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What rep sports are really doing to kids?

From Today’s Parent Aug 10, 2018.  Quotes from Leaside’s Director of Coaching and Development, Jesse Harrison.

In the drive to produce the next pro athlete, kids are being funnelled into competitive sports, which can lead to big bills and even bigger expectations.

Each player on the Leaside Leafs displays an impressive amount of athletic ability and commitment to training. The members of this AAA baseball team (the highest division in Ontario youth baseball) practise three times a week in North Toronto and play games every weekend, with added tournaments and exhibitions throughout the summer. Some of them cram in hitting or fielding or pitching clinics on the side to build their skills. Competition to make the team was fierce this year—70 athletes were whittled down to 12 over a three-day tryout. There were tough decisions, tough breaks and even some tears. Which is not terribly surprising, given that this particular lineup of could-be Bautistas and Donaldsons is made up of seven-year-olds.

In competitive youth sports, kids are started down the path to excellence earlier and earlier. It’s completely different from the way things were when coach Jesse Harrison was playing ball. “When I was Thomas’s age,” he says, referring to his son who plays on the Leafs (Leaside, not Maple), “I was throwing around a ball at the park with my siblings and parents.” In some ways, that is exactly what’s going on today, as the kids run drills before the practice game. There are gap-toothed grins, tiny chest bumps and plenty of monkey business (“Pay attention!” is among coach Harrison’s most frequently repeated instructions). When he says times have changed, he’s talking about how the once-folksy pastime of kids playing sports has become a complex activity focused on winning at all costs.

To be clear: Harrison isn’t a “keep no scores,” “get a trophy for showing up” kind of guy. And while he’s certainly seen examples of parents living out their own school-days sports fantasies through the next generation, he says most of the kids on his team are self-driven. “Thomas would be happy to play baseball every day if we let him,” he says. But since seven-year-olds don’t get to make those kinds of decisions, coach Harrison thinks the leagues and the parents have a responsibility to address how fun and fitness are becoming casualties of such a results-focused atmosphere. In both baseball and hockey (which his son plays during the winter), he has seen team members as young as six suffering from anxiety and showing the signs of emotional burnout. “As coaches, as parents, we need to be helping kids avoid things like fear, pressure, anxiety,” he says. “The fact that we’re talking about seven-year-olds as ‘elite’ is just insane.”

Read the rest of the article at Today’s Parent.