Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Should you go to all your children's games?

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In its June parents’ newsletter, U.S. Lacrosse answers the guilt-driven question, “Should I go to all my children’s games?” But first, let sports psychologist Richard Ginsburg tell you whether your children want your presence:

In our research on this very question, we learned that almost 100% of youth soccer-playing-kids ages, 7-14, wanted their parents to attend their games. Our kids want us to watch them play, to witness the wins and losses, the accomplishments and the disappointments.

Don’t you feel guilty for even asking the question?

Actually, Ginsburg let we parents know that our children will not someday end up on Dr. Phil if we miss a few games.

That said, it is also OK for us as adults to have our own lives, to miss a few games here or there. In fact, having a life outside of our children’s sport experiences is healthy.

Are parents fucked in the head, or what? We need a psychologist to pat us on the shoulder and tell us that our child won’t become a serial killer if we miss a baseball game! That a truly adult perspective is NOT revolving your life 100 percent around your children’s activities!

Written by rkcookjr

June 4, 2010 at 12:39 am

Your kid's cellphone: a youth sports parent's best friend

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You might have seen over the weekend that the New York Times put up a blurb about the growth of cell phone use by six-to-11-year-olds, a group that back in my day (insert old man voice) would still have been playing with pretend land lines. However, I see nothing disturbing at all in kids having cell phones, not with my 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter having had them for about two years. I’m also guessing a lot of parents who are shuttling kids to multiple events, sports or otherwise, feel the same way.

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“Oh-hoh! I’ll send Goofy to pick you up at the field, Billy!”

The Times, quoting a study released Jan. 4 by Mediamarket Research and Intelligence, said that in 2005 11.9 percent of six- to 11-year-olds had their own mobile phone. In 2009, that number was up to 20 percent. The most dramatic increase, according to the market research company, was 10- and 11-year-olds, whose phone ownership was up 80.5 percent.

These numbers might be disturbing if you believe cell phones cause brain tumors, or if you imagine your 6-year-old now having the power to send naked pictures of himself all over the virtual world. And, yeah, when I put it that way, even I’m starting to freak out a little bit. Let me check my kid’s phones, and I’ll be right back. …

(OK, nothing untoward there. Whew.)

Or maybe you think merely that a post-toddler or preteen is too young to have a phone.

The New York Times item on this survey, being a blurb, left out a key part of the 5,000-child survey: why they use their phone.

The overwhelmingly No. 1 reason why kids use their phones is to call their parents. Now, as a child — and I was a good kid (really, I was) — my worst nightmare was that my parents could have some sort of tracking device on me that would always reveal to them where I was at any given moment. But my experience with my own children is that both sides like the security of being able to get in touch, anytime. Certainly, a cell phone would have been helpful so I could go from one park to another without having to make a detour home first so I could ask my parents if I could go.

The survey said 88.1% of the kiddie cellphone wielders use the device to call their parents. This is where the phone as youth sports parent’s best friend comes in. There comes a time, when the number of kids you have and the schedules they keep outflank you ability to be everywhere at once, that the phone is a necessity for making sure that your child isn’t left stranded after practice or a game — or that you can talk to your child and the parents of whomever has offered to bring him or her home, preferably via a postgame ice-cream shop stop.

My 12-year-old’s phone certainly comes in handy for his frequent, hours-long in-line skating jaunts, so I can call him home, or he can call me in case there is a problem. I feel safer with him having the phone, though my concern for his safety does not extend to making him wear a helmet and pads.

Over the summer, when we were visiting my family in Carmel, Ind., my son bladed over to the nearby Monon Trail (a conversion from a rail line upon which a parent threatened to send up Hickory basketball coach Norman Dale after hidestrapping his ass to a pine rail), which runs south to downtown Indianapolis. I was running the trail myself, so I saw him as we entered at about 146th Street, and I saw him again as I ran south from the trail’s end at 161st Street in Westfield, with him heading north. His phone in hand, I let him keep going after I was done running.

