This past week I read with interest an article entitled, “Final Four for the 4-Foot Set” in the July 22, 2013 issue of Time Magazine. The author, Sean Gregory, describes what happened when he looked into enrolling his 7 year old son, who had just finished first grade, in a basketball day camp. While searching the internet, he discovered a website advertising the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) national basketball championship for second grade boys. Not only does this tournament exist, it has been around since 2004. And, the girls tournament began in 2007! As I read his article, it reinforced why I write this newsletter and the importance of educating parents, coaches and administrators about the damage that is being done to young athletes today.
In the article, the director of the Tacoma Washington based AAU program that sent a team to the tournament stated, “..a lot of parents are into it. It is our mission to compete on the national level every year.” In my opinion, this statement sums up the sickness that has spread throughout youth sports. Gregory stated that parents are posting their kids highlights on YouTube because the boys need exposure so they can get listed on the national middle school Web rankings. My first question is WHY? And does it really matter where your second grade son is ranked? The answer is because the pressure to keep up with everyone else is growing rampant amongst parents and coaches of these kids. As I have stated numerous times in this newsletter, I firmly believe that sports teaches numerous lessons for kids. But, the time to be concerned with winning and losing shouldn’t even be an issue until kids are in middle school. The main reason a national tournament for second graders exists isn’t because of developing future college or NBA stars, it is very simply, to make money. The research shows that most kids who started playing sports at a highly competitive level around ages 8 to 10, have quit before age 14 because of burnout. This tournament and others like it, more than likely are not going to develop the next Lebron James. My guess is that they are going to cause most kids to lose interest and quit. There is no way we can predict which second grader will be good enough or want to play basketball by middle school or high school.
The harm that is being done could be no better described than the description of William Francis, the coach of the New York Gauchos, a team that lost in the quarter finals of the tournament. Francis was quoted, “I tell my kids, I’m going to treat you like a full-grown 14 year old. This isn’t baby ball.” After the loss, Francis was observed yelling at the boys not to cry, stating, “I told you, I need everybody to give me something!” as he slammed the lockers. I feel he is doing a tremendous amount of psychological damage to these boys with this behavior. The destruction of confidence could not be better demonstrated.
Some parents claimed that Francis was teaching their son about respect. If Francis had any psychological training, he would realize that 8 year olds do not have the maturity level of a 14 year old. I doubt that any of these boys would be assertive or mature enough to stand up to him. And, I am guessing most of these parents are so caught up with the “excitement” of playing in a national tournament, that they will probably do agree with anything that Francis says.
So, what needs to be done? I think we need to start with educating the people who put on these tournaments and set up these competitive leagues for young kids about how this can be harmful for kids. Parents and coaches need to look at the big picture. Parents need to get their priorities straightened out. Coaching kids is not about the parents or coaches, it is about the kids. These tournaments make money for someone. Is their goal to help kids grow and develop, or is it to fatten their wallets? Coaches need to be educated about the possible harm they can cause on young athletes with their behavior and interest in notoriety. As I have said in the past, “A good coach is a good psychologist, a bad coach needs to see a psychologist”. Your thoughts…