Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘parenting

“Why Chinese mothers are superior” sounds like a lot of sports parents

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Burning up the mommy blogs and parenting sites is a Wall Street Journal piece by Amy Chua called “Why Chinese mothers are superior.” I had to admit they were, at least by the description she gives, because the night before I read the piece my 11-year-old daughter had a sleepover.

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

I think you could sub “baseball” or “volleyball” for “piano” and “violin,” and make whatever substitutions are necessary to turn a Chinese mother into a sports parent — or any parent so obsessive about their child’s success that they are strict beyond belief, lest anything take anyone’s eyes off the prize.

I think you can also find justification given by the intense sport parent in this passage from Chua’s piece:

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

On some level, she probably is right. A child usually is not going to play piano for hours a day, or hit the batting cage for hours a day, or do whatever for hours a day that does not involve some level of enjoyment — unless they’ve done it for so long, and they’ve gotten so good at it, that they respond to the praise they’re getting for doing it so well.

Alas, being the “Chinese mother” is a tricky strategy. For every Ichiro Suzuki that seems to respond well and thrive to the parental-obsessive treatment, there is an Andre Agassi who does well but resents his father, or a Todd Marinovich who advances to the highest level and falls apart, or skads of others kids we never hear of who just burn out. And I’m not talking just sports. Unfortunately, as a parent, we never know whether we’ve pushed too hard or not enough until it’s too late to undo the damage — and the guilt you might feel as a result.

Chua details a confrontation she had with her 7-year-old daughter over trouble she had playing a certain piece on a piano, a fight that escalated into screaming fits (by the daughter) and threats of eternal punishment and withholding water until she learned to play the piece (by the mother). At one point, when Chua’s husband (who is not Chinese) tries to step in, she responds:

“Oh no, not this,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Everyone is special in their special own way,” I mimicked sarcastically. “Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don’t worry, you don’t have to lift a finger. I’m willing to put in as long as it takes, and I’m happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games.”

I’m amazed he can take them to Yankees games. He must sneak them out.

Anyway, the 7-year-old learns to play the piece, she’s joyful she can, she loves her mother, dumb-ass dad admits she’s right, and all is well.

There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids’ true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it’s a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what’s best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.

Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.

Unlike many who have commented on Chua’s piece, the fault I find is not in her individual parenting methods. They’re her kids, and that’s her business. I don’t doubt that she loves her kids and wants the best for them — and I don’t doubt that either from sports parents who also might seem overbearing on first, second, third and fourth looks.

But I do find fault with this either-or at the end of her piece. To me, good parenting combines the best of both the “Western” and “Chinese” scenarios she lays out. You can encourage your kids to pursue their passions while also reminding them that many others are pursuing the same passion, and showing them what they have to do to make their passion into a viable future, thus providing a nuturing environment AND giving them work habits and inner confidence no one can ever take away.

Now, I need to step away to have my kids turn off their video games and go to bed.

Written by rkcookjr

January 9, 2011 at 10:53 pm

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 Lifetimemoms.com, run by the Lifetime cable network (during the Christmas season, is the site called Fa-La-La-La-Lifetimemoms.com?), 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.

The droning of soccer moms

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I’m not sure what captures the monotony of ultracompetitive youth sports parents better: the script written by Jen Singer at MommaSaid.net, or the droning voices supplied by the text-to-animation service she used to make this video.

Written by rkcookjr

January 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm

How to be an experienced youth sports parent

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Just so you know where the real writing talent lies in my household, you can check out this Chicago Parent article, written by one Jacqui Podzius Cook (wife of the proprietor of this here blog), titled “The challenges of being an older mom.”

I bring this up not as a way to note my wife’s birthday Nov. 1, which for 27 days will make me the baby adult of the household, but for the cogent points it makes about the realities of how parents freak out less, to everyone’s benefit most of the time, as they have more kids, and how you as the experienced parent can end up looking (and feeling) disengaged as a result.

I was thinking of this story at my 7-year-old son’s final soccer game of the fall. There were parents who, clearly on their first kid in sports, were cheering and coaching and waving and yelling. And then there were parents who, clearly not on their first kid in sports, were reading the newspaper, talking with each other or working toward being the mayor of Oak View Center on Foursquare. (I’m actively running for that post in the closest thing I have to a political career. I’m trying to figure out how I get Foursquare to run negative ads.)

