Archive for September 2009
Ex-Chicago White Sox pitcher/rock god Jack McDowell knows why his ex-teammate, current Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, is seething with frustration at players who don’t seem to care too much about losing. One part of Guillen’s trouble with getting players to give a shit is a lack of clubhouse bonding because that goddamn media would blow everything said and done out of proportion.
Speaking of someone in the media blowing things out of proportion, another problem McDowell, a Tribune Co. blogger, finds with major-leaguers these days is that they aren’t competitive enough. You know why? Fuckin’ everybody-gets-a-trophy leagues!
It is politically incorrect to actually WANT to win growing up and playing youth sports. If a kid cries after a loss he is seen as a “bad sport” or overcompetitive. He’ll need some sort of medication to fix that, no doubt.
Oh yeah, and everybody gets a trophy, not just the winners. Let’s celebrate mediocrity instead of success and excellence because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Hell my kids didn’t even receive grades until the 7th grade! What the hell does “meets expectations” mean anyway? Who’s expectations, the system or mine? But again, we don’t want to start listing the kids in order of their achievement levels. That will surely scar them for life.
Look at the pain in those children’s faces. Will they ever recover?
Scar them for life? Well, at least, unlike Athens State (Ala.) University psychology professor Mark Durm, McDowall didn’t posit that everybody-gets-a-trophy-leagues are the cause of school killing sprees.
Forget for a moment that going off on this George Carlin-style tangent on the pussification of youth sports is a bit odd, considering many of the Chicago White Sox regulars are well into their 30s, not that much younger than the 43-year-old McDowell.
The mistaken assumption McDowell makes — and he’s hardly alone in this — is that the reason for no-score, everybody-gets-a-trophy leagues is to protect the tender children. The actual reason for no-score, everybody-gets-a-trophy leagues is to protect the tender adults.
The kids don’t need to be taught how to compete — ever tried to take a toy away from a 2-year-old? Even if the kids I have coached weren’t the type to cry if the game is lost, they always knew the score, even if the score wasn’t kept. When I coached my oldest son in second-grade, no-score basketball, the kids were the ones filling me in on who was winning, and by how much. All I know is, the parents and others in the crowd were at their quietest when the score was not being kept. They didn’t complain about playing time, or their kids’ pro career. They focused, and I could focus, on player development.
That brings me to other tender adults protected by everybody-gets-a-trophy. That would be the people running the leagues.
If you tell a 6-year-old he sucks and he’s hopeless, more than likely he’ll quit the sport. Perhaps that allows the child to find a more appropriate pursuit. But what it does for leagues is suck away years of entry and fundraising fees. It’s the economic interest of leagues to find as many spots for players as they can, and make sure there’s some carrot to keep kids coming back. Does a trophy do it? Probably not all by itself. However, it is a physical reminder to the children — and more importantly, to whomever is writing the check — that there is a reward for getting yelled at by some guy in a mustache and mesh cap all spring.
In seven years of youth sports parenting and coaching, I have never found that kids who were innately competitive found their personalities blunted by whether score was kept or hardware was handed out. I also have never found kids who were not innately competitive, at least in the sport in question, had their personalities changed by whether score was kept or hardware was handed out.
I don’t believe you can teach competitiveness. You can teach players to try their best for their own selfish purposes, or for the good of the team. You can show them that if they do certain things, they are more likely to win than if they don’t. (If I don’t spend a season, in any sports, telling kids to bend their knees, it will be the first.) I can appeal to their pride. What I cannot do is take a laid-back kid and turn him into the competitive nutcase that was Jack McDowell.
Anyway, I also find “competitiveness” to be overrated. People love players who are rah-rah, who slam things, who flip the finger to the Yankee Stadium crowd when the home fans are booing him. But I’ve had players who gnash their teeth and rend their garments, and often these players are difficult to deal with. They let anything that goes wrong drive them to distraction. (By the way, the uncompetitive White Sox are being dragged down in part because power hitter Carlos Quentin broke his hand slamming his bat after a strikeout last year, and then came back this year hitting horribly as he drove himself crazy trying to regain his form.)
I can take a player like that and try to teach him or her how to redirect competitiveness in a productive direction. Without medication. But if dad is riding the kid’s ass all the home about this or that, then my job is a lot harder.
Here is one statement McDowell made that I can agree with wholeheartedly.
