I’ve known Bob Bigelow for close to two decades as a sports parenting advocate like myself. Back in the mid-1970s, Bob was a 6-8 sharp-shootingAll-Ivy forward at Penn who was so talented that he became a first-round draft choice in the NBA.
After Bob’s playing days came to an end, Bob and I have been trying to help educate sports parents, athletic directors, and coaches about how youth sports has changed dramatically here in the US, and how things are going to continue to change in the years to come. That was the theme of my WFAN show this AM, and right away, one of the sharp callers – Coach Tom from North Arlington, NJ – chimed in and agreed with Bob that unlike 20 years ago, parents have become increasingly sophisticated about the “game” of competitive athletics. That is, that Moms and Dads recognize earlier than ever before that their 8 or 10 year might be blessed with superior athletic talent and drive.
Of course, most of the time, these kids reach their full athletic potential sometime in HS, but that doesn’t stop parents with deep pockets and big dreams for their kid to spend a fortune on travel teams, private coaches, specialized camps, you name it. Parents see this all as a kind of investment – a down payment, if you will – on a kid’s future earnings as a pro.
But as was pointed out on the show, whereas a generation ago talented athletes didn’t start to get recruited until they were juniors or seniors in HS, the timing has all changed now. Because of the internet’s presence and growing social media, college coaches now begin to track promising athletes at much younger ages, dipping down into 9th grade and even middle school. Truth be told, if a youngster is prodigiously tall — say, 6-5 or so – by the time he’s in the 7th or 8th grade, he has most likely heard from college recruiters.
Of course, as Bob and I agree, this is all absurd. Kids change so much during their teenage years that it’s both misleading as well as unfair to a kid to start receiving interest from college coaches before they have really established themselves as bona fide athletes. Yet the NCAA has no rule against this kind of pre-pubescent recruiting, and even though top college coaches decry this kind of recruiting, the fact is that it continues unabated.
Of course, when an 8th grader gets a letter in the mail – even just a form letter – which carries the logo of a top college program, this kind of unexpected feedback only serves to reinforce the parents’ belief that his or her son or daughter is going to become a superstar and make millions one day.
This is just so unfair and misleading to the parents and the kids. And yet, it just feeds into the system.
SOME GOOD NEWS IN PARENTAL BEHAVIOR
Bigelow and I both feel strongly that there has been progress in terms of educating parents on how to behave at their kids’ games. That of course is good news. But as kids start to be recruited at younger and younger ages, that’s become a growing concern. And of course, there are the enticements of numerous travel coaches and private coaches who feed into the process even more, e.g. if your kid wants to become one of the best, he or she needs to have me coach them all year round.
And of course, that’s going to cost real money. How about asking for a guarantee that if my kid plays for your travel team, then Coach, you will guarantee that they’ll get a college scholarship. Of course, nobody will guarantee that, but isn’t that what, in effect, you’re paying for?
Finally, it was pointed out that in a recent study of NFL top draft selections, something like 80-85% of those top football players never specialized in just one sport growing up. Same with NBA star Steph Curry.
In other words, there is clearly some sort of major disconnect between the theory of specializing in just one sport an early age….and which athletes become superstars by the time they finish HS.
It’s food for thought.