Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘junior high

Why my 13-year-old, like so many others, is dropping out of organized sports

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For years, I read that 13 was the magic age, the Logan’s Run of youth sports, the time when 75 percent of kids (or whatever stat you want to pull out of your rectum) quit sports en masse, bitterly, for a lifetime of obesity.

As it turns out, my 13-year-old son, Bobby, coming home today from his first day of eighth grade, told me today that he would not try out again for the volleyball team, despite being one of the last cuts as a seventh-grader, despite going to volleyball camp this summer, despite the very good jump serve he’s demonstrated in our back yard.

He announced this angrily and dejectedly after… well, actually, he was pretty darn excited when he told me. That’s because he found out his school’s spring musical, in which he played the title role of “The Wizard of Oz” last year, would for this school year be a fall musical instead, a production of “Bugsy Malone.”

Yep, the all-kid gangster musical.

While I’m sure there are 13-year-olds who are out of sports because they have had miserable coaches, mean teammates and nutball parents, it turns out my 13-year-old is getting out of sports because, like other 13-year-olds, he’s finishing what my wife has referred to as his logical path of self-discovery (a phrase she coined sarcastically to refer to my peripatetic early professional career).

My son like sports OK, and maybe he’ll play rec league basketball this winter and try out track again in the spring. But he knows he LOVES performing. He likes being on stage, and not to put to fine a point on it, he’s good at it. He got his grade’s “best actor” award last year, which isn’t exactly a preview of the Oscars, but the kind of encouraging sign that points you in the direction of something you might enjoy for a while. My 13-year-old went to a theater camp over the summer, and he’s wanting to take improvisational acting classes.

Also, he really, really, really wants to be a Marine. So I see where he wants his path to lead: Rob Riggle.

That’s a USMC hat my 13-year-old son Bobby (left, posing with his 7-year-old brother, Ryan) is wearing at the July 4 parade in Munising, Mich. No kidding: not long after this picture was taken, a Marine in full dress walked by in the parade, saw Bobby and his hat, and gave him a Marines poster. Is this how Rob Riggle got started?

Like most any father, I had a thought from Bobby’s babyhood what sports he might play. That he’s not playing any — I’m good with that. The excitement he felt telling me about the school musical made ME want to sign up for it. After a youth of baseball, basketball, wrestling, volleyball, track, soccer, hockey and other sports I’m probably leaving out (like roller-blading, which he does just for the fun of it), Bobby’s logical path of self-discovery has given him sports he can enjoy in his down time, and activities he can enjoy the hell out of most of the time.

I still need to talk to him about that Marines thing, though. It’s great he loves the idea of serving his country, and I’ll support him in whatever he wants to do. But as a parent I’ll take Bobby dying on stage over dying, for real. Maybe I can get Rob Riggle to have a chat with him.

Written by rkcookjr

August 23, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Contracts and youth activities: Do I need an agent?

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You think committing your child to a sport is a big deal. I, and my 12-year-old son, had to sign a long “contract” outlining his commitment as the Wizard in his school’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.” I felt like I should have had Scott Boras over to advise me.

Written by rkcookjr

December 23, 2009 at 12:59 am

'The junior high Paterno'

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“Junior high Paterno” is the nom de guerre the Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune affixed to one Barry Crust, who is in his last year coaching middle school sports at Hudtloff Middle School in Lakewood, Wash. That’s not because Crust has coke bottle bottoms on his glasses, wears white socks with any shoes, and found late-career success by loosening his recruiting standards to include more criminals. It’s because Crust is old.

Crust started at Lakewood in 1967 and never went anywhere else, beginning his career one year after Paterno took the head job for Penn State’s football team and never went anywhere else. As the News Tribune itself noted, all Paterno had to do was coach football. By the newspaper’s calculation, Crust has coached the equivalent of 117 seasons — a “baseball coach for 42 years, a wrestling coach for 31 years, a football coach for 26 years, a fastpitch coach for 14 years. Factor in a couple of years of basketball and one each for track and volleyball … .” Crust retired as a physical education teacher in 1997, but he’ll finish his 118th and final season in the spring of 2010 when he coach’s Hudtloff’s baseball team.

