Bird Brown: Money talks too much in youth sports

I’ve been involved in sport in some fashion or another for my entire life.

In a family whose mother was the best athlete, as a toddler and the youngest I was dragged along to all of my siblings sporting events and to watch my old man play in the adult men’s basketball and softball leagues.


As a youth player I played basketball, baseball, football, and yes, even soccer. In high school, I played soccer in the fall and lacrosse in the spring but hit the armory courts with my friends to play basketball in the summer leagues. In college, I played year-round soccer being introduced to the indoor game that would capture my attention for the next 30 years.

As an adult, I added softball to my men’s league basketball and soccer teams.


I began coaching in my second year in college with the Hartsville YMCA soccer team and have been involved in some form or another ever since. Player-coaching a men’s soccer team and then as a youth coach in multiple sports with all of my boys before landing in my current roles as high school and club coach.

Recently I ran in to an old friend and we were talking about how youth sport has changed so much from the time we were kids or even since our older kids had played that are now adults. It’s common when you have these conversations that the focus comes back on the kids and how they’ve changed over the years.

I’m not saying that the kids are not different now than when I first began coaching 35 years ago, but I take exception to the “blame” or the focus being placed squarely on the kids. The kids are relatively the same and want the same things out of their sports experience that they did many years ago. We all have and these kids still have their dreams of one day becoming a professional athlete and playing in front of an adoring crowd.

Players love the competition on the field and the camaraderie of being on a team.

The next target that the conversation tends to point to when the kids have been exhausted is the parents and their role in the current state of affairs of youth sport. Without question, parents are way more involved in the youth sport experience than at any time in history.

Their influence is strong and their commitment without question, but is that always a bad thing?

Sure, there are over-the-top parents, but I remember over-the-top parents in my youth sport experience in the 70’s. I specifically remember one father sprinting around the perimeter of our baseball field, actually knocking a kid off his bike to wrestle away the ball from his son’s home run.

But when you see parents’ involvement in youth sports that take on roles of coaches, assistant coaches, team managers, field coordinators, referees, uniform coordinator, concession stand operator and so many other roles that help to provide the best experience for kids, can that be all bad?

We are fortunate in our community to be blessed with so many volunteers in all of our recreation programs.

It’s not the kids. It’s not the parents. You can’t even blame the referees this time.

The thing that has changed the most in my involvement in sport and has come to plague our youth sport culture in recent times is the almighty dollar.

Sport has become a multi-billion industry that saps the coffers of so many families that often takes the fun out of the sport. I recently read an article in USA Today that said, “Nearly 20 percent of U.S. families spend more than $12,000 a year, or $1,000 per month, on youth sports, per child.”


That’s just absurd. I’m sure the percentage jumps significantly when the number drops to, say, $500 per month.

Sport has become a game of the haves and the have-nots. Many times, if your families can commit tremendous financial resources toward your youth sports program, your opportunities are far greater than those who cannot afford to or may have a different set of priorities.

Money has definitely changed the player.

They watch the lifestyles of the modern-day athletes that have all the money in the world and instead of one day dreaming to play for their hometown team in front of an adoring crowd, the player now wants to play for the financial gains that are offered.

Money has affected our parents and the decisions we make for our kids. The dream of our kids earning an athletic scholarship in light of the out-of-control cost of a college education has forced our hand in allocating more of our family’s resources toward our kids’ youth sport experience.

Despite the fact there are $12 of academic scholarship for every $1 of athletic scholarship, the attraction is just too great.

British-American author Simon Sinek once wrote, “Focus on money, and we will make money. Focus on impact, and we will make an impact.”

Shouldn’t that be what youth sport is all about?

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