Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Archive for May 3rd, 2009

I got stripes, stripes around my shoulders…

with 3 comments

…and them parents, them parents, they’re ’bout to drag me dowwwwwwwwwnnnnnn.

Someone who knew a little something about the perils of the striped shirt.

Nate Ulrich, sports columnist for the (Munster, Ind.) Times, learned why the Indiana High School Athletic Association and just about everyone who needs officials have trouble finding them — because you spend a lot of time and pay a lot of money for a gig that offers crap pay and crap from everyone else around you.

He spent two hours at a recruiting fair, four hours studying for his certification exam, two hours taking it, and one hour buying his uniform, activities that took place over the course of more than two months between his appearance at the fair and his hiring for his first games. He spent $227.90, $182.90 of it for the official zebra wear and whistle. The pay for Ulrich’s first assignment, back-to-back sixth-grade AAU girls basketball — $40.

Before his first game, Ulrich’s partner for the games told him two things. One, don’t sell out your partner, no matter how bad the call was, because that person “is your only friend in the gym.” Two, that junior-high parents are “evil. … At that junior high level, weird things happen.”

Ulrich, by his own admission, failed to hear a time-out call from one bench during the first game, and heard about it from that coach and score keeper during the game, and heard about it from the manager of the facility hosting the game, who had heard more from the coach and score keeper. Fun!

The second game was better, except that Ulrich’s ref partner told him he had to be more assertive. “A lot of times you were blowing your whistle like a little girl.”

Of course, you expect in any new job you’re going to screw up or be hesitant. Although Ulrich could have signed on to be a nuclear plant manager and gotten more margin for error from his colleagues.

Ulrich’s conclusion:

During my drive home that night, I contemplated whether I’d ever work another game. I don’t think I will.

I made $40 for two hours of work. I was sweaty and exhausted, so it was definitely a good workout. And I was fortunate to work with an understanding [partner] … .

The bottom line is I just didn’t enjoy it.

I am glad I mustered the guts to try officiating, though. I saw the game from a new perspective, and I attained a newfound level of appreciation and respect for the men and women who have been doing it for years.

If you think can you do a better job … I encourage you to go through the process I did and see for yourself.

No, better yet — I dare you.

Ulrich more than 250 people went to the recruiting fair, so apparently many are daring. In these times, $40 is $40, and six gigs like that will at least pay for the test and the uniform.

Written by rkcookjr

May 3, 2009 at 5:42 pm

Your kid bores me

with 2 comments

As I’ve mentioned before, many newspapers are going into overdrive encouraging parents and coaches to submit youth sports photos and scores, figuring that those parents and coaches, and anyone who knows a kid on the team submitted, will buy the paper or peruse the Web site as a result. For example, the Signal in Valencia, Calif., is setting up dedicated web pages for leagues and sports, and even individual teams. The newspaper also will collect stats. So just in case you wanted to know who was leading all 9-year-olds in doubles in local softball — now you’ll know.

The risk I hadn’t mentioned in my previous post about this strategy is that for every person all excited about your newspaper and web site for accepting little Jimmy’s soccer picture, you’ll have an infinite number on the other side who don’t give a shit.

That is the stated opinion of the Mansfield (Ohio) News-Journal’s Larry Phillips, who is, shall we say, skeptical of his newspaper’s fawning over kiddie sports. He figures it’s a bit of a yawner to anyone outside the child’s immediate orbit.


At the risk of rankling my superiors, I’ve got a youth sports bulletin.

For years here, we conducted reader panels that insisted folks wanted more youth sports coverage. In response, our marching orders were for more youth sports stories.

After 20 years in sports and repeated attempts at attacking this beat with issue-oriented stories, event coverage stories and feature stories garnering mostly negative feedback, I can say with full confidence the truth about this topic.

No one, repeat no one, wants to read about youth sports unless those stories are about their child, their grandchild, or someone else near and dear to their heart.

That’s a fact, and I can prove it.

