Pay-to-Play Leagues

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The days of simply playing ball with your friends is over and the age of the youth sports industrial complex featuring pay-to-play leagues is here. Club sports is where adults make a living putting on tournaments for 7 to 15-year-olds, and parents pay good money for the right to join the team. Club sports are a for-profit venture with coaches making money from the skills of 7 and 10-year-olds. My granddaughter is a water polo player and a member of a nationally recognized club sport team. She's traveled as far as Michigan for tournaments, escorted by her parents.

Club sports manifest the age of the special child and the parent who believes their kid playing little league is beneath them. Make no mistake; little league baseball has suffered at the hands of the folks who peddle dreams to the parents of the preteen set. Local independent teams, most of them touting the supposed benefits of year-round play, skim top players out of neighborhood little leagues. And then, five years down the line when little Johnny decides to trade his bat and glove for a skateboard and a piercing, his parents can scream and yell at the travel ball coach who ruined baseball for their child by taking their money and not playing him.

High school sports teams perhaps suffer the most, as some of the best players are recruited away. Some club sport coaches even discourage their players away from their high school teams for fear of getting injured. School administrators don't resist as budgets for after school sports are diminishing.

Growing up in Oakland, I played in the police athletic league. The cops picked us up in a paddy wagon on the corners where my friends and i lived. They dumped us off at any number of dirt baseball diamonds in Oakland. The coaches were volunteers. The equipment was donated by sponsors. After our games, we found our own way home.

I fear we are raising a generation that can't handle failure because they've been conditioned to believe they are too good to fail. Parents may someday look back and regret the choice to not have their son or daughter play little league or police athletic league where everyone makes the team and gets a chance to play and to improve their skills.


With a Perspective, this is Joe Epstein.

Joe Epstein is president of a steel trading and supply company in San Francisco.