Many American schools wait to introduce grades as well, of course. But in the anything-goes world of youth sports, we have second-grade AAU national championships, $3,000-a-year club fees and hordes of unlicensed trainers ready to assist in the chase for playing time. Youth sports are now a $16 billion industry bankrolled by parents who are often unaware of the science of athletic development and nervous that the bullet train of opportunity will leave the station if their child doesn’t hop on, year-round, at age 8.
I found little of this anxiety in Norway. Just mild frustration from the more ambitious parents and young athletes about the constraints on testing their talents beyond the local level at early ages.
Anders Mol, a star in beach volleyball, was among those. He was a prodigy whose parents played volleyball for the national team. He just didn’t have many playmates while growing up in a remote hamlet in the westernmost fjords. From Oslo, I had to take a plane, a car and a ferry just to reach Strandvik, where there was no beach volleyball court until his father, Kaare, brought in sand by barge from Denmark when Anders was a boy.
Now, Anders, 21, is the best in the world, the international volleyball federation’s Most Outstanding Player for 2018. He and his playing partner, Christian Sorum, are called the Beach Volley Vikings. Anders told me that as a child he was bothered by having to wait to compete elsewhere against other young players.
At the same time, he said, that delay built a fire in him, while making room in his childhood for other sports that fostered all-around athleticism — now a defining quality of his game. He also liked staying connected to his classmates through sports.
“I understand why we do this,” he said of the Children’s Rights in Sport framework. “It’s good.”
Norway is not the United States. One advantage sport leaders in Norway acknowledge is their country’s relatively small size, which helps get key stakeholders on the same page about sports policy. Also, families don’t need to chase athletic scholarships because college, like health care for youth, is free. Sports is not seen as a way out of a tough neighborhood. Norway is a wealthy nation with oil, gambling and other revenue streams that can be mobilized.