So Ozzie Guillen is caught between that rock and that hard place. If he has to TEACH the kids coming in how to play with true heart and competitiveness, he’ll soon realize that is impossible. If that fire is not there, it never will be.
That can be the greatest frustration to a coach or manager, at any level, who is a fiery, competitive kind of guy. For that matter, it’s the frustration of anyone who manages people anywhere. If someone flat-out doesn’t care, you can’t make that person care.
By the way, McDowell started his piece saying that every “player from an era gone by fears becoming the ‘remember when’ guy. Black Jack, I think your fears have been realized.
I just hope that people have figured out that political correctness, celebrating mediocrity, and the whole movement of pshychology [sic] has virtually devastated an entire generation. Sure, some gamers snuck through the cracks and some parents taught these unacceptable values along the way. It’s in my hands now, along with others in my same boat. Teach your kids old school values. Hard work=excellence=prize. Then Ozzie won’t have to worry if he’s still managing in another 15 years.
McDowell, stretching his musical chops by starring as Harry McAfee in “Bye Bye Birdie.”
So a lot of Hollywood heavyweights are signing a petition for the release of cinema auteur/child rapist Roman Polanski, including Woody Allen, whose act of putting pen to paper on such a document is the funniest thing he’s done since “Annie Hall.”
If I had known that being an girl-molesting artist restricted from travel was enough to get you world sympathy, I would have pushed harder with a Gary Glitter petition. After all, he’s got about as much right, legally, to be around your kids as Polanski. Meaning, not much of a right at all.
Let me ask this: if someone who committed a crime like Polanski’s was found to have slipped through the background-check cracks and was now coaching your child’s team, or your niece’s team, or was your local Catholic priest/soccer coach, would you say, “Eh, he’s brilliant, it was a long time ago — let him coach.” Or would you say, “How in the FUCKITY FUCK FUCK did this league let him near children?”
Polanski, as you’ve probably heard, recently was arrested in Switzerland for fleeing the United States before his 1977 sentencing in Los Angeles for having sex with an 13-year-old girl.
It was a crime he pleaded guilty to, a plea deal available only because the prosecution was sensitive to the girl’s family’s request not to drag her through a high-profile trial. That way, Polanski didn’t have to face trial on a rape charge for plying the girl with champagne and Quaaludes and forcing himself on her. (He did settle a lawsuit by the girl’s family, as well.)
Whether Polanski was right in skipping off to France because he was about to get railroaded on his plea deal by an activist judge (wait — can a liberal use that term?), the point is that in 1977, he already had copped to being what was called an MDSO — a Mentally Disordered Sex Offender.
You see, today, any high school graduate who shtupps a 15-year-old can get on the sex offender list for life, never able to get near your child to teach her how to shoot a jump shot for the crime of being slightly on the wrong side of the age-of-consent border. But in 1977, you really had to do something HUGELY perverted to get the state to surmise maybe you’re a threat to the young-‘uns — in California’s case, be a male, say in his 40s, who plies 13-year-old girls with champagne and Quaaludes and forces himself upon them.
Having fled to France, Polanski didn’t get the dubious honor of psychiatric sessions to determine exactly how sick of a fuck, or what kind of sick fuck, he was. However, Polanski, thanks to his plea agreement, is officially on the sick-fuck list. The same one, the one that includes 19-year-olds caught shtupping a 15-year-old girlfriend and convicted because her dad was pissed off, that would keep him off any ballfield or basketball court.
Bob, you say, Roman Polanski, one of the great directors of our time, is never going to waste his life teaching soccer to 6-year-olds in the suburbs. And, Bob, you say, Polanski has long proven himself no threat to society — he doesn’t start romantic relationships with 15-year-old actresses anymore. And, Bob, you say, the man had a hard life, full of tragedy.
But the fact remains that if this were Roman Polanski, pipefitter, instead of Roman Polanski, filmmaker, legally speaking this would not be a guy who gets petitions on his behalf. He would be the kind of guy parents take up a petition against to get him to stop coaching the girls’ field hockey team. Are we parents overprotective about having this kind of person around? You bet. But I’m sure Martin Scorsese, one of the backers of the Free Roman Polanski petition, would shudder a little if he ever thought someone who plied a 13-year-old with champagne and Quaaludes, and forced himself upon her, was coaching his kids’ teams.
