Are Young Players Losing Their Drive

In our last article we discussed the impact that the narrative of “sports cost too much” can have on our kids.  We strongly believe that parents and kids from poorer families will migrate to sports that don’t have the reputation of being costly simply because of what they read or hear.  The fear we have is that these kids will never know whether they could have exceled in that sport.  In this post, we want to discuss a key element that kids will need if they do decide to pursue their dreams in a particular sport, regardless of what they read or hear.  And that is DRIVE.

As a society we are still focused on the fact that most kids quit sports when they reach the age of 13.  And the main driver of kids quitting is that they are not having fun.  So, organizations around the country are focused on making sports fun for kids.  In previous articles, we have focused on player development as a means to enhancing the ‘fun’ that kids have when playing baseball.  Our belief is that the better a kid is at the game, the more fun they will have playing.  But, you can throw as much coaching at a kid as you’d like; but if they don’t have the drive to get better, they will not improve.  And that is where we see a major problem.

Drive is defined as “an innate, biologically determined urge to attain a goal or satisfy a need.”  Ask each kid on an 8U youth baseball team what they want to be when they grow up and many of them will tell you a professional baseball player.  Fast forward a few years and the number that still say professional baseball player will drop considerably.  Why?  Simple, they lost the ‘urge to attain’ the goal of playing professionally.  And when that drive is lost, the desire to work at one’s game to improve becomes more of a chore and less fun.  The result is that the child becomes more likely to quit.  The kids that do maintain that drive are likely to look for kids of similar makeup, which is why we believe you have seen a significant uptick in the number of kids playing on travel teams.  These kids want to be surrounded by other kids that have the same desire, or same goals as them.

Kids lose their Drive for any number of reasons.  They may begin to realize that they are just not that interested in the game like they once were.  Maybe they are more interested in something else that takes up their time.  Maybe they realize there is too much work into getting good enough to play professionally and they don’t want to put in the effort.  Maybe they begin to believe what they read and hear that playing professional is nearly impossible, and they decide to focus on a more ‘attainable’ goal.  And kids know they have choices.  They know they can change their “what I want to be when I grow up” whenever they’d like.  They can become doctors, engineers, teachers, etc.  They know there is always something else.  Put a plate of broccoli in front of someone that hasn’t eaten in days and I’m sure that plate will be wiped clean pretty quickly.  Put a plate of broccoli in front of a twelve-year-old and I am sure they will push it to the side.  Why?  They know they have options.  Yes, mom and dad will give them the “you need to eat your vegetables” speech; but they also know that mom and dad will put something else in front of them as mom and dad don’t want them to go hungry.  I believe kids here in the United States have lost their hunger to make it professionally because there will always be something else.  Why put in a significant amount of time doing this when I can put in less time doing that?  Why suffer through failure in learning this when I find it easier to learn that?

The number of Latin American baseball players in Major League Baseball has nearly doubled since 1990.  The number of White and African American players has decreased.  This may have to do with drive.  Kids in poor Latin American countries don’t have options.  Jose Bautista, an outfielder with the New York Mets, wrote a great piece in the Players tribune back in 2015 on his experience growing up in the Dominican Republic.  Most kids, in the Dominican, jump at the chance to enroll in one of the many baseball academies around the country, even though there is only a 3% chance they will ever reach the majors.  Why?  Because going to college and getting a good job that allows them to retire is simply not a reality for them.  They simply don’t have the options like kids in the US.  Kids in the Dominican are determined to achieve that goal of playing professionally.  They are HUNGRY!  That hunger begins at a very young age and stays with them for many years.

Kids may also lose their drive because of what society tells them is possible or isn’t possible.  Reflecting back on our last article, kids in poorer communities may lose their drive to play a particular sport because society is saying that a sport is only for rich kids.  Kids may see this once and forget about it; but they are not seeing it once.  They are seeing it over and over again.  So again, we need to put stories in front of kids that give them a reason to maintain their drive.  Kids need to hear more of the “rags to riches” stories.  And it may be hard to find a better one than that of Andrew Carnegie.

Andrew Carnegie, who grew to be one of the wealthiest men of the late 19th century, once said “We all live in the richest and freest country in the world, where no man is limited except by his own mentality and attitude and his own desires.”  Carnegie may have ended his life as one of the richest men in the world; but his life sure did not begin that way.  At the age of 13, Andrew and his family left their homeland of Scotland for the United States with “barely a penny to their name” (Forbes, April 2013).  Carnegie elected to bypass school, and instead, decided to take a job in a cotton mill, working 12 hours a day making $1.20/week…yes, a whole $0.02/hour!  Over the next several decades, Carnegie maintained his extraordinary work ethic in both his job and his education, which consisted solely of reading as many books as possible.  It didn’t take long for Carnegie to seize opportunities and build businesses in the Oil Fields, Steel industry, and rail.  Over his lifetime, Carnegie amassed a fortune of over $309 billion, an amount that is over $100 billion more than what Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have amassed, combined!  After selling his Steel company in 1901, Carnegie set out to distribute his wealth through a number of philanthropic ventures.  Public Libraries were a major benefactor of Carnegie’s wealth.  Over $55 million of his wealth was directed towards libraries.  Carnegie believed “that in America, anyone with access to books and the desire to learn could educate him- or herself and be successful, as he had been.” (Carnegie Corporation of New York).

There is nothing wrong with kids changing their “what I want to be when I grow up”.  But, where we do see an issue is that we believe kids are doing it too early in their lives.  They are doing it when they hit their first roadblock.  And when they do pick a new path, they change their minds again when they come to another roadblock.  They are not looking for ways around the obstacle.  They are not looking for ways to get through the roadblock.  They don’t want the challenge or the difficulties that come with pushing forward.  They are instead opting for something they believe will be easier, never realizing what they could have found if they maintained their drive towards the original goal.