Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Pulitzer Prize

The youth sports version of torture porn

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An interesting story behind “Play Their Hearts Out,” a book by George Dohrmann — one of the few sportswriters to ever win a Pulitzer Prize — about the youth basketball machine. Apparently Dohrmann, traveling on his own dime, was able to follow a 9- and 10-year-old AAU team, as long as he didn’t write about what happened until the players were out of high school. The book sounds amazing. The book comes out Oct. 5.

Dohrmann unearthed all sorts of academic fraud at the University of Minnesota to get his Pulitzer, and for his book he unearths all sorts of stink about what really happens in the high-stakes youth basketball world. You might think you have a general idea of how rotten it is, but Dohrmann finds it’s worse than you would ever imagine. From a Los Angeles Times review:

The world … is one of shocking greed and ego, one where adults use and abuse children under the banner of sport. There are few good guys in this book, but certainly not the coaches who seek the big dollars of the shoe companies, nor the shoe companies that provide them.

This is how it works.

The shoe companies — Adidas, Reebok, Nike, etc. — are always looking for the next Michael Jordan, whose unmatchable endorsement power whetted everybody’s appetite for more.

The youth coaches gather teams, play win-at-all-costs games, emulate Bob Knight along the sidelines during games and hope that the shoe companies will not only hear about them and provide their young and impressionable players with free shoes and product, but also put them on the payroll.

Mom and dad allow their 9- and 10-year-olds to be used and yelled at because they have visions of college scholarships and pro contracts. Some parents allow their children to play only if the coach pays their rent. If the coach does so, it is most often with money from the shoe companies. If the parents have money, they bribe coaches to have their child included.

Hangers-on publish ratings of these almost teenagers, even though these raters often have never seen the players they are rating. High ratings of their players, in recruiting newsletters and on websites, mean more leverage for the youth coach with the shoe companies. They are also a recruiting guideline for college coaches, who know these ratings have minimal credibility and ought to know better than to use them.

These children play in multiple games and tournaments that become, to them, the only measure of their worth. The tournaments become meat markets for coaches, scouts and raters, as well the youth coaches’ auditions for the shoe companies.

The writer, Bill Dwyre (Dohrmann’s former boss at the Times), calls “Play from the Heart” a book that makes you want to take a shower.

See, this is why I originally titled this review of the review “A new youth basketball/child torture book I’m not sure I want to read.” It sounds amazing, and it sounds like it should be read by every parent who decides to throw his or her child into the youth sports pool without a floatie. But it might be too horrible to watch the slow, painful torture of children that sounds like it unfolds through the course of the book. You want to find out how you can save these kids — except it’s eight years too late.

If you can’t bring yourself to read the book, know this. The 9-year-old at the center is one of the many next LeBrons, Demetrius Walker. He was still being called a next LeBron at age 14.

Instead of going straight to the NBA, Walker got a scholarship — which, to be fair, is more than most get — to Arizona State. He averaged four points per game, and fell out of favor with coach Herb Sendek. In 2010-11, he’ll sit out a year as a transfer to New Mexico. Maybe Walker will still be an NBA player. But it sure doesn’t look good. And, for that, Walker — once surrounded by adult sycophants angling to cash in his future fame — instead will find himself in therapy in the Next LeBron Support Group.

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Written by rkcookjr

September 25, 2010 at 9:38 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by rkcookjr

September 15, 2010 at 11:14 pm