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July 24, 2008

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Phil Bourjaily: Youth Sports

Last time, I talked about lack of access as the number one problem facing hunting today. True enough, but I would like to nominate another candidate, and, no, it’s not video games. Youth sports are killing hunting.

I don’t mean normal youth sports, like Little League (which I didn’t do. I had a very specific, irrational fear of being killed by a line drive to the temple) or playing on school teams (which I did enthusiastically). I blame the year-round, traveling team club sports for sucking up family’s leisure time and squeezing out hunting.

Parents take kids to another city, even another state, every weekend, then sit on folding chairs and watching games. And younger brothers and sisters get dragged along, too. It doesn’t leave much for taking kids hunting, or even for hunting at all. I don’t know how many times dads my age have told me, “We didn’t get out for ducks/deer/turkeys this weekend. We were in Peoria/Milwaukee/Des Moines for a soccer/basketball/baseball tournament.”

Since when did watching a kid play a game become more important than actually doing something with him or her? 


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Jackson Landers

The problem is bigger than just hunting. People aren't raising free range kids anymore. They're brought up inside of what amount to hermetically sealed environments in which every moment is carefully scheduled and choreographed months in advance.

Personally, I'm rebelling. My daughter takes swimming lessons or ballet or whatever she wants, but only one thing at a time. And nothing that sucks up weekends, which I insist be spent playing in the woods, making mud pies in the front yard or farting around with scrap wood in the workshop.


Aren't we missing the basic question here? What about the kid? What does he/she really want to do? My son wants to do it all, he hasn't found a sport or activity that doesn't interest him so far. I think as parents the best thing we can do for kids is give them a chance to try the things they want to and let them figure out what they really like best. Sports and hunting/fishing don't need to be mutually exclusive.

Happy Myles

Growing up in rural America ranch country my only pastimes were hunting fishing and camping either alone or with my best friend who was my father. In those wonderful days good hunters were looked up to and indeed envied. Now, after spending 62 of my 70 years hunting around the world I'm a dinosaur. Urbanization, televisionization, and feminization have aided and abetted this condition and I fear it is malignantly irreversible.

Most folks have moved to the city to earn a living. I plead guilty to this temptation, I did so that I could afford to hunt around the world. This environment lacks daily exposure to the outdoors and constant television exposure to rich famous super athletes along with daily bombardment of school sports gives hunting little chance to compete for childrens attention in cities.

My son hunted and camped with me while young, but his peers had no interest. When he reached the age when girls became important his interest in hunting wained somewhat. Living in Los Angeles, the heartland of liberalism, hunting is looked upon as an evil pastime by most young ladies, they wanted athletes. He still intermitently hunts deer, elk, and accompanied me to Africa a couple of times. My grandson and I camp out in the backyard which he enjoys. I planned an African safari for his tenth birthday which he was looking forward to, but his mother (son's ex wife) by court order refused to let him go.

These are just a few examples why I feel the deck is stacked against us. But I'm not ready to fold them yet.

reached the age when girls became important

coach ike

dear dave,
why are sports so out of control? well i will tell you from a COACHING standpoint. parents are the root of all evil unfortunately.. when kids and parents see athletes go pro right out of high school, what do parents automatically think? maybe my son is good enough. and most times they are not..... but dont try to convince the parents of that because you are the coach and know nothing ( just a hint of sarcasm!) half the time kids just play a sport because they enjoy it and nothing more. and because the competitve level gets so fierce, it starts at lower level each year....middle school, elementary school and recreation. and instead of playing a sport like soccer only in the fall, now they play the same sport year round because parents ACTUALLY think that if my son specializes in one sport it will make him better! what happened to playing one sport for that season and doing other non related sports like fishing and campimg, or hunting? it doesnot exist because all parents and kids see is the big money a player like KOBE BRYANT who went pro right out of high school is making. nobody from a professional standpoint tells the parents or the kids the committment that is involved when it comes to thinking professional


I am a teenager and now that I've grown up a little I am so thankful to my parents for not pushing me into year-round sports. My Dad has always taken me fishing when ever I wanted to and I got into hunting not to long ago. If I would have been pushed into sports when I was little there is no way I would have this much time for outdoor things which I think is very important.


