Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘recruiting

Chicago Tribune profiles fifth-grade basketball prodigy, doesn't read this blog

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It seems like yesterday — well, it was only seven days ago — that I wrote about breathless coverage of an Atlanta child basketball prodigy named Dakota Simms, and warned that while he was impressive, it’s way too early to anoint anyone a future star because child basketball prodigies are fairly common. One concurrent example I gave was fifth-grader Jaylin Fleming.

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Either the Chicago Tribune doesn’t read this blog, or it wrote this story to spite me, because in today’s newspaper — on the cover of the newsstand edition, no less — is breathless coverage of Jaylin Fleming himself.

Actually, the story itself turns out to be a fairly balanced look. However, the Tribune takes advantage of the hyperventilating over Jaylin by people of some basketball authority to give breathless front-page treatment to a 10-year-old, 5-foot-1 basketball player — a decision validated, I guess, by, as of this writing, it being the second-most read story on the Tribune Web site.

But my bigger criticism is of those people of some basketball authority who are hyperventilating over a 10-year-old. Jaylin attends the Chicago magnet elementary school where current Bull Derrick Rose once attended. Here’s Rose hyperventilating on Jaylin:

“He’s better than me — that’s what’s crazy about it,” said Rose, who coached Jaylin at his camp last summer. “His talent is one of a kind. Kids his age rarely do the stuff he does….He does moves that a grown-up does.”

Easy, Derrick. As someone who knows of pressure on young ballers (and who famously had his big brothers running interference to make sure that pressure wasn’t too great), you might ease up a bit on saying Jaylin Fleming is better at the same age than an eventual No. 1 overall NBA draft pick.

The good news for Jaylin is that, unlike many NBA players, his father is married to his mother and a strong influence in the home. That influence might not be all a good thing. While current Bull Lindsey Hunter says he’s called off all the dogs who want his 9-year-old son on their travel teams, John Fleming isn’t so circumspect. He coaches his son two or three times a week with local high school coaches, and his son has worked out with the Knicks and Bulls.

John Fleming disagrees with those who say Jaylin is on the wrong path. “One of our family quotes is, “Why not me?” Fleming said. “Why can’t you do it? Who puts the limitations on you? He’s encouraged and taught and allowed to dream like that, as long as his aspirations are to serve the greater good. I teach him that basketball is about inspiring other people.”

To be fair, the Tribune gives plenty of space to people like Hunter who criticize a child’s too-quick ascent into the basketball system, and it also quotes former NBA player Marcus Liberty, a childhood chum of John Fleming’s, saying the dad is doing a good job keeping things from getting too extreme after learning how the wolves went after Liberty at an early age. Jaylin, an A and B student, also seems very happy.

The Fleming family is in a difficult position with a prodigy — you want to encourage and nurture him, but on the other hand, given how difficult it is to make the NBA, you can’t let that overtake everything else in life. From the Tribune article, it sounds like they’re walking that balance now, but it’s going to become harder as Jaylin gets older — especially if he keeps getting better.

The best thing about the Tribune article — and, really, where in the end I can’t crank too hard on it — is the examination of what is wrong with a system in which a 10-year-old is getting chased by college and pro scouts, compelled to scout young so they don’t fall behind in the talent wars (and in which that relationship with the high school coach might be his way of ensuring Jaylin plays for him someday), in which perhaps John Fleming is right to keep a strong hand on his son’s training and career, and in which those same college and pro scouts will toss Jaylin Fleming in the garbage if he doesn’t grow tall enough or if his peers start catching up.

“He represents much of what is wrong with our athletic system,” said one NBA assistant who asked not to be identified. “He already has so many hands in the batter it is almost sickening. … If he gets big and strong, stays healthy and is actually coachable … he may succeed. (But) the track record for child prodigies is not an uplifting one.

You might ask — hey, above-it-all blogger, aren’t you exploiting Jaylin Fleming for web views, just like the Tribune? I’d like to think not. I think there is a careful way to cover stories like Jaylin’s. I think the writer of the story, Anne Stein, effectively presents the hyperventilation and the caution about child basketball prodigies to make a meaty story about the basketball development system as it exists. I’d like to think this blog does the same.

Believe it or not, despite the name of this blog, I wish Jaylin Fleming and his ilk luck in their dreams. However, I think it’s worth writing about and pointing out the ridiculousness of heaping you’re-a-future-NBA-star pressure on a kid that age, of college and pro scouts feeling compelled to talk him up and woo him.

It’s not an insult to the Jaylin Flemings of the world to write about them not solely as inspirations, but also as warnings — particularly about the slime oozing through the player development and recruiting system.

(Hat tip to the folks at Jackie Robinson West Little League baseball in Chicago, located near Jaylin’s home turf, for passing this story along.)