The News Tribune asked Crust how kids and sports have changed over 42 years, naturally. Crust’s answers are not what you’d call, well, crusty:

— Girls aren’t just stuck in intramurals anymore, something Crust thought was “silly” and “unfair.”

— Other than being bigger and faster, and having different hairstyles, kids haven’t really changed much over the years.

— The biggest change has been the decline of the all-around athlete.

Crust fears the concept of the all-around athlete has been compromised by a youth-sports culture that demands specialized talents.

“We’ll have an after-school baseball practice from 3:15 to 5,” he said, “and then the kids are picked up for their next practice, which goes until 7. What that means is I’m not their only coach, so I’ve got to be flexible.

“Take bunting. If you don’t know how to bunt, I’ll show you. But if you’ve learned a different technique from somebody else, I don’t want to waste our time trying to undo everything.”

Interestingly, Crust credits spreading himself coaching over multiple sports as a reason why he lasted so long.

Not that Crust bemoans the relative brevity of any junior high sports season. To the contrary, he believes the schedule – two weeks of practice, five weeks of games, everything wrapped up in two months – kept him fresh during the three decades he spent as full-time P.E. instructor and busy-bodied coach.

It sounds like Crust kept some perspective about youth sports and his role in them. No wonder he appears to be retiring happy, and on his own terms.

Written by rkcookjr

November 22, 2009 at 8:46 pm

An angry football mom's sign of trouble

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There is a pattern to how little misunderstandings involving youth sports turn into the raging contretemps that end up in blogs such as this.

First a child and parent are blithely going along in the course of a season. Then a team representative announces, clumsily, a sudden change in the arrangement that should have been handled earlier. Then the parent and/or child goes batshit crazy whether or not the team digs in its heels. And then smart-alecks like me write it up.

That’s the pattern playing out in Berlin Heights, Ohio. Eighth-grader Keegan O’Brien started football place at Berlin-Milan Middle School. The school comes back and says, oh by the way, Keegan shouldn’t be on the team because his poor seventh-grade marks made him ineligible. His mother, Amy Ortner, responds by demanding a refund from the school for the $70 she spent on a physical and football shoes, which she said was a lot for someone out of work such as herself. Then, in the coup de crazy, she put a marquee in her front yard that reads “Berlin Football– Shame Shame– We Dont Play Those Kind of Games.” (I presume the letters she got for the sign didn’t come with apostrophes.)

[youtubevid id=”5znh58WITU8″]

Joe South feels you, Amy.

According to the Sandusky Register, this sign has been up for about a month, and it doesn’t appear to be coming down any time soon — not with a school levy vote coming up in November.

For about a month, a marquee in Amy Ortner’s front yard has displayed messages critical of the football program. It has drawn the attention of people traveling this busy stretch of highway and an offer of money to take it down, which Ortner characterized as a bribe.

Mark Suhanic, who made the offer, said he was just trying to give Ortner what she wanted and acting not as a school board member but on behalf of a friend. [The friend is the operator of a nearby orchard who thought her sign was bad for his business.]

“I just wanted it to go away. I guess you could look at it as a bribe, paying her off, but she was very adamant that she wanted the money,” Suhanic said. “She wanted the money, and there was a guy willing to pay the money.”

She didn’t take the money.

…Ortner said Suhanic told her he was concerned her sign — which she borrowed from a friend — made the schools look bad in advance of a levy vote next month.

“I’m mad that the only reason they’re worried is because of the levy,” she said. “They’re not worried about the justice of taking a kid off of a team after he’s been part of it for two months.”

Suhanic said rules are rules, and the levy isn’t the only reason he wanted the sign taken down.

“Any bad publicity isn’t good any time. It happens we do have a levy going on,” he said, “but most people don’t understand what this has been about, and she hasn’t been forthcoming in explaining to people.”

