Maybe he can wait a year before joining the travel team?

The Case Against Starting Serious Soccer Lessons Too Soon

Money, time, car travel, lack of free play: There are a lot of costs to starting soccer ultra-soon, ultra-seriously.

This post is excerpted from a much longer one sent to us by Jon Mikelonis, father of boys 11 and 9. He writes, “My wife is from Brasilia. We reside in Northern Nevada. I am an Information Designer by trade but consider father to be my primary job. I am a believer in nature’s positive influence on us and spend my recreational time fishing and playing soccer. I am a defender of my boys natural tendency to play free.” 

After speaking with another dad on the sidelines of a soccer tournament, and thinking about what is expected of kids in many leagues, he wrote:

Cultural Impacts on Youth Soccer in America

What is lost today for our children is their time spent playing free. They experience daily supervised regiments at school for 6 hours, mostly confined to a chair. Then, when involved in organized youth soccer, they log more hours within structured training, complete with manuals, props, clear drop-off and pick-up times, and more intense supervision. While arguably effective and certainly required at some age level beyond 12, most of this structure is set in place prematurely to justify the parental investment in what is simply the world’s most natural game. Structure can start at the age of 5 or younger, well before an individual child has even begun to find their unique game within the game.

..

[Talking to the dad on the sidelines.] “See that fence over there? When you and I were 10 we scrambled over those fences in our own athletic way. And if it wasn’t a fence for you, it might have been a creek bed, a cement wall, or a low hedgerow. On another day, the obstacle may have been a ramp but this time you had your bike and an entire unsupervised summer’s afternoon. It wasn’t really sport, but it was a challenge and the manner in which you overcame the challenge was yours, it was your creative style. The requirements to overcome these obstacles taxed muscles and nerves unaddressed by the systems, processes, and structure of the Fiorentina Method or the Barcelona Way. Unbeknownst to us, our physical movements and freedoms prepared us for the required demands and individuality of youth soccer even on day one.

There is a reason soccer is the world game, the physicality required to start your journey in the game can be found in the natural movements and creativity of an active and free childhood.

..

Our culture appears bent on marketing a path to success regardless of the dream. The verbiage takes different forms but the objective of the messaging is the same:  “Don’t follow our path and you will fail.”

With regard to youth soccer, the emphasis to specialize early, commit year-round, and travel beginning under the age of 10 is implied if not clearly spelled out among many clubcompelite, and academy programs. These same terms have come to carry little weight as youth soccer organizations do not need to meet any specific criteria to adopt them. However, the terms are used to imply a hierarchy and the haphazard use of the word academy in particular implies there is an absolute path, an educational element, a process for the development of soccer skill in any child.

Now please note, we — my husband and I — put our own boys in a bunch of sports programs when they were under 12, which for the most part they enjoyed. The ones they didn’t, we dropped. The question is: Is there a way to give our kids at least as much free time to play as we give them structured time? A chance for them to find their own interests, and organize their own games?

Free-Range Kids is not anti-youth sports. But we do want to try to give our kids some truly free time — unstructured and unsupervised — out in the world. Perhaps with a soccer ball. – L

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Maybe he can wait a year before joining the travel team?

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38 Responses to The Case Against Starting Serious Soccer Lessons Too Soon

  1. Backroads August 14, 2017 at 8:40 am #

    I speak on behalf of a friend (who I think actually follows the blog). She comes from an Asian culture of high expectations and makes it clear the standards she has for her sons and the range of extracurricular activities they must take. And yet, she also speaks highly of their free time. They do absolutely nothing in the summer (as far as official activities go) and just run around town and the local woods. I honestly couldnt say which they do more of.

  2. BL August 14, 2017 at 9:09 am #

    If you’re not the player who scored the winning goal in the World Cup Final, you’re a loser!

