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Youth sport is not what it used to be

Changes to sport encircle parents, coaches, and youth. Some changes have been subtle, others heavy handed. In many settings, fields and ice rinks have shrunk, and kids no longer officially keep score or standings. Everyone is a winner. Trophies have become tools to foster inclusivity and self-esteem rather than celebrate excellence.

Finding a parent who thinks these changes are a good idea is hard. Famously, James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers made his sons give back their participant trophies from Pop Warner Football. He proclaimed, “I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best.” A lot of parents I talk to feel this way. Yet, outcries against the development of a generation of “snowflakes” abound as protectors of generational values opine daily.

This transformation of sport has been happening for a few years now. We worry about many things we did not before: long-term athlete development, safety, diversity, health, happiness, building leaders, and creating citizens. Heavy pressure and high hopes for games played by kids. A shift in societal values has also been happening for quite a while. We care more about how people feel. We care about inclusion. We care more about discouragement than lessons learned from failure. In this sense, youth sport is just catching up to what schools and workplaces have already done.

For many people, this shift in values is positive. Yet, others see these changes as a threat to the development of a functioning society. Either way, I have a feeling this is only the beginning.


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