Travel team confidential

THIS SUMMER ESPN is collaborating with University of Florida prof Michael Sagas to research the inner lives of elite youth athletes ages 10 to 18 -- the first-ever national study of its kind. To get the ball rolling, Sagas and his colleagues recently surveyed 565 travel-caliber competitors at tournaments in 11 states, across nine sports, to uncover how our country's growing obsession with youth sports is impacting those who play. (This was just the preliminary inquiry; the final survey will involve far more kids and will be featured on ESPN in August.) Manic parents and coaches; concussions and overuse injuries; kids specializing at younger ages in hopes of earning scholarships. Is it all ruining our children? Eliminating fun? Turning off an entire generation to exercise? All of the above? Turns out, it's more like none of the above. Despite heavy-handed parents and leather-lunged coaches, despite minimal time to finish maximum schoolwork, elite youth athletes have almost nothing but love for their games. Just because they're delusional (54 percent think they can go pro; less than 1 percent of youth athletes will) doesn't mean they're despondent. "These kids are so happy that when we asked them what they like least about playing travel sports, many of them said nothing," Sagas says. And no, that doesn't mean they left the answer blank. It means they're so content with their sport that they actually took the time to write "Nothing."

But don't take our word for it -- check the stats. Because when it comes to sports, AAU coaches might lie, but the numbers don't.

Their motives are many, and pretty darn ambitious.

Percentages are representative of elite athletes who agree with the statement.

They have big plans.

Their parents sound a lot like bosses, and their coaches push and prod.

But a crazy dream keeps them going.

They think playing sports is freaking great.

And the taskmasters? They love them too.

Comparing kids who play individual versus team sports.

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