    And, oh, yeah, have fun …

  3. Peter August 14, 2017 at 9:23 am #

    I have a rather high level soccer coaching license and spent nearly 25 years coaching youth soccer. For some time I was the Director of Coaching for our local soccer organization. One of my tasks was training volunteer coaches on how to coach soccer. While trying to teach new coaches some fundamentals (5 basic foot positions, etc.) I found the coaches drifting off. One said they were not interested in teaching the skills of soccer. They signed their kid up for soccer so their child could “run and kick the ball” and all they intended to do at practice was have the kids run and kick the ball. (Characterizing soccer as a game of “run and kick the ball” is like characterizing baseball as “run and throw the ball”. Imagine signing your kid up for t-ball and all they did at practice was run and throw the ball. Weird.) Anyway, I explained to them that if you just want your kid to run and kick a ball, you don’t have to pay your local soccer organization and adhere to a schedule imposed upon you. Forget volunteers and carpools and trophies and shin guards. Just go to the park with a ball. Nope. They didn’t get that at all. The ONLY way they could imagine to get their kid to run and kick a ball was to pay someone to schedule it for them.

    North Americans do not grow up watching soccer, so most have no idea what sort of skills/actions are required to play the sport. Brazilians might become great soccer players through free play, but they also watch 90 minutes of soccer on TV every day. American kids have no such exposure to the sport, and have no “natural” means of developing skills in soccer (or any other sport.) For Americans to learn skills at any sport, they will probably need a coach. The USA has no sport with the impact of daily televised soccer in Brazil or Europe.

  4. Roger the Shrubber August 14, 2017 at 9:36 am #

    There are 3 seasons of organized baseball in my community. The spring season is the competitive season. In the summer there are travel leagues and a ‘fun’ league for those not in travel programs. The fall season is also mostly for fun. There is no pressure for attendance in the summer and fall league, and members for other teams may be called on to help fill in for teams that are short players. Players from the opposing team are used in the field to fill when teams short on players. For better or worse (mostly worse) the summer and fall leagues exist because kids are no longer able or expected to organize their own ‘pick-up’ games and play without adult supervision and paid umpires.

  5. Workshop August 14, 2017 at 9:52 am #

    I live in Indiana. Soccer, basketball, baseball, football, and golf all have similar issues.

    And if you don’t pay the fees, there’s not a lot of places to actually play a simple game of “run and kick the ball.”

    It’s funny (in an ironic way) – We are a nation of couch potatoes, and we are telling kids the way to not be a couch potato is to do travel sports.

    Nope, not gonna play that game.

  6. mer August 14, 2017 at 10:02 am #

    Anti youth sports? No. Anti “overly competitive at too young an age” sports? Yep. Forcing kids to take sports way too seriously at too young an age, simply sucks all the fun out of it.
    9, 10, 11, that’s maybe getting to the age of taking it seriously, but only if the child wants to. Kids are like donkeys, try to force them to do something they don’t want to and they’ll expend more energy avoiding it. But give them the room to learn, gently prod them, they’ll surprise you.

    You don’t ever want to be one of those “Little League” parents (Generically, Little League. Happens with all youth sports)

  7. Gary August 14, 2017 at 10:09 am #

    What ya got for golf? My son is 6 and is starting to really enjoy it.

  8. Meg August 14, 2017 at 10:23 am #

    My son started soccer at 9. I was told by a hard core soccer mom he was “too old” to start playing soccer, her child started at 3. By 6, she was playing competitively.

    When I hear things like that, it simply depresses me. What happened to playing for fun?

  9. Gary August 14, 2017 at 10:33 am #

    @Meg

    I recently have gotten into golf (1yr) and for kicks I asked The Boy if he wanted to go to the driving range with me using “kids clubs” my neighbor gave me.

    He had a blast and i told him as long as he still wanted to do it I would outfit him with proper kids clubs…which I did/am doing). I get asked everyday if we can go to the driving range…

    This Saturday we are hitting the course for family golf where they let you play 9 holes with the tees set up 150yds from the hole to make it a little easier, but more importantly, fun.

    Whenever a package arrives with new equipment his first words are always” can we go try it out?”

    I also told him we will continue to play until he says he does not want to anymore, and that would be fine.

  10. Crazy Cat Lady August 14, 2017 at 10:43 am #

    My kids have been involved in a local group called Family Friendly Soccer, which meets on Saturdays, from 9:30 to 11:00 for fall and spring for about 8 weeks. Coaches are volunteers, half of the time is skills, the other half is scrimage with your own age group. All age groups play at the same time. I love the fact that that games are not “serious”, that the kids are just having fun.

