Building on the eye-opening investigation into the damaging effects of the ultra-competitive culture of youth sports in his previous book, Until It Hurts, Mark Hyman's new book looks at the business of youth sports, how it has changed, and how it is affecting young Americans. Examining the youth sports economy from many sides--the major corporations, small entrepreneurs, coaches, parents, and, of course, kids--Hyman probes the reasons for rapid changes in what gets bought and sold in this lucrative marketplace. Just participating in youth sports can be expensive. Among the costs are league fees, equipment, and perhaps private lessons with a professional coach. With nearly 50 million kids playing organized sports each year, it is easy to see how profitable this market can be. Hyman takes us to tournaments sponsored by Nike, Gatorade, and other big businesses, and he talks to parents who sacrifice their vacations and savings to get their (sometimes reluctant) junior stars to these far-off, expensive venues for a chance to shine. He introduces us to videos purporting to teach six-month-old babies to kick a ball, to professional athletes who will "coach" an eight-year-old for a hefty fee, to a town that has literally staked its future on preteen sports. With its extensive interviews and original reporting, The Most Expensive Game in Town explains the causes and effects of the commercialization of youth sports, changes that the author argues are distorting and diminishing family life. He closes with strong examples of individuals and communities bucking this destructive trend.
Following up his previous book, Until It Hurts, Hyman, a sports journalist for Business Week, further probes the soaring cost of the youth sports economy, targeting the dreams and aspirations of parents obsessed with the hope of transforming their children into professional athletes. The author scores high points in telling the stories of families in Ohio, Kansas, and California, who pushed their budgets near their breaking point to get their kids the best equipment, coaching, and summer camps. While slick-talking advocates of the youth sports business promise great results from the various programs and academies, the cash-strapped parents feel guilt for not taking advantage of every opportunity to guarantee their charges fame and fortune. He wisely poses key queries about media overexposure, financial sponsorship in the inner city vs. suburbs, and government inaction. However, Hyman's slender volume presents more questions than answers, touching on topics rather than going into them in depth, yet he still puts some significant issues on the front burner.