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The high-pressure commercialization of the youth sports pipeline knows no bounds.



In 20 years, when we look back at how the slide into society-wide youth sports obsession, burnout and malaise was averted, the story will be something like this:


Regional, national and international sports’ governing bodies will follow the lead of gymnastics, figure skating and tennis, which have enacted strict rules protecting underage players.

Charged to protect young athletes’ bones, bodies and minds from the mental stress and pressure of competing,

in 1997 the Olympic Games raised the minimum age for gymnasts to 16. At the next Summer Games, Dong Fangxiao (People’s Republic of China) won the bronze medal, but her medal was revoked and her records expunged after it was discovered she was only 14 at the time.

In 1990, when she was just 13, tennis phenom Jennifer Capriati made the finals of a WTA event. By the age of 14, she was ranked #6 in the world and seemed well on her way to becoming the next great American female player. But by age 17, Capriati had burned out and dropped out. Tennis had learned its lesson. Ever since, rules restrict the number of events teens can play in. Studies since then have shown that age limits have paid off in real terms, extending female tennis players’ careers by 24%.

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