Anytime I hear that Buck Showalter is going to appear on Mike Francesa's WFAN talk show I have learned to expect a refreshingly honest and insightful interview, but what I heard this past Thursday went well beyond expectations. What started out as a simple Q and A about pitchers quickly turned to a dialogue about the "epidemic" of recent Tommy John surgery, but what came next was completely unexpected.
The average age for Tommy John surgery is now in the teens, and Coach Showalter used this sobering fact to lament on the state of youth sports today, with most of his venom directed at "travel teams," with equal parts acrimony directed at varsity coaches and unrealistic parents who feel that they can "turn" their child into a star. In the minds of both Mike and Coach Showalter, athletes with professional level skill have "G-d given talent," and that they would excel at any sport they chose to play. The Coach in fact says that to him it is a "red flag" whenever he sees an athlete that plays just one sport. He goes on to site an example of players who don't know "how to fall," and believes that is the result of baseball players who forego other sports. Both Mike and Coach Showalter point out that a lot of great players pick up the sport late in life, and that such players tend to have more passion for play than players who have been playing for so long that the sport has become routine, like a business and devoid of emotion.
The overuse of certain muscles, resulting from repetitive motion of unnatural movements, is destroying young bodies and a direct cause of the exponential increase of sports related injuries in this country. Travel team coaches, who directly profit from teenagers participating year round, have convinced too many parents that they are providing a service to their children, and of course it isn't until it is "too late" that parents realize they have been fed unrealistic expectations and have set their kids up for monumental disappointment.
Frankly, I have yet to meet a college coach who is in favor of a young player specializing in one sport and one position. In fact, they prefer selecting athletes who have been involved in a variety of activities, and even prefer players who spend time in "unorganized" sports.
Hopefully we can begin to turn the tide against these travel teams and their "hijacking" of youth sports. They have transformed athletics to the detriment of the players and the sports themselves. Children deserve better decision making from their parents. It is time for the voices of reason to fight back.