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Yesterday Governor Wolf of Pennsylvania (my home State) urged the closure of all youth sports programs until January. I fear that is a short-sighted directive that highlights a broader failure of many in our society to recognize the positive power of sports for children and young adults. Moreover, COVID and other factors have put pressure on college athletic programs, causing some to debate the merits of the very existence of NCAA sports. Again, I find this a misguided view that misses the impact that competition has in the development of young people. Let’s start with a simple statement of fact: participation in youth sports correlates to positive long-term life outcomes. This makes sense on its face. Athletes learn to handle pressure, they learn to take direction and work as a team, and they gain firsthand experience with the fact that preparation and effort lead to improved outcomes. These are all critical life lessons, part and parcel with success in many aspects of adult life. If you aren’t willing to simply accept the logical argument in favor of sports participation, there are ample studies available that bear the idea out with statistics: Even after controlling for family background and cognitive ability, involvement in extracurricular activities predicts higher grades; higher college aspirations, enrollment, and completion; greater self-discipline, self-esteem, and resilience; lower risky behavior such as drug use, delinquency, and sexual activity; and lower truancy rates (Zaff et al. 2003). Furthermore, the effects of extracurricular activities appear to extend well beyond college: students who are involved in clubs and sports go on to earn higher wages, advance further in their careers, and even vote and volunteer more frequently than their less-involved peers.1 Girls in particular seem to benefit from athletics: Participation reduces the chances of developing heart disease and breast cancer, cuts rates of unplanned pregnancies, lessens obesity, and boosts body self-esteem. And the advantages extend into adulthood: Four out of five female business executives played sports as kids, and women who go on to play sports in college are 25 percent more likely than those who don’t to develop political aspirations.2 The idea of forgoing all these benefits happens against the backdrop of many schools opting for remote learning this Fall. In other words, children will be losing the positive impact of sports along with the social interaction and educational impact of in-person learning. Against the health risk of COVID, which all agree is statistically low for children, there are considerable risks of damage to children owing to isolation. There has been an alarming increase in physical and sexual abuse of children during the pandemic3. One concern is that teachers and coaches are a first line of defense in terms of recognizing and reporting abuse. In at risk communities the role of sports takes on another level of importance. Coaches sometimes play the role of surrogate parent, and being with a team means being off of streets that have seen a surge in violence this year. If not sports, and not school… what? Remember, keeping kids out of school and off the field doesn’t mean keeping kids away from kids. They will still be at risk of conducting COVID from friends and family, they’ll just be losing the unquestionable benefits of education and competition. Turning to college athletics, the issue goes beyond COVID to a more long-term financial problem. While NCAA football and basketball programs can be cash cows, most sports programs represent an expense for schools, many of which were experiencing budget challenges even prior to COVID, and now the situation is worse. This has led some to argue that sports programs should be cut so more funding can be directed toward the classrooms. But I would argue there is as much learning happening on the field as off. Again, turning to statistics, according to a study by Gallop: Former NCAA student-athletes are more likely to be thriving in purpose, social, community and physical wellbeing, and their financial wellbeing is comparable to non-athletes. These patterns persist across NCAA division, graduation cohort, gender, and race and ethnicity. NCAA student-athletes (39%) are more likely to earn an advanced degree than non-student-athletes (32%). This difference is most pronounced among black graduates, with 49% of black student-athletes versus 39% of black non-athletes attaining an advanced degree. NCAA student-athletes are slightly more likely (33%) than their nonathlete peers (30%) to have had a good job waiting for them upon their college graduation. Student-athletes who were first-generation college students (FGCS) (36%) are even more likely than their non-athlete FGCS peers (30%) to have had a good job waiting for them upon graduation. NCAA student-athletes are especially likely, relative to non-athletes, to have benefitted from meaningful and enriching support experiences with professors and mentors in college In an era when there is debate about the practical merits and financial benefits of some college courses and degrees, participation in NCAA athletics can be defended with cold hard facts like those above. Learning to handle the stresses of training and competing while at the same time keeping up with studies is a form of practical education that has clear application in one’s later life and career. Certainly there are many esoteric realms of study that do far less to prepare students for