From my wife:

The ritual of Kindergarten Parent Night: A room full of fresh-faced moms and dads, peppering the teacher with questions about snacks and flash cards as they carefully inspect every square inch of the room where their precious baby will begin his or her formal education.

But if you look a little closer at any given group of kindergarten parents, you are guaranteed to find at least one mom hovering near the back, half-listening to the presentation while she furiously composes a grocery list, texts her teenage daughter and tries to conceal the gray hair and laugh lines that tell the world she’s a decade or so removed from the majority of parents in the room.

Whether you call this last one your “caboose baby,” “bonus baby” or-as several of my friends refer to their third or fourth (or fifth) child-your “oops baby,” you’ve probably learned in the past few months that this school experience is just a little different. I certainly have as my final baby, Emily, gets settled into her kindergarten class, while my other kids are making their way through second, sixth and eighth grade.

Emily’s Friday folder? It usually gets emptied Sunday night instead of 3:30 Friday afternoon. School pictures? Let’s see what I can find the night before in that hand-me-down bag at the back of the closet. This began even before kindergarten when I had to program an Outlook calendar reminder for preschool show-and-tell.

This isn’t to say I value Emily’s school experience any less than the other kids’, but the cold, hard truth is being a parent of four kids at 41 is a whole lot different from having one in kindergarten and one in preschool at 33.

Jacqui’s article (I normally use last names on second reference, but I while I might call my wife many things, I don’t call her “Cook.” “Hey, Cook, how about a romantic dinner this weekend?”) talks about how more experienced parents can take steps to find ways in their busy lives to get more engaged with their younger child’s classroom experiences, with valuable techniques that do not include freeing up time by selling your older children into sharecropping.

As for sports, I would say that a more experienced parent did not feel compelled to be involved in every aspect of the athletics lives of his or her younger children. Your children might thank you for it. For me, the difference between my older son and daughter and my younger son and daughter is my own expectations.

With my younger kids, I’m not going into sports parenting with the expectation that this is the first step to a lucrative pro career and/or nervous because my baby is in someone else’s hands, the common reactions of the first-time sports parent. I’m sure enough of myself as a parent that whether my child is a jock or picking daisies, it is no reflection on my parenting skills.

I am concentrating on coaching my younger kids’ teams, because the others in any activity have passed my levels of knowledge and dedication, and also because I feel more at ease with the situation. I don’t have to think to myself to make sure I don’t do anything that seems like I am unfairly favoring my kids over others. I just coach everybody, and if parents think I am unfairly favoring my kids over others, then fuck ’em.

That epithet brings up a reason for the experienced parent NOT to coach his or her youngest children. That would be the too-knowing, been-there-done-that attitude you can bring, having been there, and done that. When I coached my 7-year-old son’s baseball team last spring, I might have handled conflicts with parents better if I wasn’t such a know-it-all douchebag about youth sports, and this baseball league in particular. For example, I might not have said, with such swagger, to a mom who threatened to file a complaint with the league on me that, well, good luck, considering I’ve coached in this league for five years, and I know how desperate it is to find managers.

As Cook’s article (I guess if I’m going to treat my kids like any other athlete when I coach them, I guess should treat my wife like any other writer when I cite her — right, honey?) notes, it is a boon to the youngest child’s education for the experienced parent to get involved in whatever way possible, even if he or she is busy with older siblings.

For sports parents, that’s a game-time decision. It might be beneficial for youngest children to have their experienced parent coach their team. But the experienced parent’s experience might be better used letting the kids be in the hands of someone else while he or she reads the newspaper, talks to other parents, or does oppo research on the mayor of the field on Foursquare (your reign of terror will end soon, I swear, Staci C.!)

Written by rkcookjr

October 31, 2010 at 9:32 pm

My 7-year-old has announced his retirement from baseball

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I was out with my 7-year-old son, walking the family Maltese dogs — because there is nothing  more male-bonding-looking than a boy and his son walking these:

So as we are walking, my 7-year-old asks me if baseball signups are coming up soon. I said, yes, probably in a couple of weeks. And I ask him why he’s asking. Because, he said, he doesn’t want to play baseball this year.

