Friday Night Tykes: How Competitive Is Too Competitive in Youth Sports?

2014-01-14T16:30:02-05:00Coaching, Parenting, Sports Management|

We’ve talked before about how “competition” is not inherently a bad word. Healthy competition is actually a great thing because it pushes us to try harder and work for what we want. But in youth sports there seems to be an ever increasingly polarized view of how leagues should be run. Some parents and coaches believe that everyone deserves a trophy, that having fun is more important than winning, and a well-rounded player is more important than a specialized athlete. Even USA Hockey says that the intensity with which many of today’s children play their sport isn’t the way they want it to be.  The USA Hockey’s American Development model actually has U-12 teams playing fewer games and spending more time on their home rink in practice sessions designed to build skills. The organization also actively encourages young players to play other sports, believing that creates more well-rounded players.

Obviously there is a spectrum within this mind-set: some parents still want to foster healthy competition, but don’t want to sacrifice fun in the name of winning. And other parents would prefer that leagues don’t keep score or standings at all. Like any ideology, there are various interpretations of the “best” way to do things. At one point does making everyone the same undermine the individual? (To be discussed more in the future!)

On the other hand, you have some sports parents and coaches that are putting more and more pressure on young athletes to play a sport year round, to join high-powered travel team and attend sports camps, and to take a “training in Sparta” approach to youth sports. These parents and coaches feel that kids need to learn how to win and how to lose, that giving everyone a trophy undermines the hard work that some players put in, and that we’re so worried about hurting our kids’ feelings we are actually doing them a disservice.

Again, there is a spectrum of attitudes that those on the more competitive side of the fence take, and we’ve all heard horror stories of “those parents” or “those coaches” that get into fights at Little League games.  So at what point does competition get too competitive?

A new show, Friday Night Tykes, is getting a lot of attention in the youth sports world as it follows a highly competitive Texas football league. According to the show’s website;

In America, football is king… and nowhere is football bigger than in Texas. With exclusive access to the 8 to 9 year-old Rookies division of the Texas Youth Football Association, this 10-part docuseries follows five teams on and off the field during the 2013 season. Throughout, coaches and parents offer insight into why they believe they’re teaching valuable lessons about discipline and dedication, but also grapple with serious questions about parenting, safety and at what price we’re pushing our kids to win.

In this preview clip (start at 3:10), an 8-year-old is told to “blow some chunks” during practice on a 99 degree day. According to, “The coaches you meet span a sliding scale of sanity. From the adults who seemingly need adults supervising them to coaches who seem to be intense, but respectful, it’s clear that the young athletes of TYFA are experiencing youth football that is unlike almost anywhere in America.”

According to the show’s producer, the goal of the show is “is not to pass judgment on the environment at TYFA, but rather raise the question of whether this type of intensity at a young age is a good thing for children.”

The trailer certain raised more than a few eyebrows in the world of sports, including the professional arena. An NFL representative called the trailer “troubling to watch” and former Saints player LeCharles Bentley tweeted “Child abusers now masquerade as “coaches” — This isnt tv, its gross…”

Bob Cooked, a Forbes writer on youth sports, pointed out;

I’m not sure I would let my kids in a league like the TYFA. But I also know that my 16-year-old son who plays football might be on the field more if he had been pushed from an early age like many of his teammates, rather than waiting until he was in high school to pick up the game. Or maybe he was better off, for his health, waiting. Or maybe he enjoys the game more because he waited and picked it up on his terms. As a parent, you’re always weighing the risk-reward ratio in anything your child does, and always wondering if you’ve calibrated it correctly.

So if you watch “Friday Night Tykes,” ask yourself: Would you push your kid that hard? Should you push your kid that hard? Are you absolutely sure of your answer? Will that answer change tomorrow?

Friday Night Tykes premiered on Tuesday, Jan. 14 at 9 p.m. ET. Did you watch? What are your reactions?