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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Youth sports are supposed to be fun

Sports should be fun for kids, writes Linda Flanagan. Instead, young athletes give up their childhood to compete for college scholarships and perhaps a shot at the pros, she writes in Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania are Ruining Kids’ Sports — And Why It Matters.

A Youth Sports Industrial Complex pushes single-sport specialization in elementary school, followed by costly club and travel sports programs, writes Jonathan V. Last. "It turns parents into ATMs for the businesses in this sector and Uber drivers for their progeny, because Madison must go to practice three nights a week and then, on Saturday, to the tournament that’s three hours away."

For middle-class parents, investing in a child's athletic "career" is like buying a lottery ticket, he writes. Recruited athletes are more likely to be admitted to selective colleges, Flanagan shows. But the cost to parents is very high, Last points out.

. . . putting Jimmy into an intensive travel baseball program at age 10 costs at least $5,000 a year. If you invested that money annually in a no-load mutual fund, then you’d have about $50,000 for college by the time Jimmy packed off to State U, whether or not he got a sports scholarship. (This is not financial advice.)

Flanagan urges parents to keep their children out of organized sports as long as they're willing to play in the yard or shoot baskets in the driveway. If they want to join a team and become a top athlete, "make it clear that the only reason for her to do the sport is that she wants to." Let kids quit. Their experiences won't have been "wasted."

"Another key precept from Flanagan," writes Last, is that "the family is more important than kids’ sports."

When she was in first grade, my daughter told me she didn't want to play soccer. She said it involved running and she didn't like to run. I realized it involved me getting up early on Saturday mornings, so I said, "OK."

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