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Posts Tagged ‘Family

The impossible parental task of taking your life back from youth sports

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For a lot of us in the parenting way, one of our New Year’s resolutions — inspired by a few weeks off from getting kids up in the morning for school — is to “take back” our lives, much like the Tea Party wants to “take back” America. We Tea Party Parents want to hearken back to a simpler time, before schedules, before burning the candle at both ends. Basically, before we had children. Like the Tea Party itself, we Tea Party Parents probably aren’t going to be successful at turning back the clock (or cutting spending, either), but, hey, no sense not trying to talk a good game!

On the site, run by the Lifetime cable network (during the Christmas season, is the site called, Dawn Sandomeno of Partybluprintsblog takes time off from posts like “Rae’s Ultimate Eggplant Sandwich!” (if yours is better, you’d better put two fucking exclamation points on it) to describe herself as a Lifetime woman in peril, although the culprit is her kids’ sports schedule, rather than a fiendish man who seemed OK at the start but turned out to be danger.

This post stars Joanna Kerns. Or maybe Judith Light.

From Ms. Sandomeno:

What’s crazy is that the problem is also what’s good for my kids: Youth Sports. For me, it’s three boys who play ice hockey, but it could be baseball, soccer, dance, lacrosse, or any other activity these days. Youth sports have gone off the deep end and to what end, I’m not sure. Mind you, I’m not against them, quite the opposite – I love that my boys are physically fit because of sports, have learned team play, and are developing great leadership and time management skills.  However, there are no boundaries anymore.  I was actually at an ice rink for a game on Easter Sunday and missed Thanksgiving with my family so we could play in a tournament in another city.  Each youth sport is now a 9 – 12 month commitment and it’s not just time, it‘s money, lots of money! Practices, lessons, games, clinics, camps, it turns out to be 7 days a week – God rested on Sunday, why can’t I?

So, I will need to be strong and committed to this challenge, the pressure can be strong from organizations and clubs, not to mention my own kids.   I want and need this change to happen. I’m determined to succeed and I truly hope to take some time back by being brave and saying no to the extras. I want to show my children that family time is important.

That’s all well and good, but a Tea Party Parent is going to fail cutting a few extras like, say, education. But you’re not going to reduce your family deficit by cutting a few extras here and there. The only solution is a radical one — eliminate activities altogether.

After all, it’s not like the sports organizations are going to say, “Oh, you want more family time? Please, take all the time you need!” It’s more like, “Oh, you want your kid home? I’ll tell you what: he can leave the team and BE HOME ALL THE FUCKING TIME!” So you have to decide as a parent, what do you want to do?

The rule in my family is that if you, as a child, love the activity — as in, we don’t have to drag your ass there, or tell you to practice — you can do it to your heart’s content. If you only kind of like it, then it’s on the bubble. I’ve got four kids. My wife and I don’t have the time or energy to schlep them around to stuff they only kind of like, whether or not our rationale is wanting to spend more time with them.

So Dawn Sandomeno should ask her kids whether they love playing hockey. If they do, then she IS getting her family time. If not, then she can cut off the sport like a Tea Party candidate wants to cut off spending on everything but the military.

Guns in parks: Why?

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When I go to the park, I take a water bottle, maybe a wagon for the younger kids, some snacks, perhaps light jackets in case there’s a chill in the air. On another planet, there are people who are beside themselves that they can’t bring their guns.

I’ll come right out and say it: I don’t get it. I don’t consider myself crazy anti-gun. I don’t own a gun, probably never will, but that’s not out of any anti-Second Amendment principle. It’s because I have no more interest in owning a gun than I do an expanded special edition of Reese Witherspoon in “Sweet Home Alabama.” I just don’t find it useful to my interests, unless I’m forced to watch “Sweet Home Alabama,” at which time I might want a gun to go all Elvis on the TV.

And I’m certainly not sure why people feel so scared of their shadows that when they go for a nice stroll, or they go to watch their kid’s ballgame, they need to pack heat or their hearts palpitate nervously like me when I show up to a ballgame without a Starbucks grande americano with two Sweet-n-Lows and skim milk.

Indianapolis is the latest place where someone is proposing that people with permits be allowed to pack heat in public parks. That someone is a Libertarian who, philosophically, figures our Second Amendment rights extend to having a Glock in your pocket while you push your child on the swings.

3200979329_634514a42dKid, that swing is taken, if you catch my drift.

In some way, I get that. I don’t agree with it, but I get it. What I don’t get is the reaction of Republican council member Ryan Vaughn, quoted in the Indianapolis Star:

“For the sake of consistency, I think there’s merit in it,” Vaughn said. “You could have citizens who don’t know what kind of park they’re in.”

Don’t know what kind of park they’re in? What is THAT supposed to mean? I don’t know if Vaughn has a racist bone in his body, but it sounds to me like my fellow white man wants his constituents protected in case they somehow stumble across Scary Black Park. (If Vaughn introduces an ordinance to change the names of parks to reflect their racial makeup and crime status, then we’ll know.) The only other way I could see citizens not knowing what kind of park they’re in is if they travel there wrapped inside a sack and then get dumped off the back of a truck.

