Posts Tagged ‘kids sports’
Burning up the mommy blogs and parenting sites is a Wall Street Journal piece by Amy Chua called “Why Chinese mothers are superior.” I had to admit they were, at least by the description she gives, because the night before I read the piece my 11-year-old daughter had a sleepover.
A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:
• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.
I think you could sub “baseball” or “volleyball” for “piano” and “violin,” and make whatever substitutions are necessary to turn a Chinese mother into a sports parent — or any parent so obsessive about their child’s success that they are strict beyond belief, lest anything take anyone’s eyes off the prize.
I think you can also find justification given by the intense sport parent in this passage from Chua’s piece:
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.
On some level, she probably is right. A child usually is not going to play piano for hours a day, or hit the batting cage for hours a day, or do whatever for hours a day that does not involve some level of enjoyment — unless they’ve done it for so long, and they’ve gotten so good at it, that they respond to the praise they’re getting for doing it so well.
Alas, being the “Chinese mother” is a tricky strategy. For every Ichiro Suzuki that seems to respond well and thrive to the parental-obsessive treatment, there is an Andre Agassi who does well but resents his father, or a Todd Marinovich who advances to the highest level and falls apart, or skads of others kids we never hear of who just burn out. And I’m not talking just sports. Unfortunately, as a parent, we never know whether we’ve pushed too hard or not enough until it’s too late to undo the damage — and the guilt you might feel as a result.
Chua details a confrontation she had with her 7-year-old daughter over trouble she had playing a certain piece on a piano, a fight that escalated into screaming fits (by the daughter) and threats of eternal punishment and withholding water until she learned to play the piece (by the mother). At one point, when Chua’s husband (who is not Chinese) tries to step in, she responds:
“Oh no, not this,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Everyone is special in their special own way,” I mimicked sarcastically. “Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don’t worry, you don’t have to lift a finger. I’m willing to put in as long as it takes, and I’m happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games.”
I’m amazed he can take them to Yankees games. He must sneak them out.
Anyway, the 7-year-old learns to play the piece, she’s joyful she can, she loves her mother, dumb-ass dad admits she’s right, and all is well.
There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids’ true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it’s a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what’s best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.
Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.
Unlike many who have commented on Chua’s piece, the fault I find is not in her individual parenting methods. They’re her kids, and that’s her business. I don’t doubt that she loves her kids and wants the best for them — and I don’t doubt that either from sports parents who also might seem overbearing on first, second, third and fourth looks.
But I do find fault with this either-or at the end of her piece. To me, good parenting combines the best of both the “Western” and “Chinese” scenarios she lays out. You can encourage your kids to pursue their passions while also reminding them that many others are pursuing the same passion, and showing them what they have to do to make their passion into a viable future, thus providing a nuturing environment AND giving them work habits and inner confidence no one can ever take away.
Now, I need to step away to have my kids turn off their video games and go to bed.
For a lot of us in the parenting way, one of our New Year’s resolutions — inspired by a few weeks off from getting kids up in the morning for school — is to “take back” our lives, much like the Tea Party wants to “take back” America. We Tea Party Parents want to hearken back to a simpler time, before schedules, before burning the candle at both ends. Basically, before we had children. Like the Tea Party itself, we Tea Party Parents probably aren’t going to be successful at turning back the clock (or cutting spending, either), but, hey, no sense not trying to talk a good game!
On the site Lifetimemoms.com, run by the Lifetime cable network (during the Christmas season, is the site called Fa-La-La-La-Lifetimemoms.com?), Dawn Sandomeno of Partybluprintsblog takes time off from posts like “Rae’s Ultimate Eggplant Sandwich!” (if yours is better, you’d better put two fucking exclamation points on it) to describe herself as a Lifetime woman in peril, although the culprit is her kids’ sports schedule, rather than a fiendish man who seemed OK at the start but turned out to be danger.
This post stars Joanna Kerns. Or maybe Judith Light.