the real world than managing a career as a college athlete. Moreover, striving for college athletics as a young athlete is a powerful motivator that helps keep kids on the positive track of youth sports, whose benefits I have already described. In short, amidst the challenge and danger of COVID-19 we should never forget that children and young adults face other risks and challenges as well. Sports matter, sports are not frivolous, sports shape kids in a very positive way. For most it is a positive influence, for some it is a lifeline. Shutting down youth sports entirely this Fall is a questionable choice, and I sincerely hope it will not be the path we take. 1 Inequity Outside the Classroom: Growing Class Differences in Participation in Extracurricular Activities http://vue.annenberginstitute.org/issues/40/inequity-outside-classroom-growing-class-differences-participation-extracurricular 2 What's Lost When Only Rich Kids Play Sports https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/09/whats-lost-when-only-rich-kids-play-sports/541317/ 3 https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/05/13/hospitals-seeing-more-severe-child-abuse-injuries-during-coronavirus/3116395001/ https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/28/847251985/child-sexual-abuse-reports-are-on-the-rise-amid-lockdown-orders
The youth sports program I volunteer for works with an organization called Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), which provides training for coaches of young athletes. We have been very happy with the quality of their presentations to our volunteer / parent coaches. PCA provide a framework and series of strategies that help coaches provide a higher quality experience for the players. The founder of Positive Coaching Alliance is Jim Thompson, a faculty member with Stanford University and the author of a number of books including "Elevating Your Game: Becoming a Triple Impact Competitor". Below is a presentation Jim did about the positive (when executed correctly) impact of youth sports, I could not agree with his sentiments more. In fact, this site exists because of a strong belief in the power of sports to help guide young people in the right direction. If you are involved in a youth sports program as an administrator, I recommend you to check out Positive Coaching Alliance, they are a fantastic resource... they understand what it's really all about
Our kids are turning pro. Well, not my kids, and chances are… not your kids either. But sometime soon student athletes – at least the elite players in high profile sports – are going to be able to make money from endorsements. This is a seismic shift in the world of student athletics. Not just for the relative few who will be able to cash in, but perhaps for all student athletes. Because the magnitude of the change could impact the whole system in ways that are impossible to predict at this point. It all started with the California State Legislature passing the Fair Pay to Play Act - a law that allows student athletes to profit from their “name, image and likeness”. In short, they will be able to earn money sponsoring products and services. The NCAA reacted by announcing they would “permit students participating in athletics the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model”. Some who favor these changes view the caveat “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model” with suspicion. Is that meant to be an out, a basis for foot dragging in the future? It’s no secret that the NCAA would prefer college athletes to remain true amateurs. NCAA President Mark Emmert referred to the Fair Play Act as an “existential threat” to the collegiate sports model, and the organization has long taken a stand against athletes receiving compensation (other than via scholarships or small stipends). The Associated Press recently reported that the NCAA, along with the ACC and Big 12 conferences, spent a combined $750,000 lobbying Congress in 2019 alone… clearly they want to have a say in any regulations coming out of Washington. But in the wake of the CA decision dozens of other States appear to be following a similar legal path. And while opposition exists, overall there seems to be broad bi-partisan support for allowing athletes to participate in the billions of dollars of profits their efforts are generating for the college sports industry. Make no mistake, it’s a bigtime industry. According to Bloomberg the top 13 college athletic programs each bring in more than $100 million annually (mostly from football and basketball). And top coaches garner multi-million dollar salaries that rival what is available at the pro level. One thing that everyone seems to agree upon is that the US Government needs to step in to establish new ground rules. A piecemeal system of varying and contradictory regulations in each State would be a mess... for colleges, for the NCAA, and for student athletes. So, is this change a good thing, or a bad thing? Why it’s a good thing Billions of dollars are being generated in college sports and none of it goes to the players who put their bodies on the line generating it. A large proportion of those kids are from underprivileged and minority communities. Money could help those players, and their families. In addition, more athletes may be inclined to complete their educations if they are able to start earning while still in school. The window of opportunity for an athlete to monetize their ability is brief, and is artificially shortened by the current system because they can’t start