Nov 21, 2013
11:36 AM
Connecticut Today

CPTV Documentary on Sports Taking Over Lives of Connecticut Kids a Must-See

Remember the term “soccer mom”?

It became ubiquitous in the mid-90’s, referring to a demographic of overloaded middle-class American mothers who spend the majority of their time toting kids to and from sporting events and other activities.

The focus in that label and its implications was on the moms—but what about the kids?

The answer comes in a new Connecticut Public Television (CPTV) documentary, “Going, Going, Gone: Youth Sports in Connecticut,” which premieres Friday, Nov. 22, at 8 p.m. (airing again Nov. 23 at 8 a.m. and Nov. 24 at 9 a.m.).

It’s a must-see for contemporary parents with children in pre-K through high school—especially those who once might have been tagged “helicopter parents” and now play a role in a system that has kids taking on sports with the same zeal, time commitment and pressure normally associated with professional athletes.

Unlike the pros, though, our teens and pre-teens playing sports with high intensity typically have only barely trained parent-coaches on the sidelines, no trainers, no physicians, no ambulance and no adequate help if something goes wrong.

“How Can My Kid Become the Star?” is the headline on a CPTV post about the documentary from CPTV executive producer Jennifer Boyd, the producer, director and writer of the film, and it’s a question that seems to be asked with increasing frequency by a broadening swath of American parents. (Mike Dunphy is the film’s director of photography and Cathy Jackman is the editor.)

The soccer moms (and dads) have gone viral—some of them anyway, while other parents are left wondering how things got to this point.

Either way, gone are the days of sports representing opportunities for children to simply have fun, learn to function as part of a group dedicated to a common goal, and get some exercise in the process.

The film’s title, “Going, Going, Gone … ” may play on how a media announcer describes a baseball on track to be a home run, but in this case the word “gone” instead references an end of childhood sporting innocence.

“As parents and coaches strive to create elite athletes at younger and younger ages, what are the physical and mental costs?” Boyd asks in the documentary, which first aired Wednesday evening on CPTV Sports.

In a phone conversation, Boyd explains the genesis of the project. She was asked to take on a project inspired by the FRONTLINE documentary, “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.”

“The first thing I thought about was my own kids’ experience with sports in West Hartford,” says Boyd, whose daughter is in fifth grade and son is a freshman in high school.

She felt the topic of football and the dangers of concussions had been covered well, but she was passionate about taking the conversation to another level and talking about the obsession with youth sports.

“I hear it every single day,” Boyd says. “People will say, ‘How’s your son doing, how’s your daughter doing? What sport do they play?’ That’s the first question. It sort of defines who you are as a child.” Her son happens to be a mountain biker who competes most of the year—but outside of school, a situation that doesn’t equate to currency in the conversation about kids’ sports prowess in the way it’s carried on today.

“Gone are the days of playing sports just for the fun of it,” Boyd says in the description of the film on the CPTV website. “ … Seasonal sports have now become year-round sports, with more and more kids participating in travel leagues and town leagues, and more parents hiring private coaches to work with their children. There are pros and cons to this relatively recent phenomenon of specialization at young ages, which we address in the documentary.” (Listen to a CPTV Sports interview with Boyd.) 

The documentary, CPTV says, explores the changes taking place within the world of youth sports—changes that have left student athletes exposed to more pressure, more competition and more intense training than ever before.

There are interviews with doctors, coaches, researchers and educators, as well as with student athletes themselves, as the film “looks at how these changes are affecting communities throughout Connecticut, from small towns like Ansonia, which boasts a renowned high school football team, to cities like Hartford, where students compete in the hopes of receiving athletic scholarships.”

With the changes come risks, including sports-related injuries.

 

“The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons is really clear that year-round sports is a bad idea for kids, and particularly a single sport year-round is a bad idea. It leads to this enormous increase in overuse injuries that young children have,” psychologist and author Madeline Levine says in “Going, Going, Gone … .”

Also interviewed in the film, the website says, is Tom DeBerardino, M.D., of the UConn Health Center Department of Orthopedics, who points out that he is seeing “more adult injuries now in younger kids” than ever before—and these injuries can have long-term implications. “We could be talking down the road, decades from now … we’re going to be doing total knee replacement where there’s just nothing left to fix,” he says.

Beyond assessing the impact of the societal shift regarding youth sports, the documentary looks at the “why.”

“You have AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] teams that are sponsored by Nike, Adidas, Under Armour. … And it goes a step further. Now you have NCAA college teams that are sponsored by sneaker companies. So you have Adidas AAU teams gearing their kids or funneling their kids towards the college teams that are sponsored by that sneaker company that they’re in bed with,” Reggie Hatchett, director of player development for the Connecticut Basketball Club and former director of sports, fitness and recreation for Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford, says in the post on the CPTV website.

The eventual result for your children from all of this?

The documentary’s expert sources say 70 percent of children will walk away from organized sports by their early teens because they’ve decided playing is no fun anymore. And if you’re hoping the intense focus on sports will lead to a full college scholarship, Boyd points out that those come through for less than 1 percent of students.

“As parents, we’re all kind of staring at each other,” asking if this is what’s supposed to be happening with children and sports, Boyd says.

“I really hope that this is just the start of the conversation,” she says of the documentary, which she worked on “more than full-time” for more than four months.

In addition to the film being aired three times this weekend, Boyd says CPTV will post the documentary online "pretty quickly," where anyone will be able to watch it.

Meanwhile, tune in at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22, for a full and fascinating exploration of the phenomenon you and your children are living through.

CPTV Documentary on Sports Taking Over Lives of Connecticut Kids a Must-See

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