US Catholic Faith in Real Life

When youth sports isn't about kids

By Sarah Butler | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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I was sad this morning when I heard news that Little League International had stripped Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West team of its 2014 U.S. title.

I'm not sad because it’s another blow to Chicago baseball (this year, Cubs fans!), or because I had some inexplicable personal desire for a bunch of middle school boys to win an organized baseball tournament. I'm sad because the decision followed a review that revealed the team knowingly used ineligible players who lived outside of approved geographic boundaries.

I’m sad because a bunch of adults lied to a bunch of kids.

In a statement, Little League International CEO Stephen D. Keener said, "What these players accomplished on the field and the memories and lessons they have learned during the Little League World Series tournament is something the kids can be proud of, but it is unfortunate that the actions of adults have led to this outcome.”

Last September, U.S. Catholic interviewed Clark Power, a University of Notre Dame professor who started the national initiative “Play Like a Champion Today.” The goal of the program is to create a positive youth sports environment for all children during a time when there’s a major increase in often well-intentioned parents who want their kids to win at all costs.

Power said that one of the major problems with youth sports today is that adults choose teams. Adults scout kids, they stack teams, they set the lineups, they control the strategy.

"I was observing that in many ways the adults were taking children’s heads out of the game," he said. "Adults were playing against adults. From a developmental psychology perspective, that made no sense. Once adults control the game, what’s happening can no longer be called 'play.' It becomes more like work. The kids are performing to please a person who has control over what they are able to do."

“What I found was that I slipped into the culture myself,” Power said. “I was competing against other adults, and kids were becoming my chess pieces—even my own kids.”

Jackie Robinson West, I’m sorry you became chess pieces. Adults should know better.

Flickr Photo cc by rhythmstrip