From trophy kids to one trick ponies – can youth sports predict the future?

Posted On June 18, 2013

Social commentary about Gen Xers and Millennials frequently point out the somewhat recent phenomena of “participation trophies” in youth sports – there may be a winner, but everyone takes home a trophy just for showing up.   When those hyper-celebrated kids began entering the workforce they – and their bosses – were in for a rude awakening.  Just showing up simply doesn’t impress.

So what might we be able to predict about the next generation in the workforce based on their youth sports tendencies today?

The fall-out of the hyper-celebrated child is the hyper-specialized athlete.  If everyone is awesome, how is my kid supposed to stand out?  Be more awesome. And to do that parents have begun enrolling children in elite sports programs – often specializing in a single sport – at younger and younger ages.  This trend is shifting into the college world, with the general liberal arts degree losing favor, and high school applicants focusing more and more on specific programs.

If the participation trophy generation came to the workforce unwilling (or at least unaware of the need) to pay their dues, what can we expect from the elite youth athlete?  Quite possibly burnout.

According to numerous studies, youth athletes who specialize in a sport before high school (generally defined as year-round competitive play, often at the exclusion of any other sports) are more likely to burnout and quit the sport all together.

It does not seem unreasonable, then, to consider that young adults who select and specialize in a career path at an early age may be more likely to become burned out on that career before they achieve the most rewarding levels.  Granted, the economic component of careers vs. youth sports may slow the path to burnout, but it is interesting to consider how many unused specialized degrees may be out there a decade from now.

How does this impact business today?  Encouraging rotational studies and non-traditional career paths can allow young employees to test the waters and try multiple areas of the business without fear of “losing their edge.”

Categories: Parenting