Part 1: Establishing a Winning Strategy For Youth Sports

The scene is set! Let’s listen together or mind read at a youth sports game…

Come on Billy, keep your eye on the ball! We really need a win today to advance!
Oh my God, I can’t believe Steve missed the pass, why didn’t he catch it?
If Susan doesn’t show more effort and passion in the game, she isn’t getting a scholarship.
Stacy will attend the coaches clinic to guarantee a spot on Varsity. Vacation will need to wait!

With each comment, one can hear every parent’s need expressing itself in the moment. Perhaps there is a strategy in youth sports that might limit today’s gratification yet provide tomorrow’s greater opportunities.

In a 2014 Boston Globe story, 45M kids in the U.S. participate in youth sports with 80% dropping out before the age of fifteen. Statistics tell us a lot of kids playing youth sports will never make it to the higher levels of competition. Might this indicate youth under fifteen would be better served by using sports as a “character development” training ground, paving the way for future leadership skills?

After navigating my own 30+ year career in MLB and shepherding my 3 children and now 9 grandchildren through their sports experiences, I believe youth sports is one of the greatest tools for building better futures for our children – and in turn healthier families.

Let’s take the Winning Approach together, with character building and leadership development as our mission!

Emphasis on Character Development

If a parent’s approach to his child’s sports participation is solely for college scholarships or pro considerations, valuable time and opportunity will be lost. Let’s look at this baseball statistic: In the 70-year history of the Little League World Series, only 5% advanced to play college sports, with only 31 participants making it to the majors. These are the best players for ages thirteen to ten. The numbers would indicate sports at the lower levels should be for reasons other than high school sports, college scholarships or the pro’s. The lessons learned during the sports experience may be a higher calling with lasting bonuses.

Leverage Sports to Grow Tomorrows Leaders

Even though my youth sports abilities were better than most kids a couple years older, the sports environment had many challenges for character development. One summer family trip cost me a spot in a fall sport with the same coach. A bad start one summer in college baseball landed me on the bench. As a college catcher, a ball thrown to second base made its way to centerfield five times. Through my entire sports career, experiencing and understanding grit in developing character is a profound approach initiating your child for tomorrow’s leadership challenges…more on grit in the next blog.

A Case for Future Dividends

Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at Ernst and Young makes a good case for youth sports. EY research shows “among senior business women today in the C-suite (top senior executives), 94% played sports and over half played at a university level – suggesting a strong correlation between their success in sports and their success in business. In fact, of the 400 women EY surveyed, 75% said that a candidate’s background in sports positively influences their decision to hire them”. It pays to have your children play sports – focus on higher levels leadership development!


Good instruction, exciting wins, learning to execute well, making a spot on the high school team, receiving a college scholarship are wonderful goals. For the almost 40M youth who will drop out before age fifteen, sports needs to be about character building and leadership development championing a winning future.