I hope KidsPost readers (and their parents and coaches) read the article in last Sunday’s Washington Post Sports section about Neiko Primus, the 9-year-old basketball phenom from Temple Hills, Maryland.
The article says a lot about what is wrong with youth sports these days.
I should point out that there is nothing wrong with Neiko and his mom, Michelle Mundey. Neiko is a kid who loves hoops and seems to be very good at the game. His mom appears to be a sensible woman who keeps reminding people her talented son is only 9 years old.
Neiko is getting lots of attention because recently an organization called Coast 2 Coast Preps rated him the best 9-year-old basketball player in the country.
That’s right, there are folks who rank third-grade basketball players. There is another organization — Middle School Elite — that ranks first-graders. That means they rank 6-year-olds!
That’s crazy. No one knows whether a 6- or 8-year-old is going to grow up and be a great athlete. Think of all the college players in football and basketball who don’t live up to their potential after they are drafted into the pros.
So I think it’s silly that Neiko and his teammates in a Washington, D.C., basketball program played in an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) national championship for kids 8 and younger last year. Why do we hold national tournaments to determine the best team of 7- and 8-year-olds?
With travel teams and nationwide tournaments for kids so young, it is not surprising that Neiko’s mother estimates that she spends $6,000 to $8,000 a year on basketball. That’s another problem. The expense of youth sports teams and tournaments is keeping kids who don’t have as much money out of the game.
But the adults running the teams and the tournaments see a chance to make money. In fact, Mundey told The Post that some AAU teams have contacted her offering to fly her son to tournaments and pay all his expenses. She has even received calls from an agent. Mundey has turned these offers down.
Maybe it’s time for everyone in youth sports to take a deep breath and make up some common-sense rules about kids and the sports they play.
Rules such as: Don’t rate any athlete younger than 14 or 15. Or don’t organize national championships or tournaments for kids who are not yet in high school. Ten- and 12-year-olds should be able to find plenty of fun and competition playing kids close to home.
Maybe we should let kids such as Neiko be kids — and not expect them to be the next LeBron James.
Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 22 sports books for kids.