In recent years, players have been encouraged to specialize in a sport so they can compete — and win — at the highest levels. That leads some to reject what they perceive as an overemphasis on winning and the stress of pleasing coaches and parents.
Woods noted in his research that boys and girls try out for teams at young ages, sometimes even before kindergarten. Top players join travel teams and participate in special leagues and tournaments throughout the year.
The changes related to that are dramatic. A Little League player may have been in 15 games during a summer season only 10 years ago. That number can easily reach 75 to 100 now for ballplayers willing to travel.
Interestingly, the number of girls and boys participating in Little League baseball has declined in recent years. Some coaches complain the defections could be tied to the growing popularity of travel teams.
Then there’s a new phenomenon — a fascination with social media, digital games and technology — proving to be a popular draw on teens’ attention. Staying connected is just as appealing to some as being competitive.
While high-profile sports are losing favor among some students, they are being replaced by other athletic activities. Boys are weight training, mountain biking, skateboarding and playing Ultimate Frisbee in growing numbers. Inline skating, lacrosse, bowling, camping and hiking are attracting new followers among girls.
That may represent a big change from the options their parents had as adolescents, but those who study such trends say the good news is that those activities keep young people from developing couch-potato habits.
What’s significant with youth sports today is that more kids than ever are participating — even if many are choosing to play different games and picking new activities, some of which aren’t team-oriented.
For many, sports are about competition and winning. For others, it’s about the joy of the experience.
Either way, that should be celebrated and encouraged.
Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.