Over the years, youth sports have changed dramatically.
The days of a child playing one sport in the winter, one sport in the summer, and one sport in the fall are dwindling away. And a family being able to afford for their child to play multiple sports is becoming more difficult.
Although talent is needed to find a youth sports team, money rules. According to the Aspen Institute, parents spend a combined $30 billion annually on their children’s sports activities.
Due to rising costs and youth sports organizations driven by money, children from less-fortunate families are receiving fewer opportunities to play youth sports.
Tim Roberson has been a high school baseball and softball coach for over 30 years and said he has seen the best and worst days of youth sports.
“Youth sports has changed so much over the last decade and it’s continuing to change every single summer,” Roberson said. “Every summer there’s additional teams in each league and more money being shuffled around.”
Travel league registration fees cost families thousands of dollars per summer, according to Mass Mutual. To make matters worse, the annual registration fees to just be a member of the team do not always include hotels, gas, gate fees at tournaments, and equipment.
Only 24% of children who come from low-income families can afford youth sports.
Evan Germansky played travel baseball growing up in California and attended Doane University to play college baseball. He is now a baseball instructor in Lincoln.
“Youth sports in Lincoln has changed so much since I arrived to Nebraska in 2015,” Germansky said. “I’m really starting to see it take a turn for the worse since I became a coach in 2019.”
In addition to the egregious fees, parents are becoming an issue as well at local sporting events, he said. Whether it’s arguing with the umpires or yelling at their children from the stands, parents are just as big of a problem.
According to Sports Illustrated, in New Jersey, if a parent is caught arguing with an umpire from the stands, they will be forced to umpire three games before they are allowed to return to the game as a spectator. In a way, the little league organization in New Jersey is utilizing the common idea of, “if you think you can do better, come out and do it.”
“It’s never a good thing when youth sports are becoming more about the parents than about the youth playing the game,” Roberson said. “That’s when you know there’s an issue that needs to be addressed.”
The number of youth sports organizations have significantly grown over the years. Reasons for expansion and additional teams can range from playing time, team dynamic, development, or competitiveness.
However, for parents who may not know all the hard work that goes into coaching a youth team, they may be doing a disservice to the players.
In Roberson’s eyes, development needs to be the top priority in youth sports.
“Winning is great, but where is winning a tournament at 10 years old going to get you?” Roberson asked. “A college coach won’t ask you how you performed in a tournament when you were 10, they’re going to ask you about your work ethic, your drive, your process.”
Mason Bennett is an assistant coach for Nebraska Wesleyan University. He said coaches also shoulder responsibility.
“There are a lot of opportunities to play college baseball, but there are a lot of coaches coaching youth sports that aren’t helping young players,” Bennett said. “Kids aren’t receiving the correct instruction that will develop their game to a point where they’ll get to the next level.”
Quality youth coaches do exist, Bennett said. But they are covered up by coaches and parents who make it about themselves rather than the player and/or team.
“There are a lot of really talented youth coaches out there,” Bennett said. “Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of frustrated parents who think they can do a better job than the last guy when that’s not the case.”
It’s not just about the practices or games, but relationships built away from the playing surface are just as critical.
“Some of my best friends today are guys that I grew up playing travel ball with,” Bennett said. “When you factor in weekends in hotels, in between games, and at practices every week, they become your second family.”
Bennett played travel baseball in Denver. He said his experience allowed him to gain more perspective about some of the rising issues, on and off the playing surface. But Germansky said continuity and patience are also concerns.
“Parents who decide to switch teams and organizations every one or two years are hindering their child’s ability to grow and strengthen friendships with teammates,” Germansky said.
A travel baseball coach in the Lincoln area, who wished to remain anonymous, said that priorities are getting switched around in youth sports.
“Youth sports is becoming more about politics and how much money your family is willing to pay rather than if you’re good enough to make the team.”