The Race to Nowhere
"My 4th grader tried to play basketball and soccer last year," a mom recently told me as we sat around the dinner table after one of my speaking engagements. "It was a nightmare. My son kept getting yelled at by both coaches as we left one game early to race to a game in the other sport. He hated it."
"I know," said another. "My 10 year old daughter's soccer coach told her she had to pick one sport, and start doing additional private training on the side, or he would give away her spot on the team."
So goes the all too common narrative for American youth these days, an adult driven, hyper competitive race to the top in both academics and athletics that serves the needs of the adults, but rarely the kids. As movies such as "The Race to Nowhere" and recent articles such as this one from the Washington Post point out, while the race has a few winners, the course is littered with the scarred psyches of its participants. We have a generation of children that have been pushed to achieve parental dreams instead of their own, and prodded to do more, more, more and better, better, better. The pressure and anxiety is stealing one thing our kids will never get back; their childhood.
The movie and article mentioned above, as well as the book The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids, highlight the dangerous path we have led our children down in academics. We are leading them down a similar path in sports as well.
The path is a race to nowhere, and it does not produce better athletes. It produces bitter athletes who get hurt, burnout, and quit sports altogether.
As I said to my wife recently, the hardest thing about raising two kids these days, when it comes to sports, is that the vast majority of the parents are leading their kids down the wrong path, but not intentionally or because they want to harm their kids. They love their kids, but the social pressure to follow that path is incredible. Even though my wife and I were collegiate athletes, and I spend everyday reading the research, and studying the latest science on the subject, the pressure is immense. The social pressure is like having a conversation with a pathological liar; he is so good at lying that even when you know the truth, you start to doubt it. Yet that is the sport path many parents are following.
The reason? Fear!
We are so scared that if we do not have our child specialize, if we do not get the extra coaching, or give up our entire family life for youth sports, our child will get left behind. Even though nearly every single parent I speak to tells me that in their gut they have this feeling that running their child ragged is not helpful, they do not see an alternative. Another kid will take his place. He won't get to play for the best coach. "I know he wants to go on the family camping trip," they say, "but he will just have to miss it again, or the other kids will get ahead of him."
This system sucks.
It sucks for parents, many of whom do not have the time and resources to keep one child in such a system, never mind multiple athletes. There are no more family trips or dinners, no time or money to take a vacation. It causes parents untold stress and anxiety, as they are made to feel guilty by coaches and their peers if they don't step in line with everyone else. "You are cheating your kid out of a scholarship" they are told, "They may never get this chance again."
It sucks for coaches who want to develop athletes for long term excellence, instead of short term success. The best coaches used to be able to develop not only better athletes, but better people, yet it is getting hard to be that type of coach. There are so many coaches who have walked away from sports because while they encourage kids to play multiple sports, other unscrupulous coaches scoop those kids up, and tell them "if you really want to be a player, you need to play one sport year round. That other club is short changing your kid, they are not competitive." The coach who does it right gives his kids a season off, and next thing you know he no longer has a team.
And yes, most importantly, it sucks for the kids. Any sports scientist or psychologist will tell you that in order to pursue any achievement activity for the long term, children need ownership, enjoyment and intrinsic motivation. Without these three things, an athlete is very likely to quit.
Children need first and foremost to enjoy their sport. This is the essence of being a child. Kids are focused in the present, and do not think of long term goals and ambitions. But adults do. They see "the opportunities I never had" or "the coaching I wish I had" as they push their kids to their goals and not those of the kids.
They forget to give their kids the one thing they did have: A childhood! They forget to give them the ability to find things they are passionate about, instead of choosing for them. They forget that a far different path worked pretty darn well for them.
So why this massive movement, one that defies all science and psychology, to change it?
We need to wise up and find a better path.
