Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘sports parenting

Why a Midwestern suburb is going on a youth sports building frenzy

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Here is an example on what gets built, and what doesn’t, in our not-officially-in-a-recession economy.

In the fast-growing Indianapolis suburb of Westfield, Ind., there was a proposed $1 billion, 1,400-acre project that was going to include mostly new housing and stores, but would also have 150 acres set aside for youth sports fields, a new Y, and a minor-league baseball stadium. Because of the lousy real estate market, the housing-and-stores part of the development has been cut by two-thirds.

Meanwhile, the athletics portion of the project has broken off, and its size has doubled — to 300 acres, or as the Indianapolis Business Journal points out, the size of the Kings Island amusement park.

I’ve written about it here before (and before that), and I’ll write about it again, because cities keep doing it:  using youth sports as an economic development tool. And why not? At most, your huge complex can host scads of tournaments, which means scads of out-of-town teams, which means scads of parents and kids spending money at your hotels and restaurants. At worst, if the out-of-towners don’t show up, you can justify the cost of the project (and Westfield’s was estimated, when it was half the current size, at around $60 million) by pointing out that, unlike building a new NFL stadium, the community gets to use it.

Even in the throes of the recession, parents in unemployment-scarred towns such as Elkhart, Ind., ponied up to put their kids in sports. As one parent told me in 2009, he will cut any other expense, because “if you save $5, it’s $5 you can spend on your child.” With such a loyal spending base to work with, it’s no wonder even little towns like Edwardsburg, Mich. (population 1,200), have huge sports complexes in the planning or construction stages.

After all, you don’t want to have your hometown newspaper write about all the tournaments (and money) you lost because you didn’t keep up with the Basketball Joneses. (Often, the local coverage of proposed complexes sounds a lot like the fawning articles that beat the drums for taxpayer-funded pro stadiums. Sample headline: “New sports complex offers cities financial home run.”) Again, so what if the promised multimillion-dollar impact from youth tournaments doesn’t happen? At least your kids have a nice place to play, right?

Westfield, population 27,000, is much more ambitious than most cities building youth sports complexes. Instead of just saying, we’re building a complex, Westfield and its mayor, Andy Cook (no relation to your humble blogger) have declared they are building “The Family Sports Capital of America.”

Why so grandiose? Westfield, located in Indiana’s Hamilton County, one of the fastest-growing in the nation, is trying to grab more of the executives who have been more apt to settle in other suburbs, particularly Carmel, located immediately to Westfield’s south. Carmel (hometown of your humble blogger) itself has stood out nationally because of its grand schemes, such as its embrace of roundabouts, its snagging of Michael Feinstein and his Great American Songbook, and its getting Kendra Wilkinson to film her reality show there. A few years back, the U.S. Census Bureau renamed the Indianapolis metropolitan area the Indianapolis-Carmel metro. One of Westfield’s few claims to fame was being the home of a serial killer.

Carmel has always been bigger, richer and more important than Westfield, and damnit, if the town was going to be known for being more than Carmel’s leftovers, it needed to do something grand. Hence, “The Family Sports Capital of America.” (Giving yourself a grandiose nickname is a tradition among Hoosiers. See Michael Jackson, “King of Pop.”)

With ground yet to be broken, we’re a long way from finding out whether Westfield can pop a big civic boner in the face of its rival, which I just realized is a highly inappropriate metaphor in a piece about a place kids play. But we are hardly a long way away from cities of any size determining that putting money into shiny, new youth sports complexes is maybe not such a good idea after all. As long as parents are willing to spend their last $5 on their kids and their sports, there is going to be a market for the facilities. The only question might be is if some other town is going to try to beat Westfield to the “Family Sports Capital of America” punch.

(Actually, Blaine, Minn., already did.)

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Written by rkcookjr

October 6, 2010 at 1:21 am

Sports parenting trends for 2010 (Not! Not! Not! and Hot! Hot! Hot!)

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177850846_f693a08122If it’s year-end, then that means the turn of the calendar instantly makes passe some of the activities you participated in so intensely over the past 12 months. Mainly, that’s because we in the media (I think I count) needs some space-filler at year’s end, and a new way to sell you old things, so that’s why it’s time for the official Your Kid’s Not Going Pro Not! Not! Not! and Hot! Hot! Hot! Sports Parenting Trends for 2010.

