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A MOMENT TO REFLECT: Marking 20 Years of Sports Parenting Talk on WFAN Sports Radio

This Sunday AM marks my 20th year on the air at WFAN, and I wanted to pause for a moment to reflect on the issue of sports parenting and how it’s evolved – at least from my point of view – over the last two decades.

Now, many of you know I first became drawn to the field of sports parenting when I was working with the Cleveland Indians as their roving sports psychology coach back in the 1990s. At the time, my three kids were young – in fact, Samantha, our youngest, wasn’t even born until 1990. But in talking with top professional athletes in the Indians’organization who had gone through all the trials and tribulations of overbearing coaches and pushy parents, it became clear to me that the days of laid-back, easy-going Moms and Dads at youth games were long gone.

And as I became a sports parent myself, I saw first hand what my own kids were going through in youth sports in those days: coaches who insisted that kids specialize in only one sport….coaches who were inexplicably mean-spirited and sarcastic to young kids….coaches who lied to young athletes…coaches who refused to accommodate young athletes who wanted to play a variety of sports…coaches who didn’t care a darn about kids who sat on the bench…coaches who were hired even though they didn’t have any credentials to work with kids in that particular sport.

And the parents? Moms and Dads who screamed at their little kids in LL and soccer and hockey games…parents who screamed at other parents’ kids on the team to “pass the ball” or “to play better defense”…parents who cozied up to the coach in the hopes that their kid would receive more honors at the end of the season or garner more playing time…and parents who lived their own failed athletic dreams through the careers of their kids…

HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED…

It was all hard for me to absorb. I had grown up in a much more innocent time where organized youth sports leagues were few and far between, where kids devised their own pick-up games, and parents were rarely seen at youth games. We found our own way, and played sports because, well, they were just fun. Nobody worried about making a travel team because there were no travel teams. No one worried about college scholarships. You played because it was joyful to be with one’s buddies and away from homework.

But as my kids grew into elementary and middle school age, I saw all of these landmines and unexpected obstacles pop up in youth sports…and I couldn’t believe it. Even more, I felt that if I were witnessing all of this – and seeing my own children try to navigate all of this – I figured that my experiences were probably common everywhere. That is, other sports parents were having the same issues as I was.

And judging from the calls, emails, letters, and invitations to speak over the years, I am convinced that my suspicions were true.

Because the truth is: it’s one thing to be a die-hard fan of your favorite pro team. But parents who are sports fans are 100 times more passionate about their own child who play sports. Or at least that’s how our society has evolved.

Always remember this: as my colleague Doug Abrams always points out, Coaching someone else’s kid is a very serious responsibility. Never take that task lightly. To that end, as I’ve reported in recent weeks, the stings and barbs of being a chronic bench warmer as a young person stays with an individual pretty much for the rest of their life.

The point is: youth sports is now, as Time Magazine reported a few weeks ago, a $15 billion industry, and parents today are struggling with making key choices for their children: at what age should my kid specialize in one sport? Should they specialize in one sport at all? What about ongoing concussion concerns? Football is well known for concussions, but what about soccer, ice hockey, and so on?

How about travel teams? They seem to be gaining in strength in terms of showcasing young athletes. But they’re expensive and time-consuming. Should my kid try out? Should I have my child wait a year to start school, so that he will be one of the older and more mature kids in his class?

The list, of course, goes on and on. That’s precisely my Sports Edge radio show has been on WFAN for 20 years, and why this blog continues to be very popular.

SINCERE THANKS ARE IN ORDER

But before I start planing for the next 20 years, I do want to take a moment and sincerely thank some key people and colleagues.

First, I want to thank Mark Chernoff, the VP and GM of WFAN Sports Radio, who had the vision and, quite frankly, the courage to put me on the air. Back in 1998, I don’t think any other radio station in the country had the guts to do a show about sports parenting, but Mark – a sports parent himself – took a chance, and years later, I’m still taking your calls and writing about this ever-changing and important subject.

And my thanks, of course, to WFAN top producer, Dov Kramer who has offered such great help and support to me over the years.

I also want to thank my wife, Trish, who has sacrificed countless late Saturday night parties, family get-togethers, and big events solely because I needed to get home on Saturday night to get some sleep — just so I could get up early on Sunday to be here.

My wife is a long-time and beloved English teacher in the Chappaqua (NY) School District, and Trish, I just wanted to take a moment to publicly thank you for your endless patience and kindness to allow me to do this show, which as you know has been a real passion of mine. Anyone who has spent time around my wife knows what a terrific and supportive person she is.

I also want to thank my Mom and Dad, who couldn’t have been better sports parents …fully supportive, never pushy, always with a smile and pat on the back for every one of my teammates over the years….regardless of whether they were a star or saw only limited time in the games. Mom and Dad always knew the right words to say.

And of course, I want to thank each and every one of you who have listened in over the years, and especially those of you who have been moved to call in and talk with me. In addition to learning a tremendous amount about sports parenting issues from you all, in many cases, I’ve become great friends with you as well. And that’s a wonderful and unexpected windfall of this job. That includes people like Steve Kallas, Doug Abrams, Denise from Connecticut, Coach Tom from North Arlington, Rob from Lake Success, Mike from Lynbrook, Bob Bigelow, Wayne Mazzoni, Dan Venezia, John Minko, and well, the list is pretty much endless.

So I thank you all for sharing your stories, insights, and advice with not only me, but with the millions of concerned sports fans who tune into WFAN each year. It’s been both a joy, and a blessing for me.

With my very best regards – Rick