Tom Brady doesn’t go off topic too often. He talks football because it’s safe and he has felt burned when he veers away from that, as he did recently when talking about Donald Trump.
But in his weekly appearance on WEEI radio Monday, Brady was asked by John Dennis about the state of youth sports today and his comments were revealing and refreshing. (Brady has three kids: His oldest, Jack, 7, is from his relationship with Bridget Moynahan, and he has two children with his wife, Gisele Bundchen.)
The subject of youth sports comes at an interesting time, when enrollment is declining, and many experts say pushy parents are to blame. (More than 26 million children, 6 to 17, played team sports in 2014, down almost 4 percent from 2009, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.)
Here’s what Brady had to say:
“Youth sports, and what I remember from being in youth sports, everything was really localized. There were no travel teams … well, there was a couple, but you really had to be the top, top kids to go on those teams.
“My parents always exposed us to different things, different sports. It was basketball when it was basketball season. It was baseball when it was baseball season. I didn’t play football until I was a freshman in high school. A lot of soccer. There were some camps, but I just played in the neighborhood in our street with all the kids we grew up with.
“It’s just different now, and I’m experiencing it with my own kids with all the organized activities that you put them in. I’ve made a comment for a while now: ‘I hope my kids are late bloomers in whatever they do.’ Because they are going to be exposed to so much at such an early time that yeah, you do worry about what their motivation may be. As they get older or if they feel like they’ve been in something for so long and it’s been hyper-intense and hyper-focused for so long, I think that can wear out a young individual, a young teenager.
“It’s just hard, because all the parents are doing it, it seems, and the competition feels like it starts so early for these kids – whether it’s to get into college or getting into the right high school or the right elementary school. I don’t know how it’s taken that turn, but you know, sometimes it’s nice for kids to just be kids. At least that’s just from what I remember from when I was growing up. I think that was a great opportunity for kids to develop lots of parts of their personality and certainly for me, that’s what I found ultimately; I found something I love to do at a young age. But the more you’re exposed to, I think the better the opportunity is for all kids to figure out what they really want to do in life.”
In a recent interview with The Washington Post, author Mark Hyman, a professor sports management at George Washington University, said youth sports today look nothing like they used to.
“The adults have won,” Hyman said. “If we wiped the slate clean and reinvented youth sports from scratch by putting the physical and emotional needs of kids first, how different would it look? Nothing would be recognizable.”
The problem, he said, is that, “We no longer value participation. We value excellence.”
The kids do not.
Amanda Visek, another professor at GW, surveyed 150 children about what makes sports fun for them. The kids listed 81 different factors that made them happy playing sports.
It ranked 48th.