Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Everything that’s wrong with sports

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My 6-year-old son’s bowling league ended last weekend. And everybody got a trophy.

If that makes you mad, just wait until you hear his T-ball team doesn’t keep score. Mark Durm does not approve.

Meet the face of the second wave of feminism

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This is my 9-year-old daughter, Grace, who unbeknownst to her is among the leaders of a second wave of feminism because she’s good at sports and school and isn’t going to hold herself back to look good for some boy.

From this morning’s Chicago Sun-Times, which put Kara Spak’s story on its cover:

… [M]iddle school-age girls across the country are increasingly chasing their goals with gusto, both on the field and in the classroom, said Barbara Risman, head of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s sociology department and executive officer of the Council on Contemporary Families. Risman co-authored a study on contemporary middle school children being presented this weekend in Chicago at the council’s yearly convention.

With fellow researcher Elizabeth Seale, Risman spent months interviewing and observing middle school students at a racially integrated, largely middle-income school district in the southeastern United States.

“What I found was that girls seem remarkably free to do many kinds of behaviors that a generation ago would have been closed to them,” Risman said. “They were very comfortable with being competitive at sports. Being athletes is part of an ideal-girl kind of package these days.”

Today’s middle school girls are also “perfectly willing” to compete with boys in the classroom, she said.

“I did not get any indication that girls felt they had to be less smart than the boys to be attractive to boys,” she said.

Risman calls this phenomenon the “second wave of feminism.” The notion that girls need to be less than boys in order to appear feminine is “a relic of the past,” she said.

As the father of two daughters I find it heartening that they will grow up in a world where girls don’t feel the need to hold themselves back. I find it disheartening, however, that girls acting in this way is front-page news.

But the researchers say, as always, there is a flip side to the progress they see:

There is a downside, though, Risman found in her research. Some of the 10- to 12-year-old girls she studied are dieting and “almost obsessive” about their appearance as a way to channel femininity, she said.

And while girls are free to pursue activities that once might have been considered the purview of boys, the same options aren’t available to boys, she said. Cheerleading, for example.

“Everyone thought a boy who would do something like that would be mercilessly teased,” Risman said. “The gender revolution has had an impact in making the girls’ movement broader and wider. It hasn’t for boys.”

That last point is interesting, because as it turns out, the focus of Risman’s paper had nothing to do with young girls. It was called “Have Boys Been Left Out of the Gender Revolution?” From the press release of the event where it was released:

Boys have gained fewer freedoms to explore their individual interests and talents from the gender revolution. Boys are still reluctant to admit to enjoying any activity, from gymnastics to dancing to knitting — or even reading books — that smacks of something girls do.  And they now seem to be subjected to the same kind of teasing about supposedly “gender inappropriate” activities or interests than girls used to face 45 years ago. Today it is young boys who are afraid of showing off how smart they are and who feel they have to pretend to be interested in certain activities and not  others for fear of being taunted as “gay.”

While I’m proud of my two daughters for being strong-willed and confident, I’m also the father of two sons — one of whom tells me stories about how the boys at his old school would pounce on anyone who exhibited the slightest interest or activity in something that was perceived not to be within the norm of boys, namely being a tough guy whose obsessions extended from sports to sports. (This son, by the way, plays sports, but doesn’t care to watch them.)

It’s heartening that my son sees the problem with rigid enforcement of gender roles. It’s disheartening that it takes place — and maybe that should be front-page news as well. None of my kids should need to grow up worrying about what boys will think about his or her interests.

Why kids love organized sports

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This is my 6-year-old son, Ryan, who is in his first year of T-ball. With his father being his manager, Ryan got the privilege of trying on his uniform before anyone else. It was an extremely exciting moment. “I’ve been waiting for years to put this on!” he told me as he handled his Phillies shirt.

Ryan has spent years watching his older brother and sister putting on their uniforms, so he had a long time to think about how this moment would feel. (Putting on his shirt for his bowling league apparently didn’t count, because it didn’t come with matching cap, pants and socks.) He kept his uniform on all afternoon, until it was time to get ready for bed.

Often there is the assumption that kids would be happiest with adults staying out of the way. But for a lot of children, organized sports is a big moment. It’s a sign they’re growing up, that they’re big kids, because what little kid gets to put on a uniform and have people watch him play? The problem with youth sports isn’t always that adults are involved. The problem is how they’re involved.

