The professionalization of childhood sports is child abuse

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:


“It’s definitely child abuse,” Dohrmann said in an interview with ThinkProgress.

Dohrmann said that LeBron James Jr. might be an example of a rare kid with the support system that will allow him to survive the maw of youth basketball. He has a father who understands the system, is used to the attention and doesn’t need the money. He’s likely to get a coach who understands the game and even if he doesn’t he has his dad, one of the greatest basketball minds in history, to show him the way.

But the other 49 kids on the fourth-grade rankings might not be so lucky. “From a basketball perspective, the target is on their back. They start to believe they cannot fail. This is a really horrible thing because the foundation for success is failure,” Dohrmann said. Under intense scrutiny, young players start thinking about what people will say if they make a mistake. “So they start taking less risk. It feels better not to screw up. So they start retreating in a lot of ways.”

The issues extend beyond the basketball court. Dohrmann said in reporting on youth basketball for nine years he observed kids “become more isolated as players and people because they are so concerned about how they are perceived.” Over time “it is really damaging to them. They lose friends. They have a hard time connecting with other kids.”

Another common problem is overconfidence. “They think they are a finished product. ‘Hey, I’m on YouTube and I have 10 million views, I’m the real deal.’ But you are in fourth grade. So they don’t work as hard.”

LeBron James spoke to these issues, to a degree, when he complained to the media recently that college coaches were already recruiting his son. “Yeah, he’s already got some offers from colleges,” James said to a Detroit radio station. “It’s pretty crazy. It should be a violation. You shouldn’t be recruiting 10-year-old kids.”

Dohrmann thought it was unlikely that James Jr. received a formal offer, which wouldn’t be binding anyway. But the interest in James Jr. from colleges is real. When he was just nine, Ohio State coach Thad Matta said James Jr. was “on his radar.” Last year, Kentucky coach John Calipari showed up and watched one of James Jr.’s game.