I was a bit shocked by this news. I managed Ryan’s team the two years he played, and he seemed very enthusiastic about baseball. He had just mentioned to my wife the other day how he hoped he would be a Phillie again, as he was his first two years:

Given that I write and hear all the time about kids quitting because they had a lousy experience in the sport, I was concerned that my youngest son, once enthused with baseball, no longer had an interest in it. And given that I was his manager, I hoped it wasn’t because of something I did.

So I probed.

“Did something happen last year to make you not like baseball?”

“No?”

“Was it something I did? Because you can tell me if it was.”

“I just don’t want to play it anymore.” (You can see his body stiffening.)

“But why not?”

“I just don’t.” (At this point I’m being as annoying as a 7-year-old.)

“OK, you don’t have to play if you don’t want to.”

“OK, well, maybe I will.”

“No, Ryan, you don’t have to.”

We were heading in a direction in which I would be ordering him not to play if Ryan seemed like he was only playing to make me happy. Because, believe me, with two daughters playing softball in the spring, having one fewer child playing baseball would make my wife and I very, very happy. My 13-year-old son stopped playing baseball after age 9, and I must say, neither he nor we miss it.

Not that I wanted Ryan to quit to make our spring weekdays easier. And I was still feeling guilty. So I asked, “Is there something else you’d rather do?”

“I’d rather do bowling and soccer” — sports he plays now — “and maybe a play, or a technology club. Because I want to be a video game designer.” Like how other kids dream of playing in Major League Baseball, Ryan dreams of being a video game designer. Knowing Japan’s prominence in the video game world, Ryan is joining his school’s Japanese club to learn the language and customs, about 15-25 years before he takes in his first big meeting in Tokyo.

It was a great conversation, especially because my guilty conscience was soothed. (Whew.) My wife and I have tried to make it clear to our four children that we do not mind spending the time and money on something if they enjoy it. But if they don’t enjoy it, we are more than ready to let them quit (at least once the activity is over). I’ll be honest — having four kids, ages 5 to 13, in various activities means we are ready to throw one over the side at any time. But more importantly, there are enough activities out there that it’s not like it’s baseball, or sit at home.

Ryan is fortunate, too, that he’s the third child in this process for us. My oldest son has tried about every sport available, but his interests right now are centered on theater, music, and joining the Marines. My oldest daughter, age 11, looked to have a starring career in softball, but she learned over the summer that she while she enjoys house league she didn’t care for travel ball, and that in her Animal Planet-mainlining heart of hearts she still like horseback riding lessons best. (Horseback riding lessons definitely test our notion that we will gladly pay for an activity if the kid likes it.)

Maybe Ryan will decide after spring 2011 that he wants to go back to baseball, but I’ve learned with my kids that once they’re done with an activity, they’re usually done for good. I feel confident calling his move a retirement, and not just him putting his baseball career on hiatus. Either way, I’m glad Ryan told me that he would rather not play baseball, before he — and we — made another heavy commitment to it. And that he doesn’t mind being seen with his dad, out walking Paris Hilton’s dogs.

You can’t raise a sports superstar, no matter what any Gladwell wannabe tells you

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Sian Beilock is a University of Chicago psychology professor who is releasing a book called, “Choke,” a research-based tome in which Beilock focuses on writing about sports performance in a way that will score her the same speaking fees as Malcolm Gladwell.

But let’s forget her conclusion, obvious to anyone who has played so much as a round of miniature golf — that high-powered athletes and others choke when they’re “thinking too much” ($25, please!) — and move onto to criticizing her and other sports-blind academics for their well-intentioned, but ultimately toxic to sports parents, research, study and surmising about how you — yes, you! — can raise a superstar. Which, as you can tell by the title of this blog, is at cross purposes with what I do.

Spoiler alert — you can’t raise one.

You can read all the research you want, all the inspirational books you want, follow the path that other famous athletes followed. But having a superstar child isn’t a thing you create, despite what the Chinese government allegedly tried to do by breeding two tall athletes to create Yao Ming. It’s a combination of good genes, your child’s desire, money (or ability to afford all the travel teams and development camps necessary) and old-fashioned luck. The Marv Marinovich school of parenting, the Dr. Frankenstein-like attempts to create a superstar, even if it does create someone who makes it to the pro level, seems to inevitably create more tragedy than success.