Fortunately, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican and ex-Marine who presumably knows how to handle a gun, unlike most of the numbnuts who would pack heat at the park, said he would veto allowing guns in the parks, given that in three years in office, by his reckoning, exactly zero people have brought up this issue with him.

Still, that’s not likely to stop pro-gun types, not with victories such as the upcoming lifting of the gun ban in national parks, set to take effect Feb. 22. (It won’t be all Wild West — the park will enforce whatever local gun laws are in place.) Plus, you still have the push-pull in Tennessee, where it became legal to carry in public parks, unless local governments passed a law saying otherwise — and some have.

It doesn’t help the case when you have oddballs like the guy in Seattle who protested his city’s new ban on guns in the parks by taking a pistol to a dog show. You know, just in case a shih-tzu looked at him cross-eyed. (Technically, the guy is right — a Washington state law passed in 1983 prevents any locality from passing such a gun ban, and there are lawsuits against the city declaring just that. But still.) Or tragic cases like the mom in Pennsylvania who created a cause celebre by openly carrying a weapon at her kid’s soccer game — and then ended up dead by her husband’s hand in a murder-suicide.

The only person I know and would trust taking a gun to a park for a Sunday walk or a kid’s ballgame is a friend of mine who happens to be an ex-Marine and a Secret Service agent. At least I know he’s trained to be alert for danger and would know how to discharge his weapon without wiping out the opposing team’s parents. Otherwise, it just seems like overkill, no pun intended, for people to bring guns along. If you’re feeling tense and nervous at the ballpark, I would recommend a strong cup of coffee instead.

Should basketball practice trump a family vacation? Oh yes, it should

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My esteemed True/Slant colleague Karen Dukess the other day posed the question: should basketball practice trump a family vacation? With my headline, I’ve saved you the drama of how I’ll answer it.

But first, the context of Karen’s question. She’s asking about the mixed message sent in that we’re told as parents that family time is more important than breathing, and we’re often told that by our children’s schools. And yet, coaches from those same schools demand that if a family vacation conflicts with practice, kids should be at practice rather than spending their time in a way that heretofore was more important than breathing. Some more from Karen:

A woman I know whose son plays on his high school basketball team is determined not to be badgered. Her family is a third of the way through their project to travel to every state in America. Next up are Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi, which they plan to visit during Christmas break. The coach doesn’t want the boy to go. The family is sticking with their plan, but not without a lot of tension and guilt.The mother of another boy on the team wants to take him skiing, but the boy is too scared to miss a practice.

Is it fair to ask parents and kids to make these kinds of choices? I know some parents who refuse to let their children miss a practice or a game, saying that it’s an important life lesson to know that when you sign up for a team it means that you keep your commitments to the team. But shouldn’t we honor our commitments to our families, too?

As usual in conflicts between parents and those who run their children’s sports, the debate is either-or, and each side comes from a position so hardened it makes the Congressional debate over health care reform look congenial. On one side you have parents who say that what they decide for their children trumps all, while on the other you have a coach demanding that a child, no matter what the family’s wishes, honor his or her commitment to team over all.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a coach and a parent that I’m so much wiser than you I can see both sides a little more clearly. As a parent, I understand the frustration of having a child’s sports schedule run your life. Or in my case, multiple children’s sports and activities schedules. As a coach, I understand the frustration of trying to mold a team when players, and their parents, appear to view practice as an optional activity.

I’ve never coached at a level higher than seventh- and eighth-grade coed rec league ball, so I don’t get out of sorts if someone has a conflict. When one of my T-ball players had a family vacation to Aruba, I didn’t pitch a fit and make clear this 6-year-old’s future baseball career would be RUINED if he didn’t show up to every practice and game. (Actually, what I did was ask if his family had an extra ticket for me.)

However, what I do ask of parents and children is that they tell me in advance when their child is not going to make, whether because of a vacation, conflict with another activity, or illness or injury. All parents have my mobile number and email address, so they can catch me on my BlackBerry at any time. At least if they let me know, I can plan practice or the game accordingly.

I would love to have every child at every practice, because that is the time when they learn about a sport, and learn whether they enjoy it. You can’t build a team and camaraderie when practice attendance is sporadic. But, again, at an elementary or junior high level I can understand that kids have other activities or conflicts.

However, what I demand of my own children, none of whom are at the high school level, is that they pick sports and activities to which they can make an honest commitment. If they already have a day and time committed to something, they can’t decide to do something else at that time until their current commitment is over. It’s not fair to the people running those activities, it’s not fair to the other kids in those activities, it’s not fair to us as parents trying to get them to those activities, and it’s not fair to my own kids, whose learning and pleasure will suffer when they try to take on too much.

In the case of the mom who wants to take family vacations during basketball season, I will ask a few questions, with the issue each raises:

1. Was she unaware of the dates and the level of committment of basketball season? (Scheduling)

2. Does she realize that, depending on the size of the school, there could be 50 kids just as good who would gladly have taken that spot and made a full commitment? (Fairness to other kids on — and who wanted to be on — the team)

3. Would she have the same feelings and resentment over the schedule if it were something she liked, or was something like theater, dance, music or something not athletic? (I’ve found that the parents most resentful of athletic demands are those who were never in organized sports — yet some of those same parents would not dream of taking their kid out of play practice for a week because they recognize that’s important.)

