Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘prodigy

Bowling has found its Justin Bieber

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I’m going to tell my 7-year-old son, who is graduating to a nonbumper league this summer, that he’s got five years to get on the Professional Bowlers’ Association Tour, or else it’s time to give up bowling. Actually, I’d better make it four, because we already have a 12-year-old who’s made $400 at a PBA event.

From PBA.com:

Twelve-year-old Kamron Doyle of Brentwood, Tenn., finished 30th in the Professional Bowlers Assocation Canton (Ga.) Open Regional tournament Sunday at Cherokee Lanes, becoming the youngest bowler ever to cash in a PBA event. He earned $400 which will be deposited into a scholarship account.

Bowling as a non-PBA member, Doyle had a 2,797 13-game pinfall total (215.1 average) bowling against a 94-player field which included some of the top regional and national tour professional players from the organization’s South region. The event was won by 2009-10 PBA Player of the Year Walter Ray Williams Jr., a 47-time PBA Tour title winner and member of the PBA Hall of Fame.

Asked about his formula for success the sixth-grader at Brentwood Middle School said, “I just practice and bowl in a lot of tournaments. There’s no secret–just go out there and do it.”

Doyle is a youth bowling phenom who already holds the all-time record as the youngest bowler to roll a United States Bowling Congress-certified 800 series (he rolled games of 279, 278, and 245 for an 802 three-game series at the age of 11 years, 2 months, and 1 day) and is also the third-youngest bowler to roll a 300 game in certified competition. In all, Doyle has two 800 series (highest is 803) and two 300 games.

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He’s Kamron, and he loves to bowl.

I believe those 63 adults who finished behind Kamron Doyle, feeling shamed, intentionally mangled their bowling hands in the ball return. But, really, is it wrong for me to say young Kamron has a lot of balls to do so well against pros so early?

“…at this point I think he’s got about 60 bowling balls,” [his mother Cathy said].

No, it is not wrong.

The danger, of course, is that the PBA, desperate for the glory days of Chris Schenkel and “Bowling for Dollars,” rides the Kamron Doyle train right into the ground, after a promising career is cut short by a 17-year-old Kamron succumbing to the pressure by ravaging his body, and his winnings, with plastic pitchers of cheap beer and paper plates of frickles, his left index finger calloused by pressing the “call wait staff” button so frequently.

Seriously, the kid is good, but he’s a kid. At least Kamron himself isn’t trying to jump too far ahead of his own skills.

“When I’m ready for college I’d like to go to Wichita State or Webber University because they are two of the top bowling schools,” Kamron said. “After that I’d like to bowl on the PBA Tour.”

Still, you get the feeling the PBA would love to see little Kamron touring nationwide, in hopes it gets people other than my 7-year-old son to care about bowling again.

If the PBA wants to sell an oddity, it should stick to Jason Belmonte, the two-handed bowler, who at least is a grown man winning professional events.

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Or maybe Kelly Kulick, who in January became the first woman to win a men’s PBA tour event. Otherwise, the association should go easy on hyping Kamron. However, just in case this is the direction the PBA is going, I’m officially declaring myself my 7-year-old son’s agent and manager.

Thanks to Eric McErlain of the excellent hockey blog Off Wing Opinion for the tip.

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Another next LeBron added to the basketball prodigy pile

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I’d be more excited about this Atlanta Journal-Constitution story profiling 10-year-old basketball wunderkind Dakota Simms if it wasn’t all so depressingly familiar. Headline: 10-year-old trains for NBA while parents really get a workout.

He’s a sports brand in the making:  Pint-sized, but powerful. Confident, but not cocky.

Fourth-grader Dakota Simms is training for an NBA payday though he has never actually played organized basketball. At 9, he showed off his skills as a mystery shooter during a break at an Atlanta Hawks game that earned him network sports appearances and national headlines. Takvim.com, a Turkish publication, dubbed Dakota “Mini [Michael] Jordan.”

What’s all the fuss about? Dakota’s coaches, who volunteer their time because they believe he has natural talent, say he’s made 289,000 three-point shots in three years and averages 50 every five minutes during practice.

