It's time for adults to stop treating youth sports as a stepping stone to pro and college and just let the kids play.

When I was a kid, I wanted to play every sport under the sun. In my world, I played wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers, guard for the Philadelphia 76ers and center for the Boston Bruins. I competed in the Olympics as a sprinter and was welterweight boxing champion of the world. Though football was my favorite, I wanted to play everything. And in my world I could, because there were no parents to stop me.

In life I played youth football and Little League baseball. I didn't think I was good enough to play basketball and couldn't skate so hockey was out of the question. But I did play pickup basketball and all the other games we played for fun. The only time that there were any parents around was recess, gym class and organized leagues. Otherwise, we were left to ourselves.

We loved this. We made our own rules, picked our own teams and played as long  as we wanted. We didn't mind playing organized sports, but there were times when we just wanted to get away from adults and just be kids. A lot of times there was less pressure which allowed us to learn how to play the game on our own.

Today, parents get involved in most of their child's athletic pursuits. They put them on local and travel teams. They take them to camps and clinics for their sport. They let the kids play one sport year round.

When we played, there were sports that we did play year round like basketball and football. But when it came time to play organized we played whatever was in season. The thought of playing baseball in the fall never crossed our mind, because it was football season. We even thought it odd when the pros would create leagues which scheduled out of season like the old United States Football League which played in the spring.

Though there is nothing wrong with parents being involved with kids athletic pursuits sometimes it might be best to let kids go out and play on their own. It might be best to let them play multiple sports instead of concentrating on one.

Adults are giving kids too many rules to abide by with youth and high school sports. They want them to practice and play year around and concentrate on one sport. They want them training for the sport that they coach and none other. They don't allow kids who do not take part in off-season workouts to try out for their team. They refuse to let kids who play for them play for other teams.

I know this from experience as a player, coach and game official. As a player I know that I would have been very upset if one of my coaches or my parents told me that they didn't want me to play another sport. As a coach I encouraged kids to play as many sports as they wanted. As an official, I see kids playing and practicing sports year around, because their coaches think it is the only way that they can compete.    

This is not right and not what youth sports are about. Youth sports are not about producing child prodigies but giving kids a place to play games that they like competitively. They were made to give kids something to occupy their time. They were made so kids can hang out with their friends. They were made so kids could learn a few life lessons through trial and error.

They were not made as a vehicle for getting a college scholarship or making it to the pros. If those things happen they do. Adults seem to have forgotten that youth sports was not created as a means to an end, but a place for kids to be kids. It is time we get back to that.

It's time that we as adults give youth sports back to the kids. Let them choose what they want to play. Let them decide how much they want to put into it. Let them play for fun. Give them a break from time to time so that they don't suffer burn out. Encourage them to play pickup games.

In other words let them grow up at their own pace.     

kids playing pickup basketball
Credit: Google images