What’s crazy is that the problem is also what’s good for my kids: Youth Sports. For me, it’s three boys who play ice hockey, but it could be baseball, soccer, dance, lacrosse, or any other activity these days. Youth sports have gone off the deep end and to what end, I’m not sure. Mind you, I’m not against them, quite the opposite – I love that my boys are physically fit because of sports, have learned team play, and are developing great leadership and time management skills. However, there are no boundaries anymore. I was actually at an ice rink for a game on Easter Sunday and missed Thanksgiving with my family so we could play in a tournament in another city. Each youth sport is now a 9 – 12 month commitment and it’s not just time, it‘s money, lots of money! Practices, lessons, games, clinics, camps, it turns out to be 7 days a week – God rested on Sunday, why can’t I?
So, I will need to be strong and committed to this challenge, the pressure can be strong from organizations and clubs, not to mention my own kids. I want and need this change to happen. I’m determined to succeed and I truly hope to take some time back by being brave and saying no to the extras. I want to show my children that family time is important.
That’s all well and good, but a Tea Party Parent is going to fail cutting a few extras like, say, education. But you’re not going to reduce your family deficit by cutting a few extras here and there. The only solution is a radical one — eliminate activities altogether.
After all, it’s not like the sports organizations are going to say, “Oh, you want more family time? Please, take all the time you need!” It’s more like, “Oh, you want your kid home? I’ll tell you what: he can leave the team and BE HOME ALL THE FUCKING TIME!” So you have to decide as a parent, what do you want to do?
The rule in my family is that if you, as a child, love the activity — as in, we don’t have to drag your ass there, or tell you to practice — you can do it to your heart’s content. If you only kind of like it, then it’s on the bubble. I’ve got four kids. My wife and I don’t have the time or energy to schlep them around to stuff they only kind of like, whether or not our rationale is wanting to spend more time with them.
So Dawn Sandomeno should ask her kids whether they love playing hockey. If they do, then she IS getting her family time. If not, then she can cut off the sport like a Tea Party candidate wants to cut off spending on everything but the military.
Here is an example on what gets built, and what doesn’t, in our not-officially-in-a-recession economy.
In the fast-growing Indianapolis suburb of Westfield, Ind., there was a proposed $1 billion, 1,400-acre project that was going to include mostly new housing and stores, but would also have 150 acres set aside for youth sports fields, a new Y, and a minor-league baseball stadium. Because of the lousy real estate market, the housing-and-stores part of the development has been cut by two-thirds.
Meanwhile, the athletics portion of the project has broken off, and its size has doubled — to 300 acres, or as the Indianapolis Business Journal points out, the size of the Kings Island amusement park.
I’ve written about it here before (and before that), and I’ll write about it again, because cities keep doing it: using youth sports as an economic development tool. And why not? At most, your huge complex can host scads of tournaments, which means scads of out-of-town teams, which means scads of parents and kids spending money at your hotels and restaurants. At worst, if the out-of-towners don’t show up, you can justify the cost of the project (and Westfield’s was estimated, when it was half the current size, at around $60 million) by pointing out that, unlike building a new NFL stadium, the community gets to use it.
Even in the throes of the recession, parents in unemployment-scarred towns such as Elkhart, Ind., ponied up to put their kids in sports. As one parent told me in 2009, he will cut any other expense, because “if you save $5, it’s $5 you can spend on your child.” With such a loyal spending base to work with, it’s no wonder even little towns like Edwardsburg, Mich. (population 1,200), have huge sports complexes in the planning or construction stages.
After all, you don’t want to have your hometown newspaper write about all the tournaments (and money) you lost because you didn’t keep up with the Basketball Joneses. (Often, the local coverage of proposed complexes sounds a lot like the fawning articles that beat the drums for taxpayer-funded pro stadiums. Sample headline: “New sports complex offers cities financial home run.”) Again, so what if the promised multimillion-dollar impact from youth tournaments doesn’t happen? At least your kids have a nice place to play, right?
Westfield, population 27,000, is much more ambitious than most cities building youth sports complexes. Instead of just saying, we’re building a complex, Westfield and its mayor, Andy Cook (no relation to your humble blogger) have declared they are building “The Family Sports Capital of America.”
