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Youth Sports Then and Now: 30 Years of Changes
by Jeff Janssen, M.S. Janssen Peak Performance

In keeping with our theme of how athletes are different than they were decades ago, here's a contrasting look at how youth sports has changed over the last 30 years.

I knew immediately things were different with my daughter's T-Ball team that I coached this summer. I asked a seven year old on the team if he had ever swung a bat before. He said, "No, but I have swung a Wii."

Yes, this list is done a bit curmudgeonly; where it seems that those of us who played 30 years ago or more had to trudge five miles to practice going uphill - both ways. However, there is no denying that there are subtle if not distinct differences between youth sports then and now.


Sports 30 Years Ago:
Played every day with the neighborhood kids for hours on end, whatever sport was in season.

Sports Now:
Kids only play and practice real sports when adults formally organize them. The rest of the time they are playing video versions of sport on Wii, Playstation, and X-Box. Rarely do you see kids organize informal, real games of their own any more.


Sports 30 Years Ago:
Kids of all ages went into a backyard or nearby vacant lot to play.

Sports Now:
Kids play on perfectly manicured and lined fields.


Sports 30 Years Ago:
Kids played against other neighborhood kids of all ages and had to get better in order to compete with the older ones. They often played on their own or with each other, throwing a ball against a brick wall to get better.

Sports Now:
Kids attend dedicated sports facilities where a paid instructor provides expert tutelage in their sport on a regular basis. They attend multiple summer camps and many play on travel teams that formally train throughout the year. They also may receive speed and agility training as well as sport psychology consulting.


Sports 30 Years Ago:
Kids were lucky to have a glove in the family and you shared bats with the neighbor kids. The bases were a cracked Frisbee, a piece of cardboard, and a worn out dirt spot.

Sports Now:
T-leaguers often have their own bats, batting helmets, batting gloves, and bat bags to carry all their gear.


Sports 30 Years Ago:
Uniforms? Are you kidding me? It was whatever you were wearing that day. T-shirt, jeans, and an old, worn-out, sweat-stained baseball cap with the logo from the local team.

Sports Now:
Full uniforms with names on the back of each jersey and customized bat bags.


Sports 30 Years Ago:
Kids picked their own teams by choosing up sides. The person who got the first pick, usually determined by who had the last hand on the bat handle, got the first pick and the other person got the next two picks.

Sports Now:
Roster is made up by coach or community league.


Sports 30 Years Ago:
Kids made up their own rules to fit the situation. If the ball goes over the house in left field it is an automatic home run. But if it goes over the fence in right field, where the vicious dog lives, it's an automatic out. And YOU have to climb the fence and try to retrieve the ball before Killer notices.

Sports Now:
All rules are listed in the official Little League Rule Book.


Sports 30 Years Ago:
Kids got to decide all the close plays. Sometimes the older, more dominant player said, "I get the call or I'll beat you up." Other times the kid who brought the ball got the call, otherwise he was going to take his ball and go home. Hopefully most the time the kids said, "I'll take this close call and you get the next one."

Sports Now:
Uniformed umpires make all the calls.


Sports 30 Years Ago:
You had to develop leadership skills to influence who was on your team, getting the close calls, and keeping your friends focused and on track so you could win the game.

Sports Now:
Adults make 90% of the decisions in youth sports: choosing teams, making out lineups, deciding close plays, handling disagreements, etc.


Sports 30 Years Ago:
Kids enjoyed the intrinsic rewards of competing and playing with friends. You had bragging rights over your friends or the next neighborhood over - until the next game.

Sports Now:
Every kid now is given a shiny, new trophy in t-ball just for showing up. The seek and have come to expect the extrinsic rewards more so than the intrinsic.


Sports 30 Years Ago:
Drinking out of a garden hose with hot, rubber-tasting water when the game was done.

Sports Now:
Moms and dads are assigned "Snack" where they bring Gatorade bottles and chips or Oreos for each player. Many times the highlight of the game in the kids' minds is the snack they receive, not any good plays that might have been made.

With all these differences, it's no wonder that kids of today have different motivations, approaches, definitions of success, and reactions to failure than those of decades past. As a coach and parent, you must certainly recognize the differences. Yet, at the same time, you must also preserve the time-honored traditions that respect the game as well as the children's development.

For more information, visit the online resource for emerging and existing team leaders at the http://www.TeamCaptainsNetwork.com.


Janssen Peak Performance, Inc.
Mailing Address: 102 Horne Creek Court Cary, NC 27519
1-888-721-TEAM (toll free in U.S.)
(919) 303-5321 (phone)
(919) 303-4338 (fax)

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