Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Archive for June 2009

Minnesota declares a week without sports…

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…and I’m sure it’ll be just as effective as TV Turnoff Week.

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

…[t]he Minnesota State High School League [approved] a no-contact period for coaches and student-athletes effective July 1-7, 2010. The amendment, which the MSHSL representative assembly passed by a 43-2 vote, calls for an Independence Week of sorts, a small piece of summer reserved for athletes and their families.

“The kids need breaks,” MSHSL executive director Dave Stead said. “They are not collegians connected through a scholarship to play a sport. The good coaches know that, and they’ll make the adjustments.”

Metro-area coaches, while acknowledging a seven-day moratorium is not a big deal — Apple Valley wrestling coach Jim Jackson called it “trivial” — question two principal implications. Girls’ basketball coaches Faith Patterson of Minneapolis North and Ray Finley of Providence Academy wondered what message is being sent when only high school coaches — not AAU basketball coaches — are asked to provide time for kids to be kids.

And Blaine boys’ hockey coach Dave Aus and Spring Lake Park boys’ basketball coach Grant Guzy are concerned that the MSHSL might decide to expand the no-contact period. If that happened, Wayzata football coach Brad Anderson worries that athletes choosing to invest in private instruction might not get a worthwhile return.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association established a similar summer no-contact period in 2007. Associate director Tom Rashid said schools can choose their own seven-day break to be completed by Aug. 1, and about 95 percent do so over the Fourth of July. Adjusting to the new rule, Rashid said, took time.

“We probably had 100 phone calls that first summer, maybe more, from coaches asking, ‘I can’t do this? I can’t do that?’ Rashid said. “The amount of agony in the first year of the program to find 168 hours of no high school sports led me to believe that we absolutely needed something to pull the reins back.”

Bless their bleeding hearts and good intentions, but here are the problems for any high school athletic association mandating a week without sports.

The elite athletes, as noted above, are going to keep playing AAU and club sports, so all this rule does is give athletes and their parents one more reason to find school-affiliated sports lacking in comparison.

As for the comments that athletes investing in instruction might not get a worthwhile return — it sounds crazy that one week mandating no practices or games might make that much of a difference. But I’m sure every hockey and basketball coach (and every other coach in every sport but football) in Minnesota (and the nation) sweats whether the best players are going to keep playing high school sports, knowing college recruiters are paying a lot more attention to the more elite club level.

Meanwhile, the middling high school athletes, trying to keep up, will still end up in private sessions, worthwhile return or not. So it’s not like they’re actually taking a week off — nor are their parents.

I know we’re all trying to figure out ways to de-emphasize sports so kids aren’t getting mentally or physically burned out. But Minnesota’s rule rests on an assumption that kids at the high school level are burning out. That’s not necessarily so. Most surveys talk about 75 percent of youth athletes quitting by age 13. However, one Canadian study, looking at registration data, posits the idea that the decline in youth sports participation into the teenage years not a matter of kids quitting en masse in the tween years– it’s that fewer new players join a sport as the years go on. That makes sense, given the early age so many kids start in sports, and the self-selection either in discovering one’s talent or realizing one is a long way back from the kids who have played for a while.

There are players quoted in the Star-Tribune story saying they feel like the week without sports is ridiculous. After all, if you’re dedicated to some activity at the high school level, you’re probably good at it and passionate about it. Heck, my 6-year-old son, whose T-ball closing ceremony is tonight, is upset he can’t start next year’s league tomorrow.

Minnesota’s move for a week without sports comes from lofty ideals, and I’m sure there are parents who hope that really means they’re on break for a week. However, I doubt it’s going to change the athletic landscape in the state, except to tip a few more of the top athletes away from high school sports.