It appears the school screwed up in two ways. The first was not following Ohio High School Athletic Association rules about informing players and parents about the ineligibility rules. According to the OHSAA guidelines:

3-1-4 Within two weeks of the beginning of each sports season, the principal, through his/her athletic
administrator, coaches and such other personnel as deemed advisable by said principal,
shall conduct a mandatory, preseason program with all student-athletes who wish to
participate in the upcoming sports seasons, their parents and booster club officers. The
meeting shall consist of (a) a review of the student-eligibility bulletin and key essential eligibility
requirements; (b) a review of the school’s Athletic Code of Conduct; and (c) a
sportsmanship, ethics and integrity component.

The second mistake was the administration’s, ham-handed handling once it realized it had made an oopsie. Maybe the school could have refunded the money. Or it could have come up with a way to let Keegan play while not sacrificing the school’s academic integrity. For example, it could have set up an arrangement that might have given Keegan a clean slate for this year, but giving strict guidelines about the minimum grade-point average he would need to keep his place on the team.

Of course, with the month-long sign tirade she has under way, Amy Ortner doesn’t sound like the most reasonable parent in the world to deal with. Yes, she did get wronged by the school. But you can’t help but think if she put this much effort toward in school in figuring out how to raise her son’s grades, he might be far better off. And whether he would be allowed to play football wouldn’t even be an issue.

But then I wouldn’t have anything to write about, would I?

Written by rkcookjr

October 22, 2009 at 12:43 am

Inspiring minds want to know

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Over at the Positive Coaching Alliance, the sworn enemy of the Negative Coaching Alliance, there is an interesting conversation going on inspired by this question:

My 7th-grade son has played very competitive soccer and basketball for years, always supporting his teammates. Recently, his coaches in both sports challenged all the players to improve on specific skills, but some players are not trying very hard. As a parent, how can I help my son demand vocally (even angrily, if necessary) that his teammates strive for their potential and do so without alienating himself?
— Phil Carragher, Glencoe, IL

Well, Phil, it’s interesting that you bring this up. My brother-in-law and I are coaching a basketball team of seventh- and eighth-graders (and my son, a sixth-grader), and as coaches we’re wrestling with the same problem. As a team, we have a problem with every kid going all-out every practice and every game. In fact, after winning our first game, we’ve lost every one since as a direct result of a lack of team hustle. As coaches we take responsibility as well because we are charged with putting our team in the best position to win, and better yet creating an environment in which everyone is relaxed and having fun so they can feel comfortable going all-out and unafraid to make mistakes. Unfortunately, when you’re losing, that goal becomes harder to reach.

Phil, let me ask you this first: is your son unequivocally recognized by his teammates as the best player? Or at least a major contributor to the team’s success? Otherwise, there’s no hope. In my experience, other players will take praise and criticism more seriously from the best player than they will someone who is not.

Also, what are the personalities on the team? I encouraged our best player, who does hustle all-out, to feel free to praise and criticize on the court, to position players, and to otherwise lead by example. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be working, though such a strategy has worked for me as a coach before. Particularly at the junior-high level (and I don’t have to tell you this, having a son in junior high), kids at that age are far more likely to blow off you and peers.

A kid who is not predisposed to hustling, who does not see it his duty to play well for his teammates’ sake, and who does not see the connection in how being lazy in practice means poor results in games — you’re just going to have a hard time getting through. No matter what your son says, a player like that isn’t going to respond. In fact, that player will probably go into a shell.


And to back it up even further, Phil, it’s not your job as a parent to get your son to help him to demand vocally (and even angrily) that his teammates step it up. I don’t know your son’s personality, but some kids are just not comfortable with doing that. You can’t make your kid into something he’s not.

I understand your frustration, and your son’s, at being stuck on a team where it appears everyone is not interested in trying their best. I know it’s driving me crazy with my team right now, and I’m having to take a good, hard look at how I’m coaching to make sure I don’t make a tough situation worse. I recommend, Phil, that you and your son suck it up, that he focus on improving his game and being the best teammate he can be (no matter what everyone else does — perhaps the more he shows he trusts them, the more they might respond, maybe), and that you and he realize that soon enough he will be on another team that might not have the problems this one has.

Oh, and Phil, don’t complain to the coach about it, either, if you were thinking of that. The coach knows. Trust me on this one.