Why so grandiose? Westfield, located in Indiana’s Hamilton County, one of the fastest-growing in the nation, is trying to grab more of the executives who have been more apt to settle in other suburbs, particularly Carmel, located immediately to Westfield’s south. Carmel (hometown of your humble blogger) itself has stood out nationally because of its grand schemes, such as its embrace of roundabouts, its snagging of Michael Feinstein and his Great American Songbook, and its getting Kendra Wilkinson to film her reality show there. A few years back, the U.S. Census Bureau renamed the Indianapolis metropolitan area the Indianapolis-Carmel metro. One of Westfield’s few claims to fame was being the home of a serial killer.
Carmel has always been bigger, richer and more important than Westfield, and damnit, if the town was going to be known for being more than Carmel’s leftovers, it needed to do something grand. Hence, “The Family Sports Capital of America.” (Giving yourself a grandiose nickname is a tradition among Hoosiers. See Michael Jackson, “King of Pop.”)
With ground yet to be broken, we’re a long way from finding out whether Westfield can pop a big civic boner in the face of its rival, which I just realized is a highly inappropriate metaphor in a piece about a place kids play. But we are hardly a long way away from cities of any size determining that putting money into shiny, new youth sports complexes is maybe not such a good idea after all. As long as parents are willing to spend their last $5 on their kids and their sports, there is going to be a market for the facilities. The only question might be is if some other town is going to try to beat Westfield to the “Family Sports Capital of America” punch.
(Actually, Blaine, Minn., already did.)
The opening story of the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch’s big, gimme-a-Pulitzer-Prize series on youth sports is headlined, “Children may be vulnerable in $5 billion youth-sports industry.” May?
All you have to do is spend a little time with this here blog to see how youth sports victimizes kids with molestation, hazing, injury, balls thrown violently to the head and complicated relationships with parents that will keep them in therapy for years. All in the name of getting one of those extremely elusive college scholarships and an even more extremely elusive pro career, all while holding up the sagging economy through recession-proof activities.
Or you could read the Dispatch’s series, a well-reported look pretty much along the same lines, except that the newspaper’s writers aren’t allowed to type “fuck.” Well, they can type it, but it probably won’t get past the fucking copy desk. Fuckers.
To me, the most interesting part of the series is the poll of more than 1,000 central Ohio youths about various aspects of their youth sports experience. For example:
– 315 said they started youth sports at age 5 or younger. Another 445 said they started between ages 6 and 9. I’m going to guess of those 445, they were a lot closer to 6 than 9.
As I typed that previous sentence, this song popped into my head. Kids, let your freak flag fly!
– For the most part, kids appear to play non-school sports because they want to, with many reporting no pressure to play because of a dream of scholarships or making the high school varsity. Only 50 said they got a lot of pressure from parents, while 799 said there was little or none. However, change the question from “parents” to “father,” and I suspect the responses change somewhat.
– 571 said their coaches were fun and improved their game. Only 60 said their coach only wanted to win, or yelled a lot. Is Central Ohio the repository of all the best youth coaches? Really?
– Another 571 (the same kids?) said their parents were supportive or enjoyable at their sporting events. Another 271 said parents were embarrassing or put too much pressure on them. Apparently there are parents, given the low rate of pressure to play, who are all nice and home, but become raging lunatics once the whistle blows.
Actually, the poll, unless the children are suffering some sort of travel team Stockholm Syndrome, seems to reveal that even as we absorb all these stories about the nuttiness of youth sports, in most cases everyone — especially the kids themselves — are keeping their wits and perspective about them. If that’s the case, what I am going to write about? You mean kids really only may be vulnerable? Fuck.
GQ, as part of an Internet-wide movement to create lists and slideshows for cheap page-count padding, recently posted an item called “Eight Stupidest Things Sports Fans Love to Say.” You know, stuff like “he plays the game the right way,” which is also on the list of Eight Stupidest Things Larry Brown Loves to Say.
