Recruiting Young Athletes: A Necessary Evil?

Sports agents and college coaches are now monitoring athletes in the sixth grade.

By Robert Moeller Published on February 17, 2015

I grew up playing and, in some cases, excelling at sports. Whether it was Park District soccer, Little League baseball, or street hockey with my friends (who had also screened D2: The Mighty Ducks one too many times), you could not keep me off of the field (or cement rink).

As young as the 4th grade, football was definitely my game. Growing up in the Chicago-land area, football was a big deal. As I’ve learned from folks who hail from states like Texas and Alabama, football was an even bigger deal down there. My good friend Matt who lives and dies with the Crimson Tide recently informed me that other than myself and a couple of family members, the only people he follows on Twitter are University of Alabama football high school recruits. That’s intense.

What would be more intense (and more than a little creepy)? For football scouts and college recruiters to be monitoring 12-year-old players.

From Sports Illustrated:

The recruiting website Rivals.com has begun actively monitoring its first two sixth grade college football prospects ever, it announced on Friday.

The site added two Class of 2021 prospects to its database: Running back Tyson Thornton and quarterback Daron Bryden. Thornton is a 5’11” RB from Massachusetts, while Bryden is listed as a 5’2″ pro-style quarterback from Connecticut.

Has the whole world gone mad? Is nothing sacred any longer?

I appreciate the fact that college and professional football generate billions of dollars. I recognize the pressure that college and professional coaches are under to identify, recruit and draft the best possible players. And I believe in a largely unfettered free market of ideas, goods and services.

But this is ridiculous. These are actual children, not old enough to be bar mitzvahed or get into a PG-13 movie. Their bodies are far from developed, to say nothing of their minds, personalities or character. And how many of us knew that one kid in junior high who hit his growth spurt early, dominated gym class for a few years, but by the time junior year of high school rolled around he had joined the Drama Club and couldn’t hit a slow-pitch softball? Things change. People change. Especially in those pivotal years of life.

Why are we in such a rush to put this kind of pressure on kids who just moved out of the “Kool-Aid red mustache” faze of life?

Why is it that our culture cannot wait to turn kids into adults, and yet we celebrate the lifestyle of grown men in their 40s who refuse to grow up?

You cannot tell what sort of 18-year-old college player, let alone a 22-year-old NFL player, a 12-year-old is going to be. This isn’t Gattaca or Brave New World (yet). And more than the inability to tell what sort of athlete a sixth grade football player is going to be in six or ten years, you have no idea what sort of human being that kid is going to be. You can’t measure grit or fortitude or the ability to endure pain on the playing field.

Maybe I will start ranking the worst ideas in the sports industry today and put Rivals.com’s as a solid #1.

 

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