Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘Youth sports parenting

The impossible parental task of taking your life back from youth sports

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For a lot of us in the parenting way, one of our New Year’s resolutions — inspired by a few weeks off from getting kids up in the morning for school — is to “take back” our lives, much like the Tea Party wants to “take back” America. We Tea Party Parents want to hearken back to a simpler time, before schedules, before burning the candle at both ends. Basically, before we had children. Like the Tea Party itself, we Tea Party Parents probably aren’t going to be successful at turning back the clock (or cutting spending, either), but, hey, no sense not trying to talk a good game!

On the site Lifetimemoms.com, run by the Lifetime cable network (during the Christmas season, is the site called Fa-La-La-La-Lifetimemoms.com?), Dawn Sandomeno of Partybluprintsblog takes time off from posts like “Rae’s Ultimate Eggplant Sandwich!” (if yours is better, you’d better put two fucking exclamation points on it) to describe herself as a Lifetime woman in peril, although the culprit is her kids’ sports schedule, rather than a fiendish man who seemed OK at the start but turned out to be danger.

This post stars Joanna Kerns. Or maybe Judith Light.

From Ms. Sandomeno:

What’s crazy is that the problem is also what’s good for my kids: Youth Sports. For me, it’s three boys who play ice hockey, but it could be baseball, soccer, dance, lacrosse, or any other activity these days. Youth sports have gone off the deep end and to what end, I’m not sure. Mind you, I’m not against them, quite the opposite – I love that my boys are physically fit because of sports, have learned team play, and are developing great leadership and time management skills.  However, there are no boundaries anymore.  I was actually at an ice rink for a game on Easter Sunday and missed Thanksgiving with my family so we could play in a tournament in another city.  Each youth sport is now a 9 – 12 month commitment and it’s not just time, it‘s money, lots of money! Practices, lessons, games, clinics, camps, it turns out to be 7 days a week – God rested on Sunday, why can’t I?

So, I will need to be strong and committed to this challenge, the pressure can be strong from organizations and clubs, not to mention my own kids.   I want and need this change to happen. I’m determined to succeed and I truly hope to take some time back by being brave and saying no to the extras. I want to show my children that family time is important.

That’s all well and good, but a Tea Party Parent is going to fail cutting a few extras like, say, education. But you’re not going to reduce your family deficit by cutting a few extras here and there. The only solution is a radical one — eliminate activities altogether.

After all, it’s not like the sports organizations are going to say, “Oh, you want more family time? Please, take all the time you need!” It’s more like, “Oh, you want your kid home? I’ll tell you what: he can leave the team and BE HOME ALL THE FUCKING TIME!” So you have to decide as a parent, what do you want to do?

The rule in my family is that if you, as a child, love the activity — as in, we don’t have to drag your ass there, or tell you to practice — you can do it to your heart’s content. If you only kind of like it, then it’s on the bubble. I’ve got four kids. My wife and I don’t have the time or energy to schlep them around to stuff they only kind of like, whether or not our rationale is wanting to spend more time with them.

So Dawn Sandomeno should ask her kids whether they love playing hockey. If they do, then she IS getting her family time. If not, then she can cut off the sport like a Tea Party candidate wants to cut off spending on everything but the military.

Your kid's not going Bryce Harper

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In the least surprising Major League Baseball draft since way back last year, the Washington Nationals picked Bryce Harper No. 1 overall. By comparison to Harper, last year’s top pick, the highly hyped, soon-to-debut Stephen Strasburg, was an under-the-radar late bloomer. When the 17-year-old Harper appeared on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” to discuss his status, he mentioned at least four times that he had dreamed since the age of 7 of being the No. 1 pick — and I believe him.

The by-now-familiar story of Harper is that he has been a baseball machine practically since birth, getting his GED so he could leave after his sophomore high school season to play a season of junior college so he could be eligible for the 2010 draft. And so he was.

Harper has worked long and hard for his status, even if he is only 17. However, just because all that hard work paid off for him does not mean it will for your child. Here is why your child won’t be reaching Harper-ish status:

1. Your child will not be wayyyy better than his peers at age 7. Not a little better. Not kinda letter. Not even a lot better. Incredibly, superbly, undeniably better. Even if you consider his family had to tell him what an MLB draft is, a kid can’t even think of it seriously, or be taken seriously thinking about it, unless he shows unusual talent early.

2. Your child will not be willing to submit to the drudgery and boredom of learning anything, much less something as full of drudgery and boredom as baseball, at such an early age. This is sort of 1a. You can tell your child about the hours they would have to put in, but few will actually jump in to do it — enthusiastically.

3. Your child will burn out by his teenage years after a Harper-like schedule — or merely decide he’d rather be a “normal” high schooler. As former Mets manager Bobby Valentine noted, not necessarily with an approving tone, on “Baseball Tonight,” Harper was playing 175 games per year by age 12. Valentine also noted he basically never had a normal high school experience. “People talk about 10,000 hours,” Valentine said, referring to the Malcolm Gladwell-popularized timeline for becoming genius-like at a certain skill,”But what Harper missed it those two million seconds of high school.” I’m not sure whether high school lasts two million seconds exactly, although it always seemed like the last five minutes of algebra lasted that long. Anyway, a lot of kids, even if they’re great at a sport, will break down mentally or physically with a Harper-like schedule. The temptations, as it were, of hanging out with friends will win out over one more lonely night at the batting cage.

I remember reading stories of Indiana-bred basketball sharpshooter Rick Mount, the first high schooler to appear on Sports Illustrated’s cover (in 1966), who skipped social events aplenty to practice his jump shots, or would have his girlfriend rebound before prom until he finished his workout. That kind of dedication seems practically nutty — but that sort of self-motivation is often necessary to play at higher levels.

4.Your child is not going to grow as large and strong as Harper, who is 6-foot-3, 205 pounds. The story of Michael Jordan failing to make varsity as sophomore (no, he didn’t get cut from the team) is an apocryphal tale of a superstar coming out of humble beginnings. However, if Michael Jordan is 5-foot-10 instead of 6-foot-6, he would be just another guy who never made varsity. Plus, most players don’t make full varsity until junior year, anyway.

5. Your child won’t have superagent Scott Boras coming on as an “adviser” at age 13 to help your child negotiate the sports-industrial complex. That’s because your child won’t need him. They’re, for better or worse, stuck with you as a parent to figure out how to handle any pro career, or more likely, how to handle the nicotine-stained mustache who won’t play him every day in the youth league.

6. Your child will likely have an interest in exploring interests beyond one thing. My oldest son, age 12, has played baseball, basketball, volleyball and soccer, performed in plays, participated in a school reading club and attended robotics camp. My oldest daughter, age 10, has played softball, basketball and soccer, performed in plays, was a part of a competitive reading team, attended zoo camp and is attending nature camp this summer. My oldest son, age 7, has the most defined sports goal of any of my children — he dreams of leading Dwyane Wade High to bowling glory. But he also plays baseball and soccer, and he hasn’t demanded we hire Pete Weber as coach and put him on the worldwide kid bowling circuit. Nor would we. It’s not that my kids are so brilliant they have to do many things. It’s that part of their childhood, and most people’s childhoods, is trying different things to discover their interests.

7. You wouldn’t dream of putting your kid through the insane, one-sport schedule Bryce Harper worked growing up. Also, you don’t have the money to pay for all those travel teams and high-level camps.

This is not to say Harper’s parents are lousy. It appears they’ve handled handling a very driven prodigy with love, care and career development as well as anyone can. My point in all of this is to alert parents that your child is not that prodigy. Let’s start with this point: if your large-built, extraordinarily-talented child is not bugging you all day, every day, to do a certain, activity, then you’re not raising a Bryce Harper. So don’t try to make your child one.

And even if you do, don’t expect that a Hall of Fame pro career is guaranteed — even if your kid is Bryce Harper. Rick Mount flopped as a pro, and the downside of all that youthful dedication to basketball is that it took him decades to figure out how to get over all that work for almost nothing. and become a human being instead of a one-sport machine.

You want a qualified coach for your child? Dream on

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In the very good Charm City Moms blog from the Baltimore Sun, Kate Shazkin passes along the National Athletic Trainers Association’s tips for keeping your young athlete safe and healthy.

There’s some great advice, such as making sure your family is ready to handle the financial and time commitment. And making sure your child has not only have a physical, but also a mental, which assesses whether a child is even interested in the sport and level of commitment (for the love of whatever deity you worship parents, you will do yourself and us youth coaches a favor if you don’t push your child into a sport he or she clearly does not want to do). And providing your child’s coaches with a medical history — don’t try to hide your child’s asthma because you’re afraid a coach won’t play him or her, unless you want the sight of your child panicking to breathe and a coach panicking to figure out what the hell happened.

Of course, this being the blog it is, I couldn’t, as the far more respectful Charm City Moms does, leave the list as it is. There were two items that I will tell you, concerned parents, if these are deal-breakers for your child playing youth sports, enjoy the Xbox 360.

The first is “find out who’s taking care of your kids.” The trainers association is realistic in noting that half of high school teams don’t have trainers. If you child is at a lower level, you’re lucky if there’s a first aid kit available, or a set of Dora-embossed Band Aids. Parents, the answer to the question of, who takes care of my kid if he or she gets hurt is some combination of you or 911.

(Unless you have kids on the team whose parents are EMTs, and who are allowed to leave the station with the ambulance to watch their kids’ games. I had an assistant coach who was able to do that for a while, until he was told by his chief he couldn’t leave the station anymore, which seemed ridiculous. Fortunately, nothing ever happened with him at or away from the field to the point an EMT was needed.)

Anyway, the lack of a physician, nurse, trainer, veteranarian or faith healer on site is part and parcel of your child being in a youth league run by volunteers. Which brings me to the second item of parental disappointment: “Ascertain the qualifications of your coaches.”

Here is how Charm City Moms relays what the trainers association says you, as a parent, should be seeking:

A background check should always be performed on coaches and volunteers before they are allowed to work with children, and parents should ensure the following guidelines are followed:
• Coaches should have background and knowledge in the sport they are coaching. They should be credentialed if that is a requirement in the state, conference or league.
• All coaches should have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), automated external defibrillator (AED) and first aid training.
• Coaches should strictly enforce the sports rules and have a plan for dealing with emergencies.

Here is what you really will get.

Your child’s coach may or may not be a background check, depending on the budget of the organization and whether the state it’s in even requires one. Of course, even if there is a background check, it’s probably limited to sex crime convictions only, so you’ll never know about the past coke bust or the secret computer in the basement where the otherwise upstanding, churchgoing coach has stashed his child porn.

Your child’s coach will not even be remotely qualified in the sports which he or she is coaching, even though he or she is convinced that years of yelling at the local pro team on television is qualification enough. He or she will have no certifications or credentials for the sport, much less working with children.

Your child’s coach will not have CPR, AED or first-aid training. You will be lucky if coach simply doesn’t take smoke breaks.

Your child’s coach may or may not strictly enforce the sports rules, especially if the parents are on his or her ass about not winning enough, or the opposing coach is too stupid not to know the third-grade basketball league doesn’t allow pressing. Your child’s coach’s plan for dealing with emergencies: somewhere between asking if a parent has a cellphone for calling 911, and telling the kid to rub some dirt in it and walk it off.

What you will get, if you’re fortunate, is a parent who realizes his or her limitations, tries to learn a little bit how to teach a sport at an age-appropriate level, communicates with you once in a while, and treats the players and parents with respect, even if he or she is not getting any. At the youth level, it’s almost impossible to know that your child’s coach is “qualified.”

However, you can learn that later. You’ll know that your coach is qualified if, at season’s end, your kid can’t wait to play again next year.

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An eminently qualified coach.

Written by rkcookjr

March 16, 2010 at 10:24 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 of 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 bonuses 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.

Your Kid's Not Going Pro — A Primer

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Welcome, outside world, to Your Kid’s Not Going Pro, a blog about youth sports written by a youth sports coach and father whose involvement in youth sports is deep enough to make him reflexively use the term youth sports with alarming frequency.

The title of this here blog (”Your Kid’s Not Going Pro,” in case you hadn’t figured that out) sounds bitter and dream-killing, but instead it should be taken as a positive. Realizing your child will never go pro, or never get an athletic scholarship, will free parents from the burden of believing someday your child is going to become LeBron James and whisk you out of your debt-ridden, sorry life (a result caused in part by the amount of money you spent on trying to make your kid LeBron James — something that is not a uniquely American situation.) It will free youth sports coaches, most of whom are volunteers, from pretending they have to be the Bill Belichick of 7-year-old football so they can parlay that gig into the head coaching job with the Chicago Bears. You’re not going pro either, bub.

Written by rkcookjr

June 17, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Your Kid’s Doing Nothing

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When after a winter 2006 of wrestling and basketball my wife and I decided to restrict our kids to one individual sport at a time, we figured we were merely returning a little sanity to our schedule and reducing the number of nights he would be up until 10:30 p.m. doing homework after practice. I didn’ t know we were on the vanguard of a movement called Slow Parenting. Then again, my wife and I aren’t the kind of self-absorbed twits who ascribe a special name to things we do in daily life.

Slow Parenting apparently is not done by sloths. It is the equal and opposite, and pretentious, reaction to another movement, helicopter parenting, which was an epithet, not a proscribed way of life. Basically, Slow Parenting is about limiting your child’s activities with the idea of giving the family time together and taking pressure off your child to be the next Albert Pujols, Albert Einstein or Albert Brooks (who also is Albert Einstein). So more playing outside, less organized sports. More lazing around on PJs on your birthday, less birthday parties with pony rides and cakes the size of the John Hancock Center. SFGate.com’s Mommy Files does a good job of rounding up all the various articles done in recent weeks on Slow Parenting.

I don’t have an argument with the idea behind Slow Parenting. I’ve got four kids, and my wife and I both work. Our kids are hardly short of activities (my 11-year-old son is in basketball camp, merging into a roller-coaster building class; my 9-year-old daughter is in her last week of softball and merging into hip-hop dance class; my 6-year-old son goes from T-ball to father-and-son bowling), but out of practical consideration for not being to be at more than one place at a time, we try not to overschedule them. It’s easy to do, because the mere fact of two parents who work, four children in the house, and my wife’s Irish side of her family all within a short distance means we’ve got plenty to do.

However, and I say this with my wife and I holders of college degrees, it never ceases to amaze me how overeducated parents have to assign a name to the way many of them probably spent their childhood.

Here’s more from the Mommy Files:

There’s even a Slow Family Living blog, started last year by two Austin moms, Carrie Contey and Bernadette Noll. Here, you can download your Slow Family Living Handbook [editor’s note: for 10 bucks] with tips, tools, ideas and practical ways for how to slow down your family life. This summer the two moms are touring the country offering Slow Family workshops.

Carl Honoré is recognized as the father of the slow parenting movement. He’s the author of the best-selling book In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed, published in 2004, but it’s his more recent Under Pressure: Rescuing our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting that has become the bible for slow parenting.

Honoré got the idea for Under Pressure at an evening event at his 7-year-old son’s school. A teacher told him his son was a gifted artist. That night he trawled Google, hunting down art courses and tutors to nurture his son’s gift. Visions of raising the next Picasso swam through Honoré’s head–until he approached his son the next morning.

“‘Daddy, I don’t want a tutor, I just want to draw,’ my son announced on the way to school,” says Honoré, who lives in London with his wife and two children. “‘Why do grown-ups always have to take over everything?’ his son asked. The question stung like a belt on the backside. You know, I thought, he’s right. I am trying to take over. I’m turning into one of those pushy parents you read about in the newspapers. So I started thinking about how easy it is to get carried away as a parent, and to end up hijacking your children’s lives.”

Now the dad is a spokesperson for the movement, traveling the world to speak on panels at universities and appear on TV shows. “Slow parenting is about bringing balance into the home,” he often tells people. “Children need to strive and struggle and stretch themselves but that does not mean childhood should be a race. Slow parents give their children plenty of time and space to explore the world on their own terms. They keep the family schedule under control so that everyone has enough downtime to rest, reflect and just hang out together. They accept that bending over backwards to give children the best of everything may not always be the best policy.”

So let me get this straight: the likes of Carl Honore and the Slow Family Living blog are traveling the globe telling parents how to slow down, spend more time with their families and let their kids grow up with parents who aren’t busy busy busy? Am I missing something here? After my wife and I decided no more two sports in one season, should I have called for a booking on Oprah?

1636790894_80ff1c90d3_mBefore he branched into Slow Parenting, Carl Honore traveled with his Wendy’s headset to spread the word about the Slow Movement. Meanwhile, my wife wishes I didn’t take so long in the bathroom.

The whole idea of Slow Parenting will fail for the same reason as helicopter parenting: each puts way too much emphasis on proscribed paths for Doing What’s Best for Your Kids.

Sometimes being busy in an organized activity they love is best, sometimes down time is best. Sometimes you need to push your kids to do certain things to teach them what they might love or hate, and sometimes you need to back off when it’s clear they’ve found out. When your kids are young, they are going to flit about to different activities because they don’t know what they want yet. When they get older, there will be less flitting. There’s no science or catch phrase for this. You try to read your kid as best you can.

I can understand why Carl Honore’s kid asked him to dial it back. But what if someone’s kid IS interested in art or baseball? What do you say? “Shut up, kid, I’m Slow Parenting here!”

On your radio (again)

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If you’re up early in Nashville Saturday — say, 6 a.m. — you can hear me being interviewed by Mickey Hiter on the Athletes Parents Show on 104.5 the Zone, your home of Tennessee Titans football, and where Frank Wycheck annually re-enacts the Music City Miracle for the new crop of interns with a package of Ding Dongs in the break room.

Not to crap on one of the greatest plays in sports history, but on No. 5, how could zero Miami DBs be in the end zone when it was the last, desperation play? Sheesh.

We talked about a lot of issues, so it’ll be a good listen for anyone who wants to hear some deep thoughts on the state of youth sports. Mickey does a lot of elite-level baseball training and coaching, and unlike your kid, his kid did go pro (four years in the independent minor leagues). Plus, Mickey was president of the Nashville Old Timers Baseball Association. How cool is that?

Also, you can listen to hear me call the host “George.” Man, Mickey, I’m so sorry I did that. You caught me after I was emailing back and forth with one of the editors on a youth sports-related piece I’m doing for MSNBC.com, an editor who happens to be named George. I’m like the Looney Tunes abominable snowman: “I will name him George, and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him…”

By the way, you don’t have to get up early to listen to my golden throat. The show will be archived here.