My kid that I have written about in the past was allowed to make choices regarding sports of all kinds. He never excelled at basketball, was better than average wide receiver, and a fantastic second baseman, shortstop, or center fielder. Remarkable abilities on skis or snowboard as well as terrifyingly good on a skateboard or MX bike. More recently in his life he took up trapshooting and has won every tourniment that he shot in until he broke his elbow on the skateboard. His passion is dirtbikes and now rides/races a '08 YZ450F slightly modified. He has always fished and somehow is better than me. He only discovered girls in the last year or so but they have to meet his standards or he dumps them and moves on. His absolute favorite activity is big game hunting, long range rifle shooting, camping (tents 20 miles from pavement, not in a trailor) and of course the horses in the mountains. Luckily we can tie the last four into the time frame called deer and elk season in Wyoming or Montana. The point of all this rambling is that given choices and opportunities your kid might become a more enthusiastic and capable outdoorsman than you. As Dave and others so astutely pointed out some, maybe most, kids are not given that chance by their parents. I believe that my kid is developing outdoors skills that he will enjoy for a lifetime. He can still play baseball, tennis, or swim in the summer when he is not shooting the .22-.250 or 7 mm x 404 accurately at ranges you would think I was lying about if I said another word.

SD Bob

Now that a college education cost almost as much as a house, athletics is the "easy" way to pay for it. I played hockey, baseball, football and golf as a kid. I opted to run a trapline my junior year of high school versus playing hockey and my dad responded by driving me to the fur buyer 3 times that year versus having to wake up at 4:30am every day to take me to practice.

Trae B.

Its kinda off topic but [email protected] must be rubbing off on me. I just walked around the woods today and picked up trash. By the way We only go to the beach and stuff once a year and thats to fish. I still count as a youth, but I am turning 17 on the 31st.


Great thread, Dave! I was fortunate enough to grow up in a remote part of our county in Southern Illinois during the sixties and early seventies. We had a 1/4 mile long driveway (which I had to mow with a push mower). But that driveway led down to the road which led to the river. I should say that's where I really grew up. Yeah, we had little league in the summer and basketball in the fall during school, but most every day, me and my brother were out fishing or just poking around the river. I feel sorry for kids today who will never have that experience. It's up to the dads and moms today to get control of their school systems. To let them know how much is too much. I fear they've got a long row to hoe.


First gun - pellet rifle - serious enough so its not a toy, gentle enough to do in the back yard.

Sports - IF the kid's got a passion for it, I fully support whatever they want to do, and put my hobbies second. But its about the kid, not the parent. Get real, people. The odds are that 1 in 15,000 will make it in pro sports. (I know its true, I heard it on the radio) Make sure your kid can think, has enough education to allow job options (MATH, SCIENCE, HISTORY, LANGUAGE, COMPUTER SKILLS), and then be cognizant of the FACT that every moment you are around your child you ARE TEACHING THEM SOMETHING! Time in the boat or time in the woods is about the only undistracted time we have left. This is when you have a chance to teach, discuss, and DEMONSTRATE character, honor and ethics. With all the emphasis being placed on the environment, sportsmen have a wonderful opportunity to have real-world discussions of how life really works.

I surrender the soapbox.


I grew up in a rural area in the south on a small family farm. Sports provided recreation. We would gater for community ball games, football, baseball, softball and basketball. This was in the late 60's and early seventies. Remarkably for the times the teams tended to be of mixed race, farm hands and farm boys. We never thought anything about it. We were all friends...

I got pretty good at football and baseball. Played on the high school teams. Baseball sort of won out and I began to play on the summer traveling teams. I was never pushed, only encouraged by my Dad. This schedule still fit our life style. I still hunted and fished and did my chores on the farm. That was what was required of me, no excuses. Both my mother and father shed great influence on my life. Both backed each other up.

About the time I began to play ball in Junior College I realized it was a business. The school made a great deal of money from the games. Athletes got off on an easy class schedule (we still had to make grades); however, the rigorous practice and game schedule necessitated the lax class schedule. We played baseball fall, winter and spring. Girls threw themselves at us just to be seen with a ballplayer. (When I quite playing the same girls wouldn't give me the time of day).

Through all of this there were a number of guys on the team that loved to fish and hunt. We would sneak away and make time to do what we loved so much, usually fishing from the river bank at night. It was part of our being. We also had some pretty good bull sessions over the fried catfish! We also kept firearms in our dorm room closets (try that now).

As ball players, we were pushed more and more by the folks who would make money off of us. I was never good enough to be professional and I began to hate what I once loved so much. I soon realized I needed an education more than I needed baseball. I began to add up course credit hours an came to the conclusion that I would fall short on my "free" education. At the time it took 15 quarter hours each quarter to graduate on time. As athletes we were allowed to take only 10 hours for Winter and Spring Quarters. I talked with my parents, who really couldn't afford to send me to college at the time and I decided I would continue to play until my eligibility ran out (probably a smart financial move). All the while I saw how money drove the system. When my eligibility ran out, after a championship for the school, I was kicked to the curb, so to speak. I came back and finished my degree in less than a year then set out in the world.