When to let your kid quit

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New York Times’ Motherlode blog brings up a thorny question in the households of sports families — when is a child allowed to quit?9588687_b9cc351918_m

Believe it or not, it’s a question that’s never come up in my house. At least, not in terms of wanting to stomp off in the middle of a season. There’s been dabbling, particularly with my oldest children. My 12-year-old son has retired from soccer, baseball and wrestling, while my 10-year-old (as of tomorrow) daughter no longer needs her soccer gear. Then again, we’ve never pressured our children (as far as we know) into a certain sport because it’s good for them.

With four kids, I’m at the opposite end — talking them out of sports and activities they don’t appear to love with every fiber of my being. Especially hockey.  When my oldest son, who has played pickup games and taken hockey classes, said he might be interested in joining a league, I told him it was $1,500 and that he would be playing most every day. So, I ask you, son, do you love hockey, or do you kinda like it? “I kinda like it,” he said. “OK, then, no hockey,” I said. Turns out he much more enjoys putting on his in-line skates, popping some punk and metal on the iPod and zipping around the neighborhood to getting yelled at on the ice.

Back to quitting, I would say I’m hardly out of the mainstream in thinking that I would prefer if my child starts a season with a team, he or she should end it, and then quit. But I can see quitting under certain scenarios:

1. The coach and/or the other players are abusive. Not a little bit of teasing, or a coach who doesn’t worship the ground you walk on. I’m at most every game, anyway, and I coach, too. I know what abusive means.

2. The child clearly does not enjoy the sport. By that I mean you’re halfway through the season and the child prefers picking dandelions to kicking a soccer ball, or playing right field. That it’s a fight to get your child to every practice or game. You’ve already tried the “commit-through-the-season” speech, and it’s just not working. Some kids just don’t like certain activities. If it’s that bad, there’s no lesson your child is going to learn by sticking it out other than you’re unreasonable. Certainly, there will be other activities, sports or not, your child will enjoy, and you can always make finding another one a prerequisite for quitting. No sense making your life hell because your child is so unhappy.

3. Your work schedule changes, and you can’t get your child to practices or games. As a coach, I try to tell parents in this situation that we can make arrangements to have other parents help out. However, usually a child quits because of No. 3 when the indications of No. 2 are already in play.

Of course, some of you parents already know when you should not allow your child to quit under any circumstance. That’s when your child is on a travel team, has been for years, and your child quitting would shut you out from the exclusive, snotty social circle you’ve built with the other travel parents. Sometimes you have to let your children know it’s not always about themselves.

Smoke, drink, gamble and blow stuff up — it's for the children

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Someone’s gonna get a new baseball field out of this.

There is a lot of youth sports fundraising and product-selling going on that makes selling candy or cookie dough look as wholesome as a Little League-sponsored organic farmers’ market.

In Walcott, Iowa, you can buy beer from the concession stands at Little League games.

In the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, one dollar from the sale of each carton of cigarettes on the Shubenacadie First Nation community will go toward funding fees for youth sports registration.

In Minnesota, the Rochester Amateur Sports Commission brags that it has distributed $50,000 over the last 18 months from proceeds of charitable gambling.

In California, more than likely the stand where you’re buying your fireworks is partnered with a youth sports league that gets some of the proceeds.

You want marijuana legalized? Find a way to sell the idea you’re using it to give money back to youth sports, or to kids’ programs in general. It worked for state lotteries!

Crime and the NHL draft, the aftermath part I

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The other day I wrote about a player in the mix for the NHL draft who is awaiting a July 6 sentencing in Ontario on a manslaughter charge. The player, who can’t be named under Canada’s juvenile court laws, was found to have thrown an opposing high school rugby player onto his head after a match, pinching his spinal cord. The injured player died a few days later.

I haven’t given the player’s name, though it’s easily available to find through a search. However, I will say the player whose name popped up did get drafted — by the New York Islanders. The Islanders beat reporters haven’t picked up anything on this yet, understandable because the focus is on John Tavares, the team’s first pick and the No. 1 pick overall. However, I would expect that after the sentencing, the New York papers are likely to be all over this. Hence, why this post is the aftermath, part I.