Parents, start demanding sports clubs and coaches that allow your kids to participate in many sports. You are the customers, you are paying the bills, so you might as well start buying a product worth paying for. You have science on your side, and you have Long Term Athletic Development best practices on your side. Your kids do not deserve or need participation medals and trophies, as some of you are so fond of saying, but they do deserve a better, more diverse youth sports experience.
Coaches, you need to wise up as well. You are the gatekeepers of youth sports, the people who play God, and decide who gets in, and who is kicked to the curb. You know the incredible influence of sport in your life, so stop denying it to so many others. Are you so worried about your coaching ability, or about the quality of the sport you love, to think that if you do not force kids to commit early they will leave? Please realize that if you are an amazing coach with your priorities in order, and you teach a beautiful game well, that kids will flock to you in droves, not because they have to, but because they want to!
Every time you ask a 9 year old to choose one sport over another you are diminishing participation in the sport you love by 50%.
To change this we must overcome the fear, the guilt and the shame.
We are not bad parents if our kids don't get into Harvard, and we are not bad parents if they do not get a scholarship to play sports in college. We should not feel shame or guilt every time our kid does not keep up with the Jones's, because, when it comes to sports, the Jones's are wrong.
As this recent article from USA Lacrosse stated, college coaches are actually looking to multi sport athletes in recruiting. Why? Because they have an upside, they are better all around athletes, they are not done developing, and they are less likely to burnout.
You cannot make a kid into something she is not by forcing them into a sport at a very young age, and pursuing your goals and not your child's goals. Things like motivation, grit, genetics and enjoyment have too much say in the matter.
What you can do, though, is rob a child of the opportunity to be a child, to play freely, to explore sports of interest, to learn to love sports and become active for life.
Chances are great that your children will be done with sports by high school, as only a select few play in college and beyond. Even the elite players are done at an age when they have over half their life ahead of them. It is not athletic ability, but the lessons learned from sport that need to last a lifetime.
Why not expose them to as many of those lifelong lessons as possible?
Why not take a stand?
Why don't we stop being sheep, following the other sheep down a road to nowhere that both science and common sense tells us often ends badly?
It is time to stop being scared, and stand up for your kids. Read a book on the subject, pass on this article to likeminded people, bring in a speaker to your club and school, but do something to galvanize people to act.
There are more of us who want to do right by the kids than there are those whose egos and wallets have created our current path. We have just been too quite for too long. We have been afraid to speak up, and afraid to take a stand. We are far too willing to throw away our child's present for some ill fated quest for a better future that rarely materializes, and is often filled with so much baggage that we would never wish for such a future for our kids.
If you think your child will thank you for that, then you probably stopped reading awhile ago.
But if you want to get off the road to nowhere in youth sports, and to stop feeling guilty about it, then please know you are not alone. Our voice is growing stronger every day. We can create a new reality, with new expectations that put the athletes first.
We can put our children on a road to somewhere, one paved with balanced childhoods, exploration, enjoyment, and yes, multiple sports.
Someday our kids will thank us.
Changing the Game Project
St Cloud State Softball Clinics - Catching, Defense, and Pitching
Catching and Defensive Clinics
October 19, 2014
9:00 am -- 11:00 am
Instructors: Paula U'Ren and Alexis Munaco
Cost: $40 per person
Two hours of instruction on the fundamentals of catching,
including specific techniques and game strategy.
You will be provided with a catching evaluation sheet
for future skill work. Specific defensive positions will
be covered to assist you in elevating your play for the
November 2, 9, 16 & 23
Instructors: Hillary Johnson, Paula U'Ren and Alexis
Munaco and current Huskies pitching staff
Intermediate to Advanced -
$20 per person
8:30 am --
Pitchers will work on development of additional pitches,
change-up, pitch location, and in-game skills
Beginner - Session ll
$15 per person
10:30 am -- 11:30 am
Pitchers will work on
development of fastball, changeup, pitch location.
