Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘parents

“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 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

On your radio

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Are you an early riser on Saturday or someone who likes to relax with a little radio Sunday night? Then you can hear me on Mickey Hiter’s “Athletes Parents Show” on WLAC 1510 AM in Nashville at 5 a.m. Saturday and 9 p.m. Sunday. WLAC has a strong night signal that I can pick up on my car in Chicago. But you can listen to a stream on the site here, as well, if you happen not to be in my car.

Written by rkcookjr

November 5, 2010 at 10:36 pm

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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

Suzy Kolber, I wanna kiss you for making this video

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…Though Joe Namath says he doesn’t care about the youth sports parents’ strug-a-lin’.

Kolber and ESPN Radio morning jock/sports parent Mike Golic are co-hosting a freshly produced video, put out by the Connecticut Association of Athletic Directors, meant for coaches to use during parents’ meetings. It’s meant to show parents how not to be such fucking assholes.

The presence of the two ESPN personalities lends an air of authority and professionalism to a video that otherwise looks like it should have an intro from Troy McClure. But I’m stunned that Golic, the suddenly ubiquitous pitchman, didn’t break out some ad copy, or at least explain how he can get away with endorsing high-fat food and a workout plan at the same time.

Written by rkcookjr

October 25, 2010 at 1:34 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.

Youth leagues, you need crisis management public relations

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So I’m reading about this case in Tucson, Ariz., in which a fight between a parent and his 9-year-old son’s football coach (over whether the child could leave the game early, and whether he was allowed to leave wearing his uniform) ended up with cellphone video of the 9-year-old stripping to his skivvies, which ended up on a local news station, which ended up on CNN, which ended up being bounced all over the ol’ World Wide Web, to spots such as this blog.

I could go over all the particulars, but the only thing that seems to change in these stories are the individual involved, and the subject of the fight. You could make Youth Sports Mad Libs out of these fights. The (adult figure in child’s life) and the (type of sports coach) have a (adjective) (noun) about (noun), which causes (adult figure in child’s life or type of sports coach) to act (adverb), and the whole things gets caught on (video recording device), and sent to (a form of media). The (same form of media) takes the side of (adult figure in child’s life of type of sports coach) who first comments about the incident, and the whole thing ends up a referendum on (issue in youth sports).

In what should be no shock to readers of this blog, I (and my cousin) got busted as kids for filling in Mad Libs with nothing but dirty words, such as our favorite adverb, “nipply.”

There are a lot of things youth leagues need, but believe it or not, access to quality crisis public relations management is one of them. With most of these leagues full mostly of volunteers who have had no reason in their lives to worry about PR, what happens in a case like the football league in Tucson is that everyone is caught flat-footed when suddenly a radio station in, say, Maine, is calling, wondering whether you want to be on their show to talk about why your league (verb) such (negative adjective) (curse word, plural) like (name of coach).

Actually, they’re caught flat-footed in the first place because the leagues make an assumption that nobody cares outside of the coaches, parents and children involved. And most of the time, they’re right.

However, any league, at any time, could suddenly find itself in the middle of a worldwide media frenzy. Say, for example, if it has a coach who writes what he says is a tongue-in-cheek letter to his soccer parents that is interpreted as advocating 8-year-old girls become soul-crushing, steroidal, “Green Death”-delivering animals.

I would expect that most leagues do not have the budget to handle a big-time crisis management firm when big-time crises crop up. I would expect that most leagues would not even know whom to hire to help with public relations efforts. So what I will do now is offer some free advice to leagues that they can use in their first coach’s meetings, just to get the message across:

1. If you don’t not want to stop being an asshole on the sidelines for the sake of the kids, do it so you will not go viral online. Every parents has a cellphone that can record you, and there is no way you can explain away why you were such an asshole. So don’t be one.

2. Leave your ego at the door when a parent berates you. You might be right. The parents might be completely, hopelessly wrong. But when the story is told of your conflict, the parent’s side is the one that’s going to be told first. If a parent complains, you can argue, but be reasonable and professional. Again, every parent has a recording device — but it doesn’t come on until after the conflict starts. So make sure you’re calm, so you’re not on the local news screaming your fool head off.

3. Have the league rules on your person at all times. Consult them when a conflict arises. If you’re not sure, here is the cellphone number of the league president and vice president. Call immediately if there is a problem. Don’t feel you have to solve everything yourself, right at that moment. The cellphone video of you calling the league president is much less likely to go viral than video of you calling the parent a fucking shitbag.

4. You might feel as if you have sole authority over these kids as the coach. The reality is, the parents are paying the bills. You might feel as if you are doing parents a favor by coaching their kid. The reality is, there are parents who won’t feel that way. So can the dictator act, communicate early and often with parents, and make clear that while you have your way of running a team, you are willing to listen if any issues arise. This considerably reduces the chances there is a on-field or on-court incident that puts you on cable news and YouTube.