Maybe if Gary Glitter had written better songs, there would be prominent people who would think of what he’s done as no great shakes, either.
It happened in 1991, it happened in 2002, and it’s really, really, really, really, really happening now. In recessionary times, public school districts begin charging fees for sports and other extracurricular activities. Except in Ohio’s sixth-largest school district, in southwest Columbus, which didn’t want its poorer children put in the position of being left out because of money, so it eliminated sports and activities for everyone.
But extreme equality — we treat you all like dogs — aside, scores of school districts are instituting fees for the first time, and they’re afraid that each dollar that has to come out of a parent’s pocket means one less student playing sports. In Loudon County, Va., one of the fastest-growing exurbs in the country during the housing boom, a $15 million budget gap means a $100-a-head fee per student, per sport. From the Loudon Times:
Park View football coach Andy Hill’s primary concern is that the fee might discourage athletes who think they are unlikely to see a lot of playing time.
“The starting varsity athletes will come up with a way to find the fee,” Hill said. “I think the big question is what about that second-tier player? What about that JV player?”
For the 2008-09 school year, the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations reported that participation in high school sports had risen for the 20th straight year — 55.2 percent of all boys and girls, up from 54.8 percent in 2007-08. But pay-for-play was just beginning to trickle into places it had never trickled before. Also in the Washington Post story reporting these numbers was this foreboding paragraph:
According to a source at Montgomery County (Md.) public schools, however, sports participation in Montgomery dropped in 2008-09, down nearly 20 percent from 2007-08. A noticeable drop-off occurred in the winter and spring, once the economic downturn was clearly not a quick blip in the market. Furthermore, the source said the number of students who received a waiver of the county’s $30 athletic participation fee tripled from the previous year. According to a source at Montgomery County public schools, however, sports participation in Montgomery dropped in 2008-09, down nearly 20 percent from 2007-08. A noticeable drop-off occurred in the winter and spring, once the economic downturn was clearly not a quick blip in the market. Furthermore, the source said the number of students who received a waiver of the county’s $30 athletic participation fee tripled from the previous year. (Note: Montgomery raised its fee from $20 to $30 in 2007.)
That’s not a good sign for schools going from zero to $100 or $300 if a $30 fee is pricing out a lot of families. If you want another ominous sign, one northern California district that tried to get families of players to contribute to their the athletic department is now threatening cancellation of sports or forfeiture of games by teams with uncollected fees, because it’s so far behind the budgetary eight-ball.
There’s an argument that children who participate in extracurricular activities should help pay the freight. However, what these fees do is make school sports and activities like park district or private or club activities — something that skews toward people with money, leaving struggling families out in the cold. It’s a shame that in a public school, a child could not participate because of a fee, on top of the taxes the family already pays. Of course, sometimes the problem isn’t just a declining real-estate market killing property tax collections — in this economy, many residents are less likely to vote for a tax referendum that they ever were.
Are pay-to-play fees for sports and other activities keeping your kids from participating? Have you noticed any participation problems in your area because of this?
As a follow to my Field Guide to Youth Sports Parents, a scary look at parental excesses that has already struck many young couples sterile, I highlight a column from Alex Podlogar, the sports editor for the Herald in Sanford, N.C, in which he reflects on the evolution of his own dreams of youth sports parenting as his daughter announces her retirement from the sport of soccer. At age 6.
The lesson the column teaches is that good or bad sports parenting isn’t about dreaming of your in utero child becoming World Series MVP — it’s about what you do with those dreams when it becomes abundantly clear that day will never come.
Podlogar calls himelf an “idiot” for what he thought before his daughter was born about what his (he and his wife didn’t find out the sex before birth, but he was thinking boy all the way) athletic career would be like, and all the reflected glory if it went well and reflected failure if it didn’t. (And if you don’t think the parent gets reflected glory and and/or failure, watch the other parents watch that kid’s parents in an extreme case of talent or lack of it. I remember my first kindergarten soccer game, when one girl started tearing up the field, and after everyone’s mouth gaped open looking at her, they looked slack-jawed at her mother, apparently to see if they could spot any magic loins.)
The following passage is reflective of what a lot of men think, even those who aren’t sports editor of the local paper.
Allow me to be clear — I, like everyone else who’s ever been so lucky to have a child, wanted only for our child to be healthy. Nothing else was important.
