Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Dwyane Wade

Being a sports dad, or how to screw up your children

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Robert Lipsyte has a great piece on CBSNews.com about the mixed legacy of the sports dad. He describes his own father, who was “bookish” and not “ballish,” with whom he never “had a catch.” (Is it just me, or I am the only one outside of “Field of Dreams” who says “play catch?”) He describes his own parenting, informed by his sportswriting career, in which he pulled his son Sam (who grew up to be a writer himself) off of a baseball team with an “ubermacho” coach, and refused to let him play high school football because of all the effects of playing hurt.

Not that his kids didn’t play sports (Sam was a shot-putter, daughter Susannah was an all-state hockey forward), but Lipsyte contrasts this with the famous father of big-time sports heroes, who pushed a lot harder than Lipsyte’s father, and Lipsyte, ever did.

As fathers (assuming we’re involved with our children), there is always a struggle to know how much to push our kids, particularly when it comes to sports. A lot of us have sports we love (mine being basketball), and it seems to validate us as people and parents when our kids choose that sport, and do it well. Of course, we’re the heroes of youth sports league for having provided half the DNA to the star athlete. And if we can coach that star athlete and make great players out of others, all the better.

Even when we know otherwise, we fathers are very tempted to push harder to make our children into the athletes we presume they dream of being. We don’t want our children to look back and wish they pushed us more. We don’t want our children to ask us why we didn’t pay for this travel league, or sign them up for lessons, or “have a catch” often enough.

On the other hand, as Lipsyte points out, when fathers are involved with developing their kids into big-time athletes, they tend to be raging assholes.

Five years ago, for Flak Magazine, I did a “tribute” to some of the worst sports fathers. Amazingly I was able to do it without confining it just to women’s tennis players and Marv Marinovich. Click through to read the anti-inspiring stories of how fathers created great athletes and future therapist patients in sports such as hockey and golf, and are-parents-really-getting-worked-up-over-this activities as table tennis and chess.

There are plenty of athlete bios — Tiger Woods, Venus and Serena Williams, Ichiro Suzuki and Dwyane Wade immediately come to mind — where dad made The Great Santini look like a hands-off, live-and-let-live father.

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“Gotta win by two baskets!”

And those are the ones who “succeeded.” As you can see at youth sports every day, any case of benign neglect (like with the Lipsytes) is balanced by the malignant involvement of fathers. From Lipsyte’s article:

The literature of the sports dad has trended ever darker over recent years.  Poet Donald Hall’s elegiac view of baseball as “fathers playing catch with sons” has given way to the current rash of cautionary tales of Pee Wee pops beating their kids to make them “winners” or beating on their kids’ coaches for not giving them more playing time. (One dirty little secret in the performance-enhancing drug story of recent years is how often dads ignore, enable, or sometimes even directly finance chemical help for their kids.)

Over the last several years, talking to high school students about Raiders Night, a young adult novel of mine that deals with a football player and his driven dad, I’ve been struck by how regularly boys tense up when the subject of just why they play arises.

Remarkably often, once you get past the easy answers — the prestige of the varsity, the thrill of contact, the friendships, and the girls — it comes down to seeking the love and attention of dad. When dad manages to use his son as an avatar in his obsessive sports dreams, that love and attention become a whip and a cage. Ask Tiger. …

I know there are concert pianists, rocket scientists, and brain surgeons who had the equivalent of sports dads. Who knows what I’ve done (what my kids have done, what my grandkids are starting to do) to get love and attention. But after so many decades in the Game, I think the father-son dynamic is more vivid and charged in sports because the relationship blooms in all its loving and violent forms at such a vulnerable time in a kid’s development. That’s why so many grown-ups adore or despise sports.

On some level, as a father it seems you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Don’t push enough, and your child wonder why you denied him or her an opportunity. Push too hard, and your best shot is a money-making athlete who is a shell of a person. (Lipsyte says he’s happy to lean toward benign neglect.)

I wish I had some easy advice for how to strike a balance. The best thing I can come up with is, pay attention to your child and the interests he or she shows, and the intensity he or she shows about them. Then you go from there. That’s the best I can do.

Your humble blogger and his 4-year-old daughter, having a bat.

In which I throw my 10-year-old daughter to the youth sports-industrial complex

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As I believe I’ve mentioned multiple times, my 10-year-old daughter is a three-time All-Star (as in, every year she’s played) in softball, though so far she has eschewed (to my delight) travel ball. The intensity of the parents and the cliquishness of the girls scared me, as well as the $900 price tag (not including actual travel). Plus, I’m not sure I can be involved, particularly as a coach, because I don’t have a goatee.

Despite my hesitance about getting too deep into the youth sports-industrial complex (go figure, with what I named this site), I couldn’t help but get excited when I found out one of the local travel softball teams was sponsoring two clinics at Dwyane Wade High, my local school. And, those clinics featured college coaches. Plus it was only $30 for two Sundays, and I didn’t have to grow a goatee for my daughter to join.

Anybody remotely sentient understands that clinics and camps serve a purpose higher (or lower) than teaching your child. Here is what all the participants involved in my daughter’s camp get out of it:

Oak Lawn Ice, the sponsoring organization. It spreads its names to the girls and their families, so when it comes to time to shell out the travel team bucks, they will think of the Ice first. Also, the Ice makes more contacts with the high school coach and, more importantly, the college coaches that are coming by and might want to recruit some Ice players, thus getting more families willing to shell out for the team.