Terence “Coach T” and Yoshi Simms of Norcross say their son, who turned 10 in February, has received offers from talent scouts looking to make him a star, but they don’t want him to move too fast, too soon. They say a California casting agent asked them to relocate to be on call for acting and modeling auditions. An Atlanta sports agent has called, as have coaches with the Amateur Athletic Union basketball league.

“We were not just totally ready to pick up and move to California,” said Dakota’s mother. But she is considering signing with a local talent agent for showbiz gigs.

The video below, taken from a CNN profile that aired in November 2009, shows that indeed Dakota Simms is a very impressive ball player for his age.

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However, so is Jaylin Fleming.

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And so is Jashaun Agosto.

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And so are scads of other 4-, 5-, 6-, 7-, 8- and 9-year-old basketball prodigies. And they’re not all boys.

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In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article about Dakota Simms, his father notes that Ellen DeGeneres asked about him, but she does that with all the hot young basketball prospects. Apparently she did the same with Anthony Iglesia, already linked to above as a 7-year-old hotshot, shooting with Michael Jordan.

This is not to denigrate Dakota Simms. He works hard, loves basketball, and can legitimately talk about the NBA more than the million other 9-year-olds who’ll dream they’ll play there. Instead, this is about the community that grows around a hotshot when he’s barely out of diapers, with people who may or may not have the best interests of the child in mind. In that line from the story about Simms — “Dakota’s coaches, who volunteer their time because they believe he has natural talent” — in so many cases it’s more likely “Player X’s coaches, who volunteer their time because they believe they’ll get a huge payoff someday as part of his posse.” (As an aside, one of his coaches, 6-foot-11 Cheyenne Throckmorton, has started social networks for tall people, and people with mohawk haircuts.)

From the AJC story, it appears Dakota Simms’ parents are handling things about as well as possible. They’re not forcing the kid at gunpoint into the gym — he loves to play. They are holding him back a little bit for public consumption, perhaps some wisdom on marketing gleaned from his mother’s experience as a public relations professional. (She also is starting a magazine aimed at 10- to 17-year-old girls that promotes itself thusly: “Take the self empowerment from O, The Oprah Magazine, combine it with the eclectic fashion of Vogue and you have one of the greatest publications ever put into circulation.” So Dakota isn’t the only reach-for-the-stars type in his family.)

But the danger is twofold. One is outlined in the excellent biography of Pete Maravich written by Mark Kriegel, Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, in which your young prodigy grows up to be an alternately dull and weird human being because of obsession with one thing and one thing only. (Kriegel’s book, which really is about Pete’s father Press, a college basketball coach, is one of the greatest books written about sports parenting.) That’s best worst-case scenario.

The worst worst-case is that the prodigy grows up believing he (or she) is absolutely the greatest, gets fawned over at a tender age, and flames out because it turns out the rest of the sporting world caught up in size and talent — or that no one around that prodigy ever thought about the possibility there might be 100 more like him right at that moment.

I won’t judge where Dakota Simms and his parents stand, because I don’t know. But this message is as much for the coaches, would-be agents and fanboys and fangirls trying to promote a young talent, and the local media all too willing to do gee-whiz pieces on any 8-year-old who can dribble between his or her legs.

And, this message is for anyone who puts up YouTube videos of any young athlete, in any sport, with titles like BEST 7-YEAR-OLD QB EVA!!!!!!! This was a trend that took off in 2007 after video of a 12-year-old (initially hyped as an 8-year-0ld) Los Alamitos, Calif., football prodigy named Cody Paul got tens of millions of views, combining every remixed version.

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Things happen when your child shows up as a sports prodigy on YouTube, and people notice him or her. One is that you get some oohs and aahs, and maybe you do get a college coach or Ellen DeGeneres calling. Another is that you get tasteless responses in comments and video responses like, simply put, “Better Than Cody Paul.”

And the other thing — well, it’s an unknown. But how does that hype play on the child athlete, especially if he or she doesn’t turn out to be the star that everyone saw on YouTube? If this commenter is to be believed, Cody Paul, now a sophomore, is 5-foot-3, 145 pounds. Maybe he will be the greatest, very small running back the world has ever seen. But even if Cody Paul were 6-foot-3, it’s got to be tough to live up to that preteen hype, and you know there are kids gunning for him just for that reason.