Now, one assumption I did not make with the above questions: that the family had booked a trip long before basketball practice was ever on the schedule, and before they realized their child might be good enough to make the team. However, in that case, there are two things a family could do in good faith. One would be to explain to the coach what happened, and whether it would be possible to excuse the child during that time. (If the coach is a real jerk about it, you can always go to the principal if you want to make a stink.) The other would be to reschedule the trip. Even with global warming as a threat, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana should still be there for spring break.

Really, once that woman’s child made the team, everything in the family schedule changed, including that trip. Short of having to go to see a dying relative, if a child is going to make a commitment to be on a high school basketball team — or in a school play, or in a concert band, or in the improv club, or whatever — the child and the family have to be prepared to make that time commitment, no matter what.

If not, there’s one other option — an option famously proffered by Colorado football coach Dan Hawkins when a parent complained to him that the football team didn’t get enough time off. If you can’t make the committment, he said, channeling his inner Hulk Hogan, “Go play intramurals, brother!”

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Written by rkcookjr

December 15, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Learning to get over how your kid's sports prowess (or lack thereof) reflects on you

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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.

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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.

Written by rkcookjr

September 28, 2009 at 12:19 am

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.

Reflections on a year of coaching

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With tonight’s T-ball finale, in which our Defending World Champion Phillies take on the Brewers, my season of coaching is done.

I’ve done a lot of coaching. Fall girls’s softball manager. Which bled into fifth- and sixth-grade coed rec league basketball head coach. Which bled into seventh- and eighth-grade coed rec league basketball assistant coach. Which bled into T-ball manager. On one hand, I’m sad to see all of this finish for the school year, happy for the chance to bond individually with each of my three sports-playing kids (a fourth, a 3-year-old, is to come). On the other, for reasons beyond just coaching, I’m exhausted and happy not to have to shoulder the responsibility for a little while.

248065914_5c49c3a0f0I know how you feel, pup.

After all, when you’re a youth coach, you’re a volunteer, trying to impart some knowledge to kids while handling their parents and organizing everything from practices to who is supposed to bring post-game snacks. Fortunately, I have generally had supportive parents and good kids, which makes life much easier.

And now, I shall impart some knowledge to any potential youth sports coach or parent, based on what I’ve learned over the past year. (On top of a very good list for coaches here.)

For coaches:

1. It’s not about you and your brilliance. It’s about the players. Your job is to never give up on your players so they do not give up on you and your sport.

2. Just because sports is supposed to be fun doesn’t mean you can’t insist on everyone being focused and being respectful to you and their teammates. You don’t have to yell, but you have to establish you’re in charge if you don’t want chaos.  The players, and their parents, will thank you for it.

3. Kids keep score, even if you don’t. (Most) kids get over losing quickly, even if you don’t. All of this is to your benefit.

4. It’s not your job to force a player to keep playing a sport, or for you to force parents to keep their kids on your team if they don’t feel like it’s the best fit. Youth sports is about self-discovery for the child and about the parents’ discovery of their child. You’re just there to help.

5. Speaking of parents, they are not the enemy. They are doing you an enormous honor by entrusting their child to you. Treat them with respect and the knowledge that they are taking a big risk in putting the future of their baby in your hands.

For parents (particularly those with younger kids or athletes competing in the first time):

1. It’s not about you and your parenting skills. It’s about the players. Your kid might be great, he or she might not. Your kid might love the sport, he or she might like picking dandelions in right field. None of it is a reflection on whether you’re a good parent. However, barking at your child about it either way is.

2. Just because sports is supposed to be fun doesn’t mean your kids won’t get hurt sometimes, physically or emotionally. Part of your task is helping them determine the difference between what comes with the sport, and what should not. Part of your task is helping yourself determine the difference between what comes with the sport, and what should not. Err on the side of not freaking out right away — your coaches, kids, fellow parents and their kids, will thank you for it.

3. Kids keep score, and maybe you do, too. (Most) kids get over losing quickly, even if you don’t. All of this is to your benefit.

4. It’s not your job to force your child to keep playing a sport, or for you to keep a child on a certain team if it’s not the best fit (as long as there are viable options, like other leagues or other sports). Youth sports is about self-discovery for the child and about the parents’ discovery of their child. You’re there to find out what your child likes and dislikes, even if he or she doesn’t know it yet. If you feel like the coach is the problem, you have a right to speak up for your child without become one of “those” parents.

5. Speaking of coaches, they are not the enemy. They are doing you an enormous honor by taking the time to teach your child. Treat them with respect and the knowledge that they are making a huge commitment to volunteer to help in the development of your child. Even a bum of a coach is putting in some time, and like your child getting a bad teacher, can provide valuable lessons to you and your child on how to handle it when someone in charge isn’t effective — a lesson that will come in handy in the working world.

Written by rkcookjr

June 22, 2009 at 5:00 pm