#298. Why Small Towns Breed Pro Athletes

Posted on | The Agurban
We are always looking for great stories about small towns across the United States. This week’s Agurban comes from the September 20, 2010, Wall Street Journal.
Why Small Towns Breed Pro Athletes
Growing up among the 1,341 people in Taylorsville, Miss., Oakland Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell probably didn’t encounter the best coaches or the greatest competition, which probably helped him reach the NFL. Studies show that small towns are better breeding grounds for athletes than cities, and sports psychologists are using these data to question our ideas about talent development.
Only one-in-four Americans come from towns of fewer than 50,000 people, but nearly half of NFL players and PGA golfers do, according to two recent studies. The small-town figures for golf and baseball are just under 40%. The studies use 1980 Census figures because they most closely represented the birth year of pro athletes.
A co-author of the studies, Queen’s University’s Jean Côté, attributed the small-town overrepresentation to a number of factors. These include the accessibility of sports role models in little towns, the cultural values placed on sport (think “Hoosiers”), and even the “big fish little pond” effect, which can be a positive reinforcer for young athletes. Dr. Côté also argues that, despite the prevailing notion that kids need to specialize early and immerse themselves in 10,000 hours of repetitive training, small-town athletes excel precisely because they spend more time playing outside of schools and leagues.
“In bigger cities, youth sport is overorganized and overcoached,” Dr. Côté says.
Dr. Côté admits that potential superstars eventually have to move to get superior training, but specialization before age 13 or 14 is more likely to produce a tired-out teen than a Tiger Woods, he says.
Then there’s what might be called the boredom factor. As Jason Campbell once said, in Taylorsville, “you have nothing else to do but sit outside and throw a football at trees.
-Austin Kelley