You know what will really make a great athlete, the next LeBron, one of Dakota’s favorite NBA players? What’s most incredible about LeBron James is not his amazing 6-foot-8, 250-pound frame, or his basketball IQ. It’s that LeBron at an early age was hyped as the next Michael Jordan, and at every step he actually exceeded expectations. There’s no book on how to handle that hype, or to know what a child can handle it. But one way everyone surrounding a youth prodigy can handle that hype is not to feed it.

Written by rkcookjr

March 24, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Ron Harper’s kid is going pro

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418282085_a1519c3a28_mNo, not that Ron Harper.

You might have heard lately about a wunderkind named Bryce Harper, a Las Vegas high school baseball player who already has scouts writing reports so breathless and glowing, Fabio should be on the cover. Speaking of covers, you might have seen Bryce “Baseball’s LeBron” Harper on the cover of Sports Illustrated, unless you live in the Midwest (we got the Detroit Red Wings), or you are so Internet-centered you have no idea what a “cover” or a “Sports Illustrated” is.

Jeremy Tyler, a 6-foot-11 basketball wonder from San Diego, raised some hackles when he announced he would leave high school after his junior year to play pro ball in Europe, and get his GED along the way. The Harper family is raising even more hackles, enough hackles to get farm subsidies for them, by announcing 16-year-old Bryce is leaving high school after his sophomore year to play in a community college and get his GED so he can enter the major-league baseball draft earlier. (Thus turning community college into the real-life punchline for the old joke about it being high school with ashtrays. Except that with smoking laws as they are, the ashtrays are gone. So what is the new punchline?)

The part of the news conference that interested me the most was a line from Ron Harper that was pulled by Youth Sports Parents:

“People question your parenting and what you’re doing. Honestly, we don’t think it’s that big a deal. He’s not leaving school to go work in a fast food restaurant. Bryce is a good kid. He’s smart and he’s going to get his education.”

Ron Harper is in a difficult position here. Sure, he pretty much since day one trained Bryce to be a pro baseball player, though he seems much more well-adjusted than your average Marv Marinovich. And clearly Bryce is a sureshot future No. 1 pick. The Sports Illustrated cover article’s comment about competition his own age makes it clear that Bryce is way, way ahead, to the point that it’s probably hurting his own development as a player.

Managing a prodigy is no easy task. Move ahead too quickly, and you risk turning your child into a nut job like Michael Jackson. More ahead too slowly, and you might squelch and squander your child’s talent. I know this to a very, very small extent.

When I had just turned five, my parents moved me out of my kindergarten class into a first-grade class at another school because I had what, in the mid-1970s in a small Michigan town, was considered a major problem: I knew how to read. Well, it was a particular problem for the teacher, who was ticked when I would read the kids the angry notes she wrote about them. From what I told, I was crying most every day coming home from school, so my parents were faced with a tough decision: keep me in kindergarten, where I was miserable, or move me up to a grade where I would be more academically challenged.

Their decision to move me up was not met with understanding. My dad tells story of having to, literally, throw people off of his front porch because of the angry arguments about. And believe you me, when I was 14 while everyone else in my class was getting their drivers’ license, or 19 when my friends were allowed to drink legally, I wasn’t sure about the wisdom about the decision. Being two years’ younger than my classmates often was tough socially, and it definitely was a disadvantage in sports, as well.

However, I have come to understand over time that as a parent, you have to make the best decision with the information you have at the time. And I’ve led a mostly happy, successful life. No $20 million or so signing bonsues are awaiting me, but by any measurement I’ve had things go pretty well.

Maybe someday Bryce Harper will look back and think that leaving high school early was a mistake. I’m sure Ron Harper’s stomach is churning. Maybe Bryce Harper will get a big signing bonus and crap out because his maturity is lacking. Or maybe moving ahead early will help his game and his maturity level. We just don’t know. And that’s the fun and pain of parenting: you make a decision, and you never know how you child will turn out as a result of it.