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The high stakes of youth sports

Little League World Series-US Championship
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When I was a kid, I loved playing sports and it didn’t cost my parents a dime nor myself any anxiety. A bunch of us gathered at either a park, field, or court, chose us sides and played whatever game we decided that day. It’s all different today as the playground has shifted to organized sports which is taking in a lot of money selling parents dreams of college scholarships.

More and more parents see youth sports as a road to a college scholarship and will stop at nothing in the hopes of getting one for their child even if it means taking all the fun out of the games that they started out loving and replacing it with anxiety.

Rick Eckstein is a professor of Sociology at Villanova University and the author of “How College Athletics are hurting Girls Sports.” It’s not about the love for the game anymore or dreams of athletic glory, it’s more about the college pipeline, getting in front of college coaches who only watch the best teams at the best tournaments or the best high schools. If you have an open checkbook, there are plenty of rec and travel leagues as well as private coaches to help you get to “the next level” which could put you there.

There’s always a next level says Ecksten, “they’re always going to dangle these carrot in front of you, dangle that glory in front of you and you have to be really strong to know that they’re just selling you and marketing their product and so many people are willing to bite that parents have just got to figure out that no it’s not worth it and I’ve got to protect my kids childhood here.”

Listening to Eckstein and thinking about the stories I hear from friends and relatives about what their children go through between the politics of the parents as well as the cost of pursuing  a dream that will probably never happen, I asked him what laid down the line for me. “They’ll come up to you and promise something better if you just join this club league, or summer camp, that’s all it’s gonna take.”

Personally I can’t see putting my sons through that kind of aggravation. Instead I see my job as a parent to protect their love of the game, whatever game that is. That’s an outlet they will have the rest of their lives.  If they want it, fine. If not, we’ll just do college a different way. That is, if they even want that.

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