    But…this year they decided that they needed to cut back. Kids grade 6 and above will no longer have a coach or time on the field. Living out in the country….I need to have a little bit of a schedule to get together with other families, and a place to do it that is not full of “serious” leagues. My kids have been asked to serve as junior coaches for younger kids. Their rational for getting rid of the older groups was that there were opportunities for kids to play at their local schools. Well yeah, if you actually have the skills and can compete in actual games. My kids, who like to play for fun, would be on the bench…if they made the team.

    And I chose this group because they do not have practice 3 days a week or more. Just one day. That is good for fun and doing other things with the family.

  11. Richard Stanford August 14, 2017 at 10:53 am #

    I’m a big fan of unstructured play for most things. One aspect that we’re finding though is that so many of the “league” programs assume that you’ve been playing since Kindergarten to the point that signing a 10-12 year old up for anything official is likely to end poorly since there aren’t any other 10 year olds who haven’t been being coached for 5 years.

  12. Melissa August 14, 2017 at 12:24 pm #

    Amen to that!!! I made a conscious choice when my kids were tiny (they are now 8 and 10) that we would not do any activities that dominated their lives. They mainly do sports through Upward (Christian league for basketball, soccer, etc), which has one 1-hour practice and one game per week; all of which is held at the same, close-to-home location. They also take piano lessons (which is at home) and participate in children’s choir at church (1 hour per week). They do a different sport each season, never at the same time. My kids therefore spend an average of an hour or so per weekday on activities. The rest of the time is free play. They are getting so much richer and more well-rounded of a childhood than their many friends who play 5x weekly travel sports, where they also are never at church on Sunday because they are 2 hours away at an all-day sporting event.

    If my kids decide to specialize in something in high school, so be it, but even then I will not be pushing the idea. None of these travel activities are very healthy… they break apart families and suck away the kids’ time for leisure and academics. It’s so seldom any of these kids do that same activity as adults, much less professionally.

  13. Rae Pica August 14, 2017 at 12:43 pm #

    Thanks for publishing this important post, Lenore. There is much that I could say in response, all of it in agreement with this gentleman. But I’ll limit myself to a couple of points.

    Many parents believe that organized sports teach skills and provide physical activity. For the most part, they do not. Often children are simply expected to know the rules of the game and just jump in. There is also too much waiting around in organized sports for it to provide the exercise and motor development that good, old-fashioned, free-range play does. (Just ask the kid sitting on the bench or the one out in right field waiting for a ball to come along.)

    The experts recommend that children not start in organized sports until they’re 8. Before that, they’re simply not developmentally ready — physically, socially, emotionally, or cognitively. But even after joining an organized program, they should be given as much opportunity for free play as possible, for all kinds of really good reasons.

  14. Rebel mom August 14, 2017 at 1:16 pm #

    I despise organized sports. So many reasons but one is that it eats up huge chunks of what might be free time at the park. Let kids play, climb, explore, sing, or just be alone.

  15. Christopher Byrne August 14, 2017 at 1:32 pm #

    This is very insightful. I also think that one of the problems of so many organized activities is that children are always surrounded by adult experts and don’t have the chance to discover, interact, create teams and resolve issues on their own. This is a critical part of socialization and when there is always someone in authority to tell kids the “right” way to do things, kids don’t have to work things out for themselves.

  16. Mya Greene August 14, 2017 at 2:11 pm #

    On this, I think that the parent should follow the child’s lead. Exposing them to the idea of doing certain activities certainly couldn’t hurt. If a younger child is passionate about an activity and is pushing the parent for more, then why not support that? If not, then the child doesn’t have to stick with it, or do it at a competitive level.

  17. Amy August 14, 2017 at 2:20 pm #

    I am in agreement with alot of these comments. Due to disabillity I wasn’t able to play sports. Sometimes it sucked, but it didn’t negatively affect me. But, one comment I can’t get behind, yes it’s great to support your child, but what if you can’t l? The problem I have with sports these days is the are majorly over priced. It’s not as simple as just signing them up. I hate the notion that if you don’t let your kids do all these fancy sports you somehow aren’t supportive enpugh.

  18. lightbright August 14, 2017 at 2:49 pm #

    @Peter, I have a lot of respect for the sport and for what you do. Rather than see the issue as “run and kick a ball” versus the high-pressure, life-consuming soccer that Lenore describes, I think I’ve struck a happy medium. I enroll my homeschooled children in different sports at our local rec center. (Conventionally schooled children are ideally getting wide exposure to different sports in their P.E. classes). They go once or twice a week, and it’s part of their P.E. They learn the fundamentals of the game and get much-needed exercise. I encourage them to bring sports balls with them to parks so that they can strike up spontaneous games with neighborhood kids. I live in a heavily diverse area with children from many different soccer-loving countries, so this isn’t hard for us to do.

