Monday, June 25, 2012

New Non-fiction: Youth Sports

The Most Expensive Game in Town: The Rising Cost of Youth Sports and the Toll on Today’s Families, by Mark Hyman

Playoff times with their hype and passion are perhaps a good time to reflect on the place of sports in American life, especially when it comes to the place of youth sports and their impact on children and their families This book is a companion to Mark Hyman’s 2009 book, Until It Hurts: American’s Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids. In that book Hyman looked at the adult takeover of kids’ sports and how the quest to turn children into tomorrow’s superstar athletes has often led adults to push children beyond their physical and emotional limits. His new book looks at the actual financial costs to families of participation in organized youth sports: the costs of uniforms, equipment, league fees, and travel to away games can be substantial. Beyond those expenses, the compulsion to compete successfully has also involved families in additional expenses: lessons and private coaching, sports camps, and corporate-sponsored tournaments. Youth sports in a large and profitable market in America, and the youth sports market and the enterprise of professional sports are major businesses that work in support of each other, creating new markets and expanding old ones. No matter how hard you work, you need an edge. There is always a new sports product that  promises to give it to you.  All the best atheletes know about it and are using it.  Even their moms swear by it. You buy it, and it will make the competitive difference. 

As in his previous book, Hyman is concerned about what this commercialization has done to what he feels are the positive values embodied in youth sports, and looks at examples of individuals and communities that are bucking this trend. Having “dreams” is important for kids, but the truth is that the overwhelming majority of competitors in youth sports will not become sports stars. How is their youth sports experience equipping those kids to reconcile themselves to loss and compromise, to value the experience of making an effort and being their best even though it may fall short of what might earn commercial stardom and profits? In a broader sense, Hyman’s books make us think not only about sports dreams but what kinds of dreams we encourage kids to have. Do we want their dreams to be merely about triumphs of personal achievement or do we hope that the kind of dreams they choose and pursue so ardently will involve achieving some good for others and for their communities. So tie on your new high-performance sneakers, sit back, and get prepared to read some provocative truths about the real costs of youth sports in America today and hear some ideas about how we might make a better bargain than we’ve made so far for children and their families.

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