About 90 minutes later, not having heard from my son, I figured I’d better call him to see if he was OK. “Yeah, I’m fine, Dad,” he said. “Where are you?” “I’m not exactly sure.” “What was the last street sign you saw?” “I think it was… 96th Street.” (96th Street is the border between Carmel and Indianapolis.) “96th Street? Where the heck are you going?” “I wanted to go all the way downtown and back.” “Uh, no.”

Hey, my 12-year-old son may be old enough to have a cell phone, but I wasn’t going to let him traverse by himself to downtown Indianapolis and back. I might let him skate with no pads and no helmet — and an iPod going full-blast — but I have my limits. (I did let him skate back, though.)

By the way, second in the survey was calling friends (68.1 percent) and emergency purposes (55.7 percent). Mediamarket says much of the rise in cell phone use has to do with more kid-friendly phone offerings.

Left totally unsupervised, with no cell phone pads and cell phone helmet, can mobile technology welcome your 6- to 11-year-old to a world of sexting, cyberbullying, tumor-iffic, airtime-charge-sucking ne’er-do-wells? Perhaps. When we got our kids phones, my wife and I gave long lectures about what they were to be used for — and not. We haven’t gotten our 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter their own phones yet, but they’re not moving about independently enough to need them.

Anyway, I think the results of the Mediamark survey show that children — and parents — want that electronic tether to make sure they’re never out of reach; what was once my nightmare, now a child’s and parent’s dream.

Written by rkcookjr

March 9, 2010 at 4:42 pm

If sports parents aren't crazy enough for you, go to Chuck E. Cheese

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If you have children in sports, or children of any sort, you probably already know about the hell that can be Chuck E. Cheese, where the ad tagline says it’s a place where a kid can be a kid, but leaves out that a parent can be a fucking maniac. Watching their kid at a ballgame can bring out the worst in some parents, but even close access to weaponry such as hockey sticks or baseball bats does not bring out the level of mayhem as close access to animatronic rodents and lousy pizza.

Like the executives at Chuck E. Cheese say, the vast majority of the time you can bring your children there and have a pleasant experience, especially if you give your children a Karen Silkwood-style disinfectant shower afterward. However, the presumed kid-friendly environment is a powder keg of subsumed violence ready to explode at any moment, such as if someone is taking too long at the photo machine.

That was the cause of a Feb. 15 fight in a Memphis location, which ended up with four people being arrested, and is part of the reason I’m reminded at this moment about the worst of Chuck E. Cheese.

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A few days later, in Indianapolis, a Chuck E. Cheese security camera showed a mom who used her 5-year-old to help her jack another patron’s purse.

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That Chuck E. Cheese is a place where your child can play grab-ass while you play punch-face is hardly a recent development. The Wall Street Journal two years ago had a great story about the chain’s criminal customer element that started thus: “In Brookfield, Wis., no restaurant has triggered more calls to the police department since last year than Chuck E. Cheese’s.”

Fights among guests are an issue for all restaurants, but security experts say they pose a particular problem for Chuck E. Cheese’s, since it is designed to be a haven for children. Law-enforcement officials say alcohol, loud noise, thick crowds and the high emotions of children’s birthday parties make the restaurants more prone to disputes than other family entertainment venues.

The environment also brings out what security experts call the “mama-bear instinct.” A Chuck E. Cheese’s can take on some of the dynamics of the animal kingdom, where beasts rush to protect their young when they sense a threat.

Stepping in when a parent perceives that a child is being threatened “is part of protective parenting,” says Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University and former president of the American Psychological Association. “It is part of the species — all species, in fact — in the animal kingdom,” he says. “We do it all of the time.”

That explains the Saturday night in a Bradenton, Fla., Chuck E. Cheese, when I looked up and saw my oldest, heretofore quiet, even-keeled son, then 4 years old, huffing and growling repeatedly, mama bear-like, at another boy in the rat tunnel. He was baring his teeth enough, I thought perhaps my son had turned into Way Pre-Teen Wolf. When he came down — I couldn’t physically get up there to extricate him — my son explained that the boy had pushed aside his 2-year-old sister, and that made him mad. As heartened as I was he was protecting his sister, it was clearly time to go.

