't know where to turn when things go wrong. They’re kind of a group with all the power but very little of it is exercised, and if t is exercised, it’s often in the wrong way.

MELANIE: Yes, you see all the parents screaming at their kids, or you hear them on the walk to their cars saying, “You know, you could have gotten that goal. I don't know why you didn't just go around that person.” You hear all of this and it certainly would seem to be enough to make the kid want to drop out of that sport altogether.

TOM: Yes, we call it youth sports but it's really about adults. These sports are designed by adults for adults. There are Little League boards and soccer boards; you pick the sport. It is mostly just a bunch of parents, mostly dads, sitting around a table drawing things up and deciding what the sport is going to look like in a given town, and nobody ever really actually talks to the kids saying, “What do you want? What are your priorities? Is it playing with your friends or playing with the very best kids from three towns away?”

MELANIE: So, starting right there is a tip, Tom, because we want to get lots of tips to parents about this problem. You doing what you do and being the Executive Director of the Sports and Society program, so the first tip is you want the parents to actually ask kids (such a lovely idea), “What is it you want to do?”

TOM: Exactly! Frankly, we wring our hands to the videogame industry; that they are monopolizing our kids, just sitting on the couch. But here’s what he video game industry does: they talk to kids, they do research, they do focus groups, they figure out what good competition structures look like for kids. So, what do they give them? They give them lots of action, they give them lots of access to the action (yes, it’s all through their thumbs). The kids can start or stop whenever they want, there's plenty of room for experimentation which you can't do at your local soccer game. If you dribble in front of the goal and try something new, then someone steals it, it gets punched in and everyone yells at you. The videogame companies basically give kids everything they want out of a sport experience, they can even talk with her friends and have a social experience over the oversets. They’ve given them everything except there is no physical activity in there.

So, parents need to talk to their kids, “What do you want?” Really listen to them. Maybe consult a researcher and then encourage their local sport bodies to do the same; to really put the kids first, not the parent first. But, do so in a manner that surveys kids, and you could actually do this more structurally. We’re thinking about finding ways to do this through our program, which is Cradle Surveys. Maybe their pre-season surveys, post-season surveys, asking kids what kind of experience they want and had, and giving feedback to the parents and school leaders and community leaders. So, they can say, “Look, kids of this age group did pretty well. They like this and this they didn’t like,” and using that in their policies and their practices. But, right now it’s not happening. So, step number one is to talk to your kids. Listen to your kids.

MELANIE: Listen to your kids. Actually take advice from the videogame industry and listen to what it is your kids want to do. We only have about minute and a half left, but where does ability…As I said, my daughter is a good soccer player, my son just started gymnastics in high school, so it’s the high school team. He is taking it seriously but he knows he didn’t start at two years old like most gymnasts, but he's having fun with it and his body has changed within just eight weeks – it’s incredible. What do you say to parents who say that my child is so good they’re going to go ahead to get scholarships and be a pro?

TOM: Yes, not happening! It’s really not happening. One of the best soccer clubs here, private soccer club here in Connecticut is run by a friend of mine and he coached the U9 Team. And what he tells the parents before every season…and these are like the best U9 players in the state really, he says, “Your kid is not getting a college scholarship.” And jaws drop, they can’t believe their kids not. He’s special, look at him dribble around everybody! But the scholarships are so rare and certainly full scholarships are extremely rare, so it just doesn't happen. And they recruit kids from overseas these days, so it is really not about college scholarships. It’s about how do you engage your kid, and will they love sports at the age of 25 when they’re outside your umbrella and your control; that they now have a lovely game and have the physical literacy and some of the ability to play well and they can feel competent out. If those can be the priorities, then your kids could end up in a good place. And you know what? If they are truly that special, it’s going to happen.

MELANIE: Yes, those stick out. And this is a great discussion to have. Parents listening, have this discussion with other parents that you know and coaches and your community because that's how we're going to get kids involved so that they love sports, so that they stay in shape, so that they run around on a Sunday afternoon or Saturday morning and they have a great time and they get outside. It’s so good for their mind and their body.

This is a great discussion, we’ll keep having it right here on radio MD.

You’re listening to Train Your Body, motivate and perform at the American College of Sports Medicine. And if you missed any of the great information you can listen anytime on-demand or on the go

This is Melanie Cole, stay well.