So that got me thinking, fresh off a break from my 11-year-old daughter’s travel softball before we get to my 7-year-old son’s and 4-year-old daughter’s soccer leagues, about the eight stupidest things youth sports parents and coaches love to say. Given I’m coming off softball, this might be a bit heavy in that direction. I’ve got six items here. Feel free to suggest your own nuggets of numbnutsness for Nos. 7 and 8.
1. “Be a hitter!”
I can’t think of a time someone — a parent or coach — HASN’T yelled this after some poor kid had the temerity to take strike one. I can only imagine how hoarse Wade Boggs’ managers would have gotten had they yelled this every time he took strike one, which was every time he went up to bat.
“Be a hitter!” is dumb on many levels. First, even kids who are scared to take the bat off their shoulder are intellectually familiar with the concept that their mere presence in the batter’s box means that they are, in fact, a hitter. “Be a hitter? I thought I was supposed to be a fielder here!” Second, a kid who is not predisposed to hitting is not suddenly transformed into Ted Williams with the sage advice of “Be a hitter!” In fact, you usually can feel a player’s body tighten after that moment. Third, a kid who takes a pitch at a youth league level is no dummy. Often, a pitcher isn’t going to get the ball over the plate three out of six times, even with an extended strike zone. “Be a hitter” then becomes a command to get kids to swing at terrible pitches, thus teaching bad habits on pitch selection.
If you want your kid to “Be a hitter!” every time the ball is pitched, take him or her to a batting cage.
2. “Two strikes. Only one more!”
This phrase — or its batter corollary, “Two strikes, protect the plate!” — are yelled clearly because of the failure of the American education system. After all, why would even teenagers have this phrase screamed in their direction unless they did not know the number after two was three?
“You will get five strikes…” “Three strikes.”
3. “He’s going to get a scholarship!”
I could have called this blog “Your Kid’s Not Playing in College.” The holy grail (notwithstanding the above Monty Python clip) for many parents, particularly those whose children play sports with no mass audience, is for those tens of thousands of dollars and/or hours to pay off in a scholarship, which they realize only when their child gets to college sports (if their child is lucky, given a scholarship rate of 1% or less for any high school athlete) is year-to-year, and doesn’t come close to paying full freight. Hey, the volleyball team doesn’t make any money, you know?
Still, parents have programmed themselves early into thinking that the scholarship is the easily reachable pot of gold at the end of the athletic rainbow. My wife was out to dinner a while back with a few acquaintances, and she brought up bringing my then 6-year-old youngest son to his bowling league. Almost in unison, those acquaintances shot back, “Ooh, I bet he could get a scholarship for that!” Well, maybe he can. But the kid was still bowling with bumpers, for Pete Weber’s sake.
4. “Have fun!” or “Everybody have fun out there!” or “Hope you all had fun!”
When my wife tells me, “It’ll be fun,” that’s my signal that whatever she’s talking about is sure to be the opposite of fun. “We’re going out with our Bible-thumping neighbors to a creationist theme park. It’ll be fun!” Why does she make a point of telling me it’ll be fun? If it’s fun, won’t it be fun without me having to be cajoled into believing it’s fun? Of course, she knows this, which is why she’s trying to convince me (and her, perhaps) that “it’ll be fun!”
I know we’re supposed to encourage children to have fun in sports, but we do keep score, parents lose their shit on the sidelines, coaches are critiquing kids’ every move, and the umpire doesn’t care that the batter swung through your catcher’s mitt and your fingers are throbbing with pain — damnit, that’s catcher’s interference (the last one actually happened to my 11-year-old daughter this summer). No wonder coaches have to make a point of saying, “It’ll be fun!”
5. “Sports is good for them. It keeps them moving, so they don’t play video games.”
