Sports Parenting Trends

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: Celebrating 18 Years of The Sports Edge on WFAN

This morning’s radio show on WFAN marked the 18th anniversary of the Sports Edge being on the air. And I want to thank you all for your tremendous  support, and great and smart comments and questions over the years.

We may be the only major radio show in the nation that focuses exclusively on sports parenting issues. And with the “here today, gone tomorrow” mentality of sports shows, being on the air for close to 20 years is pretty special.

I first became involved in sports parenting when my own kids were just starting out in sports, and now, 18 years later, they are in their 20s and 30s, and I’m happy to say, they still love sports and still enjoy playing them.

I think, to me, that’s the ultimate bottom line. That is, that their original love and passion for sports has stayed with them, long after their competitive days in HS and college and, in my son’s case, pro ball. As a sports parent myself, I’m very proud that they continue to go out and play in hockey games, take batting practice, pick up a lax stick and practice some shots on goal, and so on.

A LOOK BACK IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR

Once upon a time in this country, back in the early 1990s, I was one of a handful of people who was talking about the changing landscape of sports parenting. As I recall, back then, there was Fred Engh and I believe Bob Bigelow was getting involved in sports parenting as well. But one thing was for sure – the field of sports parenting was a new frontier.

And that was no surprise. After all, up until the 1980s or so, it used to be that kids learned how to play sports by playing pick-up games with their buddies and peers on playgrounds, sandlots, and open fields. The older kids chose teams, nobody sat out, and if there were a dispute on a call, we argued for awhile, and then just did a do-over.

There was no need for refs or umpires…..no need for tryouts…no need for one’s parents to intervene.

As kids, we kept score for the individual game, and if the game had a lopsided score, we simply stopped and reshuffled the teams to make them more equal.

Nobody worried about individual stats….nobody worried about making All-League or All-State….nobody gave a thought to playing in college or in the pro’s. Did we dream about that stuff? Sure. But nobody took it seriously.

We just played….because it was fun to do.

But then things began to change, bit by bit.

Way back then, for example, there was this new concept of travel teams introduced. Now, nobody knew what travel teams were or how they would change youth sports, but like a spreading virus, once travel teams started, they grew and grew everywhere. Now you’d be hard pressed to find any town or community anywhere in the US where travel teams don’t exist.

PARENTS BACKING COACHES?

Right around the time travel teams got going, it seemed that after years and years of parents always backing up the HS coaches on strategy, discipline and so forth, suddenly, there was a growing rash of parents interfering with their kid’s coaches.

There were parents arguing with coaches about their kid’s playing time. Parents were getting in the face of their kids’ coaches, complaining bitterly, even threatening lawsuits against the athletic director and school district if the Dad felt his kid had been slighted.

Formal HS Codes of Conduct began to pop up, so that AD’s and coaches could point to prescribed kinds of punishments. But for the most part, the Codes were soft and did not promote a sense of strict discipline. That’s because the parents didn’t want the schools to adopt a zero tolerance policy. If they did, it might mean that their own child might run afoul of the rules and get booted off the team instead of getting just a warning.

These, there have been growing discipline issues with social media abuse, such as Twitter, Facebook, sexting. Of course, these things didn’t exist 18 years ago, but they sure do now, and they cause sports parents to have tremendous anxiety when their kids are involved.

For years and years, LL baseball allowed pitchers to throw as many pitches as they wanted. It  wasn’t until Steve Kallas came on the Sports Edge and pointed out that especially in Williamsport, top young pitchers were throwing hundreds and hundreds of pitches in a week of tournament play. Finally,  LL woke up and realized that they had to change their rules and regulations on pitch counts.

And of course, LL still allows young pitchers to throw curves and sliders endlessly, even though Dr. James Andrews, who serves on their board of directors, still says that kids shouldn’t throw breaking balls until they’re old enough to shave.

Don’t even get me started about LL and aluminum baseball bats, which in my opinion, is still very dangerous. Anybody  — and I mean anybody – who has ever thrown batting practice to a kid with an aluminum bat knows instinctively that the ball comes off the bat faster – much faster than off of wood. LL, please stop telling me that’s not true.

A NEW WAVE OF ADVOCATES

Now, These days, there are growing numbers of other people who have become sports parenting advocates, and I applaud that. From coast to coast, there are sports parenting advocates who are blogging….posting columns….doing TED talks….writing books….and so on. It shows that the gospel we’ve been trying to spread on Sunday mornings for the last 18 years is finally beginning to have a real impact.

But I must confess that I do get something of a chuckle when they post a column about this “new phenomenon” of pushy parents…or a lack of sportsmanship….or kids quitting sports at a young age….or how travel teams are having a major impact on their kids….and so on – and they write these columns as though these kinds of incidents are totally new developments in our athletic society and that they are the first to pinpoint them.

But you and I know the truth…we’ve been taking about these issues on the air at WFAN for 18 years. And like yourself, I’ll be most interested to see how the world of sports parenting changes in the years to come. What will the next generation of sports parents do when it comes to their kids in sports? That, of course, is the ultimate question. And will fun still part of the experience?

Until then, my thanks to the loyal readers of Askcoachwolff, and for those of you who listen to The Sports Edge on WFAN Radio each Sunday. I also want to send a special of personal thanks to Doug Abrams and Steve Kallas, two brilliant attorneys who share my passion for doing the right thing for kids who play sports. It’s nice to know that there are wonderful people in this world like Doug and Steve.

Sports parenting continues to be a most challenging topic for all of us, and as noted, I think we have made some progress. I just hope we can make even more progress in the next 18 years.