When kids came along, so did sports, football, baseball and soccer (I still think soccer is a communist plot to take over the world). I began to see the old trappings again. It is amazing how much revenue a little league program generates for a local recreation department. A a rec department supervisor once told me, "we could not operate without money from youth sports." The same guys, or guys like them who would make money off the kids ability began to circle like sharkes. Pushing the kids into summer leagues and traveling teams, all generating revenue for someone else. Ball park parents with their foul mouths and pushy, critical attitudes soon got on my nerves. My son was also uncomfortable with the surroundings. He liked the quite of the woods and streams. In short, he hung it up after he found out I wouldn't be mad if he quit. He was playing as much for me as he was for himself. I didn't realize it at the time, but he was being pushed along by my past.

He went on to earn his own scholarship with the books. He enjoys hunting, shooting and fishing and is quite the conservative voice amoung his college friends!

As I work with youth as a part of my job; I see parents become trapped by sports. It costs a fortune to go to college now days. If a kid is good and there is a glimmer of hope for a scholarship the parents pour everything into the chase. This fervor will increase as our standard of life continues to fall and sports figures continue to be held up as heros by the popular media, similar to the gladiators of ancient Rome. Look at what that got them...

Mike in Kansas

I remember my sophmore year in high school. I was in my 4th year of wrestling and my dad had planned on our usual opening weekend deer hunt. I told my coach that I would be missing 2 days of practice to go hunting and he went all nutty on me. I told him that between sports and hunting....hunting wins hands down. That turned out to be my last day of practice and the last day I wrestled. I went on my deer hunt and brought home a real nice buck. To me, sports is just something to do to stay busy but hunting and fishing is what my life revolves around besides my son...and he loves the outdoors just as much as I do.


Most of the points already made are good. We should also not forget that young people of today just don't know how to enjoy anything that is as slow paced as hunting, fishing, camping, etc. Everything around them is so fast paced and competitive. From school to after-school activities, to video games, everything is just so dizzyingly fast paced. To get them to sit on a deer stand or on a fishing pier must be close to torture for most of them. The competitive philosophy this country seems to be proud of has backfired on us in this case. In general hunting and fishing isn't very competitive, thus interest in it by the young is dying. Has anyone also noticed how the hunting that does exist in this country has become MORE competitive with the trophy antler craze and the tournament fishing? It seems like the younger people who do happen to get involved with things like hunting and fishing are doing so for the competitive aspects more than for the sheer enjoyment of nature and the outdoors. It is sad and won't be getting any better.


I never thought about it too much. I was never would have considered myself a sports athlete. But I did two things in school. I was in track and I ran Cross Country. I was 14 before I started and had finished two years of bow hunting. I hadn't had much success and when Running every weekend in the fall came up I didn't think much about hanging up my bow. But only after it was over did I realize what a sacrifice I made. I do not regret being in a sport. What I regret is that my father sat patiently for three and a half months waiting to take me camping. By the time the season was over there was snow on the ground and we would get one weekend in the woods. Now that my father hung up his bow and I am just getting to it I would easily give up a few weekends of running for a few weekends of hunting. I don't know why our society is set up in such "all or nothing" terms. My coach had us brain washed that if we didn't run five miles two times a day we were worthless because we wouldn't be the best. We weren't anyways and I gave up my bow hunting because of pressure to be the best when I didn't even care about being the best. I just wanted to learn and have fun.


Dave, this is the best forum on the web. Keep up the good work.Funny I just finished a course that address this very problem. Check out the website for Mens Fratenaty.


Jim Kiser

I just caught on Fox news that the Marines are starting up a program in which Marines are trained in hunting and stalking techniques which are then applied in the field to hunt their enemies in combat situations. Shades of Alvin York and Audie Murphy. Most people have lost the 6th sense our ancestors gave us that we call a surival trait.

Rusty In Missouri

By Rusty In Missouri

The cold predawn light casts gray shadows on the ground
Frigid air breathed with ease frost on the beard
The crunch of leaves under the hunters feet

At peace with the world the carnivore hunts
Easy and purposeful treading along
Eyes constantly scan the woods and glens

An essential evil the carnivore craves
A primeval hunter in modern form
Body and mind steadfast in the quest

Pity to contemporary shy too the task
Others shall make the kill for them
Removed and sanitary wrapped and delivered

Missing the sweet sad thrill of the kill
The blood of the butcher upon your hands
Alive and closer than ever to death

The carnivore hunts in the still of the morn

This is my life and what I taught my children and grandchildren. My pity to those that do not see what is directly in front of them.


Youth sports do take kids out of hunting -- to say nothing of how they take them out of church!

Everybody misses the opportunity to gather with likeminded believers to worship God and be encouraged by His Word once in a while -- but families have allowed their kids' sports to derail the whole focus of their spiritual lives!


