On more than one occasion the past few years, I have heard coaches, parents, and general old-ish folks like me complain about a common youth sports observance.
Why don’t kids seem to compete like they used to?
99% of the answers I soon hear following such a complaint seem to all revolve around a common causative element.
I agree with the observance, but not that cause. I don’t see the same competitive drive in many young athletes. When I first began to notice this trend a few years back, I thought it was just grumpy-old-man me trying to compare everything to a gold standard of my selective memory. Then again, maybe the kids don’t seem competitive in comparison to the competitive level of the adults you see around any modern kid sporting event?
I disagree with the 99% of us pointing fingers at video games. Video games IN MODERATION aren’t such bad things. It’s when they take over the majority of free time in a kid’s life that they become a problem. (And that’s total SCREEN TIME, not just video games.)
A few weeks ago, I heard a sports radio talk show where this subject came up. The guest was a well-known former area collegiate athlete, turned sportscaster, who is also a father of athletes. He may have put his thumb on the competitive fire loss observed all too often.
More precisely, volume without meaning. Multiple competitive events crammed into a short period where the outcome and performance take a backseat in the very rear of the station wagon to participation. No, don’t confuse this with my usual ranting and raving about everybody “winning” by simply participating. This concept is different. Much different.
Let’s called this “AAU Syndrome” or “Weekend Warrior Effect”. These are the unintended curse of the modern youth sports movements. Multiple game tournaments played weekend after weekend after weekend after weekend. Tournaments aren’t an all-bad thing. It’s a good way to get a change of scenery and see some new faces playing across from you. But these tournaments have become a business. Name your sport. They are everywhere. A $350 entry fee/four-game guarantee in Town X, followed by $400 entry fee/five-game guarantee in Town Y five days later, and how about a six-team round-robin in Town Z the weekend after for only a $250 entry fee. Kids show up, play a bunch of games, see a bunch of adults yelling and screaming, and then go home.
Maybe, if you’re lucky, a practice or two during the week.
Quantity over quality.
Participate over compete.
So many games stacked back to back, there is no time to teach. No time to improve. Just time to go through the motions.
The kids do not learn to compete. They learn to go through the motions. The system is built to appear as a competitive endeavor. We show up, we feel we’ve accomplished something over the course of the tournament only to realize, half our team can’t tell us anything about Game 3 of 6 we played five hours ago.
AAU Syndrome. Showing up, running up and down the court draining three’s and driving the lane for monster slams. Repeat.
(I know my Jayhawk friends will take offense but I think of Josh Jackson as the poster boy for AAU Syndrome. This kid has tremendous physical basketball talent. He will make buckets of money starting this summer. But despite all his talent and skills, I can count on two fingers the number of times during his one-and-done season where I felt the outcome of his team winning or losing mattered to him.)
What can be done to develop competitors? I have a few suggestions.
- Lets kids play, not just play organized games and activities.
- Start building individual competitiveness, then small group competitiveness, and then team competitiveness.
- Make everything a friendly competition.Friendly doesn’t mean be a jackass. Friendly doesn’t mean you have to win. Remember, competing and winning are two separate things.
- Workouts, physical skill development, and practices should run a competitive and focused pace. Work hard, have fun.
It takes work to build kids into competitive teenagers. You have to build them from the ground up. You can’t just throw them into the deep end of a high pressure, 4th game of the day contest and expect some innate ancient human gene to kick into overdrive amidst the dozens of shouting adults. It takes work. Competitors are built day by day, trial by trial, and rep by rep until they have a will to be something better.
Good luck, parents, and coaches. If you don’t like the level of competitive fire you see in your young athletes, stop and take a step back. Look in the rear view mirror at the current situation and make some changes. The answer is right there. Like the label says, “OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR”. Start at the beginning, start simple and build a competitor’s foundation.
Tom Osborne used to say that everybody wants to win, the difference is that some are willing to do the work to get there.
Hard work is the magic.