That is a paraphrase of a common reason parents sign up their children for sports when they would clearly rather be, well, playing video games. It’s not fun (“It’ll be fun!”) for anyone — not for the parents dragging the kid out to practice, not the coach who has to deal with a player who does not want to be there, not for any teammate trying to take a sport halfway seriously. And, of course, not for the kid. If you want your child to move and not spend so much time on video games (the only reason I can figure why they’re singled out is because the parents don’t get gaming, or they’ve heard other parents say it), there are other options, ones that are more practical. For instance, have your kid sweep the driveway.
6. “[Fill in unhinged argument with official/umpire/referee]“
Here is my personal code of conduct for parents and coaches when dealing with officials:
Rule 1: The quality of officiating is commensurate with the skill level of the athletes involved. Ergo, your child’s bitty basketball game will not have the same professional refereeing of an NBA game. (Plus, in youth leagues calls often are made differently so the game can be sped up, or to give players more leeway to learn.)
Rule 2: It is OK to react negatively and quickly — such as an eye roll, grunt or “ah, fuck” — to an official’s call. Not every call, but one that seems fairly crucial.
Rule 3: It is OK for the coach to ask for a clarification from the referee as to why a certain call was made — as long as that clarification is requested respectfully. (Not, “Can you please tell me what the fuck you could have possibly seen, you stupid shit?”)
Rule 4: Once the matter is settled, shut up. And if you don’t shut up, the ump, even if it’s a 15-year-old girl, can tell you to shut up.
Rule 5: If you spend the ride home with your child blaming the officials for the loss or anything bad that happened, your child will grow up to be Rasheed Wallace. Except, more than likely, without the money and the NBA career. In other words, all of the whining, and none of the benefits.
Does anyone want to nominate the final two?
I’m typing this entry from my mother’s patio in Carmel, Ind., suburb of Indianapolis, site of the recently completed NCAA men’s basketball Final Four, where the little hometown school crashed the party and nearly made me wonder whether I was too cynical in titling this blog “Your Kid’s Not Going Pro.”
After all, the conceit behind this blog is that no matter how much money or time you spend training your young athlete, the chances of your child going pro — or even getting a college scholarship — are almost nil. There is always someone, somewhere you don’t know that leaps higher, runs faster and hits harder. No amount of coaching or training can ever completely make up for that. Sports is a fun activity, and it’s good for kids. If you want to spend a lot of money on a travel team, have it at. But don’t expect your child to be a star.
And then came Butlermania.
If you didn’t hear, Butler is from the Horizon League, which is to major college basketball as Double-A baseball is to the National League. Even though Butler has been a perennial NCAA team over the last decade (including two previous appearances in the round of 16), it still was an amazing story that a 4,000-student college with a basketball team whose budget could fit into a Duke player’s duffel bag was now facing those same Blue Devils in the final.
And as a native of Indianapolis who has seen many games in Butler’s storied Hinkle Fieldhouse (hey, did you hear “Hoosiers” was filmed there?), I got sucked up in the excitement, especially after coming down with my family Sunday, midway through Final Four weekend.
I took my 12-year-old son, my 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son downtown Monday to soak in the excitement themselves. We drove by Monument Circle just as the second Butler rally of the weekend, attracting another gaggle of thousands, was breaking up. We made our way to the Indiana Convention Center, north of tournament site Lucas Oil Stadium, to go down to Bracket Town.
Bracket Town is a relatively inexpensive ($10 for adults, $6 for kids and seniors) experience where you can do all sorts of basketball-related activities, from pop-a-shot to 3-point contests to skill challenges to just plain shooting around to games of knockout. There also were activities related to other NCAA sports — lacrosse shooting, football drills, a home run derby (with a plastic ball and bat), computer-aided rifle and golf (though not together), hockey puck shooting, and fencing. My 10-year-0ld daughter will forever lord it over my 12-year-old son that she beat him in fencing (with plastic swords). My 7-year-old, already feeling like a little brother after his big brother crushed him in air hockey, didn’t stick around to shake hands after a 9-year-old girl beat him in fencing.
Of course, Bracket Town was thick was people wearing Butler shirts, something you didn’t see much even around Indianapolis before this NCAA run. After all, it is a small school, with a small alumni base, easily pushed aside by Indiana, Purdue and even Ball State. Just hearing Butler fans in a cheer competition, at an NCAA final, was bizarre, despite the school’s past glimpses of success.