Written by rkcookjr

June 27, 2009 at 1:48 pm

It's a liberal media conspiracy against home-school football!

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No, not the New York Times’ straight-on story about the Glory for Christ Football League, largely populated by teams of home-schooled children who are not allowed, under state law, to play at their local public schools. (You can read more here about so-called Tim Tebow bills, named for the two-time Heisman-winning Florida quarterback who was home-educated but played on the local high school football team thanks to that state legislature’s 1996, first-of-its-kind law to allow such arrangements.)

What is going to get some in a lather (or in hysterics), I suspect, is the first photo the Times posted on its slide show accompanying the piece. I won’t post it because of copyright, but let’s just say it doesn’t speak well of the people doing the home schooling. Next on Hannity: Why is the New York Times making evangelical Christians look stupid by ignoring all of their correctly spelled signs?

Then again, I can’t judge too harshly, not with so many signs with misspelled words, misplaced apostrophes and general awfulness that makes it seem that while English is not a dead language, its speakers are actively trying to kill it.

29236898_55e4d453c3_mInstead of warning me, why don’t you make him get off?

Written by rkcookjr

June 26, 2009 at 5:45 pm

How well-intentioned parents cause future head cases

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Nell Minow smartens up the vast wasteland of the Internet with a Beliefnet.com Q&A with Richard Weissbourd, author of the book, “The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-Intentioned Parents Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development.”

I haven’t read the book — in fact, I just heard of it by looking at this interview — but the title conforms with my own hypothesis (hardly unique) that most of the problems with sports parenting are caused by parents who care way, way too much. (For a hilarious look at how that plays out, I highly recommend you get the first season of the Canadian television series “The Tournament,” which focuses on the foibles of the parents of a traveling hockey team of 10-year-olds. Not the second season, though. That is as awful as the first season is spectacular.)

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The portion from 2:52-3:17 is about the most brilliant distillation of youth sports ever in a work of fiction.

Here is the exchange in Minow’s interview with Weissbourd regarding sports parents. Inside his answers are two irrefutable truths about sports parenting. One, that when someone first becomes a sports parent, you go a little crazy inside watching your child having to fight on his or her own right in front of you — and you can’t step in. Two, that it’s very easy to wrap up your self-worth, and the worth of other parents, in how well your child or their child performs, especially if a social circle builds with the parents of the “good” kids — and you’re not in it.

You write about the “morally mature” sports parent. Why do you think many parents are immature, and what can be done about it?

While a great deal of media attention has been trained on reckless parents and coaches at children’s sporting events, many of us as parents and coaches, if we are honest with ourselves, get far too wrapped up in these events and fail to model for children a basic respect and responsibility for others. I remember realizing that whether my child’s hit slipped by the shortstop or was caught might affect my mood for days, and being furious at a perfectly innocent eight-year-old child who kept striking out my son and his teammates. Sports consultant Greg Dale coaches parents to be alert to other classic signs of their overinvestment, such as saying “we” won or lost the game, regularly occupying dinner conversations with talk about children’s sports or planning family vacations around sports events. Some of us get bent out of shape at these games, of course, because we are looking to our kids to fulfill our fantasies, or because of our competitive feelings toward other parents. But there are many other reasons.

Children’s sports can stir up old childhood wounds and yank us back to old childhood battles–peer and sibling rivalries, difficulties with authority, painful experiences of unfairness and mistreatment, struggles with shyness and self-assertion. For some adults who experience their lives as monotonous, children’s sports can provide an eventful, compelling plot, with their own child as a central character.

Jordan Hill smashes your child's future

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The New York Knicks’ No. 1 pick, the eighth overall, was Jordan Hill, a junior from Arizona who is the reason why all that money you spend to put your kid in basketball camps is a big, fat waste  (if you’re dreaming of an NBA career for your child).