All Skills Clinics - 5th - 12th Graders
Cost: $20 per person for
November 2, 9, 16 & 23 - 10:30 am -- 12:00 pm
Covers softball technique, defensive and offensive fundamentals focusing on
increasing skill levels in the off-season to prepare for high school season.
Participants will be divided up according to skill level.
More Information and Registration
SMSU Softball Prospect Camp
September 13th, 2014
Pitchers & Catchers Only: 10:00-11:30am
Position Players 12:00-3:00pm
Open to Grades 8-12
Registration Due by September 12th
Position Players Only
$50 Pitchers, Catchers + Position Play
**Pay in full with registration, Includes T-shirt**
***There will be
no refunds for inclement weather***
You are invited to participate in our Fall Prospect Camp which allows you the opportunity to get to know the coaching staff, current players, and culture of Mustang Softball. The camp is designed to enhance advanced skills and will include instruction on position play, strategies, and advice on preparing to play collegiate softball.
Camp session includes: Pitching, Catching, Fielding, and Hitting.
Register for SMSU Softball Camp at
University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldog Fastpitch Top Dog Clinic
Fall Camp is designed to provide additional opportunities in developing softball skills beyond a player's Spring and Summer seasons. Campers will be divided into groups according to age and/or ability to maximize their learning experience.
Cost: $95 - Includes T-Shirt
Jennifer Bandord - Head
Karich - Ass't Coach
Kathy Crudo - Ass't Coach
Current UMD Players
More information and registration material information can be
found on the
UMD Bulldog Fastpitch webpage.
Minnesota State University Mankato Mavericks' 2014 Elite Prospect Camp
The Elite Prospect Camp will be a total skills camp that will not only cover all aspects of softball but will include a tour of campus, lunch, and a question and answer session with prospects and parents. Each camper will have three 1 hour sessions of skill work.
The sessions offered include:
- Outfield Defense: proper fielding, throwing, catching, and footwork.
- Infield Defense: proper fielding, throwing, catching, and footwork.
- Hitting: stance, trigger, bat control and explosiveness.
- Pitching: leg drive, stride, arm speed and proper spin.
Each pitcher will need to bring their own catcher
- Catching: framing, blocking, footwork, throw downs, bunt retrieval and balls to the plate.
- Baserunning/Conditioning: proper running form, agility, footwork, and rounding bases.
Athletes should select three of the skill sessions above to focus on.
Date: Saturday, September 27th
Time: 9:00 AM - 2:30 PM
Maximum Participants: 30
(Includes Lunch, T-Shirt & Tour)
Location: MSU Softball Field
(if inclement weather Myers Fieldhouse)
Date: Saturday, November 15th
Time: 9:00 AM - 2:30 PM
Maximum Participants: 30
Includes Lunch, T-Shirt & Tour)
Location: Myers Fieldhouse
More information on the
MSU Mavericks' Camp Page
St. Benedict Fall All-Skills Clinics
These clinics will cover up to date philosophies on throwing tecnique as well as fielding and hitting fundamentals that will be sure to help players take their game to the next level! Emphasis will be placed on mental toughness, self-awareness and competition. Space is limited to 30 players, walk ups accepted only if room is available.
More information available on the
Advanced All Skills Clinics
Date: Saturday, September 13th
Grades: 9th - 12th (or Varsity Level Athletes)
Time: 9:30 am - 3:00 pm
Date: Saturday, October 18th
Grades: 9th - 12th (or Varsity Level Athletes)
Time: 9:30 am - 3:00 pm
Intermediate All Skills Clinics
Date: Saturday, September 13th
Grades: 5th - 8th
Time: 3:30 pm - 5:30 pm
Date: Saturday, October 18th
Grades: 5th - 8th
Time: 3:30 pm - 5:30 pm
Local Fastpitch Phenom Comes Full-Circle from Her Playing Career to Choice of Career
Strike Zone Sports is thrilled to announce that Sara Moulton has accepted a full partnership in the local instructional business that, as a student, she helped build. Sara will work directly along side co-owner and founder, Michelle Harrison.