On top of that, Bracket Town encourages you to dream big for your kids. I couldn’t help but think, as my 12-year-old was nailing the lacrosse drills — a sport he’s never played — that maybe this would be the sport for him (and that this, following a dabbling at hockey, makes me wonder why he can’t like such expensive activities.) Watching my daughter’s footwork and aggressiveness during fencing, on top of the early success she’s had as an athlete, made me wonder if she’s going to someday write her ticket to college through sports. Watching my 7-year-old’s competitive fire made me think he’s got the guts to go far in his chosen sports of baseball and bowling, though I should talk about him about maybe, next time, shaking the girl’s hand.
Back on the streets of Indianapolis, the Butlermania only built as the game drew closer. More fans in Butler T-shirts swarmed downtown (as did a fair number of fans in West Virginia T-shirts, despite its Final Four loss to Duke — those fans must have had nonrefundable hotel rooms). In a great American mashup, a man in a Sikh headdress wore a T-shirt highlighting hometown pride and the direct 6-mile route from campus to Lucas Oil Stadium: “The Road to the Final Four Goes Down Capitol Avenue!”
Everything was Butler. On the way back to Carmel, we drove through the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood to check out Butler’s campus, including its Clowes Hall, where in 1987 I saw the Psychedelic Furs (featuring Richard and Tim Butler). On the way to the bar where my wife and I watched the final game, we passed by Butler Toyota.
The final game itself was a testament to how good Butler really was, and how tough it played. A few times it looked like Duke — much taller, bigger, faster and moneyed — was ready to run away, but Butler always pulled the Blue Devils back. Butler, and particularly star player Gordon Hayward, did not shoot well. Yet they defended well, worked hard on the offensive boards, and had players step up out of nowhere to keep Butler in the game. Players such as Avery Jukes, with a name that could put him in the backfield with Tonsillitis Johnson and Artis Toothis in the great Dan Jenkins novel “Life Its Ownself.”
Speaking of cultural references, maybe Butler, as it cut a five-point lead to one in the final two minutes, could be the real-life “Hoosiers.” Maybe I was wrong about Your Kid’s Not Going Pro. Maybe it is true that with determination, heart and the smarts to take advantage of any lucky breaks you get, your kid could go pro. Or at least college. And not only play at a higher level, but also succeed wildly. When Butler called timeout with 13 seconds left, down one, how many people do you think broke out references to Butler running the picket fence? To Brad Stevens saying he would use Gordon Hayward as a decoy? To the players shiftly uncomfortably until Hayward stared Stevens in the eye to say, “I’ll hit it”? All 70,000 in attendance? Most of the millions watching?
Hayward did get the ball — twice in the last three seconds, it turns out — and couldn’t hit either time. The movie Butler starred in wasn’t “Hoosiers.” It was “Rocky.” Butler was an underestimated foe who seemingly came out of nowhere to take the champ’s best shot, give back as good as it got, yet not quite have enough talent to overcome a superior foe.
The Mid-Majority, the world’s greatest college basketball blog, has a saying for the mid-major Cinderellas of the NCAA men’s tournament: “It always ends in a loss.” It’s not a cynical statement about smaller programs. It’s the reality. Rocky can’t come right out of the meat locker to knock out Apollo Creed.
And even if he did — even if Butler won — would that have fundamentally changed things? Would every mid-major be able to fight toe-to-toe with the Dukes of the world? Probably not. Butler, like Gonzaga, is a program that has found a way to transcend its relatively low status on the NCAA totem pole to be successful year-in and year-out. The other members of Butler’s Horizon League are not going to replicate this anytime soon.
These were some of thoughts running through my disappointed head as the crowd cleared out of my bar after game time as if someone had just released anthrax.