Just as soon as there is one path laid out for sure success — early specialization, just like Tiger Woods! — soon there becomes an equal and opposite path. Beilock’s is that a lack of early specialization is key to raising your young superstar.

It’s enough to make you feel not so bad when you hear of cuts to college funding.

Let me tell you the source of my — well, it’s not quite rage. Maybe second-degree annoyance.

I happened to find on Wired.com a post by Jonah Lehrer called “How to Raise a Superstar.” It went through various theories about superstar-raising, including the famous anybody-can-become-a-pro-in-10,000-hours gospel spread by Gladwell, which was taken to mean that even if you’re 5-foot-3, if you practice for 10,000 hours you can become a pro basketball player, the kind of thinking that has parents dropping large dough for travel teams starting at age 3.

Then Lehrer went into other theories of sporting success, including greater academic interest in whether where your child is born. As Lehrer spells out, various surveys show that your child has a better chance of superstardom, in any sport, if he or she is born a slack-jawed yokel. At least, I think that’s the implication.

However, a series of recent studies by psychologists at Queen’s University adds an important wrinkle to the Tiger Woods parable. The scientists began by analyzing the birthplace of more than 2,000 athletes in a variety of professional sports, such as the NHL, NBA, and the PGA.  This is when they discovered something peculiar:  the percent of professional athletes who came from cities of fewer than a half million people was far higher than expected. While approximately 52 percent of the United States population resides in metropolitan areas with more than 500,000 people, such cities only produce 13% of the players in the NHL, 29% of the players in the NBA, 15% of the players in MLB, and 13% of players in the PGA.

I can think of several different explanations for this effect, none of which are mutually exclusive. Perhaps kids in small towns are less likely to get distracted by gangs, drugs, etc. Perhaps athletes outside of big cities go to better schools, and thus receive more attention from their high school coaches. Perhaps they have more access to playing fields. Perhaps they have a better peer group. The scientists summarize this line of reasoning in a recent paper: “These small communities may offer more psychosocially supportive environments that are more intimate. In particular, sport programs in smaller communities may offer more opportunities for relationship development with coaches, parents, and peers, a greater sense of belonging, and a better integration of the program within the community.”

Sian Beilock looked at this research and jumped to the conclusion (as the Queen’s researchers jumped to their conclusion without actual follow-up research) that in small towns, you’re more likely to be involved in different sports “perhaps because there is less competition to make one team,” so young athletes can sample different sports, not burn out on any one of them and build confidence, and, voila, a superstar is made — basically, disproving that concentrating early in one sport is the key to success. As evidence, she looks at a budding golfing superstar in the hardscrabble small town of Smithtown, N.Y. As you might suspect, I find her analysis hilariously wrong.

[In July] 14-year-old golfer Jim Liu became the youngest player to ever win the U.S. Junior Amateur. Liu took the record for the youngest win away from another golfer you may have heard of once or twice in the past – Tiger Woods.

Liu and Woods actually have some things in common. For instance, they have shared a golf teacher, John Anselmo. Anselmo coached Tiger from the time he was 10 until he went off to college and now Anselmo works with Liu. Given this similarity, you might guess that Liu and Woods probably took comparable paths to reach golf success. But, this isn’t actually the case. Jim Liu and Tiger Woods became winners by way of pretty different practice and training histories and, recent sport science research suggests, that it is Jim Liu’s environment – not Tiger’s – that is most likely to cultivate a champion.

Tiger Woods was raised to play golf by his father, Earl Jones. Woods started hitting balls as soon as he could hold a club and didn’t do much throughout his childhood that wasn’t tied to the game. Jim Liu, on the other hand, swam and played tennis early on. In fact, Liu didn’t pick up a golf club until he was close to seven-years-old when his family moved to a house on a golf course in Smithtown, NY. It was then that his father decided it would look odd if no one in the household actually played the game. Smithtown is not large, a population of 115,715 people according to the 2000 U.S. Census. This is in contrast to the sprawling 3 million plus metropolis of Orange County that Woods grew up in.