My job as manager is to make sure that Ryan — and all his teammates — are still as excited about baseball as the moment they got their uniform. Or at least not make them less excited that I’m not the reason they decide baseball isn’t their sport.

“Let’s win this one for all the small schools that never had a chance to get here”

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If you’re tearing up a little reading that headline, then you must be as big a fan of “Hoosiers” as I am. It’s not only the quintessential sports movie, but it’s also the quintessential youth sports movie, a look at how adults project their own hope and aspirations into their high school basketball team — and vice versa, as it turns out. Every inherent contradiction about youth sports glory is in this exchange, as Jimmy Chitwood’s guardian argues with Coach Norman Dale against Jimmy playing basketball:

Myra Fleener: You know, a basketball hero around here is treated like a god, er, uh, how can he ever find out what he can really do? I don’t want this to be the high point of his life. I’ve seen them, the real sad ones. They sit around the rest of their lives talking about the glory days when they were seventeen years old.

Coach Dale: You know, most people would kill… to be treated like a god, just for a few moments.

Part of the appeal of Hoosiers was its cast of basketball players. Except for David Niedorf, a professional actor, every one was a real life Hoosier, found through auditions. Interestingly enough, Maris Valainis, who played Jimmy Chitwood, was the only one who didn’t play high school basketball. But whatever happened to this guys?

I can tell you what happened as of 2004, when I wrote a story for Flak Magazine in which I caught up with as much of the cast as I could. I still get emails from people about the story, including one that popped up last night. I was inspired to write it after the suicide of Kent Poole, who played Merle Webb, the player who delivered the oft-quoted line that became the headline. It’s a where-are-they-now mixed with my own thoughts on the myths and realities of basketball in the state in which I grew up, and how those are reflected in the movie itself and the lives of the people who were in it.

I’ll link to the story here. Thanks for reading.

You always remember your first…

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…sports injury. Below is my 11-year-old son, pictured (thanks to my cruddy cellphone camera) at the Palos Immediate Care in Palos Heights, Ill., about 90 minutes after he rolled his foot off another player’s foot in the third quarter of the consolation game of the Alsip Park District 7th-8th grade coed league playoffs. (My son got in on a special 6th-graders-allowed exemption.) He made sure to tell everyone here that he misdirected the shot he defended as he got hurt, and that his team won. (And he even wondered about getting back in the game. Given we had no trainer with a cortisone needle, no.) Diagnosis: sprained right foot.

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No. 12

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Thank you, dear readers, for making Your Kid’s Not Going Pro the 12th-fastest growing blog on WordPress.com.

At least, I was 12th at the time I put up this post. I don’t know how often WordPress changes its rankings.

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From right to left, Rasheed Wallace, Karl Malone, your favorite blogger.

Written by rkcookjr

January 26, 2009 at 4:26 pm

The lesson of winning: it’s better than losing

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At some point in every season and sport I coach, there is a moment when I can feel my emotions really well up. What I mean is, I’m fighting back tears. Those are the moments when the team is playing as a team, scrapping and fighting hard, loving being around each other, and making me feel good that maybe I taught them something about a sport, and making a commitment to it and your teammates.

Saturday was that moment with my fifth- and sixth-grade coed basketball team.

I mentioned earlier that team had gone Detroit Lions for the season. The last two games we lost something like 34-3 and 29-6. It was disheartening for me as a coach, mainly because I have a group of players mostly new to organized ball, and I wondered if the results on the court were a large part because I wasn’t doing my job teaching them how to play and enjoy the game. It didn’t help that I was letting my frustration show. I wasn’t all screamy, but I was getting a little yelly, at least in barking constant instructions on the court. As a player’s dad said to me before this most recent game, the hardest thing about this team is that they’re all nice kids, so many of them were tentative about the idea of mixing it up on the court to the point they were bumping people around.

Apparently my team had built a reputation as an easy mark. The coach of my opponent Saturday — a person whom I like and respect — told me before the game that he treating this game as kind of a practice, trying some new things on defense and concentrating on letting players who rarely scored have a chance to do so. He asked me whether I might do the same on offense. I said, “Yes, because all of my players are struggling to score.” I applauded his effort to give some of his kids a shot at glory. But I felt kind of insulted he figured he could do that against my team and win.