So in the end, Butler does not make me rethink my assumptions behind “Your Kid’s Not Going Pro.” As a matter of fact, it only strengthens them. If you want to spend a lot of money, time and energy on your child’s sports, then that’s great. I will continue to do so with my four children. But unless your child grows to 6-foot-11, or runs a 4.2 40, or has a 97 mph fastball, it’s a long, hard road — and it might be even if your child HAS these attributes.
That’s why it’s important to make sure you enjoy your child’s sporting experience, and not make it the focus of your social life, or your family’s future mansion-dwelling potential. Because it always ends in a loss.
The founders of Houston-based SelectStat.com, an online youth statistics database, have in mind as customers the sort of people who want to build up their kid’s resume so they have a better chance of being selected by travel teams or otherwise get better opportunities at each level, kind of like all those services that promise to make highlight videos of your kid for the benefit of college recruiters.
“I look at this as a child’s athletic resume,” co-founder Phil Jones told the Houston Business Journal. “If child moves out of state, it can travel with them. It’s good for the coach and good for the kid.”
Or, co-founder, Sean Ulrey, your $19.99 could go for making an online “baby book” for your child’s sporting career.
While I’m sure the co-founders/sports parents are on to something — there’s no doubt there’s money to be made from both those bases — I think Jones and Ulrey are missing a very key demographic: fantasy sports.
There are a million ways to play fantasy baseball, football, basketball, even golf and NASCAR. But why not get a database together and create a fantasy youth sports league? Have you SEEN the money these fantasy nerds drop? Magazine subscriptions, Internet inside information sites, flights and hotels to fantasy conventions — these folks are more shameless than youth sports parents at spending big bucks for useless activity.
And the thing is, parents will stop being interested in SelectStat when their kids stop playing sports. But fantasy nerds are forever.
Sheesh, even Bloomberg, which presumably exists to cover Wall Street, knows where the real money is.
I just finished reading the paperback version of “Game On,” by ESPN writer Tom Farrey. I have a sense of relief, in that Farrey, through extensive reporting, confirms many of the biases I had about American youth sports when I started this blog in December 2008, after the hardcover release of Farrey’s book. Namely:
1. That there is too much of an early emphasis on competition, instead of learning — and even more important — enjoying a game.
2. That there is a youth sports-industrial complex that runs from the youth leagues to the colleges and professional leagues they stock that send the message to worried parents that if you don’t pay big in time and money, your child will never even sniff sporting success past, oh, age 6.
3. That this youth sports-industrial complex has created a youth sports world that rapidly tosses aside any family who doesn’t have the means to participate, or has a child who blooms late physically or don’t specialize in a sport by the time the first baby tooth is lost.
4. That the craziness — the yelling at refs, the coaching from the sidelines, the incredible money spent, the amount of time devoted — you see from youth sports parents often is a reasoned, conservative, expected, fostered result of points No. 1, 2, and 3, because parents, trying to do their job in advocating for the best interests of their children, have to resort to extreme means if they want their children to match even the limited athletic success they might have had in their generation.
5. That this system, for the most part, satisfies no one — it leaves millions of kids tossed aside with no options for even casual physical activity or team play, it squeezes out otherwise talented kids who can’t pay the cost of admission, and it doesn’t even guarantee the creation of a deep bench of elite-level athletes.
Farrey, backed by ESPN’s relatively deep pockets, was able to travel the globe to unlock the story of how American youth sports got to where they are. (While I tweaked columnist Rick Reilly for calling out USA Today — and not his own employer — for ESPN’s own kiddie-pornish promotion of youth sports, the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader has given Farrey and other reporters the resources to do some great investigative work in this world and otherwise. That’s part of the yin-yang of being a big sports journalism organization and an even bigger sports promoter.)
My favorite part about Farrey’s book isn’t a specific part. It’s his whole approach. Farrey, like many of us who trade in this space, has his personal reasons for his interest in youth sports. Namely, the persons you’ve spawned who play them. (I have four personal reasons; Farrey has three.) But Farrey doesn’t make the book about him and his worry for his children. Instead, by reporting out the history and evolution (or de-evolution) of youth sports, Farrey makes “Game On” about the future of the country, not the future of his kids, or just kids in general.
