11 on 11?

by Ryan Krzykowski

A couple months ago, I read another terrific blog post by John O’Sullivan of Changing the Game Project.  This one was entitled “When Will Youth Sports Actually Serve the Needs of Youth?”, and the thought provoking post posed a handful of issues that John sees in our youth sports culture.  I highly encourage you to read the post, and whether or not you agree with every idea presented, to consider the big picture and the larger points John is making.

One item on John’s list caught my eye in particular, and he labeled it “Competition and Match Sizes that Do Not Fit the Needs of the Child”.  Explaining that it is far less helpful to have very small children playing full-sized versions of sports like soccer, ice hockey, football, etc., the post suggests providing more developmentally appropriate, scaled down versions of these games for younger kids.  These smaller versions can be more enjoyable, while doing a better job of teaching the skills young athletes will need to play the “real thing” when they get older.

John offers the example of Belgian soccer, whose world ranking in the sport has gone from 66 to 1 since they committed as a nation to offering smaller games for younger children.  It makes me think about football here in the States, and how we line up so many 7-10 year olds in full pads to play tackle football on 100 yard fields.  If the goal is to help kids learn and enjoy the game, is that really what’s best?  I’m not even getting into all the safety/concussion concerns, I’m talking simply from the standpoint of what actually meets the needs of children learning the game.

It will be a LONG time before USA Football needs to worry about being ranked anything lower than #1 internationally, but that’s clearly not the point.  John’s question about youth sports actually meeting the needs of youth is a good one and an important one, and as adults we owe it to these children to put that question at the forefront of any conversation regarding young people and their athletic experience.