Strike Zone Sports has been in existence since 2003 and has been a licensed MN entity since 2006. It began humbly in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota with one client and began to grow quickly with several clinics and one-on-one clients. At one point, Strike Zone Sports contracted 4 independent instructors and serviced over 120 clients in the Twin Cities metro and surrounding regional area. Since it's creation, most clients have worked with Michelle Harrison, a 1999 graduate of the University of Minnesota, originally from Southern California. Strike Zone Sports was created to provide an environment for exceptional fastpitch softball instruction and for several years has been touted as one of the best fastpitch pitching instruction companies in the Midwest. Strike Zone Sports has turned out the highest number of All-State, All-Conference and All-Section pitchers each year since creation and has seen many former students play and succeed at the collegiate level.
Sara Moulton is a former Strike Zone Sports standout client, a 2014 graduate and 4-year letter winner from the University of Minnesota, where she set records in nearly every pitching category and held top spots on most national leaderboards each year. She led the Gophers to 2 Regional appearances (2013, 2014), one Super Regional appearance (2014) and one Big 10 Championship (2014) in her tenure. Sara finished her career earning 4 All-Conference, 3 All-Region and 1 All-American status, a height every athlete dreams of and very few ever achieve. She was the 2nd all time Minnesota Gopher softball player to earn the Big 10 Medal of Honor. Sara was a top 25 finalist for the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year and a top 30 finalist for the Senior CLASS Award. She finished her career as a Gopher with a 112-50 record, holding program records for wins, appearances (178), innings pitched (1,017), complete games (108), no-hitters (5), shutouts (47) and strikeouts (1,184). In 2014 alone, Sara finished her senior season leading the Big 10 Conference in wins (27), strikeouts (244) and a sub-2.00 ERA. She ranked 25th in the nation in strikeouts, 18th in wins and 6th in shutouts. She was named Big 10 Pitcher of the Week 8 times in her career and was the Big 10 Freshman of the Year in 2011. Sara was also a phenomenal student, earning the 2014 Outstanding Student Athlete Achievement Award, named to the Academic All-District Team (2014), Academic All Big 10 Award recipient (2013, 2014) and Big 10 Distinguished Scholar Award recipient (2013, 2014).
Immediately following her impactful career with the Gophers, Sara packed her bags and left for Chicago to play professionally with the National Professional Fastpitch (NPF) powerhouse, Chicago Bandits, in June 2014. She was a 5th overall pick in the NPF draft by the Bandits and has spent this summer playing with and against the best fastpitch players in the world. She has had the opportunity to find success against former Olympians and players that she grew up idolizing.
Sara was a 2010 graduate of Eagan High School, where she broke and reset every pitching record and even a few offensive records. She was a 2 time MN Gatorade Player of the Year (2009, 2010), Athena Award Winner (2010), Miss Softball Award Winner (2010), Star Tribune Player of the Year (2010), Pioneer Press Player of the Year (2009) and led her Wildcat team to a 2008 3A State Championship title and a 2009 3A State Consolation Championship. Sara was a 4-time All-State, All-Metro and All Conference Award winner (2007-10), 2-time Team Captain for the Wildcats and earned MVP honors in 2007, 2009 and 2010. She holds career records at Eagan High School for wins (83), strikeouts (1.142), ERA (0.35), shutouts (58), no-hitters (13) and perfect games (3). Sara Moulton's #9 jersey was retired at Eagan High School in a ceremony this past 2014 season.
Michelle Harrison remembers exactly when she met the Moultons' and what an impact Sara and her family have had on Michelle's life and on Strike Zone Sports.