5. Regarding incidents between coaches: If you have a disagreement, take it to the league president instead of fighting it out, literally, on the field. If you feel an opposing coach is being unfair, is cheating or is encouraging his players to hurt others, try to have a reasonable discussion, and failing that, document what happened (or ask a parent or assistant to document it for you) and bring it to the league president. What we want to avoid is an emotional incident that leads to a fight in front of children — and in front of cellphone cameras.

6. If an incident occurs that ends up catching the attention of the local media, feel free to answer any questions. Answering questions is better than saying nothing. However, don’t be defensive, and don’t focus on the conduct of the other person. Instead, calmly give your side of the story. Then call a league officer to relay what just happened, and what you said, so the league can formulate a response.

Of course, all of this assumes you have a league president and office that is dedicated to the good of the league, and not to favoring its own friends.

I won’t guarantee that this crisis management on the cheap will keep your league off of this blog. However, an acknowledgement that anything can end up in the public eye at any time might be the first step to making sure that never happens. If this advice doesn’t work, well… hey, I’m just the PR guy.

Coaching is hard, becoming a certified coach is harder

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On Tuesday night, Aug. 31, I sat through three-plus hours’ worth of videos on youth coaching, and specifically about coaching soccer, to become — for the first time in my six-year youth sports career — an officially certified coach. In the pic at the left, I am holding my official blessing to be a soccer coach, granted by the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, part of the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

I’m not sure I’m any more qualified to be an assistant soccer for 4- and 5-year-olds than I was before I sat through the training, but I could see how it’s valuable to people who aren’t know-it-all youth sports bloggers like myself. The soccer drills were good to see, but the bulk of the training was a video, with breaks for discussion, about the sort of stuff you would run into in the day-to-day management of a team: how to create a positive environment for your kids, the importance (or lack thereof) of winning, how to deal with those fucking asshole parents. I’m paraphrasing.

The National Association of Youth Sports has its heart in the right place, and it’s done a lot to try to teach coaches that screaming obscenities at 4-year-olds is probably not the best way to motivate.

However, as I watched the video, I started feeling intimidated in my role, much as I did the first time I sat through the first pregnancy class with my wife. In each case, my panic was the same: My god, with so much to know, how does any kid survive?

Heck, at least with the pregnancy class, I had that feeling in large part because I had never been a father. I’ve coached numerous teams in numerous sports, and I knew a lot of this stuff going in, yet the NAYS video had me wondering if anybody is qualified to coach kids, beyond the usual qualification of not being on the sex-offender list. I can only imagine what the first-time coaches must have been thinking.

Here is what I learned from the video:

— I hold the FUTURE OF THE WORLD in my hands. And it’s real easy to fuck it up. Do you really want a kid to appear on Dr. Phil because of you?

— If kids don’t want to play a sport after you’ve coached them, it’s because you were such a hopeless asshole that you drove them away. Because kids never quit a sport because they find out they don’t like it. Never never ever.

— If parents have a problem with what you’re doing, it’s clearly because you didn’t make expectations clear and open the lines of communication. It can’t be, ever, that the parent is a jerk. Never never ever.

— You should monitor your players’ hydration and nutrition intake — before, during and after games. That includes ensuring they’re hydrated during the game with a sports drink, which was the helpful advice of the representative from the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. (Being a founding sponsor of NAYS has its privileges.)

— You should know basic first aid, CPR, and perhaps how to perform a tracheotomy with a Bic pen. You probably have a doctor-parent that can help with this. (Alas, all I’ve had were EMT parents, and I lost those when the local fire department said they had to keep themselves and their ambulances parked at the fire house during their shift.)

— And don’t be scared! We know you’ll make mistakes! That’s OK! Try not to think about the lives you’re ruining!

Maybe I’ve let my own anxieties tear away all the positive things that NAYS is trying to impart, and, again, in theory, I’m with it. But most of us coaching youth sports are parent volunteers trying like hell to fit this in with all our other responsibilities, including sneaking away from work so we can start practice at a reasonable hour.

I can understand why a lot of coaches don’t sit through the NAYS training, as valuable as it can be. You know you have a lot of responsibility, and you take it seriously. But sitting through three-plus hours of helpful advice, sometimes that’s not so helpful.

Written by rkcookjr

September 1, 2010 at 11:07 pm

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

Why I coach(?)

with 8 comments

My youth sports coaching career, in its present form, began with my oldest son’s second-grade basketball team; today he just finished seventh grade. In between I have coached three of my kids’ teams, in basketball, softball and baseball. I’m planning to coach my youngest daughter’s T-ball team when plays next summer.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if I’m going to make it.

You’ll notice that I titled this entry Why I Coach (?) instead of Why I Coach.  That’s because, today, I am writing from the perspective of a youth sports coach whose “career” has hit a bit of a trough.

I am managing my 7-year-old son’s coach-and-kid-pitch-no-score baseball team this year, following a year in which I managed his T-ball team. There are seasons when you as a person and a coach click with all the personalities, kids and parents. Last year was one of those years. This year is not. At least a couple of times I’ve had parents complain to me about, me.