The post-toddler growling was the climax of a night that featured what causes the tension at Chuck E. Cheese: parents of varying parental ability gathering in one spot to let their children run buck-wild because Chuck E. Cheese is a place where a kid can be a kid, and a parent doesn’t have to be a parent.

So why do we as parents keep going back? I’m not sure I have a good answer to that question. My kids have generally had a good time there over the years, and after Brandentongate we learned to never go on a Friday or Saturday night again. But I must admit, entering a Chuck E. Cheese makes my adrenaline rush like a walk through an unknown bad neighborhood, part fear of what might come, and part excitement for a chance to witness mayhem and make my dull suburban life just a little more exciting.

Written by rkcookjr

February 21, 2010 at 1:37 am

The field guide to youth sports parents

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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:

The Coach

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.

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John, for Christ’s sake, would you get behind him?

The Don’t-You-Know-Who-My-Kid-Is

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.

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“I’ll get you, buddy.”

The Gossip

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.

The Ass-Kicker

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.

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Next on your local news: dad is an asshole!

The Superfan

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.

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Is it OK to celebrate an adult who spends a lot of her time uploading videos of high schoolers?

The Absentee

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.

Written by rkcookjr

September 24, 2009 at 10:48 pm

The field guide to youth sports coaches

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If you’re new to the youth sports world, maybe because your first young child is playing, you are satisfying terms of your first community-service order, or you are scouting first-graders for Clark Francis’ Hoop Scoop, you probably don’t have an intimate familiarity with the kinds of kooks, whacknuts and Jekylls-gone-Hyde that populate that peculiar place.

For your benefit, whether you’re a parent, coach, parent/coach or creepy scout, I will give you a four-part field guide to the major players in youth sports: the coaches, administrators, parents and the children themselves.

Today I start with the coaches, mainly because I can adapt a piece I already wrote that piece four years ago for Flak Magazine. Also, because these will be the first people to screw up your child’s athletic experience, if you haven’t already (as the parent, not the coach. But maybe you’ve already done it both ways!)

Before I start, please understand I use “he” because the vast majority of your youth coaches will be men. No offense intended to any female coaches who could fit comfortably into any of these categories.

They are:

The Genial Incompetent

Characteristics: Friendly and outgoing. Brings treats. Makes sure everyone is having fun and plays an equal amount of time. Doesn’t have a fucking clue about the sport.

Reason kids quit: Even the most gentle children — those raised on ultrasensitive PBS cartoons where everyone wins, sportsmanship is paramount, and everyone wears a helmet and pads while riding a bike — don’t like getting their asses beat game after game.

The Sgt. Hartman

Characteristics: Drill sergeant lite. Or heavy. Never likes what he sees. Will run 5-year-old soccer players for three hours after a game if the little shits don’t look like they care enough. Thinks making children cry is the most effective form of motivation. Often bearded.

Reason kids quit: Tinnitus.

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Your kid’s coach introduces himself, sets ground rules, sets tone for contentious relationship with dumpy player.

The Budding Belichick

Characteristics: No matter what the sport or the players’ ages, has a 3-inch-thick playbook for the kids to memorize. Keeps a clipboard tucked in the back of his pants. Takes it out to cover his lips while talking, in case another team has hired a lip-reader. Has full-time videographer for Thursday “film sessions.” Tells kids that if they can do long division, they sure as hell can figure out the three options for modifying a pass route on the fly depending on if the defense plays Cover 2, a Mike Blitz or straight man coverage.

Reason kids quit: To engage in a hobby less complicated. Like calculus.

The Starfucker

Characteristics: Identifies the top player early, and ignores everyone else. All plays boil down to “Get the Ball to the Star and Get the Hell Out of the Way.” Hopes to glom onto the young star to become future agent, shoe company liaison, acceptor of college recruiters’ hundred-dollar handshakes.

Reason kids quit: Coach won’t let them be part of the posse.