But that doesn’t mean there are never extenuating worries, most of them insignificant, but worries nonetheless. And, I’m ashamed to say, I was a little concerned that if we had a son and he wasn’t a 12-sport letterman by the time he was 10, he would unduly draw the sneers of a public that wondered why the sports editor’s son wasn’t a great athlete.
I shouldn’t say only men have these thoughts. All I know is, I’ve never heard of a group of women discuss whether their babies will ever grow up to be Cowboys.
Mama, don’t let ’em.
It’s a parental cliche that whether it’s sports or science or stripping, you dream during the first pregnancy of your child become the best, richest and most famous in his or her field. Once the baby arrives, your dreams don’t end, but they are put aside as that crying sound after the hours of labor shoves them aside in favor of more mundane things becoming the most spectacular miracles of life. As Podlogar put it:
Looking back, I try to chalk this insane insecurity up to the plagues of youth. No doubt, though, I should’ve still known better, but when Allison came into the world right at 5 pounds, yet strong and with all her fingers and toes, I immediately stopped worrying so much about my stupid pride.
Not because she was a girl. Because she was Allison. Our Allison. My Allison. My daughter.
However, even those parents who have those more prosaic thoughts can jump right back to my-kid-is-gonna-be-a-star-in-what-I-like. I like basketball, and I made sure my firstborn son had a hoop and ball as soon as possible. The trick to parenting is watching your child develop so you can balance what you would like your child to be with what your child actually wants to be. Podlogar, being a small-town newspaper sports editor, got a pre-parenthood education in wacky youth sports parents enough to know that giving your child a ball and a hoop is one thing, but forcing your child to use it every night from 18 months old onward as you scream instructions is another.
That’s why, after a year of soccer, Podlogar took it in stride when his 6-year-old daughter no longer was interested in playing.
But when she decided after a year to back away, we let her mull her decision. We made sure she knew what her decision meant, gave her some more time, and when all of us were certain it was the route she wanted to take for the right reasons, we moved forward.
I don’t know if Allison will continue to dip her toe into sports. She has interest in basketball and swimming and may want to stoke her competitive fire again one day. When she does, I believe we’ll encourage her to make that happen.
But as she’s grown up over the last six years, I feel like I have as well. Kids will do that to you, I guess.
I’ve learned a lot, but nothing as important as this: when it comes to your kids, who cares what other people think about them? In the end, it matters only what your kids think about themselves.
And it’s my job, my wife’s job, and all of our jobs as parents to ensure they’ve got the wherewithal to understand that.
Let the kid define the experience, instead of the sport, or anything for that matter, defining the kid.
Alex Podlogar, if you read the field guide to youth sports parents, I think you’ll see yourself as The Role Model.
It’s Saturday, which means more tweeting live from the Brunswick Zone in Oak Lawn, Ill., as my 6-year-old son’s Field Force Monkeys take on — well, I don’t know who they’re taking on, and I don’t think they care. Ryan and his team members seems to worry most about the order of scores amongst each other. Anyway, you can follow all the exciting, beer-less bowling action at twitter.com/notgoingpro, or at your own Twitter feed if you want to follow me (@notgoingpro).
I would be curious to hear any responses, here or on Twitter, just to know it continues to be worth ignoring everyone around me as I do this.
Also, it’ll be a game-time decision whether I also live tweet the insurance adjustor looking at my van to assess the damage to my bumper when someone backed into it.
Parents are treated as a necessary evil in youth sports, because without them the kids wouldn’t have chauffeurs, coaches and their very existence. You’ve heard about all the crazy sports parents out there, and they all seem alike in their overbearing, screamy, I-love-you-a-little-less-because-you-lost ways — but don’t be fooled! Like Tolstoy’s unhappy family, none of these parents is exactly alike.
In part two of my series looking at the unholy trinity of youth sports (coaches were covered in part one, the kids themselves will be part three), here is a breakdown of the kind of parents you will find on the sidelines:
Characteristics: Not the actual coach, but the parent who stands at the sideline and yells instructions because that stupid-ass coach isn’t doing it right, and/or because that stupid-ass kid isn’t doing it right. Is under the apparent belief that his/her child is a voice-activated robot.
Reason kids quit: If they want to get yelled at, they can not take the garbage and get reamed in the comfort of their own home.
John, for Christ’s sake, would you get behind him?