My 5-year-old is in his first season in youth soccer. He split the posts for the first time with an own goal, but has since rallied to find the correct net twice in four games.

Bored to tears?

Of course. That’s two sentences readers will never get back.

I absolutely understand the personal investment in youth sports. I also understand its relevance in the overall landscape of north central Ohio sports.

What we’ve tried to do, and in fact encourage, is the team picture philosophy. Submit the squad’s photo identifying each youngster and the team’s accomplishments. As the weather warms and more teams are participating, we’ll move those photos toward a consistent online package. With our space in sports, that’s what we’ve done with turkey and deer pictures for our hunting fans. It still gives the kids recognition and for those readers cutting out such things for scrapbooks (and my wife is among them), it serves a dual purpose.

So, Larry, are you saying I’m wasting my time with this here blog? Um, I’m not sure I want you to answer that.

The youth sports stadium game

with 20 comments

If you thought the competition to build massive sports stadiums was just for cities that were, well, cities, then you are correct. As long as you think of those stadiums only for professional teams. Smaller towns and suburbs are drooling to replicate the success of Blaine, Minn.’s National Sports Center, or merely trying to attract big tournaments that fill hotel rooms and restaurants with rude kids running wild (at least that’s what I’ve seen and heard in the hotels I’ve stayed in that were hosting kids playing youth tournaments).

For example, the State Journal-Register of Springfield, Ill., reports in today’s edition that a $60 million youth sports facility is under consideration. It would have, as the paper notes, “a 3,000-seat baseball stadium, soccer fields and a football/track facility.” That would make it the biggest construction project in Springfield since the monorail.

If $60 million in a city of about 117,000 sounds like a lot, how does $60 million in a suburb of about 24,000 grab you?

That’s the pricetag Westfield, Ind., is putting on its proposed complex, which would be located a 5K run from where I’m sitting now (my parents’ house in Carmel, another north Indianapolis suburb.) The complex would consist of a 4,000-seat multipurpose outdoor stadium (which would also be used to attract an independent minor-league pro baseball team), indoor sports facilities, and baseball, soccer, softball and lacrosse fields. It would be part of a $1.5 billion development with retail, housing, hotels and a golf course already there, money to be raised in a public-private partnership.


The youth sports stadium game is like the big-time stadium game in that burgs known for little or nothing (as Indianapolis was when it beefed up its Olympic sports facilities and filched the Colts in the 1980s) are using the facilities to make some sort of a name for itself. For example, Westfield, known nowhere outside of Indianapolis and barely known within it, wants to be known as “the Family Sports Capital of America.”

As Westfield Mayor Andy Cook (no relation to your humble blogger) told Indianapolis TV station WTHR: “To our knowledge, there are two there facilities similar to this. One is in suburban Minneapolis. The other is in Disney World.”

See, there’s Blaine lust again. As for Disney World, apparently Cook is hopeful that someday a Super Bowl winner will yell, “I’m goin’ to Westfield!”


Come in to Westfield, the Happiest Place on Earth.

I must admit, I admire Westfield’s gigantic civic nards in proposing this project, especially in this economy, even though Westfield is a fast-growing burg.

There are plenty of stories out there bragging about how much money youth sports is bringing to various small towns. If you need an exact number, you can always call someone like Patrick Rishe, an economic professor at Webster University in St. Louis, who is making a side business assessing an economic impact number just like people used to do for pro sports stadium projects.

Of course, a lot of those pro sports numbers are in serious dispute, like this report in the Philadelphia Inquirer (via The Sports Economist) states:

In a just-released article in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, my colleagues and I [Rick Eckstein, a Villanova sociology professor] studied media coverage of 23 publicly financed stadium initiatives in 16 different cities, including Philadelphia. We found that the mainstream media in most of these cities is noticeably biased toward supporting publicly financed stadiums, which has a significant impact on the initiatives’ success.

