Young Athletes’ Pro Careers May be in Danger Because of Less Competitive Youth Sports

Young Hockey Player (Image via Pixabay)

It’s been over a decade since Norway implemented updated recommendations from a document that would limit the competitiveness of youth sports until age 13.

The document has helped Norway become one of the world’s best producers of dominant athletes for the Olympic Games but may have downsides for young adults’ professional careers if implemented in more countries.

Youth sports in Norway

During the 2018 Winter Olympics, Norway made history by winning 39 total medals, breaking the United States’ 37 total medal record set at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.

In 1987, Norway created a document named Children’s Rights in Sport and Coaches’ Understanding of Talent that was subsequently updated in 2007. The document describes the experiences children should have while participating in sports.

Participation in the Norwegian national championships and international competitions is permitted from the year the child turns 13.

Outlined in the Children’s Rights in Sport and Coaches’ Understanding of Talent.

According to a New York Times article, 93 percent of children grow up playing organized sports in Norway. Part of this is associated with the low cost of playing any sport at a young age. Travel teams aren’t formed until after age 13, significantly lowering the overall costs for children to play.

High costs of certain sports most likely become a common issue for families in countries such as the United States. The graphic below, conducted by the Aspen Institute, represents the average annual spending on one child for specific sports in the United States.

Table displaying the average annual family spending on one child.
Courtesy of Aspen Institute.

No doubt, it allows late bloomers to continue playing sports, rather than quit at a young age because they are told they do not have the talent or financial ability. The Children’s Rights in Sport and Coaches’ Understanding of Talent document has undoubtedly allowed Norway to produce high-level athletes, as shown through the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Basketball star and Third Culture Kid, Luka Dončić

In 1999, Luka Dončić was born in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Since his entrance to the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the 2018-2019 season, Dončić has proven his dominance by becoming the second player in NBA history to post a 40-point triple-double before turning 21 years old, according to Jack Maloney. The only other player to achieve this was LeBron James.

I was always training and playing with older kids who had much more experience than me. Many of them were bigger and faster than me too, so I had to beat them with my brain.

Dončić in a Euroleague.net interview in 2017.
Luka Dončić prepares for a 2016 game for Real Madrid. Youth sports.
Photo credit: Javier Garcia via Flickr.

Often overlooked, Dončić’s early life and youth basketball career allowed him to have Third Culture Kid (TCK) experiences.

Dončić was born into a multicultural family; his mother is Slovenian and his father is of Serbian descent, according to a Dynasty Network of America article by Harris Hicks. Dončić learned to speak Slovenian, Serbian and English in his early years.

According to Hicks, at the age of eight, Dončić started playing for his hometown team Union Olimpija. He quickly began to demonstrate his talent by playing with older kids until he eventually signed a five-year contract with Real Madrid at 13 years old, according to Hicks. The new contract required that Dončić move to Madrid and adapt to a new culture. He began to learn Spanish and lived with other young basketball prospects.

It was really hard, especially the first two or three months, I didn’t have my parents there.

Dončić in Hicks’ article.

Dončić was acquired by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2018 NBA draft and was subsequently traded to the Dallas Mavericks. Dončić has since taken the league by storm by earning the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award and being unanimously selected to the All-Rookie First Team.

Although Dončić’s story is unlike any other, it begs the question if he would have even been given the opportunity if he grew up in Norway. Documents such as the Children’s Rights in Sport and Coaches’ Understanding of Talent are giving the world new perspectives on youth sports and the age at which children should be treated as professional athletes.

Sports used to be something that kids go out and do for fun. But now it’s become so regimented where parents start to inject their own experiences or past failures onto their children, and it just takes the fun out of it.

Kobe Bryant in a #DontRetireKid interview on ESPN.

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