    If any of my children develops a passion for this or any other sport, we can re-visit the traveling-team issue when they reach their teen years.

    Structured activities aren’t inherently evil, but our culture definitely goes overboard on managing every last minute of children’s time.

  19. James Pollock August 14, 2017 at 3:07 pm #

    I would guess that usually, the reason for putting children into an organized sport is because that sport requires resources which are limited. (competitive) swimming and (competitive) diving requires a pool which isn’t full of other people doing random things. Hockey and figure-skating require a place with frozen water on the floor (for much of the United States, this requires an artificial environment.) (American) football “requires” an elaborate set of personal protective gear. There’s SOMETHING that is required, that most people don’t have, with most organized sports. Soccer is the “world game” because it requires so little… a ball, and a flat place to play.

    Pickup games, on the other hand, require somewhat less. They still require a venue, which can be difficult to come by, but there can be adjustment to local conditions (and to the number of players actually available to play.) Some sports have eschewed organized versions… skateboarding, freerunning, to a lesser extent, snowboarding are culturally averse to organization (Snowboarding sold out so they could be in the Olympics.)

    Ultimately, challenges around organized youth sports are the same today as they were in the “olden times”… parents who want to re-live their glory years through their children’s achievements. But there’s nothing about sports that causes this; it shows up in other areas, too… stage moms are notorious, and science-fair projects, and back in the day, you could tell whose dads had a bit of a hand in making their pinewood derby cars.

  20. lollipoplover August 14, 2017 at 4:22 pm #

    “I think that the parent should follow the child’s lead”

    This.

    I have 3 kids and have also coached youth soccer. We have one child that plays on a premier team and LOVES soccer. She will spend hours outside juggling and doing footwork in her free time. We also have our older son who gave up the sport in favor of working and other passions and interests. The most important thing is to listen to your kids- ask them how they want to spend their free time. I think most families can save a lot of money and aggravation if they had honest discussions about what the KID wants to do, not the parent. Sports can and should be fun but they do not always have to be organized and for a fee.

  21. Donald August 14, 2017 at 4:46 pm #

    I found this on Psychology Today. It runs parallel to what I was saying before about Locus of control.

    Guess what’s been reported to be the number one contributor to happiness?

    Money? No.

    Good looks? Nope.

    Popularity? Still nope.

    A hot sex life? Guess again!

    According to a report by The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, all these mentioned life goodies were topped by the biggest life goodie of them all: “autonomy” – defined as “the feeling that your life – its activities and habits — are self-chosen and self-endorsed.”

    “…….the obstacle may have been a ramp but this time you had your bike and an entire unsupervised summer’s afternoon. It wasn’t really sport, but it was a challenge and the manner in which you overcame the challenge was yours, it was your creative style.”

    The above is an example how a person develops an internal LOC. However, learning that you can’t even play without an adult to organize the activity is an example of external LOC

  22. Stacey August 14, 2017 at 5:04 pm #

    T-Ball is nothing more than a photo opp for the parents and a money maker for the organizers. At that age, kids stand around on the field, mostly doing nothing… lots of nose picking in the outfield. They need to be doing what we did at that age… Throw the ball around to our friends (having a catch) hitting fungos, throwing a ball against a wall, making up base running games etc… developing their bodies, not their adherence to rules… And yes, we grew up in apartments, didn’t need a private backyard, Any grassy spot, or even parking lot worked for us.

  23. Jon Mikelonis August 14, 2017 at 5:23 pm #

    @Donald

    I wrote the piece and now I’m learning something. Locus of Control. I will read about this. Thank you all for reading and commenting.