Characteristics: As much agent as parent. Manages child’s career in a way that would make the Lohans look askance. Rips coaches, rips other kids, and butters up anyone who might give their child a leg up. Will starve members of own family to pay for lessons/travel team/steroids, with the full expectation that child will reward them later by turning pro and buying them a big house. If kid screws up, offers the constructive criticism that child is a stupid fuckhead who is letting everyone down.
Reason kids quit: To have a life, and find the birth parents they hope they have.
“I’ll get you, buddy.”
Characteristics: Is completely uninterested in what’s going on during the game, but is completely interested in which parent got popped for a DUI or slept with his nanny. Appears friendly, but don’t open up too much or suddenly you’ll find yourself on the business end of a suffering-from-erectile-dysfunction rumor.
Reason kids quit: To leave town after parent cuts out of house in the middle of the night after everyone finds out about their eBay purse-resale scheme.
The Type A
Characteristics: Hands permanently shaped as if holding a Blackberry. On the phone to corporate when kid hits first career home run. Always there, but never really there.
Reason kids quit: They actually quit two seasons ago, but the parent never looked up from the laptop to notice.
Characteristics: Always ready for a fight whatever pisses them off — the ref, the coach, other parents, own kids, concession stand volunteer, goddamn water bottle that won’t open. Only parent who swears over their breath. One bad day at work and bad call from doing something that’s going to appear on the local news.
Reason kids quit: Can never go out against after ass-kicker parent appears on your local news.
Next on your local news: dad is an asshole!
Characteristics: Always yelling, always screaming, always clapping for our little baby. Cheers for all players by name like he or she wants to take them home and eat them. Tries to lead the wave.
Reason kids quit: Too many times hearing their toddler nickname in public.
Is it OK to celebrate an adult who spends a lot of her time uploading videos of high schoolers?
Characteristics: Never there. May or may not bring kids to practice or games. Coach doesn’t like spottiness, but does appreciate knowing this parent will never call to complain.
Reason kids quit: Hitchhiking isn’t legal.
The Role Model
Characteristics: Friendly to parents, respectful of coaches, says the right thing every time to kids. This probably isn’t you.
Reason kids quit: They’ve discovered another interest, and parents risk dissolution of future pro career by allowing children to go on a logical path of self-discovery that may or may not end in an ashram.
In Hickory, Ind., the high school basketball coach has to survive a round of interviews with the local hayseeds.
If David Jason Stinson thinks he’s going to get back into coaching and tell players he’s going to run them until everyone quits, he’s going to face a foe much more powerful than the Jefferson County, Ky., prosecutor — parents.
Not that parents getting involved in hiring and firing coaches is new, but the latest pattern in complaints — a pattern that’s no surprise to the masses that fill up newspaper comment boards about how we’re turning our children into pussies — is whether a coach is being verbally abusive.
Even more disturbing, it appears parents and school districts are beginning to act like adults, working together to find solutions to the problems. What the hell, man? When did the comity of the State of the Union gallery and the screeching of school board meeting crowds switch places? Is it Opposite Day, and no one told me?
From the Forum in Fargo, N.D.:
A group of residents [in Barnesville] is calling on their school district to start soliciting parent feedback on the performance of coaches.
Parents sprung to action this summer after hearing that several Barnesville coaches might have used deprecating language [including profanity] toward students during practice – concerns they say athletes and parents are reluctant to voice for fear of retribution.
District officials have balked at the idea of a parent survey that would count toward coach evaluations. They point out the district has a streamlined system to handle complaints, and they scoff at the idea a coach’s livelihood should depend on input from adults who are generally not around at practice time.
The clash has spawned a well-attended parent meeting to air concerns, an open records request for district e-mails and, more recently, a compromise solution [to have student athletes fill out anonymous surveys created by parents and the district].
And all of this echoes a heated Minnesota debate over parental input about coach performance – to some, an out-of-line bid to micromanage; to others, a way to rein in a growing emphasis on winning in high school athletics.
“This has got to be the No. 1 hottest issue parents have in high school and junior high,” says Mary Cecconi of Parents United, a Minnesota parent advocacy group.
Parents and administrators are working together to create a solution? C’mon, Minnesota! Where’s the screaming! Where’s the outrage? Where are the signs depicting the athletic director as Stalin, Hitler and Castro?
This is the kind of lameness that Minnesotans called a raucous health reform debate. You call this an angry mob?