Youth Sports Soapbox

 Posted on: July 1 2019

There are a plethora of news-worthy happenings in sport lately. The NBA draft, Women's World Cup, the announcement of the 2026 Olympic Games locations in Italy, and most importantly, the Sandlot-style adults and kiddo baseball game that's about to go down at Casa de Stoll tomorrow night with good friends, ribs, and, of course, s'mores.

But chances are, in the clutter of happenings, you may have also picked up this viral video that emerged last week from a little league game right here in Colorado:

As a sports nerd, this behavior is absolutely maddening. It runs in direct contrast to all the reasons sport is good. The work ethic, teamwork, sportsmanship, humility, perseverance, practice, dedication and so, so much more.

On the flip side of the less-than-shining Colorado video, you may have seen this clip from an interview with University of Michigan Head Baseball Coach, Erik Bakich, when asked about the makeup of his College World Series appearing team:
(I hope the NCAA is profusely thanking Bakich for providing the best video clip they've had in years.)

It's no secret I'm not a Xichigan fan. I'm a Buckeye kid through and through. But it's hard not to get behind this guy. Michigan lost the decisive Game 3 to Vandy on Wednesday, but this Bakich is a winner in my book, and to the National College Baseball Writers Association as well.

This is an example of sports transcending team affiliation or status quo. It's part of how sport draws us in.

Congrats to Coach Bakich on his Coach of the Year award. Photo: NCBWA

You see, as Coach Bakich so succinctly noted, there are a massive amount of kids out there missing out on the opportunity to play sports, not for the college scholarship and potential of DI hardware, but for those important benefits that help shaped me, and so many others.

These benefits are not reserved for individuals who are the most athletic, have the financial resources to play for the triple platinum travel team, or whose parents are willing to throw down over the call of a 13-year-old umpire at a little league game for 7-year olds. (Sidebar, see my post about serious issues facing officiating here.)

Yes, my expertise is sport tourism, and youth travel sports are a significant part of that industry. But I'm closely following participation numbers and statistics put out by our friends at the Sports Fitness Industry Association and others. It's not IF they will impact our industry. They already are.

I'm not suggesting there is no place for travel sport. Heck, I was an AAU basketball player from the ages of 10 to 17. I didn't get a scholarship. And that wasn't the point. My parents let me play because I enjoyed it. By the way, they were the first to support me when I started getting burned out my junior year and I picked up softball en lieu of summer bball, which I eventually played in college. (And I use the term "play" loosely, b/c I mostly warmed the up in the 4th inning, and pinch ran late in the game. Otherwise, I was one helluva stats-keeper and practical joker).

What I am suggesting is that if we focus solely on elite travel sport, we are doing a disservice to our youth (youth obesity rates among other metrics, hello?). And there are plenty of resources on this topic, such as this report by Samford University.

Another example. Photo: Time Magazine

I can only reflect on my own experiences to supplement the research and reporting out there. My regret? Not playing softball (and golf - which would have come in handy when I worked for the freakin' PGA, BTW!) all the way through high school.

Back then we didn't know. But now we do.

As sport leaders, community members, parents, fans and heck, good people, we have an obligation to kids. To create opportunities, to expose them to a variety of things that they might find of interest. To quit pressuring our kids to live the lives and find the success that we never did. Kansas City has it right with their sports commission's WIN for KC program. San Antonio is crushing it with their iPlay! Afterschool program. There are good, sustainable models out there.

By the way, that 13-year-old umpire is likely making no more than $20 per game to umpire 7-year old little league. Think the parents would have behaved differently if the ump was a big brother/sister of a player on one of those teams? I do. Let's not allow our selfish pride to get in the way of fostering an environment where coaches - like Michigan's Bakich - can help a kid's unlikely dream come to reality...enabling all of those good benefits of sport participation.

As Albert Einstein eloquently noted, "Only a life lived in the service to others is worth living." This is Stoll on Sports.


Jennifer Stoll, Ph.D., CSEE
Stoll on Sports

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