until after they leave college. As a result, it has become more and more common – particularly in basketball – for athletes to leave before graduation, or in some cases to skip college altogether. Allowing them to earn while still in school reduces the incentive for athletes to leave. One of the concerns about allowing student athletes to “turn pro” is that money is a corrupting influence. But money is already in the system. And to some extent it flows to the kids in an underground manner as attested to by periodic recruiting scandals. For example, in 2017 the FBI and US Attorneys arrested ten individuals including coaches, managers and a sportswear executive on charges related to illegal payments to college basketball recruits. Allowing athletes to openly earn money would reduce the appeal of illegal booster arrangements by bringing the payments “above ground”. Why it’s a bad thing The position long asserted by the NCAA is that the free education that top athletes receive is compensation enough. College is supposed to be about the education, after all. The NCAA holds that amateurism protects athletes from the potentially corrupting influence of cash, and is critical to maintaining a sense of connectedness between athletes and the rest of the student body. Allowing athletes to earn endorsement money raises a host of complex issues. What happens if the school has a contract with one sneaker company while the athlete is courted by another? What impact might this all have on the Title IX requirement that female athletes receive the same opportunities as men? Will athletes be allowed to hire agents? What’s to prevent boosters from throwing money at kids to sway them toward signing with a particular school? Will large, high-profile schools that maximize exposure (and thus earning potential) for players come to dominate even more than they do already? Remember also that while revenue is primarily generated by basketball and football, it is shared among all sports. According to Bloomberg, women’s basketball loses $163 million per year, and baseball loses $69 million.3 When this money doesn’t come from basketball and football, it has to be covered by tax dollars or tuitions. To the extent that endorsement money ends up flowing more to athletes and less to athletic programs, there will be a deficit that will have to be made up somehow in order to maintain the other sports. Why the good or bad of it doesn’t really matter While the pros and cons will be debated, and there is still much to be decided in terms of how exactly this will play out, it certainly seems like the change is coming no matter what. As the parent of two student athletes – one in middle school and one a high school freshman – my primary concern is how this change will impact the broader world of college sports. Not just the relative handful of players who will be able to earn endorsement money, but the far greater number who benefit from the current system of youth and college athletics. The benefits of youth sports participation have been well documented: Even after controlling for family background and cognitive ability, involvement in extracurricular activities predicts higher grades; higher college aspirations, enrollment, and completion; greater self-discipline, self-esteem, and resilience; lower risky behavior such as drug use, delinquency, and sexual activity; and lower truancy rates (Zaff et al. 2003). Furthermore, the effects of extracurricular activities appear to extend well beyond college: students who are involved in clubs and sports go on to earn higher wages, advance further in their careers, and even vote and volunteer more frequently than their less-involved peers.1 Girls in particular seem to benefit from athletics: Participation reduces the chances of developing heart disease and breast cancer, cuts rates of unplanned pregnancies, lessens obesity, and boosts body self-esteem. And the advantages extend into adulthood: Four out of five female business executives played sports as kids, and women who go on to play sports in college are 25 percent more likely than those who don’t to develop political aspirations.2 While relatively few athletes receive scholarships, and fewer still may end up earning endorsement money, many have educational and career doors opened for them because of sports. Being an athlete is a differentiator, and can be the ticket into better schools than the student might otherwise have access to. Anything that risks upending the current system should be viewed with at least some degree of wariness by athletes and their parents. Given how much money is involved in college sports these days it seems only fair to me that athletes are able to participate in the profits. That said, for the vast majority of athletes it truly is all about the education. Hopefully Congress will bear that in mind and create a structure that allows some athletes to earn money while protecting the system that nurtures and supports all the rest. Patrick Foley RecruitingInfo.com What do you think? Join the conversation: Should college athletes be able to earn money... 1 Inequity Outside the Classroom: Growing Class Differences in Participation in Extracurricular Activities http://vue.annenberginstitute.org/issues/40/inequity-outside-classroom-growing-class-differences-participation-extracurricular 2 What's Lost When Only Rich Kids Play Sports https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/09/whats-lost-when-only-rich-kids-play-sports/541317/ 3 College Sports https://www.bloomberg.com/quicktake/college-sports-ncaa