New book advises youth coaches and parents to ‘Just Let ’Em Play’

Youth sports are supposed to be fun. Unfortunately, and increasingly, that’s not always the case.

Whether it’s 4-year-olds playing in competitive, organized leagues or parents throwing temper tantrums on the sidelines or behind the dugout, youth sports today are often made more intense than they should be.

That’s the contention of “Just Let ’Em Play,” a new book co-authored by Kansas City sports psychologist Dr. Andrew Jacobs, former Royals pitcher Jeff Montgomery, hall of fame swim coach Pete Malone and local sportswriter Matt Fulks.

“We’re ruining the youth sports experience for kids,” Jacobs said.

The authors’ 14-chapter guide offers friendly and understandable advice for parents, coaches and athletes. It includes a foreward written by Olympic gold-medal swimmer and Blue Valley West grad Shannon Vreeland.

“Throughout the years, I’ve worked with pretty much every level of sports — from little kids all the way up to the Royals and Chiefs players,” Jacobs said. When his own sons, now 26 and 27, respectively, started playing youth sports, Jacobs realized how much things had changed for today’s young athletes.

“When I was young, I used to go up to my grade school,” he said. “My friends and I would play baseball and football up there or basketball in my driveway after school. We’d just play.”

It’s rare to see kids playing sports just for fun, Jacobs said, without parents supervising.

“We’re at a point now where everything’s organized, everything’s structured, everybody is telling everybody what to do,” he said. “Youth sports need to be about the experience, about having fun, about developing.

“Throughout my career, I’ve just become more and more cognitive to the fact, and more sensitive to the fact, that there are just so many screwed-up people out there in the world of sports — especially in youth sports.”

Most people get involved in youth sports with the right intentions, Jacobs said. But too often the games become more about those adults’ egos and less about the kids. That imbalance can shake the foundation of a league and crumble the confidence of a young athlete.

As stated in Chapter 3, Embracing failure can lead to fun, “Many parents might think it is impossible to truly pair fun with learning and hard work. Not so. ”

“... If an athlete isn’t having fun,” the passage continues, “he or she is far more likely to tune out the coach than to be receptive to learning anything. Knowing how to have fun while also embracing the lessons of success and failure is critical.”

Other topics in the book include the transition from recreational to elite-level teams, when the score matters and the roles of everyone in the “athletic box” (officials, parents, coaches and athletes).

“We’ve tried to cover the gamut with everything,” Jacobs said. “We even talk about the ride home after the game.

“When you get in the car, don’t even talk about the game unless your child wants to. You should be more concerned about, ‘Well, where are we going to get something to eat?’”

“Just Let ’Em Play” is available on Amazon for and in local bookstores.