Hill didn’t start playing organized basketball until the ninth grade. And he didn’t play at all his junior year of high school because of academic troubles. He didn’t start on the AAU circuit, where most of the best players to go get noticed, until before his senoir year of high school. And yet Hill got a scholarship offer to a major basketball power, and got picked in the top 10 of the NBA draft.

Clearly, Hill has worked very hard in a very short time to improve his game enough to get noticed by the NBA. Of course, it also helps a bit that he’s 6-foot-10.

Your child is not going to be 6-foot-10.

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That’s Jordan Hill, dunking on your dreams for your child.

No matter how many camps you send your child to, no matter how many leagues he dominates, once your child runs into competition that is 6-foot-10, he is sunk unless he is preternaturally talented or is also 6-foot-10. All the more reason to relax when you watch your kid’s games, never to push them to become the NBA players they are never going to be.

Why I don't like everybody-gets-a-trophy leagues

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It’s not because they ruin our youth and our society.

It’s not because they devalue true excellence.

It’s not because they are responsible for bailouts to the auto industry.

It’s not because they lead to killing sprees.

It’s because they take up a lot of space.

Even before my youngest gets in sports, I have bedrooms and drawers cluttered with sports participation trophies (with one more coming for my 6-year-old son’s T-ball closing ceremony next week). I’ve got a lot of sports parenting years to go — where am I going to put all this stuff?

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Written by rkcookjr

June 25, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Crime and the NHL draft

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Scouts are buzzing about a particular second-year Ontario Hockey League player, putting the 18-year-old in the top 100 North American players available for the NHL draft Friday. Mike Brophy of Sportsnet.ca got one prominent talent evaluator on the record:

“I like him,” said E.J. McGuire, the head of NHL Central Scouting. “There are nights when he controls the game and then there are other nights you watch him and you say to yourself, ‘Come on kid, grab the puck and go with it.’ He has (Patrick) Kane-like skill and size isn’t an issue, but he needs to work on his consistency. Maybe that will come with time and maturity. [Editor's note: Kane was the No. 1 pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2007 NHL draft.]

“You worry about what happened hanging over his head and wonder how big that dark cloud is. On the other hand, with what he has had to deal with, maybe it will make him more resilient. Jeremy Roenick said one of the San Jose Sharks‘ problems was they didn’t hit any big bumps in the road this season and when they lost a couple of games in the playoffs they weren’t prepared to handle adversity. This kid has handled adversity. “

The adversity? His manslaughter conviction in May for killing an opponent after a high school rugby game.

The player, now 18, picked up 15-year-old Manny Castillo and slammed him on his head after a 2007 game, pinching his spinal cord. Castillo died two days after the incident.

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The judge in the case called the play a “sucker tackle” and rejected the defense’s contention that no crime was committed because a player takes a risk of injury any time he or she steps onto a field. From the (Toronto) Globe and Mail:

“The playing field is not a criminal law-free zone,” Judge [Bruce] Duncan said. “The laws of the land apply in the same way as they do elsewhere … There was no justification in self defence. Accordingly, the defendant committed an assault, an unlawful act. That unlawful act caused death.”

“The force applied by the defendant was not within the rules of the game …” the judge said. “… dangerous play inside or outside of the rules is not acceptable … The defendant intentionally applied force that was outside the rules of the game or any standard by which the game is played. Manny did not explicitly consent to that force, and I am satisfied beyond any doubt that no such consent can be implied.”

(Marty McSorley and Todd Bertuzzi can tell you Canadian authorities are not afraid to prosecute overly violent behavior in sports.)

The offending player is not being identified because under Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act, it would violate the law to do so. Not for me, because I’m in the United States. However, I’ll refrain from identifying the player, even though it doesn’t take a lot of searching to figure out his name. I don’t want to risk that I, and people on message boards who have identified him, are wrong.

