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.