neighborhood kid. This pressure has led to early “specialization” as kids focus year round on developing their skills in only one sport—a reality critics say can lead quickly to burnout. Researchers at Michigan State University report that 70 percent of kids who play youth sports drop out by the age of 13. Sadly, many of these dropouts are gifted athletes who should be exercising their athletic gifts and abilities long into their teen years. Others are late-bloomers whose discouragement leads them to hang it up, causing them to miss out on the years of successful play that could be theirs if they would only be encouraged to hang in long enough for their bodies and skills to develop. Then there are those who continue on while allowing the pressure to excel to lead them to try to get an edge through cheating and/or performance-enhancing drugs. Parents, ugh! I recently shared a cab ride from the airport with a dad who was more than happy to tell me about his athlete-daughter. He informed me that she was so highly regarded as a soccer player that their family’s summer would be centered on traveling around the country to various showcase tournaments where she would be able to display her skills. In addition, he told me that his daughter was a highly successful baseball player. “Baseball? Not softball?” I asked. “Do they let girls play that down in Georgia?” “Yes,” he enthusiastically answered. “She’s leading the league with seven home runs.” I was impressed. Then I asked, “How old is your daughter?” “Six,” he replied. Ouch. God bless that little girl. The pressure’s even greater when parents live vicariously—trying to find redemption for their own athletic failures, unfulfilled dreams, or empty lives—through their kids. Many pressure and push in the hope that their kid will score the college scholarship that will lead to a professional contract. The reality is that college scholarships are few and far between. A pro career is highly unlikely. According to research from Dan Doyle at the Institute for International Sport at the University of Rhode Island, there are 475,000 fourth grade boys playing organized basketball in the U.S. At the same time, there are only 87,000 high school seniors playing basketball. Of those 87,000, only 1,560 will win Division I scholarships, 1,350 will win Division II scholarships, and 1,400 will play at non-scholarship Division III colleges. Of those 4,310, only 30 will make it to the NBA. Still, parents push, push and push some more. Do you want to know how bad it’s gotten? Go to a local soccer field where elementary-aged kids are playing an organized game. Don’t watch what’s happening on the field. Turn sideways and look down the sideline. And, just keep on looking and listening. Be prepared. It might break your heart. Character? Or characters? When a culture slowly slides into worshipping the idol of sport, those who have achieved the highest levels of success in their sport are revered as heroes and role models. Looking up to heroes and role models can be a good and positive thing if those heroes and role models exhibit the high standards of character and sportsmanship we’ve been told are the end result of participation in sports. But in recent years the output of this character-building machine seems to be progressively more populated by shady characters than people of high character. Kids are now able to look up to and emulate a growing number of professional athletes who trash-talk, taunt, perform arrogant scoring rituals, fight, spit, bite, cheat and retaliate. Then there are their highly publicized antics off the field! The National Institute for Sports Reform says that “at the professional level, there is no question that sportsmanship is at an all time low. Likewise, the behavior of many scholastic, collegiate and professional athletes off the field is both disturbing and disappointing.” If someone ever did something shady during our neighborhood games we’d protest with chants of “Cheaters never prosper!” That doesn’t seem to be true in today’s culture. These shady role models Fall 2008
About CPYU and ENGAGE This journal is produced quarterly by the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, a nonprofit organization recognized for taxdeductible giving by the federal government. We depend on private donations for our funding. We are a ministry working with churches, schools and community organizations to build strong families by equipping parents, pastors, youth workers and educators to understand the world of children and teens, by equipping teenagers to deal with the challenges of adolescence, and by equipping both parents and teens to live by the light of God’s Word. Our resources include parent education seminars, youth worker training, printed and audio materials, a Web site, and a daily syndicated radio feature. President Dr. Walt Mueller Vice President of Administration Cliff Frick
Associate Staff John Fischer Amy Flavin Marv Penner Paul Robertson Jason Soucinek
Research Specialist Director of College Doug West Transition Initiative Derek Melleby Research Assistant Chris Wagner Research Assistant Lisa Mueller Design Classic Editor Communications Randy Buckwalter ENGAGE September 2008 ©2008 All rights reserved To subscribe to this publication or for more information, contact us at: Center for Parent/Youth Understanding PO Box 414 Elizabethtown, PA 17022-0414 Voice: 717.361.8429 Fax: 717.361.8964 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web site: www.cpyu.org CPYU grants permission to copy any article, as long as the copies are distributed for free and they indicate the source as ENGAGE: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU.