Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Video game

What keeps kids from signing up for baseball? Hint: not video games

with 3 comments

The article I’m going to react to has been out for more than week, but I needed time for my slow burn to transition to full-blown foaming at the mouth.

The article is about a perceived decline in the number of children in stick-and-ball sports, and it comes from the Daily Herald, the official chronicler of Chicago’s north and northwest suburbs. I found it thanks to True/Slant’s resident Suburbanista, Hilary Shenfeld. Something stuck in my craw, which I think is near my cockles, right from the start:

Suburban youth baseball and softball coaches can expect to find fewer players on the ball fields this summer, according to many league directors.

And while the finger can be pointed at everything from the recession to competition from other sports, experts increasingly are blaming children’s habitual video game playing as a key reason why droves are ignoring America’s No. 1 pastime.

And the better children get at video games and more used to the fast-paced action they get, the less likely they’ll give them up to play the real game, experts say.

“Instead of going out to play sandlot baseball, kids today are content to sit in front of a computer to play a video game,” said Rich Honack, a professor at Kellogg School of Management.

Studying generations, he says his data shows the computer is the reason for the decrease in kids playing competitive sports.

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So this is how we’re going to do it — again. It’s video games’ fault. It’s always video games’ fault. Video games sexualize children, make them fat, and make them drive too fast. Video games are sure to be blamed for bank bailouts, the Toyota recall and CPAC.

But that’s a facile, knee-jerk argument. I emailed Honack (technically, a senior lecturer, not a professor — an actual professor would be quick to point that out) to ask where the research is proving his point, but I never heard back. I certainly couldn’t find it.

Some northwest Chicago suburban recreational leagues are reporting 20-plus percent drops over the last five years, accelerating during the last two, and particularly acute in the 10-to-14-year-old age group. But video games weren’t just invented five years ago. A lot of factors are contributing to the decline of baseball in that area and others, such as:

— Increased specialization in a single sport.

— The increase in travel and elite leagues. Note that recreational leagues are noticing a drop. It’s possible (not down 20 percent possible) that at least a little bit of the drop comes from parents signing up their kids for travel leagues instead of recreational-level ball.

— The large number of kids who drop out of organized sports by the dawn of teenager-hood. It’s practically an article of faith in youth sports that there is a huge dropoff in participation by age 13, as kids who aren’t interested or aren’t pursuing a scholarship or pro career drop out in favor of other activities. I would not be surprised if a lot of that dropoff comes as early as age 10. I know in my area, the line of demarcation between when baseball and softball are fun, and when it’s time to get serious, comes at age 9.

— And, of course, money. One league in the Daily Herald’s area is reported to charge a $325 entry fee. I hope everyone gets their own steroids for that. Even if the fees aren’t much, the economy is dictating choices. Kids, you can’t do everything anymore. It’s like how I told my oldest son, who had an interest in hockey and loved to skate, whether he kinda liked the sport or whether he LOOOOVVVVVED it. “I kinda like it,” he said. So I didn’t sign him up. I wasn’t going to spend $1,200 in league fees for something he kinda liked. I imagine even in some of the posher suburbs of northwest Chicago, parents are making similar decisions. (Two years ago, the Chicago Tribune wrote a story about the same area saying just that.) After all, why waste time and money signing your kid up for something he or she doesn’t want to do? Plus, the foreclosure crisis isn’t leaving your tonier suburbs unscathed. The money just isn’t there for everything.

If video games play any role, it’s only as a time-killer for kids who decide (or have it decided for them) not to play baseball or softball. I’ve never known a kid to quit to play video games, although I do remember my oldest son getting pissed, at age 7, when his third baseman wasn’t paying attention when he tried to get him the ball on a force play. “He was probably thinking about video games,” my son said.

If kids aren’t interested in sports, they’ll fill it with whatever they’re interested in — theater, music, jerking off or, yes, video games. If kids explicitly choose video games over sports — and parents allow them to do so — I would bet that also has something to do with not wanting to spend hours upon hours in stupid practices getting yelled at by the knuckle-dragging coach for the right to ride the bench all game. Hey, if you’re going to sit, why not in the comfort of your home, with no one barking at you?

Written by rkcookjr

February 24, 2010 at 1:04 am

How video games make your kid a better athlete

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Wired’s Chris Suellentrop is echoing the chorus that attributes the increasingly complex brand of football played at lower levels, and the strategies employed at the highest levels, on a generation’s worth of players growing up with the Madden video game, which premiered in 1989. After all, if pilots get better through flight simulators, and studies show that gamers make better surgeons, then it stands to reason that years of basement video-game playing could translate into real-life football, right?

Cognitive scientists have published a series of studies demonstrating that playing fast-paced action videogames — mostly first-person shooters like Call of Duty and Halo — can alter “some of the fundamental aspects of visual attention,” as a paper published in the July 2009 issue of Neuropsychologia put it. By training on these games, researchers found, nongamers can achieve faster reaction time, improved hand-eye coordination, and greatly increased ability to process multiple stimuli. Studies have demonstrated that military pilots and laparoscopic surgeons can improve their professional skills by playing videogames. It’s not much of a leap to think that athletes could, too.