"I remember Jeff Moulton [Sara Moulton's father] approached me at the Irish
Sports Dome in Rosemount to ask if it would be ok if he watched my lesson with
another client. I said sure, and next thing I knew, he brought his daughter,
Sara, in to work with me. What a life changing moment. Sara started working with
me in 2005. She was amazing, just full of talent and drive. She was young but
already possessed a great skill set and threw with exceptional speed. Jeff and
Sara quickly became advocates of Strike Zone Sports and of me as an instructor.
Within six months of retaining Sara as a client, Strike Zone Sports exploded and
I was able to be employed full time with it. This was so heavily attributed to
Sara and her success. She put Strike Zone Sports on the map in the Minnesota
market just by being a successful pitcher and spreading the word about her
development experience with me. "
Through the years, there had been several conversations about Sara someday working with Michelle and becoming a part of Strike Zone Sports as an instructor rather than a student. There were occasions where Michelle had Sara and other accomplished clients help run clinics for younger, developing pitchers.
"We discovered early on that Sara has a true gift when it comes to instruction," said Michelle Harrison, in regards to clinic work that she has done with Sara under the Strike Zone Sports name.
Now that Sara's collegiate playing career has come to end and she has determined that she wants to stay closely connected to the game, it was only fitting for Michelle to offer Sara a full partnership in the business that she was so vital in helping to grow. With the acceptance of this role, Sara and Michelle will move forward with Strike Zone Sports as partners in all business activity and future growth of the business. Sara will be starting a regular schedule of clients in September when she returns from her rookie NPF season with the Bandits.
ASA Softball Tourney Brings Talent Salem, VA
Earlier this year, Makayla Burlingame helped the Auburn High School softball team make the Group 1A state tournament.
But she faced much tougher competition this week while pitching for the Virginia Scrappers in the Amateur Softball Association/USA Softball Girls Class A 16-and-under fast pitch national championship.
"It was way more than I've seen in my entire life," Burlingame said Thursday. "Every batter could hit. Every base runner could run. Every person in the field could field. There was no weakness to any team."
The tournament, which began Monday and concludes Sunday, has brought 136 travel-ball teams from 32 states to Darrell Shell Park in Roanoke County, the Moyer Sports Complex in Salem, the Botetourt Sports Complex in Troutville and Lord Botetourt High School.
"It was very eye-opening," Burlingame said after the Scrappers lost at Darrell Shell Park to a team from Ohio to finish 0-4 in the tournament. "We just hadn't seen teams like this before."
Burlingame was an All-Timesland second-team pick as an Auburn sophomore this year. Her Scrappers squad, which is based in Roanoke County, also includes players from six other Timesland high schools, as well as a school in West Virginia.
The Scrappers also had another squad qualify for this tournament. Other area teams at the tournament include the Stix, based in Bedford County, and the Virginia Extreme Force, which is based in Roanoke.
But this tournament also features teams from California, Texas, Oregon, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi, Utah, Kansas, Minnesota, Arkansas, New Mexico, Louisiana and Washington, among other states.
"Some of the best teams that we've ever played have been out here," said Mailey Harris, a 15-year-old from Krum, Texas, who plays for the Texas Glory, which is based in Fort Worth. "High school is nothing compared to this. It's almost like their changeups [this week] are the fastest pitching we've seen in high school."
More than 2,000 players are in the tournament. Some have already verbally committed to a college softball team, but most have yet to pick a college.
So plenty of college coaches have come to this tournament to scout them.
"It's a one-stop shop where we can go and see a lot of teams," Georgia State coach Roger Kincaid said.
Coaches from Virginia Tech, Radford, James Madison, Liberty and Longwood have attended games, as well as coaches from the University of Missouri, the University of South Florida, Cornell, Wright (Ohio) State and Murray (Kentucky) State, among others.
"You're going to see some really high-caliber kids," Virginia Tech coach Scot Thomas said.
During the spring, college coaches are too busy with their own seasons to get out to high school games outside their own area.
The summer provides them the chance to travel the country to scout the tournaments of the ASA and other organizations.
College coaches are using this tournament to eye players they already covet; evaluate players they are on the fence about; and discover new prospects.
