THE FUTURE OF SPORTS: THE YOUNG ATHLETE

By Dev Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc, Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University

Key Points:

  • A recent report called The Future of Sports sheds light on opinions from a group of futurists touching on many areas in the world of sports. While aimed principally at adults, the report also has several aspects that will affect the young athlete. It is worth a read.
  • Genetic screening and enhancement is likely on the horizon for the next decade, extending to the youngest athletes.
  • Genetic screening has a considerable downside as the youngest athletes could be excluded from sport participation based upon their genetic profile
  • Crowdfunding is a positive development that can improve the financial position of youth teams and organizations
  • Adventure sports and extreme sports are attracting many more young athletes and could siphon some of those athletes from mainstream sports

By now I’m sure many of you have seen the fascinating report The Future of Sports, produced by Delaware North, owned by Jeremy Jacobs, owner of the Boston Bruins. The authors assembled several groups of futurists to look at the sports universe through 11 broad categories. One key theme: technological advances have dramatically accelerated the pace of change, what used to take decades now likely takes 1-5 years.

I wanted to give you some of my personal insights on this report as viewed through the lens of the young athlete. Much of what was written is not applicable to the young athlete but there were several key components that are worth looking at.

Let’s start with the Preface. One area mentioned in the preface but not specifically studied in the report is the influence of performance pay for collegiate athletes. This will only intensify the competitiveness for young athletes, as the carrot at the end of the stick is a chance to actually be paid to play college sports. Aside from the technical points raised in the report, it’s my opinion that the professionalization of collegiate sports will have a profound effect on the high school and middle school aged athlete.

The Athlete

Genetic manipulation will become commonplace within 10 years and is predicted to rapidly spread to young athletes. At least 8 genes are linked to super athleticism, and selectively identifying CRISPR creates the opportunity for unprecedented accuracy in gene editing. This would in theory allow parents of young athletes to manipulate their children’s genomes

  • in the near future, genetic screening for traits will become much more prevalent e.g. two copies of ACTN3 gene= likely sprinter, mutations in EpoR= endurance athlete
  • the ugly flip side of genetic trait testing: young athletes could be denied hope of ever competing from an exceptionally young age, told there is no chance for them to progress to the highest levels
  • use of stem cell based treatments will accelerate, allowing for faster recovery from injury, followed by life extension, and finally for performance enhancement
  • will genetic screening and enhancements lead to separate leagues for “enhanced” vs “natural” athletes?

Sponsorship and Advertising

For owners of brands, getting their brand message out has become complicated as traditional TV, radio, and print advertising has suffered. Social media and crowdsourcing are becoming increasingly popular

  • For youth teams and leagues, raising funding through crowd funding has become easier and much more popular
  • Selling ownership interest in athletes (e.g. Fantex) is becoming popular and may ultimately extend to the youngest athletes

eSports and Fantasy Sports

eSports tournaments are very big business now, many of the major tournaments command $10M+ prize money. Celebrity gamers are rising in popularity and it’s plausible that sometime soon the celebrity gamer will rival the physical sports athlete for popularity

  • the young generation raised on gaming is a natural fit for competitive gaming
  • Robert Morris University actually offers scholarships for League of Legends gamers
  • competitive gaming leagues offer some of the same viewership benefits of physical sports
  • For young people and their parents: the challenge is to keep kids physically active as the immersive experience of gaming continues to advance
  • Fantasy leagues such as FIFA Pro Clubs from EA Sports will reach college and high school levels, likely reaching into younger and younger participants
  • Opportunity: can body movement sensors e.g. Wii and Kinect actually put some physical activity behind gaming?

Extreme and Adventure Sports

Participation in extreme and adventure sports is exploding, even amongst the youngest participants

  • for the young athlete these sports offer possibilities of free expression and a counterculture atmosphere compared to traditional sports
  • but how long can that atmosphere last as money moves in rapidly?
  • current environmental limitations exist too, as resources such as prime surf spots or the best snow covered mountains become fought over and possibly scarce
  • advancement in to the youngest age athletes will also require improvements in safety technology as injury rates are currently high

Overall I found this report to be a fun and interesting read. Sometimes provocative and scary, sometimes optimistic. One thing is for sure: we’re going to be in for some major changes very soon!

SideLineSportsDoc