One of the issues we frequently address is how a lack of fun is increasingly driving our kids out of sports—and girls in particular are dropping out. New data shows girls abandon sports at 1.5 times the rate that boys do. This disproportionate dropout rate shows that we clearly need to better address girls’ challenges and find ways to nurture their love of sport. There’s one person positioned better than just about anyone else to help level the playing field for girls: their coach.
Since their inception in 2010, The Youth Olympic Games have been synonymous with innovation and forward-thinking. The games, which started January 9, in Lausanne, Switzerland, were developed in response to concerns about childhood obesity and the declining participation in youth sports—a cause dear to our hearts. It’s no surprise that now, on only the third Winter Youth Olympic Games, they are tackling another issue that’s of huge importance: gender equality in sports. And since the Lausanne 2020 motto is “Start Now,” they are taking on equality right now, with this years’ games.
Parenting is hard work. Most of us are overly - tough on ourselves, and the holidays seem to amplify our perceived flaws and failures.
It’s no secret that youth sports can require a huge investment—of time, money and emotions.
Yet, parents too often find themselves blindsided once the season is in full swing: travel team costs, dues, equipment, safety gear and tournaments can quickly add up. In fact, a recent survey by TD Ameritrade found that 20 percent of parents whose children participated in club or elite competitive youth sports were spending $500 or more a month on sports for each child, with 1 in 10 parents surveyed spending more than $1,000 a month.
“What do you do when the coach allows bullying?” a distraught parent asked us recently. “What do you do when the bully is the coach’s favorite player?”
This is an emotional and difficult situation to address for children and parents alike. It’s upsetting for any parent to discover that the positive aspects of their child’s sports participation are being overshadowed for any reason, but discovering your child is being bullied is another level of heartbreak. The potential impact of bullying on the child is devastating: depression, anxiety, and loss of interest in activities, including sports.
At just 15 years old, Coco Gauff became the youngest woman to win a Women’s Tennis Association title since 2004 (and the youngest American to do so in 28 years) when she won Austria’s Linz Open on October 13, 2019. While your average 10th grader might not have Coco’s talent, she may have the same drive and passion. And she’s not alone: high school girls across the country are increasingly participating in sports.
We’ve all seen the news stories about the aftermath of hazing incidents, when alcohol abuse, humiliation and violent harassment have been inflicted in the name of “team building”. These stories are just a small sampling of a problem that seems to be epidemic in athletics at all levels, from rural high school programs to elite colleges and universities to world famous professional teams. Hazing, or targeting rookies for humiliating, and even dangerous, rituals, is not a new phenomenon. However, our focus on the prevalence of hazing is a new phenomenon, especially the impact at the high school level.
We all value the positive effects that playing sports can have on our kids – improved social skills, higher self-esteem, better mental and physical health, for starters. However it’s not all fun and games. Toxic and/or too-intense sports experiences have also been found to contribute to depression and anxiety in young athletes.
When my friend Howard checked the box on his son’s soccer registration form to volunteer as a coach, he’d never coached a sport at any level. He played soccer through elementary and high school, but was hardly an expert on the Xs and Os. So he figured he’d sign up as an assistant and learn the ropes under a more experienced head coach. But ready or not, here it came -- an email from the commissioner letting him know the recreation league was low on volunteers.
They needed him to be a head coach on his own.
The Aspen Institute held its fifth annual Project Play Summit earlier this month in Detroit, Michigan. I was lucky to join more than 500 thought leaders in the worlds of sports and health for two days of thought-provoking panels and breakout sessions. Panelists addressed many of the key issues in youth sports while also offering suggestions about how all of us can work to eliminate the negativity in our culture.