The other night I found myself scrolling through LinkedIn, and I came across a great post from the Director of the Premier Lacrosse League Academy, Mick Davis. In his article titled “College Lacrosse: Recruiting by the Numbers,” Mick detailed how 7 out of 8 high school lacrosse players will not go on to play lacrosse in college at any level. While that statistic was not necessarily surprising, it make one wonder about the state of youth sports today.
In spite of that statistic, parents are spending more and more money each year on club and travel teams, top-of-the-line equipment, and personal trainers. In turn, players in youth sports are under increasing pressure to perform and succeed at very young ages. Youth sports in many places has become a toxic environment for everyone involved. When you look at the negativity, pressure, and costs around youth sports, at some point you have to ask, “why are we doing this?”
This question led me to watch a TEDx talk by John O’Sullivan, the founder of the Changing The Game Project and a huge proponent of creating a positive environment for kids when participating in youth sports. In his talk, John discusses the toxic environment that youth sports has become. The concept of having fun, the entire reason kids even play sports, has been replaced with winning at all costs. Parents and coaches scrutinize and criticize players in every age group. This environment leads to 7 out of 10 children quitting sports by the age of 13. Let that number sink in. 70% of our children stop playing sports before they even enter high school. While there may be more kids than ever playing sports, they play in an environment that pushes more kids out than it keeps.
How is Avon Grove Lacrosse different?
At Avon Grove Lacrosse we chose to change this paradigm. Our program is built on a foundation that provides a fun environment where players can develop and learn to love the sport of lacrosse. As part of this program, we ask that our parents and guardians avoid the win at all costs attitude. Instead, the focus should be on the enjoyment you get watching your player be on the field playing a sport they love. Most importantly, we want our parents and guardians to support our players. Instead of critiquing and criticizing their performance, instead use five simple words. I love watching you play. The phrase is short, powerful, and carries with it all the love and support your player needs. Thank you to Jack Sullivan for this simple, but incredibly effective sentence.
For parents and guardians, there are a few simple things you can do to make your player’s journey with AGL exceptional that also support our Parent’s Code of Conduct:
Be loud, be proud, but be respectful
Remember that in the end, the players on the field are kids. They are not professional athletes, college athletes, or even high school athletes. The players on the field are middle and elementary school kids that deserve encouragement and support.
Ditch the post-game recap on the ride home
If you have a bad day at the office, do you want to have someone criticize you the moment you get home? Let you player tell you about all the great plays he made. Or let him be upset because he missed what could have been the game winning goal. All you need to say is, “I loved watching you play.” Win or lose, it will make your player happy.
Join in on their excitement for the sport
If you play lacrosse, grab a stick and go outside with your player. If you don’t play lacrosse, grab a stick and go outside with your player! Absolutely can’t play? Get tickets to an NCAA or Premier Lacrosse League game or watch a game together on TV. In the end you’re spending time with your player doing something they love.
Remember they are playing to fulfill their needs, not yours
We all want to support our players, but you have to separate your desires from theirs.
Our reason why
This brings us back to the initial question – why do put our kids in youth sports? It’s so they can have fun, learn, and develop both as people and as athletes. For parents and guardians it’s about those five simple words – I love watching you play. If you ever find yourself pushing a little too hard on your player, take a step back, use those five words, and then go watch this video from Hockey Canada for a little reminder on why we need to support, not criticize.