Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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A life full of youth sports teaches one high schooler to hate them

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Scott Martin will graduate this spring from Cherry Creek High School in suburban Denver with a graduation cap on his head, science fair awards on his college application and a chip on his shoulder.

How do I know this? I know from the Denver Post. Martin took a break from cross country practice to pen a piece for the newspaper on why he hates youth sports. Along the way, he struggles with the lesson I try to teach with the name of this blog.

I hate sports. I hate everything about them — the politics, the commitment, the late practices, the early practices, the hard work, the running, the skating, the tryouts, the sprints, the ladders, the boring drills, the overly enthusiastic parents, the cheers, the mascots, the jerseys, the screaming, the injuries, the repetition and, more than anything, the competition and pressure.

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Yes, I’m the same child who grew up on soccer fields, the very same boy who played competitive soccer and hockey, and the same adolescent who, in less than three months, will try out for varsity lacrosse, but I’ve suddenly realized I loathe everything remotely associated with sports.

I’m sure Cherry Creek lacrosse coach Bryan Perry is thrilled with that attitude.

What caused this drastic change? Last year, a high school football player in Kentucky was allegedly “practiced to death,” although his coach was acquitted in September. Just before school started this fall, two young teens from St. Louis collapsed during practice and died. Since the season started, two high school seniors in California and Chicago collapsed during games and died.

I realized that we as a society take our children’s sports too far. Excessive parental involvement, ridiculous coaching policies, and programs built toward only victory have created a purely competitive, commitment-based sporting environment, turning kids off the games they love and distracting younger generations from the important humanizing elements that sports can teach.

American kids traditionally are enrolled in soccer by the age of 5 or 6, before many can proficiently read and write. We live in an age when the athletic scholarship overshadows the academic scholarship, where the sport you play determines the money you make. It’s a time in which the only way to get where you want to go is if you start early and never stop.

What makes this piece more interesting than the usual youth-sports-is-a-sham rant is that usually the sort of athletic self-awareness displayed by a high school student. Maybe young Scott Martin, reflecting as he’s soon to make a major educational and life transition, is feeling like he would have been better off spending more time studying the effects of various propeller designs on the efficiency of an underwater turbine and less time at hockey practice. This reads like the sort of thing a bitter ex-athlete would write after he’s spent his life preparing for a pro career, living the pro dream, and realizing it’s never going to happen.

And, in fact, Martin is that person. The first clue came early in the piece, when he said “there was I time I dreamed big.” In the last paragraph comes this:

It’s disheartening to know that despite all the hard work and time I’ve sacrificed, I still won’t go pro. And it’s ridiculous that I should even care about that.

Clearly, this blog needed to exist a decade or so ago so a just-beginning-to-read Scott Martin would have gotten the message about Not Going Pro. However, I suspect Martin’s upset is less about his own dashed pro dreams and more a regret at all the hours and hours and hours, all the family events missed, all the time with friends put aside, so he could get chewed out by some coach for what turned out to be no practical reason. I suspect that he’s not the first young athlete to feel this way, and he’s certainly not going to be the last. Heck, you can go to any field, court or pitch any day of the week to see 12- or 13-year-olds mentally drained from nonstop practice since age 4 or 5, and the parents and coaches who have no idea, or choose not to see, what’s going on.

An interesting comment under the story that I think says a lot about why Scott Martin might be feeling a bit burned out on sports, and speaks much better to the youth sports environment than the self-proclaimed old-school types who say the problem is everybody getting trophies:

I’m guessing that, as a kid, his parents put him in one of those soccer leagues where no score was kept, everybody was declared a “winner”, and everybody got participation medals. Right?
Seriously, I would not agree that sports have become more competitive. I would say that youth sports have become more professional, and that’s not a good thing. Everything from cheerleaders to team managers is modeled after high level college or pro teams. Kids nowadays have to have the very best equipment, and every parent must attend every practice to see how little Addison or Jacob is doing. When I was a kid, there weren’t any parents watching practice. And the family car must have a decal with the kids name and number on it. Plus, it seems that by age 8 or 9, a kids has to chose which sport he/she is going to specialize in. There aren’t any 3 or 4 sport kids in high school. The fun aspect has definitely been lost, and that’s due to the increased professionalism, not increased competition.

Written by rkcookjr

October 19, 2009 at 10:38 pm

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