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Rethink the Win: Reimagining youth sports

Broadcaster and former pro athlete Lea B. Olsen is trying to change today's 'win at all costs' culture.

MINNEAPOLIS — If you're getting sick and tired of the negative culture around youth sports, you’re not alone.

Edina sisters Claire and Olivia Wegmann-Krider play nine sports combined. They’re bumping the volleyball when we meet them and their mother, Sara Wegmann, at a local park.

“Growing up I had such a great experience playing sports and now being a parent, I'm trying to help my girls navigate that culture,” Wegmann said.

But Wegmann said the culture has changed quite a bit since she played.

“The biggest change is just how early kids start and how much they have to focus and specialize,” Wegmann said. She goes on to list how there’s pressure to travel, making it more expensive.

“There's always another camp, another clinic, a private coach that you could hire and so I think there's just a lot of pressure to keep up,” Wegmann said.

That's where Lea B. Olsen comes in. Olsen is a former athlete turned sports broadcaster says today, more than ever, there’s a lot of pressure to win at all costs. She says that that creates a toxic environment for athletes and everyone else involved, but insists it doesn’t have to be that way.

“One of the things we're seeing in youth sports all the way through high school is that for the first time, anxiety and depression are playing a huge role in sports,” Olsen said.

The National Alliance for Youth Sports said 70 percent of youth athletes drop out of their sport by age 13, because they're no longer having fun.  Olsen wants to get the fun back in sports for parents, coaches, and especially athletes through her new website called Rethink the Win.  

“OK, yep.  You're a great athlete, that's one piece of who you are and how else can that make you greater in all the things that you want to do in life?” Olsen said.

“When I grow up I want to be an environmental engineer,” Claire, who is 13, announces.

“I want to go into graphic design because I'm really into art and creativity and that sort of thing,” Olivia, 12, said.

It sounds like these girls are on the right track.

“It's something that I can always go back to and not have to, like, feel pressure to do,” Olivia said.

Mom herself gets a win for their attitude, because she makes it intentional.

“That means I have to give the right messages instead of just asking, ‘Did you win?,’ ‘How did you play, did you have fun?’” Wegmann said. 

Olsen said in the end, we are seeing better athletes but it comes at a cost. She believes there are problems now in youth athletes that weren’t problems before.  

“What we’re seeing is that a lot of the injuries that used to be that only professional athletes were getting, now high school athletes are getting them just as much as the pros.

She said we need to figure out a way to better protect young athletes.

Olsen is also planning to launch a podcast called "Youth Sports Intervention" where she dives deeper into the complexity of these issues.  She said she’ll be talking to a range of people, including parents, coaches, sports psychologists and athletes from all levels.

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