ESPN Author: Parents Can't Turn Kids Into Pro Athletes

Filed under: Resources, Extreme Childhood, Sports, Books for Kids, Opinions, Kids' Games, Activities: Big Kids


ParentDish recently sat down with ESPN reporter and author Tom Farrey to chat about kids, parents, sports and Shaquille O'Neal's big hands.

In his new book, "Game On: How the Pressure to Win At All Costs Endangers Youth Sports and What Parents Can Do About It," Farrey gets real about the troubled state of children's athletics.

Name one thing parents ought to know before their kids get started in youth sports.
Tom Farrey: No matter what they do, no matter how much money they spend on summer clinics, they probably can't turn their children into pro athletes. They may not even be able to turn them into Division One (college) scholarship athletes. Having worked at ESPN, I realize how special pro athletes are. You shake the hand of Shaquille O'Neal -- his hand is about three times the size of mine. No matter what I do with my child, he's never going to have a hand like that.
PD: Why should parents want their kids to play sports?
TF: For me, it's about lifetime fitness. My goal is to have my children at age 25 have such an affection for sports and for movement that they want to do it on their own. Playing sports is going to help them discover who they are as people. I don't care about athletic scholarships.

Your book makes a strong case that sports for kids are too competitive, too early for too many kids. That's been a concern for years yet, if anything, the intensity has gone up. Why?
TF: A lack of leadership. There's no one pushing good education, training, studies, down the pipeline to help parents and youth coaches make good decisions for kids. I don't spend my book blaming parents. I think they're simply responding to circumstances. They want to do right. No one is telling them it's not appropriate for kids to specialize (year round in one sport) at age nine.

In guiding your own kids in sports, any do-overs you'd like to have?
TF: Yeah, I'd like to take my son, who has been a travel soccer player since the third grade, and take him to Africa and let him play soccer with kids there, where they are out there with no shoes, making up their own games and are very creative. The games start when they want and end when they want.

That's better for kids?
TF: I won't say better. There's something valuable that can be learned from unstructured play.

Related: More
Sports stories from ParentDish.

ParentDish sports reporter Mark Hyman is the author of "Until It Hurts: America's Obsession With Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids" (Beacon Press). Have a suggestion for an article on youth sports? Contact Mark at


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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.