There are limits to how much virtual training will be able to boost on-field performance, of course. Don’t expect football to follow on the heels of poker, a game in which Internet-trained players have upended the professional cartel. (Chris Moneymaker won’t be quarterbacking the Titans next year.) A better analogy for virtual training could be weight lifting: It’s an activity that won’t turn you into a professional athlete, but if you are one, it will make you better at your sport. And once everyone starts doing it, you’ll need to do it regularly to remain competitive.

Plus, you don’t need to inject steroids into your teammate’s ass to make them a better gamer.

I would say something smart-alecky about Suellentrop’s thesis… except that I agree with it. Suellentrop has plenty of supporters, including pro athletes, in his story. But I’ve seen it work in my own kids.

When my oldest son, now 12, first signed up for baseball, he didn’t know much about the rules of the game — but he learned them quickly, thanks to a preseason of playing Backyard Baseball. He’s not tall enough or strong enough to stand out playing basketball — he didn’t make his seventh-grade team. But I can’t help but think that his strongest suit — quick, thread-the-needle passing — is helped by his years of gaming. If he can figure out how to snake through a zombie-infested subway in Left 4 Dead while also being aware of his teammates’ position, it makes sense that he can make a quick decision with the ball when his teammates are surrounded.

Where I see games translating to real life the most is in my 7-year-old son’s bowling league. First, the whole reason he got interested in bowling is because of Wii Sports. But he, and his teammates, have learned to adjust their starting positions and throws because of Wii bowling. And then it circles back, with my son using real bowling to help position himself on Wii bowling. And then using what he learned from that applied back to Wii bowling.

So if your kids are spending a lot of time playing video games — don’t freak out!

Written by rkcookjr

February 6, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Video games are ruining my athletic children!

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Billy Shepherd, a former Indiana Mr. Basketball and ABA player who now is a sports parenting advice guru (and whose father was the athletic director when I ran cross country and track at Carmel, Ind., High School), takes a question about a common holiday problem: kids not getting the hell off the new video game system. From his column in the Crawfordsville, Ind., newspaper, that is understatedly and appropriately called The Paper:

Dear Billy,

I think my wife and I have made a big mistake. We bought our two boys (6th and 3rd grade) the [W]ii game for Christmas. All they have done the last eight days is play the game non-stop.

While both are good athletes we are now concerned that they will spend more time playing wii than actually practicing sports.

Any suggestions? We had heard that the game was great for teaching sports, but we are concerned because of the lack of physical activity. Are we being over concerned in your viewpoint? Old Time Parents in Indy

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Meet Old Time Parents in Indy’s children, Buckner and Garcia.

First, I’ll give you Billy Shepherd’s response, which is sort of even-handed, reasoned approach that is the hallmark of good sports parenting. Then you’ll get my response.

Dear Old Time Parents,

What you are seeking is a balance for your kids. Only you as parents can make those decisions. Do you have time limits on the games? Do you make them go outside and play which results in physical activity? How are their grades in school?

Once school starts back you need to place restrictions on when they can play the video games and for how long. Try and balance it with homework, sports activities, and computer time. Keep a close eye on their grades and keep them involved with their sports.

Balance is the key to help develop any young person socially and physically. Be sure to monitor their time in all facets of their lives, just not video games. That way you will have well rounded young men as they continue to grow up, whether they play sports or not.

I’ll put it more practically and succinctly, Old Time Parents in Indy: get the stick out of your ass! Why did you buy them a Wii and somehow expected a sixth-grader and a third-grader to have natural restraint in playing it? It’s been freaking freezing in Indianapolis over the holidays. What do you want them to do, go outside and play Who Gets Frostbite First?

When kids get a video-game system for Christmas, they do nothing but play it for the bulk of vacation. It happens. Old Time Parents, I bet when you got your first hula hoop, you were swinging your hips with excitement for the next two weeks. I bet your own Old Time Parents worried you would never do anything productive ever again. Also, have you notice your sixth-grader and third-grader have probably spent more nonfighting time together the last two weeks than they have in their life? The beauty of video games is they can help siblings bond like nothing else.

I agree with my former athletic director’s son that once school is back in session, you can and should put limits on the video game playing. However, I wouldn’t start out by saying, you have only X amount of video games and/or screen time (a term I detest. I’m not sure why. I just do.). I would say that you have these responsibilities, and once they are fulfilled, knock yourself out on the Wii (not literally, because you can the way the controllers get swung around). I’ve found that works wonders with my own kids. Punishment is much more effective when you take away what they already have in spades. Plus, you don’t give the Wii the succulent flavor of forbidden fruit.

So I’m in agreement with the concept of what the ex-Memphis Sound has to say, though we differ in technique. And in our desire to tell people to get the stick out of their ass.

Written by rkcookjr

January 4, 2010 at 11:54 pm