How do I know what makes the official Your Kid’s Not Going Pro Not! Not! Not! and Hot! Hot! Hot! Sports Parenting Trends for 2010? The same way everyone else makes their lists — by looking at what appears to be hot in 2009, and declaring the opposite so for 2010. (See, I even put not before hot — opposites!) And, to be really witty, making just a slight twist to what was hot, enough that you can do mostly the same thing but can feel bad for not doing it in the right frame of mind. In other words, I pull them out of my ass.

The list:

Not! Not! Not!: Helicopter parenting — Hot! Hot! Hot!: F-16 parenting

Not! Not! Not!: Yelling at your kid’s coach — Hot! Hot! Hot!: Making nasty comments about your kid’s coach in your Facebook status update

Not! Not! Not!: Win at all costs — Hot! Hot! Hot!: Win at a discount (we’re in a recession, you know)

Not! Not! Not!: Tommy John surgery for your overworked 14-year-old — Hot! Hot! Hot!: Drool cup for your multiply concussed 14-year-old

Not! Not! Not!: Every kid gets a trophy — Hot! Hot! Hot!: Every kid gets creatine

Not! Not! Not!: Cities using youth sports as an economic development tool — Hot! Hot! Hot!: Cities using illegal child labor as an economic development tool

Not! Not! Not!: Coaches getting arrested for fondling players — Hot! Hot! Hot!: Coaches getting arrested for selling drugs to players, then fondling them

Not! Not! Not!: Spending lots of money on your kids’ traveling teams — Hot! Hot! Hot!: Picking just one kid for the travel team, then spending all your money on him or her (we’re in a recession, you know)

Not! Not! Not!: Positive reinforcement — Hot! Hot! Hot!: Neglect

Not! Not! Not!: Sports leagues for 3- and 4-year-olds — Hot! Hot! Hot!: Sports leagues for prenatals

Not! Not! Not!: Childhood obesity — Hot! Hot! Hot!: Childhood morbid obesity

Not! Not! Not!: Paying user fees for school sports — Hot! Hot! Hot!: Saving your money for club sports (we’re in a recession, you know)

Written by rkcookjr

December 27, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Andre Agassi and his father do their version of Rashomon

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For all the talk about crystal meth, the real theme of former tennis star Andre Agassi’s new book is how much he fuckin’ hates his old man for making him play fuckin’ tennis. He goes on so long about it, you expect him to strip off his tennis shorts and announce he always wanted to be a lumberjack.

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You’ve probably already read the excerpts of his book “Open.” Like how Mike Agassi taped ping pong rackets to little toddler Andre’s hands. How he fired balls at 110 mph from a machine — at age 7. The pressure Andre felt at age 9 when his dad wanted to bet the house (literally) on him beating football Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown in a tennis match (which Andre did, in a bet whittled down to $500). How Mike coerced Andre into taking speed before a tournament. How Mike kept an ax handle in his car, for, um, situations that he wouldn’t try to solve with a pistol, or by throwing the salt and pepper he carried around into some goob’s face. How Mike congratulated Andre for winning Wimbledon by telling him he shouldn’t have lost the fourth set. How Mike called Andre a fag. How Mike was “shrill and stern and filled with rage.”

Andre-Agassi-openMike Agassi already had the reputation for being “domineering,” as Andre’s former coach, the legendary Nick Bollitierri put it, before the release of “Once.” But now Mike, very much alive at age 79, is now cemented to the crazy tennis parent Hall of Fame, up there with Andre’s father-in-law, Peter Graf. (Another hilarious anecdote in the book is how when Andre’s dad and Steffi Graf’s dad met for the first time, Peter immediately asked to see the legendary ball machine, followed by the two men arguing over tennis strategy, followed by Andre breaking them up when the two ex-boxers started to strip down to fight.)

Andre, while seeming a little heartened that his dad learn to hate tennis when he saw his youngest son’s body breaking down at his career’s end, has a lot of daddy issues to work out. Why else would each of his wives — his first wife was Brooke Shields — be the daughters of domineering stage parents? Who better to understand Andre and his relationship with his father?

So what does Mike think?

He already said what he thought in his own 2004 book, “The Agassi Story,” a heart-warming look at a dad who just wants what’s best for his kids. Here is how Mike describes the process of determining Andre was the one of his four kids that would become a tennis star, a dream born when he was a young Persian boy watched U.S. and British GIs play it. (Emphasis is mine.)

