The Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Task Force on Multi-Sport Participation has learned that school sports are in competition versus non-school youth sports, not only programmatically but also and more fundamentally, philosophically. School sports sees child development quite differently and has as its mission developing the whole child.
Non-school youth sports business interests have convinced consumers (that’s parents) that early and intense specialization with private lessons and personal trainers, and lots of travel and tournaments is necessary for a child’s athletic interests and ultimate happiness. That is sometimes true ... once in a very great while.
What is much more often true is that specialization in a sport that is too early and too intense stunts a young person’s physical literacy, which often leads to less well-rounded athletic ability, a more sedentary lifestyle and poorer health in later life.
The theme of the Task Force recommendations to the MHSAA so far is that we have to reach youth and their parents earlier in life if we hope to compete for their hearts and minds.
When 80 percent of youth drop out of organized sports by the age of 13 – usually because they have been left out or become burned out – we’ve missed the kickoff if we start talking to them in 9th grade about the benefits of multi-sport participation and the school sport experience. In fact, the game is more than half over by then and our messages fall on deaf ears. We are absolutely correct with our message but appear out of step and out of touch to those who have only heard the sports specialization speech from youth coaches and their commercial interests.