Let’s Talk About Youth Sports
By Randy Youngling, PCS Athletics Director
Youth sports can be defined as any and all sports activities that involve athletes ranging in age from preschool through high school. My guess is, most of you who are reading this have participated in youth sports in one way or another; as a young athlete, a youth sports coach, or as the parent of a young athlete. If you are like me, you have experience in all three categories.
It would be enlightening to have the chance to talk about our respective experiences as athletes, coaches, and parents. I bet we would share some belly laughs and perhaps even shed a few tears as we told our stories. If you played sports, you would have no difficulty remembering the coach, or coaches, who had the greatest influence in your life, either for good or for bad. A high percentage of young athletes drop out of sports around the age of 13. When asked why they were no longer interested in playing, most of them cited a negative experience with an adult, either a coach or a parent.
Research has demonstrated conclusively that students who participate in sports miss less school, do better academically, develop socially and emotionally at a faster pace than those who do not play sports, and are less likely to get involved in at-risk behaviors. Knowing the positive effects of youth sports participation, it is simply tragic that many schools are losing young athletes in sports.
The Dangers of Early Specialization
Unfortunately, this is not the only reason so many students are dropping out of sports. As counter intuitive as it might sound, a second reason young athletes quit playing is the result of what we might call early specialization. As you might assume, this refers to young athletes focusing on only one sport to the exclusion of all others. This is a relatively new phenomenon that has developed as a result of the growth of youth sports as a business. In the United States alone, youth sports have exploded into a multi-billion-dollar business.
Please take a moment to watch this short video by Dr. Joseph Donahue, an orthopedic surgeon at SOAR Clinic in Redwood City, California. He has also served as team physician for the San Francisco 49ers and Stanford University as well as an orthopedic consultant for the San Francisco Giants. Currently, he is the team physician for Santa Clara University.
Here, Dr. Donahue says that data show the disadvantages of early sport specialization, in terms of overuse injury, burnout and the possibility that the sport of focus is not the one for which the youth athlete is best equipped or most inclined.
This is just one reason why here at PCS we strongly encourage all our athletes to play multiple sports. As a smaller school, in order to field a wide variety of sports, we need the participation of as many students as possible. Coming from a very small school in West Texas, NFL quarterback Colt McCoy had a similar experience in high school.
The Value of Playing Multiple Sports
It seems like most elite athletes grew up playing multiple sports. In the 2021 Super Bowl that matched the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs, a survey of the players revealed that over 90% of them played multiple sports all the way through high school, including both standout quarterbacks, Tom Brady for the Bucs and Patrick Mahomes for the Chiefs.
For some athletes, there might come a time when it makes sense to specialize in one sport. Typically, that time would be sometime when they are in high school. When my daughter Michelle was going into her junior year of high school, she asked me if I could go on a walk with her as she had something she wanted to talk with me about. I will never forget that summer day as we strolled around the golf course in Aspen, Colorado, where we were living at the time. We made small talk for quite a while as Michelle worked up the courage to break what she perceived would be some “hard news” for her father to hear. Finally, with a shaking voice, she announced that she did not want to play basketball any longer because she wanted to focus on volleyball. The reason she approached our conversation with some degree of fear and trepidation was that her dad was the basketball coach she was “quitting on,” in her words.
I remember giving her a huge hug and affirming her decision. She was shocked that I was not upset. For her, after playing basketball, softball, swimming on the local swim team, and finally taking up volleyball, it was the right decision. Not long ago I asked her if she remembered that conversation. With a smile on her face, she acknowledged that she did. She went on to express her appreciation for my support and encouragement.
As you consider your own child’s participation in youth sports, we hope you might take to heart some of this information. At Providence Classical School, we work hard to provide coaches that we trust will provide a positive environment for your students in which they can grow as athletes and, more importantly, as followers of Jesus. Maybe one more reason to play multiple sports here would be to take advantage of being exposed to more than one of our incredible coaches.
As always, if any of you might want to continue this conversation, I would love to get together. For those of you whose students are already playing sports here at PCS, thank you so much for sharing your daughters and sons with us. It is a privilege to be a part of their lives.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
About Randy Youngling:
Randy Youngling has served as the PCS Athletic Director for the past two years. He holds a B.A. in Behavioral Science from Rice University where he was a Division 1 scholarship basketball player. Additionally, Randy has a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary with concentrations in Christian Education and Counseling. He has more than thirty years of experience as a pastor serving churches in Texas, Louisiana, and Colorado. He also invested several years developing and teaching social-emotional learning classes on a high school level and coaching in Colorado before coming to Texas to work with Positive Coaching Alliance. Randy has a passion for making disciples and for creating an environment in sports in which young people can grow and develop as athletes as well as followers of Jesus Christ. Randy is married to Nancy and has three grown children and five grandchildren.