• Rentfrow-Perspective

Youth Sports-Now and Then

Updated: Nov 24, 2019

The structure of youth sports has changed drastically since its inception in the early 1900's. Once a way to keep bored, mischievous poor immigrant boys busy and off the streets, youth sports have turned into a highly competitive, highly lucrative industry. How did such a shift occur in the relatively short course of its history? Let's analyze youth sports through the ages.

Americas pastime, baseball, grew tremendously in popularity in the late 1800’s. Baseball clubs were created for wealthy people and many poor people did not get a chance to play, nor could they afford to, so they had to use whatever tools necessary to play the game, much like kids in third-world countries do today. Games were more organized during this time period as “Sandlot games”, with children from the neighborhood playing the game without intervention from their hardworking parents. This trend of sandlot games continued, until the late 1900’s, which we will talk about later.

Organized youth sports began in the early 1900's in New York City in an effort to get poor immigrant children off the streets. Adults sought to keep these boys out of trouble and simultaneously instill values in them that would benefit them when they joined the workforce as adults, such as teamwork, communication, hard work, and leadership skills. Learning these values through sports is still one of the main focuses of youth sports in the U.S. today.

Historically, many upper-class children were more involved in non-competitive activities, such as music lessons and dance (i.e. piano lessons and ballet). Youth sports clubs were populated mainly by low-income families' children for much of the early 20th century as a way out. Babe Ruth, for example, grew up in a poor neighborhood, although his parents owned a tavern, they were not rich. Babe Ruth was able to use his baseball skills to help him escape poverty. This seemed to be the goal of sports for many going forward.

In youth sports today, adults and parents organize everything from teams, games, and even snacks. Young athletes had much more leeway in making group decisions in years past. Gone are the days of sandlot games or pick-up football games, unless on recess. Basketball players tend to still attempt to have “Pick-up” games although not as prominent as the years past. This has a lot to do with video games, phones, Internet, and other interest, however, it also has a lot to do with school of choice and friends being spread out so far. It is very difficult for youth athletes under the driving age to get together without parents supervision. The ages of organized teams are becoming younger and younger too, with dance classes offered to children as young as 2 and many soccer teams available nationwide for children ages 3 and 4. Baseball starts competitively at 6u in many areas, although is looked at as mostly a money grab within the baseball community.

Some people believe that the sole motivation is to live vicariously through their kids, but is this really the truth? There may be other variables in play, that are too complex for people to understand. Perhaps youth sports allow parents to spend time with their children. Also, in direct relation to spending time with their children is the collective psyche that, “They get old too quick”. Meaning we are afraid that our kids get old too quick, so we start them at younger age to get the most of their childhood. Still for some, the motivation remains the same as it was in the early 1900’s, to get a college scholarship, with the possibility of going pro. Also, just like in previous eras, youth sports instill values in them that would benefit them when they joined the workforce as adults, such as teamwork, communication, hard work, and leadership skills.


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