6a00d83451599e69e200e54f7031048833-800wiAndre, the youngest of my four children, wasn’t the first kid I tried to coach. That dubious honor goes to my oldest child, Rita. She was amazing. Headstrong and feisty, Rita had an unbelievable two-handed weapon on both sides, and could hit a tennis ball almost as hard as Andre does. The fact is, though, I ruined tennis for Rita by pushing her too hard.

I made the same mistake with my second child, Phillip, who had a tremendous game, but who lacked that killer instinct. In other words, he’s abuot the nicest guy you could ever hope to meet, always putting himself out for others.

Fortunately, by the time my third child, Tami, was born, I’d wised up — at least a bit. I didn’t push her the way I did Rita and Phillip. I taught her to play, of course, but I gave her the freedom to pursue other interests. That’s probably why, of all my kids, I suspect that Tami is the happiest, the most well adjusted.

I learned a lot by coaching Rita, Phillip, and Tami, so by the time Andre was born on April 29, 1970, nearly 10 years after Rita’s arrival, I was ready. I decided that I wouldn’t push him the way I had Rita and Philip, but I would begin teaching him about tennis at a very early age. I figured if he took to the game, then we would take it from there.

As it turned out, Andre wasn’t just the most talented of my four kids, he was the most willing. He had the desire. I don’t know if it was the desire to play tennis or if it was simply the desire to please me, but he had it. Whenever Andre found a free moment – before school, after school, you name it — he was on the tennis court, practicing his strokes for hours at a time.

Well, if Andre says he hates tennis, then maybe it was the desire to please dear old Dad, who was nuts but, let’s face it, like most crazy sports parents sacrificed heavily for what he thought was best for his child, and ended up leading his youngest son to a life of fame and fortune.

Maybe what is pissing off Andre is not tennis, or his father’s rage, but the nagging feeling, as he counts his $5 million bonus that wouldn’t have gone to Andre Agassi, plumber, that the old man might have had the right idea all along.

Written by rkcookjr

November 10, 2009 at 6:01 pm

How well-intentioned parents cause future head cases

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Nell Minow smartens up the vast wasteland of the Internet with a Beliefnet.com Q&A with Richard Weissbourd, author of the book, “The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-Intentioned Parents Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development.”

I haven’t read the book — in fact, I just heard of it by looking at this interview — but the title conforms with my own hypothesis (hardly unique) that most of the problems with sports parenting are caused by parents who care way, way too much. (For a hilarious look at how that plays out, I highly recommend you get the first season of the Canadian television series “The Tournament,” which focuses on the foibles of the parents of a traveling hockey team of 10-year-olds. Not the second season, though. That is as awful as the first season is spectacular.)

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The portion from 2:52-3:17 is about the most brilliant distillation of youth sports ever in a work of fiction.

Here is the exchange in Minow’s interview with Weissbourd regarding sports parents. Inside his answers are two irrefutable truths about sports parenting. One, that when someone first becomes a sports parent, you go a little crazy inside watching your child having to fight on his or her own right in front of you — and you can’t step in. Two, that it’s very easy to wrap up your self-worth, and the worth of other parents, in how well your child or their child performs, especially if a social circle builds with the parents of the “good” kids — and you’re not in it.

You write about the “morally mature” sports parent. Why do you think many parents are immature, and what can be done about it?

While a great deal of media attention has been trained on reckless parents and coaches at children’s sporting events, many of us as parents and coaches, if we are honest with ourselves, get far too wrapped up in these events and fail to model for children a basic respect and responsibility for others. I remember realizing that whether my child’s hit slipped by the shortstop or was caught might affect my mood for days, and being furious at a perfectly innocent eight-year-old child who kept striking out my son and his teammates. Sports consultant Greg Dale coaches parents to be alert to other classic signs of their overinvestment, such as saying “we” won or lost the game, regularly occupying dinner conversations with talk about children’s sports or planning family vacations around sports events. Some of us get bent out of shape at these games, of course, because we are looking to our kids to fulfill our fantasies, or because of our competitive feelings toward other parents. But there are many other reasons.

Children’s sports can stir up old childhood wounds and yank us back to old childhood battles–peer and sibling rivalries, difficulties with authority, painful experiences of unfairness and mistreatment, struggles with shyness and self-assertion. For some adults who experience their lives as monotonous, children’s sports can provide an eventful, compelling plot, with their own child as a central character.

