American families spend $15.3 billion on youth sports activities, an amount that has literally doubled in the last 10 years. A family’s investment in youth athletics can often represent as much as 10% or more of a family’s income. Given these numbers, it may come as no surprise that more kids are placed onto “travel” and “select” teams than ever before. Year-round specialization and private training have become the norm in many communities, and the market incentives driving what has become known as the “youth sports industrial complex” show no signs of slowing. Gregory, S. (2017, August). How Youth Sports Became a $15 Billion Industry Time.
There’s no question that getting and keeping kids involved in a sport of some kind, at any level, is of tremendous value. Sports help teach teamwork, build character, and are important in promoting health and fitness. The time spent bonding with teammates and parents, and of course the incredible value of developing mentoring relationships with coaches, can be priceless. But as the “scholarship chase” trickles down to younger and younger age groups, many families are waking up to the stark reality that the intense pressure to perform is also causing them to burn out at an early age - and maybe even worse, to never learn to enjoy “the game.” So, what can be done to put the “fun” back in sports for these kids who are now at the epicenter of a multi-billion dollar pressure cooker?
I asked that very question of Jason Pierce, a professional youth sports coach. In this episode of the podcast, Jason and I discussed:
His tips on effective coaching and relationship building with players
Why adults sometimes need to step back and “let the kids play”
The importance of avoiding early specialization
What can be done to increase retention and keep kids playing longer
How coaches can help parents keep a healthy and balanced perspective
How Jason’s understanding of the problem has led him to coach the way he does - and why that’s still an effective way of developing a youth athlete
I hope you enjoy this episode on the purpose in the process of keeping sports fun!
Jason Pierce grew up in Massachusetts, about 20 miles west of Boston. Jason started skating at 5 years old. He joined his first travel league (select hockey) at the age of 10, playing for the AAA Assabet Valley Patriots in the Greater Boston Metropolitan Hockey League. After, he joined the 495 Stars organization where he played up until his freshman year of high school. After four years of public high school hockey in Massachusetts, Jason attended Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire, a NCAA Div. II school. He went on to 4-year career that saw him hold the single season point record (if only for one year!) and was Captain of the team his senior year. Jason’s coaching career started a few years after graduating from college. His first year coaching was for a AA bantam team in Newton MA. After that, he was hooked and wanted to pursue coaching as a career. In 2011, Jason became the head coach for the Boston Bruins FUNdamentals program in Greater Boston. In 2012, Jason relocated to Austin, Texas to open a new rink, The Pond Hockey Club, where he currently serves as the Director of Player Development. Jason also serves at the Director of 12U & 14U leagues in the Austin Metro Hockey Association.
When not on the ice, Jason enjoys mountain biking, reading, golfing, playing guitar and spending time with his 3 year old son, Keegan, his wife, Brandi and their two dogs, Haley and Lula.
Links and More Information on this Topic:
InsideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives, by Joe Ehrmann.
Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcom Gladwell.
In addition to the Time article cited in the top paragraph above (which has some interesting statistics on the topic) here’s an article focused on the actual chances of obtaining full-ride athletic scholarships, and another on why it may not even truly be what you or your kid may want for his or her future.
The Pond Hockey Club - where Jason leads up the youth development programs. This rink was started by a team of people who believe strongly in both kids and adults keeping “fun” at the center of every practice, and every game. I can tell you from experience that they run a great adult program as well! (a “beer league” full of novice to former college/pro players, all just wanting to hit the ice and have some fun).
If you’re in Austin, Texas and want to get your kids involved in the locally growing sport of ice hockey, you can learn more about youth hockey in Austin in general at the Austin Metro Hockey Association
The USA Hockey website - while it’s definitely centered on youth and adult hockey, their online training materials on coaching kids and developing youth athletes are really first-class.