I think Sian Beilock used her Jump to Conclusions Mat.

So, wait a minute. A kid turns to golf at the ripe old doddering age of 7, has a family that afford to hire Tiger Woods’ coach, and comes from a ritzy New York City suburb, and THAT proves small-town kids playing multiple sports are the future superstars?

To me, that says that the difference between kids in big cities and those in not-so-big cities — which would include moneyed suburbs of podunk shitholes like New York — is something that starts with the letter $.

Before school sports started everyone, they hit urban school districts disproportionately. Older, urban schools do not have the grand facilities of their newer, suburban counterparts. But beyond school, travel team experience is practically a requirement, and urban areas don’t have the money and programs their suburban peers do.

There is a case to be made for children trying out multiple sports, but making Smithtown, N.Y., sound like Munising, Mich. —  a real small town with kids of lesser means who really have to play multiple sports just so multiple sports can be offered — isn’t that case. I live in a crap burg of 50,000 that happens to border Chicago, and happens to be a lot less rich than Smithtown, and I can vouch that while, like in most areas, little kids try out multiple sports early, by about age 9 money matters in terms of who advances and who doesn’t, and that the few kids from around here who advance to superstardom (such as one Dwyane Wade) take various paths that all involve having someone help pay the substantial bills.

I don’t know how many, say, violinists, accountants or garbage-truck drivers come from places or more than, or less than, 500,000 people. But without research beyond the “Monte Carlo simulation” done in the studies — which sounds like something as accurate as random rolls of the dice in a casino (it kind of is, given the originator of the technique named it with Monte Carlo’s casinos in mind) — Sian Beilock or myself can’t say definitively that one path is the certain one to superstardom. All that does is sucker parents out of their money a different way when it comes to youth sports. Did the Queen’s researchers, or Sian Beilock, ever play sports? Ever spend one second looking at how youth sports operates? All they have to do is go to one Little League game, anywhere, and they’ll have to rethink their conclusions.

The bottom line is, there is no sure way to raise a superstar. There’s no age effect, no birthplace effect, no nothing. Athletes who you think will go on to greatness don’t, and some you think won’t go on, do. Too few people get to superstar status to say, for sure, there is a certain path. If there was a certain path, many would take it, and then it wouldn’t be a certain path anymore.

If your organization would like me to talk about this, I’m more than willing to come. And I won’t even charge you Sian Beilock rates, much less Malcolm Gladwell money. That is, unless I can figure out a pithy way to put my thoughts in book form. Because once I get booked by Charlie Rose, I’m a fucking superstar, man.

The stupidest things youth sports parents and coaches love to say

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GQ, as part of an Internet-wide movement to create lists and slideshows for cheap page-count padding, recently posted an item called “Eight Stupidest Things Sports Fans Love to Say.” You know, stuff like “he plays the game the right way,” which is also on the list of Eight Stupidest Things Larry Brown Loves to Say.

So that got me thinking, fresh off a break from my 11-year-old daughter’s travel softball before we get to my 7-year-old son’s and 4-year-old daughter’s soccer leagues, about the eight stupidest things youth sports parents and coaches love to say. Given I’m coming off softball, this might be a bit heavy in that direction. I’ve got six items here. Feel free to suggest your own nuggets of numbnutsness for Nos. 7 and 8.

1. “Be a hitter!”

I can’t think of a time someone — a parent or coach — HASN’T yelled this after some poor kid had the temerity to take strike one. I can only imagine how hoarse Wade Boggs’ managers would have gotten had they yelled this every time he took strike one, which was every time he went up to bat.

“Be a hitter!” is dumb on many levels. First, even kids who are scared to take the bat off their shoulder are intellectually familiar with the concept that their mere presence in the batter’s box means that they are, in fact, a hitter. “Be a hitter? I thought I was supposed to be a fielder here!” Second, a kid who is not predisposed to hitting is not suddenly transformed into Ted Williams with the sage advice of “Be a hitter!” In fact, you usually can feel a player’s body tighten after that moment. Third, a kid who takes a pitch at a youth league level is no dummy. Often, a pitcher isn’t going to get the ball over the plate three out of six times, even with an extended strike zone. “Be a hitter” then becomes a command to get kids to swing at terrible pitches, thus teaching bad habits on pitch selection.