— Julie Folliard, the Dwyane Wade High softball coach. Though it’s a public school, it has to recruit against at least three nearby all-girls’ Catholic high schools and one coed Catholic high school, all of which are sizable and have their own strong athletic traditions. By hosting the clinic on the T-Mobile D-Wade Court, she makes contact with a slew of potential high school players, strengthens her contacts with a local club team, and strengthens her contacts with college coaches who might someday want her players, thus giving Folliard a feather in her visor when she’s coming back to young kids to get them to her school, thus building a tradition so smart-asses like me say she coaches at Richards High, not Dwyane Wade High. Also, I’ve heard her complain (in a coaches’ clinic I attended when I coached my daughter’s team) about the lack of fundamentals of a lot of players, so Folliard gets some hope that maybe a few players coming up will know what they’re doing.

— The college coaches. Specifically, Illinois-Chicago assistant Amanda Scott, DePaul assistant Liz Jagielski, and Northwestern head coach Kate Drohan, the attending coaches. They get a very early line on talent, and they get to give that talent a very early line on them. They strengthen their contacts with a high school coach. They strengthen their contacts with a travel organization. They get to plant the seeds of knowledge early, before they have to get players to unlearn what they did wrong at earlier levels.

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Amanda Scott’s pitching drills were pretty much what you see in this clip. Except that my daughter tells me she also taught them how to throw a changeup.

— The girls themselves. They get to showcase themselves to a prominent local travel organization, and put themselves on the radar of at least one high school coach, and if they show inordinate talent, some college coaches.

However, for my daughter, I figure the advantages are more prosaic. By getting cheap access to quality high school and college coaches, she can learn more in two Sundays than she’s learned in three years under volunteer moms and dads. No offense to them, especially because for two years that limited-knowledge parent was me.

Whatever the undercurrent of semi-professionalism running throughout the camp, as long as my daughter can learn how to control her pitches, field consistently, and figure out the new lefthanded-batting stance she today decided to adopt while at the clinic, I don’t care what everybody else in the youth sports food chain gets out of it.

“I am not a role model”

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Remember when bad-boy Charles Barkley told us he wasn’t paid to be a role model? That parents should be role models? And by the way, parents, you could be great role models if you buy my shoes?

It was a controversial message in 1993 — kids look up to you, Charles, and not just because you’re tall! — but it’s been reinforced in spades these past few weeks.

First, there was Michael Phelps, suckin’ the bong.

Now there are two stories, one huge, and one developing.

The huge one, as you probably guessed, is Alex Rodriguez’s admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs from 2001 to 2003, an admission goosed out of him by an SI.com report that his was one of the 104 samples that tested positive for two anabolic steroids in 2003.

Rodriguez told ESPN’s Peter Gammons that he started taking PEDs after signing a $250 million contract with Texas, that he felt pressure to live up to the contract and being baseball’s greatest player, and that, hey, the other cool kids were doing it. (I’ll let others dissect the connection between Rodriguez easily folding under the pressure of his contract to his easily folding under the pressure of the playoffs.) The surprise here was that Rodriguez had an image of being clean. A self-absorbed asshole, but clean.

My gosh, what do we tell the children?

The developing story is Dwyane Wade’s divorce, which is nasty, nasty, nasty, and undermining his image as a clean-living, religious, family man. Basically, based on the papers being filed in the divorce from his high-school sweetheart and the allegations of a former business associate, that image is Bizarro Wade.

The allegations (all denied by Wade’s people): he gave his wife STD’s; he had pot-and-sex parties (hey, Michael Phelps wants to know when he gets invited); he’s pretty much abandoned his children; he’s a lousy businessman.

What do we tell the children?

Well, first we tell them their charter school isn’t named after him anymore.

The Rodriguez thing seems not to have sent the nation’s youth into a tailspin. The steroid discussion in baseball has gone on so long, and will go on so much longer, the biggest conversation with kids is not to tell them tearfully that their hero is made of clay. It’s to tell them, and their parents, that maybe going all-in on dreams of a baseball career might not be a good idea if even the league’s best player thinks you need performance-enhancing drugs to get by. President Obama said during his news conference last night that the lesson is there are “no shortcuts,” but he’s wrong: there ARE shortcuts, and the question is whether it’s worth it to take them. After all, most young players who try steroids still aren’t going to get near the major-league level.

The Wade thing is a little more personal for me because my kids are more than likely (unless we win the lottery to pay for private school) going to go to his old high school, which happens to have a new basketball court paid for by Wade, er, one of his sponsors. He even got Kanye West, who went to a nearby high school, and Jennifer Hudson to show up for the dedication.

I know the superintendent for Wade’s old high school, and he has talked glowingly of how nice Wade is, and how great it was to deal with his family. Wade is still very involved with ol’ Richards High, coming back to watch his school win a state championship, and filming a shoe commercial there.

Heck, my wife once struck up a conversation with Wade’s mom at the UPS Store while she was shipping his trophies to Miami.

Fortunately, the Wade situation doesn’t seem to be filtering to the youth of America, and not to the youth of my household.  (UPDATE, JUNE 4, 2009: Wade has filed a libel suit against his old business associate over the pot-and-sex party claims. And, previously, the allegations in the divorce case about giving his wife STDs were dropped.)

What would I tell them if they asked? Well, that just because somebody is a sports star doesn’t make them a good person, and just because somebody does bad things doesn’t mean they can never be a good person. And that athletes and celebrities are not role models.

So says Charles Barkley, who should know.

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