Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘newspaper

Blockbuster youth sports series in newspaper rings true to Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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The opening story of the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch’s big, gimme-a-Pulitzer-Prize series on youth sports is headlined, “Children may be vulnerable in $5 billion youth-sports industry.” May?

All you have to do is spend a little time with this here blog to see how youth sports victimizes kids with molestation, hazing, injury, balls thrown violently to the head and complicated relationships with parents that will keep them in therapy for years. All in the name of getting one of those extremely elusive college scholarships and an even more extremely elusive pro career, all while holding up the sagging economy through recession-proof activities.

Or you could read the Dispatch’s series, a well-reported look pretty much along the same lines, except that the newspaper’s writers aren’t allowed to type “fuck.” Well, they can type it, but it probably won’t get past the fucking copy desk. Fuckers.

To me, the most interesting part of the series is the poll of more than 1,000 central Ohio youths about various aspects of their youth sports experience. For example:

— 315 said they started youth sports at age 5 or younger. Another 445 said they started between ages 6 and 9. I’m going to guess of those 445, they were a lot closer to 6 than 9.

As I typed that previous sentence, this song popped into my head. Kids, let your freak flag fly!

— For the most part, kids appear to play non-school sports because they want to, with many reporting no pressure to play because of a dream of scholarships or making the high school varsity. Only 50 said they got a lot of pressure from parents, while 799 said there was little or none. However, change the question from “parents” to “father,” and I suspect the responses change somewhat.

— 571 said their coaches were fun and improved their game. Only 60 said their coach only wanted to win, or yelled a lot. Is Central Ohio the repository of all the best youth coaches? Really?

— Another 571 (the same kids?) said their parents were supportive or enjoyable at their sporting events. Another 271 said parents were embarrassing or put too much pressure on them. Apparently there are parents, given the low rate of pressure to play, who are all nice and home, but become raging lunatics once the whistle blows.

Actually, the poll, unless the children are suffering some sort of travel team Stockholm Syndrome, seems to reveal that even as we absorb all these stories about the nuttiness of youth sports, in most cases everyone — especially the kids themselves — are keeping their wits and perspective about them. If that’s the case, what I am going to write about? You mean kids really only may be vulnerable? Fuck.

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Written by rkcookjr

September 15, 2010 at 11:14 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

Your kid bores me

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As I’ve mentioned before, many newspapers are going into overdrive encouraging parents and coaches to submit youth sports photos and scores, figuring that those parents and coaches, and anyone who knows a kid on the team submitted, will buy the paper or peruse the Web site as a result. For example, the Signal in Valencia, Calif., is setting up dedicated web pages for leagues and sports, and even individual teams. The newspaper also will collect stats. So just in case you wanted to know who was leading all 9-year-olds in doubles in local softball — now you’ll know.

The risk I hadn’t mentioned in my previous post about this strategy is that for every person all excited about your newspaper and web site for accepting little Jimmy’s soccer picture, you’ll have an infinite number on the other side who don’t give a shit.

That is the stated opinion of the Mansfield (Ohio) News-Journal’s Larry Phillips, who is, shall we say, skeptical of his newspaper’s fawning over kiddie sports. He figures it’s a bit of a yawner to anyone outside the child’s immediate orbit.

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At the risk of rankling my superiors, I’ve got a youth sports bulletin.

For years here, we conducted reader panels that insisted folks wanted more youth sports coverage. In response, our marching orders were for more youth sports stories.

After 20 years in sports and repeated attempts at attacking this beat with issue-oriented stories, event coverage stories and feature stories garnering mostly negative feedback, I can say with full confidence the truth about this topic.

No one, repeat no one, wants to read about youth sports unless those stories are about their child, their grandchild, or someone else near and dear to their heart.

That’s a fact, and I can prove it.

My 5-year-old is in his first season in youth soccer. He split the posts for the first time with an own goal, but has since rallied to find the correct net twice in four games.

Bored to tears?

Of course. That’s two sentences readers will never get back.

I absolutely understand the personal investment in youth sports. I also understand its relevance in the overall landscape of north central Ohio sports.

What we’ve tried to do, and in fact encourage, is the team picture philosophy. Submit the squad’s photo identifying each youngster and the team’s accomplishments. As the weather warms and more teams are participating, we’ll move those photos toward a consistent online package. With our space in sports, that’s what we’ve done with turkey and deer pictures for our hunting fans. It still gives the kids recognition and for those readers cutting out such things for scrapbooks (and my wife is among them), it serves a dual purpose.

So, Larry, are you saying I’m wasting my time with this here blog? Um, I’m not sure I want you to answer that.

You only write about us when we provide the pictures

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In 1977, I stood resplendent in my blue patterned, monogrammed leisure suit (made by my grandmother) in the front of St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Owosso, Mich., along with my fellow First Communion celebrants. The photographer asked us communicants whether we wanted a picture to be passed out to our families, or for the newspaper. We bellowed: “THE NEWSPAPER!”

After all, having a picture in your parents’ hands was all well and good. But being in the newspaper was validation, immortality, even if was only the Owosso Argus-Press. There we were, on page 2, to be cut out and put into scrapbooks. Who cared if our faces all were so small you couldn’t tell one kid from another? (Or one monogrammed leisure suit from another?)

I thought of this after seeing another note from a newspaper encouraging its readers to submit photos, particularly of youth sports, to be published or posted. In this case, it’s the Zanesville Times-Recorder in Zanesville, Ohio, known for being one of Forbes’ most vulnerable local economies, a stop on the Devil’s Highway, and home to the Institute for White Studies. The Times-Recorder posted its note Sunday asking readers to submit photos to be used for galleries of prom and youth spring sports.

As newspapers circle the financial drain, one of their Hail Marys (other than mixing metaphors) is to ask for reader-submitted content, which is free and an easy driver of visits to the paper’s web site, or sales of newspapers to the people whose friends and relatives are featured. It’s a test of how strong the brand name of a newspaper can be. You don’t need a local paper to get your kids’ volleyball photos online. You can start a blog, or a Flickr account. (And then have some smart-aleck blogger steal your kid’s photo off of Flickr because it’s not copyrighted material.)

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Like this, for example.

But as anyone who works a newspaper sports desk can tell you, there are sports parents who are incessant about why the local paper isn’t giving full blanket coverage to their kid’s team or sport, and their kid. “You only cover us when we [insert very bad thing here]” is a sportswriters’ cliche for the grief they get from parents.

Why do parents or fans bother? Because having someone ELSE take or post your pictures is validation, immortality. Especially as there are a million places online to disseminate your sports photos and information, getting a call from someone else who wants to do so is much more meaningful. (Plus, if it’s the local newspaper, you can be pretty sure it’s not a pedophile heavily breathing for your prom or swimming photos.)

Newspapers such as the Zanesville Time-Recorder are counting on their established brand name and ability to grant validation, immortality, to get scads of photos, but more importantly to remind readers that if they want to be remembered, posting a photo to a Facebook page isn’t enough. (Oh, and maybe the sports staff can tell angry parents that there is a vehicle available to attract the attention of the college recruiters they believe search for talent only in local sports sections.)

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An example that has nothing to do with youth sports: The Redwood City, Calif., Flickr Group is located in the center of Silicon Valley. And yet the members were besides themselves with excitement in 2006 when the local paper wrote a story about them.

Of course, this isn’t the paper sending a photographer out to shoot your kid’s fourth-grade basketball game, so it’s not like the barrier for entry is that high.

Still, even small children who never see a newspaper in the home, as well as their parents, families and friends, can get excited over getting a picture “in the paper.” Or should I say, in “THE NEWSPAPER!”