College scholarships: harder to win than the lottery

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In advance of Feb. 3′s National Signing Day, college football’s orgasm to the child porn that is the recruiting watch, the Houston Chronicle’s Jenny Dial asked a question. Just what are your kid’s chances of getting a scholarship, anyway?

If you didn’t read her story (or see it on Youth Sports Parents — hat tip your way), then in the afterglow of signing day, with the sweet throb of the fax machine still faintly pulsating, you’ll get an instant cold shower from her answer: almost nil.

You would think it’s generally understood that the odds are long. But Dial’s excellent piece makes you wonder if, as a means of future earnings potential, parents should buy lottery tickets instead of paying big bucks for travel teams and private lessons. The chance of success is about the same, and so is the usual justification — you can’t win if you don’t play.

How do we know the odds are so long? Dial took numbers from the National Federation of State High School Associations on school sports participation, then took numbers from the NCAA on the number of scholarships awarded to Division I athletes, and did the math. The numbers might not be 100 percent accurate: they don’t count kids who play at elite club levels only (increasingly common), and they don’t count kids who might have gotten scholarships to NCAA Division II or NAIA institutions. But those figures would probably not move the needle much one way or the other.

So, without further adieu, the percentage of high school athletes in the class of 2008 (the latest figures available) who got Division I athletic scholarships nationwide, in alphabetical order by sport:

Baseball: 0.6

Boys basketball: 0.7

Girls basketball: 0.9

Boys cross country/track and field: 0.5

Girls cross country/track and field: 0.9

Football: 1.4

Boys golf: 0.6

Girls golf: 1.6

Boys soccer: 0.4

Girls soccer: 1

Softball: 0.7

Boys swimming and diving: 0.8

Girls swimming and diving: 1.2

Boys tennis: 0.6

Girls tennis: 1.1

Volleyball: 0.8

Boys wrestling: 0.3

Man, I think you get better odds from the lottery ticket.

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Your odds are 1 in 300 for this lottery.

Dial also talked to parents to see what they spent on sports. Golf parents spent the most: about $11,000 per year. A lot of sports fell in the $2,000-$5,000 range. Football parents spent the least, about $300 a year for offseason expenses. Football is relatively cheap because, unlike every other high school sport, you’re also not duty-bound to join a travel or elite team in addition to your school team in order to get college recruiters’ attention. However, you can rack up expenses paying for all-star camps and Nike-sponsored combines that require you to jet around nationwide to get the attention of your top football schools.

And for what? Not only are the chances of a scholarship tiny, but Dial’s survey included partial scholarships. Every athlete is not getting a four-year free ride. In most sports (mainly, outside of football and basketball), just about everyone is getting only half, or one-quarter, or less covered in tuition expenses — if they’re getting a scholarship at all to play.

This is not to say that you should immediately dump your kid’s golf clubs in the nearest water hazard. If you and your child love the youth sports lifestyle, and you’ve got the money to spend, then have fun. But if you’ve got a hard-on for a college scholarship, chances are that on National Signing Day, you’re going to be limp with disappointment.

Hope springs infernal

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The Des Moines Register’s Marc Hansen posits a theory, as he spins a yarn about a referee friend who tossed a dad out 30 seconds into a fifth-grade girls’ basketball state tournament game, why the worst-acting parents are at the younger kids’ events:

It’s different at the high school tournaments, and I have a theory. According to Hansen’s Youth Sports Law, the younger the athletes, the louder and wackier the parents.

The high school parents are far, far from perfect, but most are resigned to the reality of the situation. That NBA contract or that full scholarship to Duke is not in the cards for their child.

The whacked-out fifth-grader’s dad, on the other hand, still holds hope and acts as if every whistle will either move the kid closer or further away from the dream, even if it’s just a starting spot on the varsity.

Every call is crucial, even if the player in question is still young enough to leave something under the pillow for the tooth fairy.

To the whacked-out fifth-grader’s dad, much is at stake. High school parents, on the other hand, have learned from experience.

That makes some sense. But I would add that a crazy sports parent in fifth grade is going to stay a crazy one in high school, too. Except that instead of popping off at refs, the savvy crazy sports parent is posting videos, badgering coaches in private, yanking kids from club team to club team, and calling the local newspaper to demand huge photos of their kid to “attract recruiters.”

Also, it’s generally easier in a fifth-grade environment to be heard — fewer fans in the stands, and fewer barriers between yourself and the floor/field/pitch/ice. Also in high school, there is an expected decorum. The only people who get to shout obscenities during the game are other high schoolers. Actually, it may be that the parents are just as loud in high school, but that they’re drowned out by the relatively larger crowd. I’ll let you know if and when my kids start playing high school sports.

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