"It's a good, high-caliber tournament, so it definitely helps us make a decision," Tennessee Tech coach Bonnie Bynum said.
"A lot of the things that we go to are showcases [where] they're … just playing a certain amount of games and then they go home. Here they're fighting for something, so we get to see who the true competitors are."
The tournament has been a boon for area hotels, restaurants, movie theaters and attractions.
Players from the Texas Glory have been to Dixie Caverns, Natural Bridge Caverns and the Roanoke Star.
Team Georgia, based in Johns Creek in suburban Atlanta, is staying at a hotel in Blacksburg. Its players went tubing on the New River Gorge this week.
The economic impact of this tournament to the area will likely be in the millions, said Salem parks and recreation director John Shaner, who is overseeing the operations of the tournament.
This is not the only national championship for ASA 16-and-under softball. Many elite prospects play at the ASA "Gold" level, whose national championship recently took place in Oklahoma.
The ASA is one of several softball organizations. Other college prospects, such as Morgan Bruce of Northside High School, played recently at Premier Girls Fastpitch's 16-and-under national championships in California. Bruce's North Carolina-based travel ball team, the Lady Lightning, is not competing in this week's event.
But Bruce's summer illustrates how important tournaments such as this one can be to a player's future.
Coaches from the University of Mississippi eyed Bruce when the Lady Lightning played in a tournament in Colorado in early July. The rising junior wound up being offered a scholarship and has verbally committed to the Southeastern Conference program.
Other players hope coaches will see potential in them as well.
"I'm trying to put my name out there [to colleges]," said Hallie Donald, 16, a Tupelo, Mississippi, native who plays for a team based in Jackson, Mississippi.
Burlingame said this experience has been invaluable.
"It showed me more competition, made me a better pitcher and made me realize what I need to work on," she said.
information about the SCSU Semi-Private Clinic Sessions Available here.
|Photos by Vince Muehe - FastSports Photography
"Coaching doesn't start with X's and O's. It starts with believing that players
win games and coaches win players." -- Bill Courtney
StrikeZone Sports and Next Level Fastpitch Announce New D1 Exposure Clinic
Michelle Harrison, StrikeZone Sports is co-hosting a national level recruiting camp, run by some of the top DI college coaches in the nation, September 13-14, 2014 at the Irish Sports Dome in Rosemount, MN. This camp is the first of its kind at this caliber to ever be held in Minnesota. The camp is open to all fastpitch players with high school graduation years of
2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
The clinic will feature 10 DI college coaches, who will instruct the camp participants directly! This camp is an opportunity for each attendee to be exposed to 10 different DI college coaches at the same event. Here is the current college coach attendee list:
- University of Alabama- Stephanie VanBrakle
- Quinnipiac University - Jill Karwoski
- University of Minnesota - Jessica Allister
- University of North Carolina - Tony Baldwin
- Auburn University - Scott Woodard
- University of Oregon - Jimmy Kolatis
- Indiana State University - Shane Bouman
- North Dakota State University- Jamie Trachsel
- Purdue University- Jason Dorey
There is only have room for a total of 150 participants (50 participants each for 3 separate camp sessions: Saturday AM, Saturday PM and Sunday AM) and that number is limited by position as well. Registration cost is $250/participant, and all participants must be registered by
August 29th, 2014.
This camp is open to ALL fastpitch players nation-wide. No spots can be held. Get your registration in as soon as possible. This camp will fill up quickly.
If you are outside the graduation dates mentioned above or are already committed, please feel free to forward this link to anyone you think may be interested in taking advantage of this opportunity.
Your support is appreciated in getting this out to our fastpitch community!
Please do not hesitate to contact camp hosts, Michelle Harrison and/or John Corn, with any questions.
They look forward to putting on a great camp and providing the highest level of camp exposure to the Minnesota fastpitch community and greater northern midwest region!
Clinic Information and Registration