The Stage Parent

Characteristics: Parent coaching own child on team, which can go one of two ways. One, adopting a Starfucker-like focus on own prodigy, turning other children and parents into the Hatfields to the coach and child’s McCoys. Two, and more aggravating and/or entertaining, adopting a Starfucker-like focus on own spazz. When the coach puts own child into position of being the hero, and the child flops (again), other parents can take solace in fantasizing about the extremely uncomfortable dinner conversation and family counseling sessions sure to follow.

Reason kids quit: They have enough drama in their own families, thank you very much.

The Vaguely Creepy Guy

Characteristics: He’s the reason so many leagues insist on having at least one team member’s parent as coach. Loves to travel, shoot the breeze, share bathroom stalls with young charges. Always will to give players “private lessons.” Lots of butt-slapping. Lots of team pool parties. Lots of butt-slapping at team pool parties.

Reason kids quit: To make the bad man stop.

1499195364_c11918ad20Time for layup line, kids!

The Dream

Characteristics: Always organized, always communicative with parents and children. Teaches kids skills and wins. Ends season with lots of attaboys from parents, a few gift cards, and an invitation for illicit, extramarital sex that the parent knows the coach is too upstanding to take. Ruins your child for any coach in the future who inevitably can’t live up to this example. Extremely rare. Most often seen on the sideline opposite your child.

Reason kids quit: Intense, self-loathing feelings of not being worthy to breathe the same air.

Written by rkcookjr

September 1, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Who's coaching your kids? Creeps!

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I hate to break this to you, but if a pedophile or general pervert wants to coach your kids, they can.

This story from the San Jose Mercury News, breaking down how a swim coach accused of molesting girls over the course of 30 years was able to bounce from club to club, is sadly not unusual. In most cases, the background forms coaches are requiring to fill out — and I’ve filled out many in my youth sports coaching career — are used only to check against a local or national sex-offender database. They’re great if a convicted pedophile tries to apply. But if the person has given fake information, or has never been convicted of anything (as was the case with the swim coach in question), the person will check out clean.

And you can’t always assume your league has a background check. The Saraland (Ala.) Dixie Youth Baseball league didn’t, though even if it did it wouldn’t have caught the coach who was arrested 31 times in 19 years — all the arrests for misdemeanors, not all were convictions, and none were sex crimes. Or that the background check is done on time. I didn’t have to turn in my forms to my son’s T-ball league until about halfway through the season — a little too late to stop me if I was a bad, bad man.

Boogity! Boogity! Boogity!

So what’s a parent to do? There’s lot of impractical advice out there, about how you should check court records and plea bargains your ownself. Even if parents were given free Lexis/Nexis accounts, no one would have the time and energy to figure out if Coach Tim Smith is the Tim T. Smith who got busted for molestation four states away. Or you could go with this ridiculous from Great Britain, where a school banned parents from coming to their children’s own sports days because allowing them in meant it couldn’t guarantee no “unsavoury” characters would show. (Boy, there’s nothing parents like better than their own child’s school implying they’re unsavoury, er, unsavory.)

Parents, if your knickers are in a twist over whether your child is going to be with a coach who wants to put their knickers in a twist, the best advice is to do everything to ensure your child is never alone with that coach. That’s the advice I got during how-not-to-molest-children training for coaching Catholic school teams, telling me for my own protection that I should never be alone with a child (in a related note, Virtus training for Catholic volunteers is designed by the church’s liability lawyers). The experts in the San Jose story say the same thing about making sure your child isn’t alone with a coach. If there are multiple adults and multiple kids around, it’s going to be hard for anyone to pull anything, literally or figuratively.

You can always check with your league to make sure that sort of policy is in place. You can also make sure not to drop off your child to practice or games too soon, or pick them up too late.  Also, if you see something that strikes you as strange, don’t be afraid to speak up to the league. The people running it, believe it or not, in most cases will appreciate you raising your concerns. Let’s put it this way — if they don’t, you’d be right to take your child out of it.

Written by rkcookjr

July 6, 2009 at 6:54 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 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.