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  • Don Maples

Law of Diminishing Returns

Too much, too little...more effort, more work, more play will yield greater results. In youth sports, or the life of youth in general, parents believe the more their kid does, will yield greater rewards. What those rewards mean is debatable and the real question is will your child actually finish when burnout is more than likely the reality?

“If one input in the production of a commodity is increased while all other inputs are held fixed, a point will eventually be reached at which additions of the input yield progressively smaller, or diminishing, increases in output”

I often say the best youth soccer team to coach is one made up of orphans. A youth coach most of my career, it is dealing with parents that makes coaches, and I am sure educators, want to change professions. Parents don't realize through their childs actions and statements that most bystanders would consider childish, foolish, even outlandish, outsiders get a real-time glimpse as to what home life is like.


Kids are too wired, too many expectations, too bullied, too pampered, etc, etc...the irony is while we have moved from "helicopter" parenting to "bulldozer" parenting attempting to remove all the obstacles, failure, bumps in the road from the paths of their children, parents increasingly place obstacles of their own making in front of their kids. "Our kids have too much homework" decries parents today...yet, these same parents have their child enrolled in sports, dance, chess club, drama club, after school...a different flavor activity for each night of the week. Then the weekend comes, a schedule of games, dance competitions, etc. isn't enough...parents allow a "good stretch of the legs in a community 5K or the "Gladiator Run" on top of the aforementioned schedules. When is enough...ENOUGH, or too much....TOO MUCH? When do parents actually stop, take stock of the crazy schedule and ask themselves, "why are they actually doing it?"


"Parents living vicariously through their kids, or enrolling their kids in so many activities because parents like the social part, forgetting why kids should be doing sports, etc..."

Since this is a soccer website, lets focus there. Playing youth soccer has many advantages...fitness, learning teamwork, to compete, how to win as well as growing through losing. But too much of a good thing can have as many negative, opposite effects which may not be realized for years. Imagine the eight year old who started playing soccer because his friends did. He has some good athletic qualities, the adults around him encourage more training, travel for better competition, and by the time that boy reaches age 12, the sport he loved as an eight-year-old has become a chore. Weekend fun with friends is replaced by tournament travel. Holiday breaks are spent refining techniques with specialized coaches. Add into the equation "Quality of Life." Driven by parents wanting more games, coaches focused on results, the ease of entering tournaments (as compared to setting up friendlies and building in "down time" due to thoughtful season planning), many kids between eight and 12 years old, have played 250 games (25 games a season (fall & spring) times 10 seasons from age 8 to 12 = 250 games). That is a recipe for the epidemic pediatricians are seeing now...an increased number of overuse injuries in young athletes, often amounting to acute injuries or withdrawal from play.


"James R. Andrews, MD, of Andrews Institute for Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, said, “Fatigue is the big factor in youth sports,” which has led to a 10-fold increase in overuse injuries since 2000."

Athletes who burn out like this may quit playing all sports, leading to a sedentary lifestyle and the health risks that come into play as an adult. The opposite of the intended purpose... making them lifelong participants in athletics.


Studies have shown that over the past two decades, children have lost twelve hours of free time a week, including eight hours of unstructured play outdoor activities. Where did the time go? What else...organized activities. Parents have taken from their kids what they themselves enjoyed much of as kids...playing in the neighborhood, back yard games, exploring..etc. Of course you remember these moments, right? Quoting Teddy from the movie, Stand By Me, " This is my age! I'm in the prime of my youth, and I'll only be young once!" Those times have been traded in for dreams of college scholarships, parent social trips (these are disguised as overnight trips to youth tournaments) sitting by the pool with other parents having a cold one, and the ego stroke (also known as "Mental Masturbation") a dad gets while bragging his 10 year old plays for the #1 team in the state.


Parents have taken from their kids what they themselves enjoyed much of as kids...playing in the neighborhood, back yard games, exploring..etc. Of course you remember these moments, right? Quoting Teddy from the movie, Stand By Me, " This is my age! I'm in the prime of my youth, and I'll only be young once!" Those times have been traded in for dreams of college scholarships, parent social trips (these are disguised as overnight trips to youth tournaments) sitting by the pool with other parents having a cold one, and the ego stroke (also known as "Mental Masturbation") a dad gets while bragging his 10 year old plays for the #1 team in the state. Coaches translate this as saying, "my child has bigger, faster, stronger athletes at age 10 than the other teams. We don't know how to play soccer, but we out run everyone."


I see the solution coming from our state associations. A clubs Director of Coaching is to educate their staff as to thoughtful season scheduling, monitor the correct training to game ratio (3:1 for U13 and younger / 4:1 for U14 and older) for each team along with teach parents why too many games is counter to player development. In most cases this isn't happening at the club level, therefore the states must lead. I know the $$$ signs floating in front of state associations along with $$$ made for clubs. A colleague of mine from Northern California said their state association (Cal-North) assigned one weekend a month for tournaments to be held, instead of the normal every weekend buffet. This left three weekends a month to play league games, schedule player development "friendlies", and/or take a weekend off. So it can be done...question is, will we begin to care more about our kids, who we want to succeed, by being reasonable about the demands on their time and what their bodies can realistically withstand? More is not better in this situation. Will we allow our kids to have back their time to develop mentally, physically and socially...quoting Teddy again...

" I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"






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