Farrey ends with some of his own ideas of reforming youth sports, but I’ll get into those at a later date. I’ll bring them up later, when I finish a post I’m planning about why school sports is destined to die.
The beauty of having children is that they can lecture you like you’re a dumbass. Like how my 12-year-old son the other night, for his science class, had to interview numerous people about whether their habits were Earth-friendly, as if I needed someone who sucks power through a garden hose with his Xbox giving me an implied guilt trip because I have the temerity to drive my car a whopping four miles a day, round-trip, to get to my mass-transit train that takes me to work so I can afford to pay his electric bill.
Another 12-year-old boy, Miller Donnelly of Sudbury, Ont., has taken child harangues to the older generation to a new level, or should I say the 266,000-odd YouTube viewers (and counting) have done so with “The Magic Hockey Helmet,” which got a recent push from young Miller’s interview with ParentDish. “The Magic Hockey Helmet” is Donnelly, when he was 9, talking in full Canadian accent about how aboot the time he puts on a hawkey helmet, he magically turns into a 20-year-old (minus-6.67 Celsius), with people screaming and cursing at him.
Listen, kid, I know full well how to act at a game without your cute little spiel. By the way, I must say, if you’re playing like a 20-year-old, it’s probably because you handle the puck like a major junior with multiple undiagnosed concussions! Holy fucking shit, kid! You’re like a convenience store — no checks! JUST PASS THE PUCK ALREADY, ASSHOLE! MOUNT RUSHMORE CALLED — THEY SAID THEY NEED YOU TO GIVE BACK THE FUCKING STONE YOU CALL YOUR HANDS!!!!!!
I mean, really, where do these kids get off telling adults how to behave?
“Junior high Paterno” is the nom de guerre the Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune affixed to one Barry Crust, who is in his last year coaching middle school sports at Hudtloff Middle School in Lakewood, Wash. That’s not because Crust has coke bottle bottoms on his glasses, wears white socks with any shoes, and found late-career success by loosening his recruiting standards to include more criminals. It’s because Crust is old.
Crust started at Lakewood in 1967 and never went anywhere else, beginning his career one year after Paterno took the head job for Penn State’s football team and never went anywhere else. As the News Tribune itself noted, all Paterno had to do was coach football. By the newspaper’s calculation, Crust has coached the equivalent of 117 seasons — a “baseball coach for 42 years, a wrestling coach for 31 years, a football coach for 26 years, a fastpitch coach for 14 years. Factor in a couple of years of basketball and one each for track and volleyball … .” Crust retired as a physical education teacher in 1997, but he’ll finish his 118th and final season in the spring of 2010 when he coach’s Hudtloff’s baseball team.
The News Tribune asked Crust how kids and sports have changed over 42 years, naturally. Crust’s answers are not what you’d call, well, crusty:
– Girls aren’t just stuck in intramurals anymore, something Crust thought was “silly” and “unfair.”
– Other than being bigger and faster, and having different hairstyles, kids haven’t really changed much over the years.
– The biggest change has been the decline of the all-around athlete.
Crust fears the concept of the all-around athlete has been compromised by a youth-sports culture that demands specialized talents.
“We’ll have an after-school baseball practice from 3:15 to 5,” he said, “and then the kids are picked up for their next practice, which goes until 7. What that means is I’m not their only coach, so I’ve got to be flexible.
“Take bunting. If you don’t know how to bunt, I’ll show you. But if you’ve learned a different technique from somebody else, I don’t want to waste our time trying to undo everything.”
Interestingly, Crust credits spreading himself coaching over multiple sports as a reason why he lasted so long.
Not that Crust bemoans the relative brevity of any junior high sports season. To the contrary, he believes the schedule – two weeks of practice, five weeks of games, everything wrapped up in two months – kept him fresh during the three decades he spent as full-time P.E. instructor and busy-bodied coach.
It sounds like Crust kept some perspective about youth sports and his role in them. No wonder he appears to be retiring happy, and on his own terms.