This bias usually takes the form of uncritically parroting stadium proponents’ economic and social promises, quoting stadium supporters far more frequently than stadium opponents, overlooking the numerous objective academic studies on the topic, and failing to independently examine the multitude of failed stadium-centered promises throughout the country, especially those in oft-cited “success cities” such as Denver and Cleveland.

The argument for youth sports stadiums over pro sports stadiums is that they’re cheaper to build, and that they attract almost all out-of-towners rather than taking money from one local entertainment venue to another. The argument against is that given the relative size of the towns, the money being spent is the equivalent of what a big city pays for a big stadium. And you can’t assume everyone will stay in your town’s hotels, or spend as much money as you think they will spend. Plus, it seems slightly creepy to base a major part of your city’s economy on kids playing games.

However, it’s doubtful this (fools?) gold rush is ending anytime soon. To symbolize where we’re going, Vero Beach, Fla., is looking at converting Dodgertown, the old Los Angeles Dodgers spring training site, into a youth sports complex.

Schools abandoning sports, part II

leave a comment »

In Mark Hyman’s “Until It Hurts,” (already reviewed here), there’s an interesting bit of comment about parents and private interests taking over competitive sports when schools seemed less committed to them.

As I read it, I was thinking about all the discussions about statewide cuts in high school sports schedules and other pullbacks from varsity sports occurring during the current recession, in an environment where private interests like AAU and clubs are already siphoning away the elite athletes.

Except that Hyman was writing about the 1930s.

But it wasn’t the Depression and ensuring school sports cutbacks that gave private interests like American Legion Junior League baseball (born in 1926) and Pop Warner Football (born in 1929 as the Junior Football Conference) an opening to exploit. It was educators’ distaste for how competitive school sports was becoming. They decided it would be better to de-emphasize varsity sports in favor of intramurals — an idea I’ve proferred on a few occasions on this here blog.

Hyman approvingly quotes sports historian and coaching teacher Rainer Martens calling this decision a “gigantic blunder.”

“Ironically, educators suddenly found themselves no longer leading the movement they had begun. Instead of well-trained professionals guiding the sports programs of children, well-meaning but untrained volunteers assumed leadership roles. Sadly, educators were left on the sidelines shouting their unheeded warnings and criticisms,” writes Martens in his seminal (June 1978) book Joy and Sadness in Children’s Sports.

Of course, as schools got back on the sports train, overemphasis on winning was (and is) endemic there, too. But schools at least have to hold their players to academic and other eligibility standards, and limits on practices and games allow for more balanced lives and less potential for overuse injuries than hard-core club sports.

So do these cutbacks mean private organizations will get an even greater foothold on youth sports?

It’s tough to say right now — plenty of private organizations are noting declines in players or upturns in requests for financial assistance because of the current recession.

But the bigger, longer-term danger for schools that want to be taken seriously as a place for sports is that their cutbacks highlight how anyone wanting a scholarship or pro career should seek assistance elsewhere.

As a school cuts back music, would its top musicians not seek opportunities elsewhere? As a school cuts back theater, would not anyone dreaming of an actor career not seek opportunities elsewhere? If a school cuts back on academic programs, doesn’t it risk losing students to private schools or home-schooling?

I don’t have empirical numbers to prove that any of these trends hold. It just seems logical to me that if you’re already diffident about whether the high school soccer team is worth your time, especially when college coaches (as they do in Hyman’s book) make it clear all they scout is club soccer, it’s one more reason to leave varsity sports in favor of private programs.

Is this another gigantic blunder?

I don’t think so. As Hyman wrote, this cat already was let out of the bag in the 1930s. And anyone seeking elite play is already trained from an early age to look outside of school — to programs that, depending on their funding, might have better-trained coaches than the school can offer.

It might be time for schools to look at athletics as something more akin to intramurals — to find ways to get more students involved, both to help with the national obesity rate but also to give an outlet for kids who are never going to play travel ball. Again, we heed the words of Colorado football coach Dan Hawkins: “Go play intramurals, brother.”