A Tipping Point in Changing the Culture of Youth Sport?

24 08 2010

In the last month I’ve been thinking and reading about the idea of equal playing time in youth sports (click here and here). Based on the evidence, I’m convinced that equal playing time should be mandatory up until the age of 12. Following, all youth sport organizations and associations should adopt this policy at ALL levels of play–in house, recreational, travel, and competitive. Regardless of the level of play, kids are still kids who should all have the opportunity to develop, grow, and experience all the joys and benefits sports has the opportunity to impart. I’ve come to believe in the last month that short of having a strong equal playing time policy, parents and coaches will structure youth sport to meet the needs of their own goals, needs, and desires rather than what is best for all kids.

I applaud USA Hockey for leading the way constructing a better model for youth sports. The USA Hockey Youth Council just voted to eliminate their national championship for the Peewees–the 12 & Under level. USA Hockey has recently rolled out the American Development Model (ADM)– “a tool  that will ensure every kid will have the same chance to succeed.” The mission and purpose of ADM is clearly focused on countering (and hopefully reversing) the detrimental forces of the performance/win at all costs focus and professionalization of youth sport. The philosophy and ABC’s of ADM is evidence-based, and the “E” of the ABC’s is….equal playing time! Finally at least one youth sport organization appears to taking some cues from sport science scholars!

On a similar note, the Boston Globe ran an interesting piece titled “What happened to losing?” which outlines how youth sport has lost the true meaning of competition (which is “to strive or strive with, not against”). When I worked at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendelson Center for Sport and Character, the co-director and my colleague David Light Shields, was working on a book about “True Competition”. He has since finished and I recommend you read it as it is accessible and instructive for why and how to change the culture of youth sports-True Competition: A Guide to Pursuing Excellence in Sport and Society. Check out the accompanying website TrueCompetition.org and sign up for the newsletter.

I hope these and other efforts by those who care about the health and well being of all youth athletes provide a start of a Gladwell-esque Tipping Point in changing the culture of youth sport to a primary focus on fun and development, rather than winning and performance.





A Great Day for Women’s Hockey

26 02 2010

I managed to get home and watch the DVR’d USA v. Canada women’s hockey game before anyone could tell me the score (now that was a gold medal effort!). I watched every second of a great game, possibly the best women’s hockey I’ve seen. Although USA didn’t win (0-2), I was never so proud of women’s hockey.

 What I wasn’t proud of was the male commentator (I love Cammi Granato in the booth as a 2-time Olympian, she added great insight and I hope to see more of her as a sport commentator) who throughout the entire game called the women “ladies” (which has been critiqued previously in this blog). Three or more times when a great play was made by a Canadian woman, he compared her to a Canadian male hockey player, “Poulin handles the puck like Sidney Crosby”. Why not just say, “Wow, what great stick handling!” and leave it at that. You’d never hear the reverse.

Despite this annoying commentator, it was a fun game to watch. Seeing the US team get their medals and watch how each player held back tears after years of preparation culminated in this one game, I got choked up. The veterans like 4-time Olympians Angela Ruggiero and Jenny Potter, and 3-time Olympian Natalie Darwitz were holding back tears probably for different reasons than their 15  first-time Olympian teammates. How cool would it be as a young girl to see these great women play a sport you love? I never saw women playing hockey on TV growing up. It wasn’t until adulthood I traded in my figure skates for hockey skates. Now I play in the Women’s Hockey Association of Minnesota (WHAM) with some of the aunts and cousins of current Team USA Olympians–women who would of made the Olympic team in their prime, if a team existed at that time. (note: I don’t play at their level!) WHAM is the largest women’s hockey league in the US, with over 80 teams at 7 levels.  Hockey is a great game and living in The State of Hockey, Minnesota, I can tell you we do breathe hockey here. Seeing Minnesota natives and women who played on the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team be a part of  Team USA is pretty cool.

You could tell Team USA was disappointed, but I think the gesture of Angela Ruggiero putting her arm around the rookie player in the medal line next to her as if to say “I know how you feel, but enjoy this moment” was telling of the character of the entire team.  Congratuations to both teams! What a great day for women’s hockey!