I wouldn’t blame you for finding it sickening that NHL talent evaluators and the player’s seem to be finding ways to, if not excuse what happened, do a little too much to bury it in the past. From Brophy’s story:

The young man does not plan to attend the NHL draft, which will be held June 26-27 at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Those who know him well believe he has a promising future as a pro hockey player.

“First and foremost he’s a terrific young man; a kid who made a mistake,” his coach said. “He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He’s not an angry kid; not a kid on the edge. He’s an unbelievable young man.

“As an underage player two years ago he was unbelievable. Last year I think his situation got the better of him and he had a bit of an off year. He was also injured and missed considerable time. But I will say he’s the kind of kid who, even when he was injured, sat in the stands for every practice and encouraged his teammates. And he was always there to help them tape their sticks or lace their skates, too.”

“He is very skilled and ultra-competitive,” Dallas Stars scout Jim Johnston said. “He is a deceptive skater who sees the ice very well. He had an excellent playoff this year so many believe that will help him in the draft.”

“If this hadn’t happened I think he’d be ranked in the first or second round,” the general manager of another major junior team said.

The player’s agent said his client is doing his best to pick up the pieces of his life, but is remorseful about what happened and added, “not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about the other boy.”

His agent added: “He is a very approachable young man and is considered a wonderful role model to younger children. He is a winner.”

Brophy himself notes that “even Manny Castillo’s family didn’t want him charged on the grounds that ruining another boy’s life only added to the damage suffered by their son.” However, that is in dispute — one uncle said that’s what the family wanted, while another uncle read a statement outside Castillo’s funeral saying that was certainly not the case.

The question always arises in these cases: should a player with such a history be allowed to play pro sports? The NHL suspended McSorley and Bertuzzi for violent acts on-ice; the NFL just suspended Donte Stallworth upon his DUI manslaughter conviction. The difference between this unnamed youth and these players is that the youth is, well, a youth, and that he did nothing while in the employ of a league. Pro sports leagues are like any other employer — if you’re good enough and your problems don’t overshadow the organization, there will be a place for you.

However, I’m sure that once this player is drafted, the controversy is going to swirl. The team that takes him better have a PR offensive ready, because there are going to be people upset. However, that doesn’t seem to be the main reason his draft value isn’ t as high as it otherwise would be. The main reason is that the player is going to be sentenced July 6 — after the draft. A team doesn’t like the idea of wasting a draft pick on a player who might not be available for a few years.

Written by rkcookjr

June 25, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Despite recession, the kids' games go on

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Definition of  a city in trouble: people come to your town to do pieces where they express amazement your kids are still playing youth sports and doing things besides foraging through trash bins for sustenance.

ESPN’s Outside the Lines is doing this in Janesville and Beliot, Wisc., hit hard by industrial cutbacks, including reports by Mark Fainaru-Wada, he of Barry Bonds-BALCO-”Game of Shadows” fame, on Beloit youth baseball and the effort to raise money for a Janesville youth baseball complex.

I can’t be too flip about this idea and effort. I did the same a month ago in Elkhart, Ind., for MSNBC.com’s “The Elkhart Project,” which is devoted to a city that, thanks to the RV industry hitting a brick wall in this economy, went from 5 percent to nearly 20 percent unemployment in about six months. My story, I am told, is due to come this week, and it will get into why youth sports seems to be unaffected by the recession — why, in fact, it seems to be strenghtening kids’ sports — but also why that might not be able to last in some particularly hard-hit areas, no matter how much the parents try.

Like I’m sure the ESPN folks discovered in southern Wisconsin, the resolve of the people in Elkhart against a stunning economic turnaround is inspiring. You come to realize that despite the nuttiness you hear so often about sports parenting, the vast, vast majority of parents look at sports at something that can be a positive influence on their kids for whatever they do in life — with the full understanding what they will do is not going to be sports. It explains why youth sports is one of the last things a family will give up when times are tight.

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