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“Tournacation”

Here is one of several gold nuggets from Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute, in a piece commissioned by the British Broadcasting Company and published in late December.

A study by George Washington University found that what children wanted most from sport was the chance to play and to try their best, guided by a coach who respects them.

Of the 81 reasons they gave for why sports were fun, “winning” came 48th, “playing in tournaments” 63rd, and “traveling to new places to play” 73rd.

Children’s wishes, however, are not always put first, as parents compete to provide what they believe are the best opportunities.

In the US, for instance, there may be no better example of the state of play than the growth of the “tournacation,” a term merging “tournament” and “vacation.”

Drawing in “elite” teams that form around children as young as seven, these squads can travel long distances to play.

At one of the nation’s largest children’s football (soccer) tournaments, in rural New Jersey, a drone in flight is best positioned to see the scale of such an event.

Up there, you can see the 75 pristine pitches that will host more than 600 teams of children aged nine to 14, chasing shiny balls, in shiny uniforms.

The cars of thousands of parents mass at the playing fields’ edges.

A two-day event such as this is an opportunity for organizers to make serious money, in this case up to $1,250 per team.

That’s on top of travel and hotel costs of as much as $500 and the $3,000 or more many parents pay each year to their child’s club.

It is an industry built on the wallets of parents, and the chase for opportunities to play in college, perhaps with a scholarship.

What the drone can’t see is how many other children – those who aren’t early bloomers, or whose families don’t have the funds, or time, to take part – have fallen away from the game.

They are often unable to join the best teams, which have the best coaches, training environments, and access to college scouts.

Football (soccer) has declined among those left behind, with fewer children joining either local teams, or playing informal games in the park.

Since 2011, the number of six- to 17-year-olds who play football (soccer) regularly has fallen nine percent to 4.2 million, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.

The number of children who touch a football (soccer ball) at least once a year, in any setting, was down 15 percent.

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About the Author

Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts has been at the helm of the MHSAA as its Executive Director since 1986, implementing programs and overseeing tournament administration and regulations for the Association which boasts 1,500 member schools, 10,000 registered officials and 13,000 head coaches.

During the last 45 years, Roberts has spoken to educator and athletic groups, business leaders and civic groups in almost every state and five Canadian provinces. He is one of the nation's most articulate advocates for educational athletics.

Roberts has served on the board of directors of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), is in his second term on the board of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and is the first chairman of the NFHS Network board of directors. He has been board president for the Refugee Development Center for nine years, and is a past-chair of the board of directors of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. He is chair of the board of trustees for the Capital Region Community Foundation for 2018.

He is a 1970 graduate of Dartmouth College, where he played defensive safety for the Ivy League's winningest football team during that span, and he sang in Dartmouth's close harmony vocal group.

His wife, Peggy, has retired from a 30-year career in social services, and is serving as president of the board of the Fenner Nature Conservancy in Lansing.