My son played little league baseball and football. He quit playing football after the 8th grade and stayed with baseball through high school. His reason? He said he never had a baseball coach get in his face yelling so hard that spit hit him. I agreed. He will tell you today that the memories of playing and the friendships he made during that time are priceless. He will also tell you the memories of our hunting, fishing, and camping trips are also priceless. One of his teammates spent every summer vacation with his parents at the college world series and played baseball year round. By the 10th grade, the kid was sick of baseball and his parents (who were certain that he would get a college scholarship and play pro; neither of which happened) There is the answer - parents today think their kids will all become pro players and millionaires. As a retired teacher, I can tell you most of the problems with students today in school can be attributed to the parents. It is sad.


One of the young men I mentor, (Why We Finally Stop Hunting) is kept extremely busy by his family. They mostly attend rodeos throughout the state. The other is connected to a "horse" sport for which his parents train horses for and can be quite time consuming! Especially weekends!
Our small, country church is known locally as "Cowboy Church" because of the number of past PRCA cowboys as members. Most of them (the PRCA guys) are very dynamic personalities and are very personable.
This fall, the first hunting season I will go through with them, will tell me which is actually interested in hunting! Hopefully, both!
Time will tell!



how is it that i used to be able to play football, hockey and baseball in a single year and still have enough time to go hunting all i wanted? what has changed so much? is it the selfishness of parents or just the laziness?


I've raised this point about team sports hogging all of the family's time before. And, yes, it is a killer of outings with Dad, or Mom, or Uncle Joe. Other posters are dead on: youth athletics has been greatly oversold. Less than one tenth of one percent of highschool athletes will ever go pro. Maybe one half of one percent of college athletes will go pro. What's left is the "residue" of kids who got into college as "athletes" but who can't write a coherent sentence or figure out how much change they're due from McDonald's. Our priorities are all wrong. Look at the foreign students in our universities. They did not come to play football, baseball or basketball. They did not come to major in sociology. They came to major in business, engineering and the hard sciences. They do not care about being "popular," but about learning a profession. All Americans seem to think about is sports. To tell you the truth, I don't care very much about watching a bunch of millionaires throw a football around. For me, sports means increasing my personal fitness--not watching someone else increase his or hers. I personally couldn't care less if the NFL, NBA and MLB all disappeared into oblivion overnight. I'd rather be in a deer stand than a grandstand any day of the week. Kudos to all who sent the youth athletics "talent scouts" packing. Those hunting and fishing trips with Dad will mean a lot more than those ball games with all of the screaming parents. By the way, sports do not build character--they simply reveal it.

Mike Reeder

I do think team sports can be overdone, especially if it's the parent doing the pushing. On the other hand, I think a lot of the suburban kids playing soccer would just be inside playing video games, not hunting, if they weren't on the playing field. We mostly lived in rural areas where just about all the boys on the various sports teams hunted at least a little, and some hunted a lot. My own boy was a helluva high school pitcher and played youth baseball, but I made a point to never push it. One of his best buddies played fall baseball and was constantly ferried by his dad from camp to camp, but my son lived to hunt and fish and as much as he loved the game he preferred the outdoors more. He ended up going to college on a baseball scholarship, and got a degree in wildlife mgt. The kid who played fall ball is now pitching for the Pittsburg Pirates and making a ton of money, so I guess all that time paid off. On the other hand my son arranges his entire schedule around fishing the flats and the various hunting seasons, and from being around both of them I'd say he's by far the happier of the two kids.


well, i for one will not be a part of that scenario. my kids will play normal school sport, of course. but i wont even drive out of state for a nascar race, so i cant ever see doing it for some sports team and a trophy. especially now, with the price of fuel! now, i do take the kids shooting. not every weekend, but at least once a month. i go more often than that, partly because when i take the kids, there isnt much time for me to shoot, and, i really like to shoot. plus, i want them to develop other interests as well. when they grow up, i want them to decide what they do or dont like in life. if they like the stuff their old man does, great! but if they dont, at least they can have some real life experiences to draw from to help them with their decisions. not just somebody's opinions.


I think it's a tree-hugger thing.
"If I keep Johnny/Jane busy with (insert appropriate sport), they won't have time for hunting/fishing/camping."
I played HS football, I wasn't any good at the others. Unless my team advanced to the playoffs (my junior year), the high school season ended before deer season started. Basketball started soon thereafter, but most of the games and tournaments were on weekdays. We didn't have a spring turkey season so baseball was a no brainer. I love, and still do, baseball! I just couldn't/can't hit, pitch, run or throw! And I'll guarantee you, the World Series WILL NEVER interrupt my hunting season.
My biggest problem was squeezing dove hunting between two-a-day work outs in September!


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