He instincts looked correct in the first quarter. We scored the first basket, then gave up six in a row to go down 12-2 at the end of the first quarter. Even though I was trying a few twists to ensure we didn’t turn over the ball near the midcourt line, we turned it over. We weren’t blocking out or aggressively going after loose balls. As usual, we were getting open shots but couldn’t hit them. Or we turned the ball over trying to go one-on-three in the lane. This time, I sat back and didn’t shout instructions so much. Clearly, whatever I was doing was not going to take with a group still trying to get comfortable with the basics of the game.

Or so I thought.

We only scored one basket the next quarter, but they scored none. That was good. The defensive lockdown kept coming. Our guards (including my 11-year-old) were cutting off every drive attempt. Our inside players were putting their arms up, blocking out and getting rebounds on both sides of the court. We stopped turning the ball over. Shots were missed, but at least it looked like we settled down. Seeing we were down by so much early, my opposing coach rested his best player most of the quarter and tried to get the ball to kids who hadn’t scored, but it didn’t seem to hurt him much.

I told the kids at halftime to keep playing hard, keep passing the ball around, keep attacking the basket. The same things I said all year. I wasn’t sure whether they believed me.

They believed me.

The third quarter was another defensive lockdown — zero points. Meanwhile, one of our players hit shots on consecutive possessions to cut the score to 12-8. The kids on the bench noticed the score. “Only two more shots to tie!” “We’re coming back!” I could feel them getting antsy and excited. I could hear our parents across the court come to life as they never had. The opposing coach put his best player back in. The kids on the court had an extra hop in their step, and were chasing down and taking away balls like they were trying to protect their favorite Christmas gift. Players who once had to stop and think what to do on transition were sprinting the other direction as soon as the ball changed hands.

We hit another shot to cut the score to 12-10 at quarter’s end. With three minutes left in the fourth, we hit a jumper to take a 14-12 lead. Our parents were going crazy. The opposing coach called timeout. When the kids gathered around me, the ones who used to complain they were tired or sore by this time in the game, who were begging to come out, were now steely-eyed and ready to attack. I told them what a great job they were doing, and to keep doing it. One player asked if they should slow the ball down. I said, nope — don’t change a thing.

The last three minutes were interminable. That’s in part to the opposing coach using all four of his timeouts in that period. It was worse than a college game, though, hey, it was his right. I ran out of things to say to my team by the time the second timeout was over.

Nobody on either team could get a clean shot off. This level of play might be mostly about teaching the game, but the kids always know the score, and my kids knew they didn’t want to go through the whole season without one victory. Their kids didn’t want to lose to the team that had gotten smacked around all season.

With about 30 seconds left, it looked like possible disaster for our team. Their best player got a steal and began sprinting upcourt, with teammates on either side. Our kids sprinted hard to keep up, including my son. LAKEVIEW DRIVE RULES* IN EFFECT: He spun around at the top of the key, right in front of the opponent’s best player, stuck an arm out — and poked the ball away. Game saved. When the final buzzer went off, my kids reacted like they had just won a championship.

I did, too. When my team in this league won a title last year, I was fighting back tears because I was so proud of what the kids accomplished. Especially because that team was down by 6 entering the final quarter. I remember telling them to play hard and have fun, because there were only eight minutes left in the season. And they played hard enough to score nine straight point to win. With this year’s team, I was glad for them that they won, but in awe at how they fought back, at how they decided individually and as a team that they were tired of getting sand kicked in their faces, and that they were going to kick a little sand themselves. (Strangely enough, both games were against the same coach.)

After every game, like most teams we gather in a circle and put our hands in the middle, yelling something in unison like “team” or “hustle” before we break. As we put our hands in Saturday, one boy on the team said, “Let’s say, ‘Winners!’”

“Yes,” I said. “Let’s say it.”

*Note: Lakeview Drive Rules dates back to me teen years. As a friend and I would walk up and down <a href=”

“>his street talking about our tortured adolescent lives, and we would invoke Lakeview Drive Rules to allow ourselves a little bragging, as long as it was in the context of the conversation and absolutely truthful. So if I ever brag in the context of a post, I will invoke Lakeview Drive Rules. You are welcome to do the same.

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