Jodi Scheffler, meet Phillip Sandford’s lawyer

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If Jodi Scheffler, the Kirkland, Wash., Little League mom facing criminal charges for allegedly attacking a 12-year-old Little League player she said was taunting her son, has any hope, it’s what happened in a New Brunswick, N.J., courtroom on Friday. Not that Washington courts pay New Jersey courts any legal mind, but at least it shows you can attack someone who did wrong to your child and not have it blotch your permanent record, at least in the non-Internet world.

Former wrestling coach Phillip Sandford, following a mistrial, pleaded guilty to charges he assaulted a wrestler he believed was unduly beating up his son. (The clip is here.) If Sandford undergoes anger management, stays away from Sayreville wrestling matches for two years (Sayreville being the hometown of the wrestler he tackled) and doesn’t coach youth sports for that same period, there will be no record of his conviction or sentence.

Maybe if things aren’t looking so good for Scheffler, she can get herself one of those deals. Though I’m not sure it helps that some of her friends wore “Team Jodi” T-shirts for a recent game, the first against the team featuring the player she was alleged to have hit.

Live from one of America’s unemployment crisis epicenters

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Continuing this blog’s unplanned tour of America’s boomtowns-turned-bust (following Bradenton, Fla.), I come to you from Elkhart, Ind. Well, I think the Starbucks I’m sitting in is in Dunlap, technically, but it’s still part of Elkhart County. That’s where the job market has crashed like an RV hitting a brick wall, quite likely literally, given how the area’s dependence on recreational vehicle manufacturing has dragged it under.

The Elkhart-Goshen area’s (Dunlap is smack dab in between the two cities) unemployment rate in December 2007, the beginning of the recession, was 4.7 percent. Now it’s 18.8 percent. Thanks to so many plants closing down, Elkhart apparently is moving to the No. 1 spot for EPA Superfund sites, a story the Elkhart Truth plans to publish in Sunday’s paper. Elkhart-Goshen’s unemployment isn’t the worst — step right up, Mackinac County, Mich., with your 28 percent — but it’s the highest rise in the country. Hence, that RV-hitting-a-wall metaphor.

But you probably knew all that, thanks to President (and candidate) Obama’s frequent appearances in Elkhart, and the scads of news stories using the area as the living, breathing, nonworking metaphor for America’s economic struggles. Though I would like to alert ProPublica that a grocery store sign advertising 10 cans of Manwich for $10 is not a sign of economic apocalypse.

My job, as I mentioned earlier on this here blog, is to use Elkhart as the living, breaking, nonworking metaphor for how America’s economic struggles are affecting youth sports. As I also mentioned earlier, I won’t be divulging everything I learned, not with MSNBC.com paying me to divulge them as part of its Elkhart Project. I will say this — if you just looked at the scene around the area’s baseball and soccer fields, you would never know there was a recession. The fields are full, the kids are concentrating on the game (or on the dirt), chilly moms are wrapped in blankets, stressed-out dads are standing by themselves and grunting, parents are gossiping, others are telling their kids what a good job they did, others are asking why their kids what they didn’t hear them yelling to pass the ball.

I’ll spare other details, but suffice it to say that Elkhart is a living, breathing, working (not just nonworking — most of the people I talked to are employed, as are most people in Elkhart) metaphor for what parents are doing in these hard times — everything they can to get them on the field. These aren’t pushy parents who dream of pro stardom bringing the family out of its misery. They’re sincere parents who want to give their children the most and best they can, and if the children want to play, they’ll cut back on eating out or something else to get them to play. And if they can’t, there are grandparents, friends, leagues and others willing to help out.

It’s hard not to root for Elkhart after you’ve spent a little time here. Since World War II, it’s been an immigration station for people wanting a better life — first Southern whites, then African-Americans, and lately Mexicans and Central Americans. They know high gas prices and tight credit will probably never bring the RV industry back to what it was. But the story they want to tell is not that they’re victims. It’s that they’re hardworking, skilled people who are ready to punch the clock again once someone gives them a clock to punch.

In fact, some of them are coming back, now that local RV manufacturer Gulf Stream is entering a joint venture to build an electric hybird pickup. Hopefully, that’s not only a sign of a coming turnaround for Elkhart, but also a living, breathing, working metaphor for the rest of the country getting back on its economic feet.

