One reason kids quit playing

Several weeks ago I came across a heart-wrenching piece by John O’Sullivan of Changing the Game Project,  An Open Letter to My Dad, Who Makes me Want to Quit Sports,  is actually a compilation of letters, stories and comments made by kids involved in youth sports.  It is well written and painful to read.  Margot and I can attest to these being real feelings and experiences of young people based on stories we have heard from kids.  It takes a phenomenal amount of courage for children to have this talk with their parents.

On several occasions during my time as Director of Athletics at the high school or collegiate level, I’ve had young people come in my office to tell me they were quitting their sport and indicating that they wanted to quit sooner but they said, “I knew my dad couldn’t handle it”.  In these situations and far too often around the country, the sport ceases to belong to the kids and has become the parents’ event.  It’s obvious that it means more to the parents than the kids.  They show more emotion, they talk more about it, they analyze the games and they don’t know how to move beyond the game.

It is so unfortunate that in the world of youth sports, the only time we hear the voices of the participants, our children, is when they are ready to quit and have to break the news to the adults.  In our book, Overplayed, Margot and I offer tips for conversations after practices or games.  We share questions that parents can’t not ask as well as those that should be avoided.

I invite you, after you have read this letter and allowed the guilt to move you, share it with another parent.  I’m sure we can all think of parents who should read this letter.  Let’s remember that when it comes to our children, we parents are capable of irrational behavior.  There are powerful lessons in this letter that I hope you pay close attention to.

For more information on navigating the journey through youth sports, tune in to the Focus on the Family radio broadcast, Thursday and Friday, September 15 and 16.  Margot and I share tips for parents that come directly from our book, Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports.  If you can’t get listen to the programs on the radio catch them on the following website:




Focus on the Family

I have always enjoyed gardening.  It is the one thing that I miss since moving to Rockingham County in Virginia.  Rich, fertile soil is difficult to find here which is unlike the lush farmland found around my former home in Lancaster County, PA.  So now I support the local farmers who have found good ground, grow  delicious vegetables and sell them at Farmer’s Markets.

While I enjoyed gardening, I confess to a level of impatience as the seeds seemed to take their “good old time” germinating, growing and bearing fruit.  It was hard to wait to enjoy the corn, beans and tomatoes my garden yielded.  During the process of writing, publishing and marketing this book, I have felt similar feelings of impatience.  While receiving a lot of affirmation for the timely message of the book and the publisher saying sales were good, it didn’t seem to be “catching on” like I had hoped.

Enter Focus on the Family. In mid-August, Margot and I traveled to Colorado Springs to tape two radio broadcasts to be aired by Focus on the Family on Thursday and Friday, September 15 and 16.  I invite you to tune in for some valuable tips in navigating your way through the world of youth sports.  If there are no radio stations in your area that carry the daily broadcast from Focus on the Family, you can hear both days at the following addresses:


Thanks to Jim Daley, President and John Fuller, the messages of our book, intended to help parents navigate the often confusing world of youth sports will be heard by thousands.  Their professional staff followed up the taping session with a 3 minute Facebook-live segment that had been seen by over 31,000 people within two days of being posted.  Jim and John gave us a platform to share insights on the current youth sports culture, examine common misconceptions and provide tips for parents struggling through the decision making process of youth sports involvement.  They asked insightful questions and provided a framework for describing the challenges and offering tips related to youth sport involvement.  I hope you can tune in.  And please share this with others who could benefit from this helpful material.






Launch Party

Thanks for all who came out to our launch party at Eastern Mennonite University.  It was great to see all of you and great to be with Margot again.  I appreciate your interest in the book and the issue of youth sports.  We continue to get requests for radio interviews which I will post after they are aired.  We were recently on WYLL Salem Radio Chicago with Mark Elfstrand.  On May 1 our interview with Pat Williams, Senior VP of the Orlando Magic will air on WORL – AM 660 on the Pat Williams Show.  Enjoy the photos from our special day.

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Great review in Sojourners!

“DAVID KING and Margot Starbuck are nostalgic for the good ol’ days of youth sports. In Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports, the authors first critique the current youth sports machine by reminiscing about an athletic utopia of the past: One where kids used water bottles for goal posts and flip-flops for bases. Back when parents weren’t paying up to $18,000 in hotel and trainer fees for elite travel teams. Back when kids loved sports.”