If you want your kid to “Be a hitter!” every time the ball is pitched, take him or her to a batting cage.

2. “Two strikes. Only one more!”

This phrase — or its batter corollary, “Two strikes, protect the plate!” — are yelled clearly because of the failure of the American education system. After all, why would even teenagers have this phrase screamed in their direction unless they did not know the number after two was three?

“You will get five strikes…” “Three strikes.”

3. “He’s going to get a scholarship!”

I could have called this blog “Your Kid’s Not Playing in College.” The holy grail (notwithstanding the above Monty Python clip) for many parents, particularly those whose children play sports with no mass audience, is for those tens of thousands of dollars and/or hours to pay off in a scholarship, which they realize only when their child gets to college sports (if their child is lucky, given a scholarship rate of 1% or less for any high school athlete) is year-to-year, and doesn’t come close to paying full freight. Hey, the volleyball team doesn’t make any money, you know?

Still, parents have programmed themselves early into thinking that the scholarship is the easily reachable pot of gold at the end of the athletic rainbow. My wife was out to dinner a while back with a few acquaintances, and she brought up bringing my then 6-year-old youngest son to his bowling league. Almost in unison, those acquaintances shot back, “Ooh, I bet he could get a scholarship for that!” Well, maybe he can. But the kid was still bowling with bumpers, for Pete Weber’s sake.

4. “Have fun!” or “Everybody have fun out there!” or “Hope you all had fun!”

When my wife tells me, “It’ll be fun,” that’s my signal that whatever she’s talking about is sure to be the opposite of fun. “We’re going out with our Bible-thumping neighbors to a creationist theme park. It’ll be fun!” Why does she make a point of telling me it’ll be fun? If it’s fun, won’t it be fun without me having to be cajoled into believing it’s fun? Of course, she knows this, which is why she’s trying to convince me (and her, perhaps) that “it’ll be fun!”

I know we’re supposed to encourage children to have fun in sports, but we do keep score, parents lose their shit on the sidelines, coaches are critiquing kids’ every move, and the umpire doesn’t care that the batter swung through your catcher’s mitt and your fingers are throbbing with pain — damnit, that’s catcher’s interference (the last one actually happened to my 11-year-old daughter this summer). No wonder coaches have to make a point of saying, “It’ll be fun!”

5. “Sports is good for them. It keeps them moving, so they don’t play video games.”

That is a paraphrase of a common reason parents sign up their children for sports when they would clearly rather be, well, playing video games. It’s not fun (“It’ll be fun!”) for anyone — not for the parents dragging the kid out to practice, not the coach who has to deal with a player who does not want to be there, not for any teammate trying to take a sport halfway seriously. And, of course, not for the kid. If you want your child to move and not spend so much time on video games (the only reason I can figure why they’re singled out is because the parents don’t get gaming, or they’ve heard other parents say it), there are other options, ones that are more practical. For instance, have your kid sweep the driveway.

6. “[Fill in unhinged argument with official/umpire/referee]”

Here is my personal code of conduct for parents and coaches when dealing with officials:

Rule 1: The quality of officiating is commensurate with the skill level of the athletes involved. Ergo, your child’s bitty basketball game will not have the same professional refereeing of an NBA game. (Plus, in youth leagues calls often are made differently so the game can be sped up, or to give players more leeway to learn.)

Rule 2: It is OK to react negatively and quickly — such as an eye roll, grunt or “ah, fuck” — to an official’s call. Not every call, but one that seems fairly crucial.

Rule 3: It is OK for the coach to ask for a clarification from the referee as to why a certain call was made — as long as that clarification is requested respectfully. (Not, “Can you please tell me what the fuck you could have possibly seen, you stupid shit?”)

Rule 4: Once the matter is settled, shut up. And if you don’t shut up, the ump, even if it’s a 15-year-old girl, can tell you to shut up.

Rule 5: If you spend the ride home with your child blaming the officials for the loss or anything bad that happened, your child will grow up to be Rasheed Wallace. Except, more than likely, without the money and the NBA career. In other words, all of the whining, and none of the benefits.

Does anyone want to nominate the final two?

Written by rkcookjr

August 3, 2010 at 1:37 am