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How we (fail to) nurture young talent

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Elida S. Perez / Statesman Journal / AP

(Read caption) Cye Fink, left, and Tim Hartley have a group meeting with their Upward Sports flag-football team at Bethany Baptist Church in South Salem, Ore. on Oct. 6. The coaches incorporate scripture to help the children learn life lessons. When professional leagues, instead of local groups like this, play too large a role in developing young athletes, emotional and moral growth can be sacrificed to skills acquisition.

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Today’s WSJ has a review of the book, Play Their Hearts Out, by SI reporter George Dohrman. The book examines the world of elite youth basketball in the U.S.

I’m not alone in believing that elite youth sports are a problematic institution in the U.S., but I may be in the minority in thinking that our professional leagues share some of the blame. The key factor is that the age floor on players in the NBA shunts off youth development to people who don’t have the basketball and managerial skills to work in the big leagues or the colleges. Dohrman’s book chronicles the results, focusing on the activities of a club coach whose ethics seem dubious, and a young superstar whose game fails to develop, perhaps due to coaching methods which have other objectives in mind.

In contrast to the NBA, the English system has no age floor and allows professional clubs to develop talent themselves. Thus, we have seen 17 year olds like Jack Wilshire and Josh McEachran play for Arsenal and Chelsea in EPL matches in recent seasons. I doubt that either player would have progressed as well in the American system. Moreover, concern with reputation and the glare of the media spotlight induces the big clubs to provide more than just athletic training, an aspect of the problem that the clubs described in Dohrman’s book fail miserably.

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