  24. Donald August 14, 2017 at 5:58 pm #

    @Jon

    My blog has a few things about human behavior. It’s not specifically for children. However, this page talks about tough decisions for parents.

    http://www.onmysoapboxx.com/tough-decision

  25. Jessica August 14, 2017 at 6:26 pm #

    Stacey
    Yes it is a photo op. And yes I put my 5-yo in it. And yes, it was the cutest thing ever. Did he learn to play baseball? No. Did he have fun picking daisies (and his nose)? Yes. Did he look adorable in his uniform? Hell yes. And it’s through our town parks and rec, so it was 20.00 for the season. One of his classmates’ dads was the coach, wgich means that it helped my husband and me make some local friends. I am pro-t-ball!

  26. Cassie August 14, 2017 at 6:34 pm #

    My husband and I had this same conversation – so many opportunities out there, and we wanted to give our kids the gift of some lifelong sporting skills (and friends). And not just sports – music, languages.

    In the end I described what a weekly timetable would look like, three kids wanting different sports (or even the same), plus my husband and I have two sports that we love. My husbands favourite sport is cricket — which involves spending an ENTIRE day watching the game (seriously, those games have smoko, and lunch breaks built in).

    In the end it was actually one of the influencing decisions for us to homeschool (sorry… spot the homeschooler – I know), we decided the kids had time for school or extra-curriculars but not both… Well technically they could do both, but I was adamant that that did not allow them nearly enough free time.

    Climb the fences dear children and be free.

  27. Theresa Hall August 14, 2017 at 8:16 pm #

    I think a little organized sport isn’t bad as long you don’t turn it into my kid going to win gold in the Olympics. Kids do need time to just be kids. Not the next gold medalist.

  28. Katie G August 14, 2017 at 9:44 pm #

    Stanford , everything, sadly, assumes starting pretty young. Not just sports, but music as well. Tweets and teens as beginners who “don’t know a bass drum from a pipe organ” are definitely an anomaly. The books assume little kids, or between 6 and 9.

  29. Donald August 15, 2017 at 4:17 am #

    @Jon

    Here is another word that you may want to look up. If you’re interested in LOC you may want to search anti-fragile.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZC-7cjSc9Q

  30. JHo August 15, 2017 at 6:06 am #

    Let me get my soapbox…
    Youth sports culture is OUT OF CONTROL.
    I have two kids under 12 and they both have played at least one sport a season, sometimes more (by their own choice). It is, for us, a way for them to get great excercise, make friends, and get to participate in a wide range of activities. For the most part they enjoy it, even when on losing teams, and from a parenting stand point they are happier and do better in school when they are playing a sport.
    Neither of my children are exceptionally athletic or competitive, so it is actually JUST A GAME FOR US.
    But durning every season, at every sporting event there are parents (sometime coaches) that have completely lost their minds. They are aggressive towards parents, other coaches, even the kids themselves. I’ve seen parents get in their kids faces, scream on the sidelines, get in verbal fights in the stands, seen refs threaten to throw parents out, I’ve seen parents lose it on coaches, and use their children’s achievements as some kind of self esteem boast for their mid life crisis. I’ve watched as parents have conspired to stack teams, scream at refs, pretty much every awful behavior you can think of.
    Across the board, football, soccer, swimming, baseball, basketball parents are ruining youth sports.
    The pressure for year round seasons, for travel team glory, and winning at all costs has ruined rec sports.

  31. Ken Hardy August 15, 2017 at 8:12 am #

    I played soccer for 8-years starting when I was 8-years old in 1978. At the beginning it was two days a week of very structured practice followed by one game on the weekend. As I got older the number of practice days increased. This was fairly typical -some of my friends played soccer, some baseball, some football – all had practice schedules much like mine.

    But I can’t think of a single childhood friend who did more than one sport at a time. So while I did two days of structured practice per week when I was only 8, the rest of the school week afternoons I ran around outside with my friends and ‘free played’ with no supervision at all. Nobody ever did sports in the summer. Aside from the week long summer camp (Camp Kickinthegrass!) I was free the entire summer.

    I don’t think the problem is necessarily starting ______ (insert sport) lessons too soon – the problem is the mentality that every hour of every day must be mapped out and structured. Providing a true free play experience isn’t as easy as it was in 1978.