Read more on…

Lessons Learned

I found a great article that I commend to you as you reflect on lessons that can be learned through sports.

While I’m not advocating that we should or could return to the “good ole days” of pickup basketball at the playground or a baseball game in the backyard, this article points out some of the learned lessons that are lost in the organized versions of our games.  The “adultification” of youth sports has robbed kids of some valuable experiences and opportunities for personal growth.  Granted, not all of these experiences were easy, but put within the context of the situation, the they may have been invaluable in gaining better understanding of self and others.

As the author points out, the concept of “winner stays” at the neighborhood basketball court makes you choose your teammates wisely (maybe not just your best friends), forces you to make it all about the team – doing whatever it takes to win, getting honest feedback (even if it was painful) and learning to hate losing.  I really like and resonate with his idea that in pickup basketball games where winner stays, you learn quickly that you either bring value to the team or you go home.  “There were no parents there to tell you how good you are or try to convince the other guys to let you play”.

He also valued the experiences that made him feel uncomfortable but he learned not to judge, to speak the common language of sports across all kinds of ethnic and social divides and how to get tough.  And to think that all of this happened without parental organization or presence.  The pickup games were void of doctors, lawyers, and church folk acting completely inappropriately, a sight all too present at our adult organized and run youth sports programs.

Perhaps most fascinating is  how the author, Mike Deegan takes those lessons and applies them to baseball and his role as a coach and a parent.  Team First, Best Players Play, Value the Differences in People, Kindness Matters and Compete-Life Isn’t Easy are all core beliefs that he developed by playing pick-up basketball and now applies to his life situation.

The key, as pointed out in my book Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports, is to make our sports activities and programs age and developmentally appropriate.  I doubt Coach Deegan’s experiences on the playground were at the age of 8 or 9 or even 12.  Pickup basketball on the playground can be tough, but it is amazing to me to recognize how many valuable lessons can be learned without the presence of adults.  Let’s keep finding ways to make the sports activities for our children developmentally appropriate and continue to value free play.


Release Day

I tried to post this blog last week but due to technical difficulties, namely my lack of understanding of technology, I was unable to publish my thoughts on having our book released to the public.  Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports hit the bookstores and orders were filled on Tuesday, March 8.

In looking through files as I started the process of organizing my notes, folders and resources that have been spread out in many parts of the house and my office during the writing process, I came across notes from the first brainstorming session with folks from MennoMedia, exploring the idea of a book.  Amy Gingerich and Melodie Davis invited me to their offices to reflect on the content two radio spots I had just recorded with Melodie on this subject of youth sports, families and congregations.  The date was March 13, 2013.

So it took almost three years to the day for their idea to become a reality.  Soon after I moved to Harrisonburg, VA from Lancaster, PA, the person who helped get me started in the journey of examining the world of youth sports, Jim Smucker mentioned to me that I should consider writing a book.  And as I spoke in more places, the question, “So when is book coming out” became a more regular part of conversations following my presentation.

I thought this would be easy.  I love speaking about sports.  I had a neatly packaged outline that I used in most settings where I was invited to speak about youth sports, families and church activities.  In fact, during the first brainstorming session, my five point outline was seen as a possible framework for chapters of the book.  Valerie Weaver-Zercher, managing editor for Herald Press, picked up the mantle from that brainstorming session and began providing a steady stream of encouragement to writing a manuscript.

So I started.  Well, without going into all the details, it didn’t take me long to realize this was going to be a challenging task for me.  Writing simply didn’t come as easy as speaking.  Or at least I soon realized that it doesn’t work to just convert my speaking to printed words.  But alas, I wasn’t going to give up.  A good athlete never gives up after one challenge.  The encouragement became stronger – not quite pressure but close to it – and for good reason.

One day Valerie gently asked if I would be open to the possibility of someone coming “along side of me” to help me finish the project.  My internal response was “no way, I can do this”.  Besides isn’t that what I’m supposed to say.  My external response was, “let me try it myself one more time”.  So I took several afternoons off work at the university and sequestered myself in a classroom at Zion Mennonite Church in Broadway.  After three days, I realized this wasn’t going to work.  I needed help.  I had allowed my pride to get in the way for too long.  The material I wanted to get into the hands of parents and grandparents was too important to let my pride highjack this project.  I sheepishly responded to Valerie that I was ready to have them find someone to work with me.

And I’ll tell the rest of the story in the next post.