Their complaints, which generally revolve around my loudness (my voice naturally projects, aided by past theater training), and my chattiness (I’m naturally talkative, aided by present copious Starbucks americano consumption).

[youtubevid id=”uejh-bHa4To”]

Here’s a song dedicated by the baseball parents to the loud, chatty jerk-off who coaches their kids.

Not that unusual, really. It happens to every youth coach, even if you’re a combination of Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach and John Wooden. This past basketball season, I had a mom (whose father was my assistant coach) berate me with every curse word ever invented in front of a crowd departing from a game because I sat her son on the bench (to rest!). (She had previously rushed the bench only to be restrained by her father.) I know I’m loud and chatty, and while I compliment and encourage kids, I also — and this is a radical idea for a coach — also try to teach and correct. However, I understand how I can come off sounding a little unhinged, even if, unlike one my oldest son’s past baseball assistants, I’m not swearing up a storm and screeching away in my car with a hand on the wheel and another flipping the bird. (A shame he flipped out. My son liked that coach.)

Even when the mother attracted a stunned audience ripping me by the parking lot of the gym, eventually we found a common ground and settled things. I feel like, right now, I’m not able to connect like that. Maybe it’s the parents. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s both sides.

I’m not sure why, but I feel far less patient in dealing with people coming up to me and telling me I’m a horse’s ass who is ruining their children’s love of [insert sport here].

Maybe it’s years of dealing with petty complaints, whether about me, another parent, another kid, or why we’re playing on a certain field at a certain time. Maybe it’s the years of racing from work to a field or court, squeezing planning in on the train. Maybe it’s all the meetings I’ve sat through. Maybe it’s all the time being responsible not only for coaching, but making sure someone is bringing the treats and passing out the picture information. Maybe it’s because my own job has gotten more pressurized in the last year (not that I’m complaining, considering the alternative), leaving me less energy to deal with other people’s kids and their parents. What worries me is the nagging feeling I AM doing something wrong. I know I can be pretty dumb, but for some reason this season I’m feeling especially not smart.

At some point every season, I go through a period of wondering whether I should ever coach again. Guiding a bunch of kids you don’t know, who may or may not be interested in a sport, and trying to make them learn while have fun at the same time while you have a zillion other responsibilities can be an emotional drag, even if the parents are supportive (and mostly in my coaching career, they have been).

It’s a feeling that’s become more acute, and it makes me wonder whether I should leave my youngest daughter to someone more enthused and less asshole-ish than myself. Certainly, me not coaching might be easier on my family, which won’t have to worry about the time consumed by me coaching, and which can sit and watch a game and not see people whispering because they don’t want the other Cooks to know what they’re saying about ol’ Loud Dad over there.

However, when I get down like that, something happens that makes me realize the psychic rewards of coaching, the kind of rewards you can’t get doing anything else.

I go to the local library, and the mother of one of my old softball players tells me she wishes her daughter still had me for a coach. I get a phone call from a fellow basketball coach (one who, by the way, has far more basketball chops than I’ll ever have), asking me to give him a seal of approval to the star player’s mother, who is upset I’m didn’t draw her son that year. I go to my kids’ schools, and boys and girls who have played basketball under me run up and say, “Hi, coach!” I look up in my office at a drawing of me, wearing a “Coach” shirt and my weekend stubble, my now 10-year-old daughter did when I led her softball team. It’s titled “My Dad Is My Hero.”

Me, posing in 2008 for my daughter’s pencil drawing.

For that matter, there is the moment when my 7-year-old, perhaps blissfully unaware of any animus toward me, tells me how much he loves having me as a coach. And then there was last night, when I asked my 4-year-old daughter, while I was bathing her, if she wanted me to coach her in T-ball. She said, enthusiastically, and loudly, “YES!”

I remember how I was near tears when my son’s fifth- and sixth-grade basketball team fought back from a fourth-quarter deficit to win a league title. I remember how I was near tears when my daughter’s fifth- and sixth-grade basketball hit a last-minute shot to win their only game of the season. I remember how I was near tears when, on my son’s basketball team, the team’s best player led the charge to congratulate a kid who, midseason, hit his first-ever shot in a competitive game.

OK, maybe I DO get a little intense. But the point is, coaching these teams makes you FEEL something. And you get to feel it not just with a bunch of kids you didn’t know, but grew to enjoy, but also with your own child. And when you’re still hearing the echoes of the mom who thinks you’re too hard on her boy, you start remembering that stuff, and remembering how much you love to share those intense moments with you children.

So, despite a present feeling that maybe my coaching career SHOULD be over, when next year’s T-ball season starts, you’ll probably find me on a field somewhere in Oak Lawn, Ill., with a bunch of 5-year-old girls, their parents staring me down, wondering if that loud, chatty guy is the right coach to mold their little careers. And you’ll find my 5-year-old daughter. I hope at that moment, on the field, she’ll be as proud of having her dad as coach as she was in the bathtub last night.

Written by rkcookjr

June 4, 2010 at 5:38 pm