Jayne: Too many parents of young athletes missing the goal

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Editor



Greg Jayne, Opinion page editor

It’s the Twitter feed. The Twitter feed and the Instagram feed and the YouTube channel.

You see, I wasn’t sure where I had failed as a parent, wasn’t sure about the ways in which I had let down my children — and then I read a recent cover story in Time magazine. It’s the Twitter feed.

Because, in a story under the headline “How Kids’ Sports Became a $15 Billion Industry,” I learned that social media these days is being used to promote young athletes. Really young athletes. Like 10-year-old aspiring baseball and basketball and lacrosse players.

I learned that parents use social media to post highlights of their budding Michael Jordan, and that some youngsters are becoming nationally known for spending hours in the batting cage when they should be climbing trees and having lightsaber battles.

Oh, it’s no secret that youth sports long have been out of control. As a recovering sports editor — and as the husband of a volleyball coach — I can attest that the absurdity goes back several decades.

It has been quite some time since young athletes — or, more likely, their parents — decided that the competitive world of club sports is more important than representing your friends and neighbors on the local high school team. It has been years since parents decided that spending thousands of dollars for their kids to receive private lessons or play on traveling teams is a worthy investment.

And still, I learned some things from the Time magazine article. I learned that the United States Specialty Sports Association, a nonprofit whose CEO was paid more than $800,000 in 2015, holds tournaments across the country and ranks baseball teams starting at age 4.

And then I threw up in my mouth a little.

Academic money available

Don’t get me wrong; youth sports are great. All three of our kids have participated, and our family spent years enmeshed in the world of club volleyball. We have spent our share of money and family time ensuring that our kids have an opportunity to participate and compete and grow.

But at the extreme level, it is a constant source of frustration to witness or read about parents who are living vicariously through their young athletes and have unrealistic ideas about the future. As Travis Dorsch, director of the Families in Sport Lab at Utah State University, told Time: “I’ve seen parents spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars pursuing a college scholarship. They could have set it aside for the damn college.”

Which brings us to the crux of the issue.

Many parents are driven by a desire to see their budding Steph Curry earn a college scholarship. Over my years in the sports department, I can’t count how many parents asked to see their kids’ name in the paper “because they’re trying to win a scholarship.” (As an aside, no college coach is turning to The Columbian or any other paper to decide which athletes to recruit.) I even had a parent say we should write a story about how to choose where to go to high school so they can earn a scholarship. (My advice: Go to your local school and treat high school as a learning experience instead of a job interview.)

And along the way, parents ignore reality. Colleges that compete in NCAA sports give out $3 billion a year in athletic scholarships but, according Debt.org, “Each year, an estimated $46 billion in grants and scholarship money is awarded by the U.S. Department of Education and the nation’s colleges and universities.”

That is academic money, or need-based money, or grants that have nothing to do with sports. The fact is, your budding Damian Lillard has a much greater chance of earning college money for good grades than he or she does for their athletic prowess.

For one example, our daughter is playing volleyball at a top-notch university because she received enough academic money to feed a Third World country. Despite the fact we failed to promote her on Twitter.