Changing Youth Sports Culture ... One School At A Time

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Mitch Lyons is the founder and president of His non-profit has paired with the Massachusetts Partners in Prevention to try to change the model of youth sports to a written, structured model built in science.

He talked with Bill Littlefield about the problems with youth sports now and what he would like it to be.

There is a culture of sports in America, you don't just change that. You change it maybe one school at a time.

Mitch Lyons,

ML: The Department of Educations in every single state in union have given up on sports a long time ago. It was viewed as a place for boys to burn off steam. And there is a elitist attitude that if you do things with your hands, if you use brute force, you're not too bright. Which is of course not true. So, I will ask kids, "OK, run to the end and I won't say anything," and they would run at various speeds. And then I'll say, "So, what does it actually look like when you are running as fast as you can. How does that look?"And of course everyone runs so much faster.

They just make the decision that they are going to do that. So when they sit down and do their homework, why not ask the same thing as you do before each and every repetition of a drill. How much effort am I going to give this? So there's things to learn that they could be reading about, that's sort of like a class. Then the lab, where they test these things is the team.

Lyons believes youth sports can do better at teaching life lessons.
Lyons believes youth sports can do better at teaching life lessons.

BL: What are the particular, if you were king of the forest, what are the particular changes that you would try to institute? Be as specific as you can.

ML: First of all I'd change the electorate that elected me the king of the forests. There must be something wrong with them.

I would like to see the Department of Education actually take back athletics, which is going to be viewed as heretical by certain circles. But if it was the Department of Ed running it, they would run it by an educational model where you read and you study and you have to pass tests. That's right, because we do need to test ourselves so we see how we are doing.

BL: Are there particular schools or even colleges that you can look at and say, "Ah, these guys are doing it right. Wouldn't it be great if what these guys are doing was being practiced in lots and lots of other places?"

ML: Alright, first of all, I don't agree with the thing about right, right or wrong. People are learning a lot from sports, no question, I know my kids certainly did. So, I don't think there is a right or wrong. I am saying it could be a lot better and much more transferring of this idea that the principal of every school can turn to the athletic director and ask the simple question, "How are you supporting the mission of our school?"

BL: In other words, it's a different question from the one who is being asked of coaches now, which is, "How come you haven't beaten our rival in six years and you can't get this team over .500?"

Yeah that is so totally irrelevant, I mean, I don't even know what to say to it, because that is not education. If its professional sports I totally agree. Fire the bum. I don't care. The problem is that we are trying to teach kids and we can teach them starting at such an early age about the way to treat each other, show compassion, and have empathy. It's the how-to. The process, the how to be that good sport with one minute left in the game and the ref makes a terrible call. And you are furious. And then you literally see red. Well how do I maintain it then?

As Lyons and Bill were looking out over a playground filled with kids, he mentioned that he didn't think the vision as presented by the Social-Emotional Learning Alliance of Massachusetts would be realized. 

ML: I just mean that this is a vision for a more perfect society, but we don't live in a perfect society and there are many forces that run against what I have said. There is a culture of sports in America, you don't just change that. You change it maybe one school at a time.

This segment aired on May 30, 2015.



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