  32. Kim August 15, 2017 at 9:27 am #

    We are getting a hard time from family and some friends that our two boys aren’t playing any sports. A lot of lectures along the lines of “team spirit” and “competiveness”. Neither my husband or I feel like spending three nights a week for each kid sitting on a field watching them practice/play. Our nights are already taken up with cub scouts, boy scouts and music lessons. And my kids are FINE. They ride dirt bikes, they unicycle, they scooter, skateboard, bike, trampoline and set up elaborate rope courses in the tree in the front yard. The neighborhood kids end up here because it’s fun and there is always something going on. And then sports start back up again and all the kids are gone and it does kind of suck. No kids can play outside anymore because they have practice and they can’t go anywhere on Saturday because they have a game. Our babysitter is on her third concussion from soccer. My physical therapy doc has an office full of teens who play year round sports rehabbing their injuries. I’m good with our decision.

  33. Papilio August 15, 2017 at 2:46 pm #

    “There are a lot of costs to starting soccer ultra-soon, ultra-seriously.”
    Seems to me forcing anything, including academic stuff upon young children ultra-soon, ultra-seriously has costs…

    “we — my husband and I — put our own boys in a bunch of sports programs when they were under 12”
    Did they do multiple things at the same time though? For Little Brother and me, it started with swimming lessons at age 5 (that I hated but was mandatory), but after that, we could pick a hobby and that was your one weekly structured activity 🙂 I don’t think it was that much different for my classmates.
    I do think it would have driven me crazy to do piano on Monday, gymnastics on Tuesday, choir on Wednesday, etc.

    @Peter: *Daily* soccer on TV in Europe? I don’t know how I managed to escape that (knowledge) – I’d say normally Saturday and Sunday, when there are matches being played, or just Sunday to see the summaries (plus endless talking… *eyeroll*).

  34. James August 15, 2017 at 3:38 pm #

    “Youth sports culture is OUT OF CONTROL.”

    100% in agreement. I enjoy playing sports when it’s for fun, but even when I was a kid the whole point was to win the tournament, and parents, coaches, and refs got way too worked up over the games of middle-schoolers. I can see tensions running high in high school matches, as sports scholarships are the only way some kids can afford college, but even there I think people take it too seriously. It’s a GAME; the whole point is to be fun. Once it stops being fun–once it starts being work–it no longer is fulfilling its purpose.

  35. JulieC August 15, 2017 at 8:04 pm #

    There is also the physical element to be considered. Pushing young children to specialize, if you will, in one sport is detrimental to their physical development. They need to be able to try out different sports, play seasonal sports, and not be pushed to specialize before their bodies have developed.

    One of my kids loved swimming and did a year-round program once he was in 8th grade, and the coaches were great about cross-training, but even so, he ended up with shoulder issues. He knew kids who had had several surgeries by the time they were seniors in high school.

    The sad part is that several of the really good swimmers, while they did end up at great colleges due to their swimming, stopped the sport after a year or two at the college level. Just burnt out after swimming year-round for a decade or more.

  36. Barry Lederman August 15, 2017 at 11:20 pm #

    I think little league is a very bad thing. When I was a kid, we would go to the park and choose up a game of baseball, or softball, or football, or basketball, or freeze tag, etc. When my kids were growing up, if you’d go to the park, there’d be no other kids to play with because all the kids were in little league.

    When I was a kid playing with other kids, we would argue about a whole litany of things, but then we’d work it out and play the game. Now you have all these stupid adults messing things up.

  37. James Pollock August 16, 2017 at 3:15 am #

    “I think little league is a very bad thing. […]”

    Here’s the thing, though. Little League has been around for a LONG time. More than 75 years. So… I don’t think Little League is the root cause of your problem, or else you’d have experienced those bad effects, as well (I’m guessing you aren’t more than 75 because you talk about your kids.)

    Now, there HAVE been some changes in organized sports since my own youth in the 70’s.
    1) soccer. Soccer was just becoming a popular youth sport when I was a a youngster.

    2) lacrosse. Lacrosse is an even more recent arrival, locally. I would have guessed, when I was a teenager, that maybe 1 in 10, maybe fewer, kids knew what lacrosse was, and there was absolutely no (local) organized activity around the sport. Today, it’s probably second only to soccer. (Partly because youth football is in decline)

    3) Decimation of interscholastic sports. Again, in my youth, interscholastic sports reached down the junior high level, and there were separate teams for 7th graders and 8th graders AND a team for 9th graders who weren’t good enough to make a high-school team. The high schools had varsity and junior-varsity teams for most sports. Today, the defunding of the public school system has eliminated interscholastic sports at the middle-school level, and cut back the programs in the high schools. It used to be free to participate in interscholastic sports; now it costs 4 figures (per season) This has pushed athletics to outside providers.