Unnecessary roughness

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Zenfooty.com (hat tip: On The Pitch) has a good piece about how to deal with rough play in youth soccer.

268309060_7f3364e85a_m1Let me first say that the issue of dirty and abusive play does not start with the referee or the players, it begins with coaching. The tolerance level of the coach has a direct bearing on the ethics of players. The best coaches will reprimand their own players for foul play. I have seen good coaches pull their own players even before the referee takes action. …

Do not “dive” when you have not been fouled in an attempt to attract sympathy from the official [Editor’s note: apparently this message isn’t taking on the international level]. Nothing irritates fans, players and referees as much as this. If you are caught diving, not only may you receive a yellow card, but you may never be taken seriously by the referee. You must also avoid retaliation and returning any verbal comments. This will give the defender the idea that they are getting to your psyche which will reinforce and escalate their behavior.

On dead ball situations, have your captain ask the ref to check into the pattern of recurring fouls. If the issue continues, have the coach visit with the official at halftime. If this is unsuccessful, have the fouled player go down with injury to create an opportunity to speak with the referee and once again reinforce the violent play [Editor’s note: didn’t you just say no diving? Maybe you can say something at the next dead ball?]. Your captain and coach must do their jobs here. It is their duty to the team.

If a referee ever loses control of the match and play gets out of hand, remember that your goal is to live to play another day. Nothing is worth a broken leg or a broken nose in a bench clearing brawl. As a coach (or parent), simply indicate to the referee that in the interest of safety, it is best that you calmly remove your players from the field of play and accept whatever consequences come with this. Stay in a group after the game. Do NOT have players and parents walk alone to their cars.

Great advice — for any sport.

Why does rough play start with coaches? Because they set the ground rules. They are the ones who draw the line between good, aggressive play and outright thuggery, mainly because they are the ones who (should) know the difference.

For example, I teach my basketball players that on a fast break, there’s nothing wrong with committing a foul if you’re behind the player but you’re going for the ball first. However, it IS wrong to push a player from behind, or wrap your arms around him or her, or try to pull him or her down without making a play on the ball.

460718873_3fa4403b28_mIn most cases, players don’t realize that what they’re doing might hurt someone. In my 7th- and 8th-grade basketball league, the only time I talked to the refs about foul calls was one very tall, strong girl who had a tendency to swing her elbows after she got a rebound. In one case, she elbowed one of my players in the throat. (Ouch.) I don’t think she meant to hurt anyone — she was just trying to clear space. I asked if the ref could call that more tightly because it was clear her coach was not advising her to stop swinging her elbows, and I was afraid more kids might get hurt. Unfortunately, the ref relayed to me that they called fouls looser because this was a rec league, and they didn’t want to slow the game down. Fortunately, no one else got hurt.

Here’s a case of a coach stepping in. One coach asked me to help him to take one of his sixth-graders (a kid I coached the previous year, which is why he talked to me) out of the 5th- and 6th-grade league we coached in and limit the kid to the 7th- and 8th-grade league. He was too strong and aggressive (in a good way) for the kids his age, and we wanted him to be able to play hard without worrying about hurting somebody. (Though later one of the refs, to me before a 7th- and 8th-grade game, related he thought that kid was a “thug.” That was the same ref who wouldn’t call the elbows on the other girl. Anyway, his assessment was seriously harsh, given this kid was aggressive in a good way, and as nice a kid as I’ve ever coached. Hence, unfortunate examples A and B of not counting on refs to sort things out.)

By the way, my interest in this post was not necessitated by my own son’s injury. He sprained his right foot on a clean, common basketball play — rolling off someone’s show when he landed after jumping. Sometimes play gets rough when kids are putting out a full effort, and that just goes with the territory. The important thing for coaches and parents is not to blow up in the heat of the moment.

Rather than argue with a coach or official, give yourself 24 hours, then talk to whomever runs the league about what happened, if there’s anything that person can do to control rough play. More often that not, someone will then contact the officials or coach to recommend putting a lid on certain activities, or at least send the message that they won’t be tolerated in case, say, the coach is an asshole and is going to argue instead of listen. Also, the coach needs to be ready to explain to his or her players and their parents the difference between aggressive play and rough play.

After all, as Zenfooty says, the goal is to live and play another day.