Archive for Sports parenting book review

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: Are Kids Born with Grit…Or Do They Learn it?

There’s a major New York Times best-selling book that was published about two months ago, and it has the simple title of GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

The author is Dr. Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology  at the Univ of Penn who has studied this trait – grit — for several years.

Her book’s basic thesis –which clearly has great application in the world of sports, competition, and winning in both athletics and in life – is that those individuals who succeed in sports and in the real world have developed, or are blessed with, a sense of grit….and grit is all about Passion and Perseverance to make your goals come true.

To me, grit is defined as having that inner desire or drive to work ever harder at achieving one’s goals; to put more effort into succeeding than perhaps one’s peers, even if that means overcoming major adversity.

Now, I don’t think that there’s any doubt that we all want our kids to have a sense of grit in their lives, especially if they are aspiring athletes, or want to do well in school, or to succeed when it comes to their careers.

But I worry that the overall takeaway from the bestseller GRIT might be somewhat misleading. That is, that if your youngster is told that he or she needs to develop this sense of overachieving drive, then he or she can – and will — succeed in sports.


I have touched on this point before. While developing a sense of drive, or grit, is certainly a positive element in one’s youth, I become concerned if a parent or a child buys into it to the point where:

  1. it becomes the overwhelming force in their child’s athletic development, and
  2.  they truly believe that by simply working harder at their sport, they will go on to earn a college scholarship and play pro ball.

In short, it just doesn’t happen that way in the real world. And that’s why grit and its role needed to be clarified for sports parents and youth coaches.

Ironically, I was reading a critique of GRIT a few days ago by David Denby of the New Yorker, and he picked up on this troubling takeaway as well. Denby, too, doesn’t buy into this pop psychology premise that if your child show some athletic promise — and if he or she works their tail off — then they ultimately prevail in sports.

Denby notes a letter to the editor to the New York Times Book Review which had given GRIT a positive review. I quote from Denby’s thoughtful column:

And what if a child has only moderate talent for her particular passion?

That’s the ultimate question every sports parent has to keep in mind. Mike Egan, a former member of the Marine Corps, wrote a letter to the Times Book Review in response to a positive review of Duckworth’s book. “Anyone who would tell a child that the only thing standing between him or her and world-class achievement is sufficient work,” Egan wrote, “ought to be jailed for child abuse.”

Well, that’s perhaps a little extreme, to be sure. But it’s an important point: That just having grit, and a desire to overcome adversity, and even to commit 10,000 hours to practice, is just not enough.

What an athlete needs beyond grit is actual, God-given athletic talent. Without that key ingredient, grit and hard work will only take your athlete so far.

And the vast majority of the callers on my WFAN radio this show this morning also agreed that the gift of grit, like pure athletic talent, is something a child is born with in their DNA. Like being born to grow to a certain size, or having a certain eye color, grit is part of that inherited package. True, as a parent, you need to explain to your child the importance of grit and the drive to succeed. But as so many parents have asked me over the years, “My kid has great natural ability…but doesn’t seem to have the inherent drive to push himself. What can I do?”

In my experience, there’s not much you can do. Great talent without an innate drive will only get your athlete so far.


What’s my take? Yes, you let your athlete know that in order to master and perfect skills, they need to practice, practice, and practice….BUT that the overall goal is not necessarily to play pro ball, or to play college ball, but to play to the best of their God-given abilities.

That’s a big, big difference.

In other words, their God-given abilities may take them only as far as the local HS varsity….or a club team or intramural team in college….And that’s fine.

And it’s up to you, as their parent, to truly accept that….to be supportive and proud….and not to be disappointed.


Book Review: How to Coach Youth Baseball So Every Kid Wins

Jeff Ourvan is an attorney and literary agent by day, but in his off-hours, he’s clearly a very involved and passionate youth baseball coach. It says on the back cover of his new book that he and his wife have three sons and that he’s coached all three of them on teams. And judging from the extensive content in his book, Jeff has most likely seen it all in terms of kids and baseball.

And to that end, Jeff’s new book clearly reflects the real-life experiences of coaching youth baseball these days, and he does a very nice job in presenting the various kinds of challenges that any coach can anticipate. His approach is strictly a pragmatic one — he provides prescriptive advice on how to draft your players, how to work to get your players at the bottom of your batting order to feel more productive, and along the way, he provides advice on every aspect of the game from how to slide to how to grip a baseball to throw a two-seamer or change-up.

True, there are a number of youth baseball coaching books these days on the market, but if you’re looking for a thorough approach of how to coach a kid’s team, this is one to add to your library. I also give the author bonus points as many of the color how-to photos in the book include girls playing baseball as well as boys. As a father myself who had a daughter play Little League baseball until she was 12, I was glad to see those photos.

Book Review: The Most Expensive Game in Town

One of the nice benefits of having been involved as an advocate in the world of sports parenting for more than two decades is that lots of publishers and authors send me their books to review.

Each year, I tend to accumulate a number of either just published books or galleys of books that are soon to be published. To that end, over the new few months, I will attempt to review as many of these books that I can, as I know how difficult it is for aspiring authors to get their books any notice from the media.

Let me start with Mark Hyman’s THE MOST EXPENSIVE GAME IN TOWN: The Rising Cost of Youth Sports and the Toll on Today’s Families. Mark is a top-rate investigative journalist, and in recent years, as he’s turned his focus to the world of sports parenting, he does a wonderful job in detailing the patterns of how our society has become so obsessed with their kids in athletics.

I recall first meeting Mark a few years ago when I believe he was working for BusinessWeek, and he had contacted me to interview me about the current issues in sports parenting. In any event, Mark clearly has great passion for this topic, and it shows in his writing.

THE MOST EXPENSIVE GAME IN TOWN is chock full of anecdotes, studies, and research into what has happened in recent years with sports parenting, and it’s clearly worth reading — especially for those parents who are just starting out with their little ones in sports.

However, for those of you who have youngsters already in the sports parenting pipeline,  there really isn’t anything new here that you probably haven’t already encountered. That is, you already know that travel sports are very expensive, that road tournaments can be very pricey, that corporate sponsors of Little League like Kellogg’s on ESPN do it because of the TV ratings involved, not because of altruistic reasons, that expensive private coaching and specialty camps have become the norm, and on and on.

Don’t get me wrong. Mark does an excellent job in providing this kind of overview, and his book presents all the facts.  I only wish that more sports parents took the time to read his book and many of the other similar sports parenting books that try to cover the same points.

The problem is – and this is very vexing for all of us who care about kids who play sports these days – very few sports parents, educators, coaches, or athletic administrators ever seem to dig into these books. The last book that was a true national best-seller about youth sports dates back to Bill Geist’s LITTLE LEAGUE CONFIDENTIAL, and that book first came out in the 1990s.

Bottom line: THE MOST EXPENSIVE GAME IN TOWN is a nicely-written and thoroughly well-researched book that will truly verify your concerns and worries that the cost of sports parenting has skyrocketed out of control.