    Sure, some people choose athletic endeavors that don’t tend to be organized… skateboarding being the most visible, but parkour is also popular, in both cases the fact that it is very inexpensive to practice. (Yes, the top guys practice in dedicated facilities that are very expensive. Most skaters, however, will skate pretty much anywhere they aren’t being chased out of, and some places they are.)

    4) Rise in popularity of indoor pursuits. In the olden days, there were people who preferred to spend their time indoors. “Bookworms”, they were called, because they’d spend hours reading books instead of, say, playing pickup baseball. Today, though, there’s also the Internet, which technically has been around since the late 60’s but didn’t get noticed by “normal” people until the mid 90’s (thanks, Mr. Gore). There’s videogames that are a lot better than the quarter-eaters we had. And the less said about Atari 2600 “games”, the better. Even television has changed… when I was a youngster, there were 5 channels available to me: the three (yes, three) networks, the public station that aired either programming for 3 year olds or for British people, and the one independent station that aired endless reruns of old programs, some of which were interesting to a 10-year-old. Saturday morning, all the networks aired shows that some 45-year-old network executive thought a 10-year-old would like… well, at least on Saturday morning, they were TRYING to reach us, unlike the rest of the time. Then the FCC decided that programming for children had to be “educational”. At first, they tried to fix that by slapping a 30-second “lesson” on the end of a 30-minute toy-commercial (“GI Joe says winners don’t use drugs. Go, Joe!”) Then the FCC said that wasn’t good enough, and all the cartoons were replaced by nature shows, which kids didn’t watch, and the networks figured out that they were better off selling the Saturday morning slots as informercials, instead.
    But… the power had shifted. Why wait for Saturday morning, when cable TV offers a channel that’s all cartoons, all the time? Wait, no, there’s like 8 channels that are more or less all cartoons. We can veg out in front of the TV all day, every day, because we have choices now! Wait, don’t like ANY of the shows on ANY of the 1000 channels your cable system offers? No problem, we have DVR, On Demand, or Streaming shows… pick what you want, when you want it. (Hey, look… you can watch Little League games on cable now…)

    5) The biggest one: The decline of the Stay-at-home mom. (Yes, I know, there were and are stay-at-home dads, too. This is not important to the point, however.)
    When many of the kids in the neighborhood are in the neighborhood after school, neighborhood kids activities will emerge, including, but not limited to, pickup games and outdoor sports of varying types. When the kids are NOT under their parents’ care, the likelihood is much stronger that either A) the kids are not in their own neighborhood, and B) the caregiver will be less likely to allow the kids to be substantially unsupervised. (Think about it… if you’re being paid to be a child’s caregiver, and the parent asks what the kid did today, and the answer is “I don’t really know… Johnny came home from school, dropped off his backpack, took off, and I haven’t seen him since”… how long will you continue to be paid to be Johnny’s caregiver? So if you’re Johnny’s caregiver, and Johnny wants to go to the schoolyard or the park, you say “OK, Johnny, WE will go.” And if Susie doesn’t want to go, then we say “Sorry, Johnny, not today. Maybe tomorrow.” And latchkey kids get it even worse, since the instructions they’re likely to get is “come right home from school, go inside, and stay there until I get home.”

    Finally, 6:
    Houses are bigger than they used to be, and yards are smaller. The house I lived in as a child was only 2/3 of the size of the house my daughter lived in as a child, despite the fact that I had a sibling and my daughter was an only. I bought a house with a yard; all the new construction in the area was great big houses on tiny little lots. A bigger house with more room in it is easier to stay in, and share, than is a smaller house.

    So, to recap, no, I don’t think the blame lies with the Little League (nor even with the variations across all the other sports

  38. Archimedes August 17, 2017 at 10:11 am #

    Some of the CTE research is expanding to show high rates among soccer players as well. The research is ongoing, but it seems this may be a case of a legitimate risk.

    I do arrange for mine to do football camps, and non-tackle 7 on 7, but the coaches are good for where I do it.

    About half the parents are more interested in their nerdy kids getting a little more well rounded, the coaches get that, and it’s more about skills, teamwork, etc.

    The robotics competitions on the other hand are cutthroat.