By EMERSON LYNN
We all know about it. We know who there are. We watch them, and then, to a surprising degree we become them.
They are the parents who go to extraordinary lengths to make sure their children are the next John LeClair, or Tom Brady, or Carli Lloyd, or, take your pick. They are looking for that scholarship, and attention, that helps their child get into college.
The odds, of course, are prohibitive. Or they used to be.
In the 1990s, Division 1 and Division 11 colleges and universities distributed less than $300 million in student-athlete scholarships. Today, that figure exceeds $3 billion. That’s a ten-fold increase within a 20-year time frame. Over that same time period, we’ve seen roughly a 50 percent increase in the number of students [public and private.] The story, however, has less to do with whether those student-athletes are worthy of their scholarships, and more to do with the impact this “meritocracy” has on the participation we see in high school sports.
In the 2018-2019 school year we saw, for the first time in more than a generation, a decline in the number of high school students participating in sports. This has happened even as the number of students increased [it’s only in New England that the overall student count is in serious decline.] Why?
In football, it’s attributed in part to the concern about head trauma. We have fewer males playing high school football now than anytime this century. But that’s not the case in the other sports. Basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and lacrosse are all losing players. There are fewer girls playing basketball, for example, than anytime since the early 1990s.
Is it the digital revolution and kids simply preferring screen time to building a little sweat equity?
The culprit, according to the experts, is sports specialization, parents who spend the money and the time trying to train their children to be the best at one sport instead of being a multi-sport athlete.
That’s a pursuit that costs money. Quite a bit in fact. Ask any parent who signs up their kid for club soccer or club hockey. And the more elite the teams the more appeal they have. And the greater the cost, in time and money.
What’s happening is that the local leagues don’t have adequate numbers or resources. Those families with the fewest resources are those whose children never really develop the team sports habit.
When kids specialize in a single sport, it obviously subtracts from the other sports. Whereas it was once common place for kid to be a three-sport athlete, that’s unusual today.
That’s unfortunate. Not only are the students not as fully rounded as athletes, they are more likely to get hurt, or to burn out and drop out of sports all together. This specialization also works against the low income, who don’t have the resources to participate at the same levels.
That’s a problem because statistics show that kids who participate in sports are one-tenth as likely to be obese, or to have chronic disease, and far more likely to stay in school and to excel.
Today’s trend is not the sort of progress we’d like to see.