Archive for the ‘Sports Parenting Trends’ Category

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: Where Have We Been….and Where Are We Going?

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.

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SPORTS PARENTING TIPS: Coaching Kids is a Serious Responsibility

The response to Doug Abram’s column last week regarding “coaches who apologize” generated a remarkable number of downloads and hits, and that interest continued this AM on my radio show.

The general consensus was that — especially with younger athletes (10 and under) — who look up to coaches as trustworthy adults and solid role models, and who  don’t understand yet that the real world may be unfair, that coaches who make promises to their players (such as equal playing time in games) need to step up and apologize to those kids if such promises aren’t carried through.

The callers this AM quickly made it clear that as kids reach HS age, the expectation that one’s coach would apologize for such oversights not only don’t happen, but that the kids really don’t expect such apologies. By the time the youngster is 15 or 16, they have tasted enough of the real world to understand that not all promises come true. It was agreed that this isn’t fair, but again, the sense of the world being an unfair place becomes more commonplace with student-athletes.

Doug’s overall point – that coaches are indeed human and sometimes make errors in judgment just like all of us (including parents) — needs to be kept in perspective. Clearly certain behaviors and actions by coaches are not excusable in any way (e.g. bullying, or allowing bullying, or any kind of harassment, etc). But making mistakes in the heat of game competition can and probably should be forgiven, and kids and their parents need to understand that.

BE MINDFUL OF WHAT YOU PROMISE

That being said, if a coach made a promise to a player, and the coach didn’t follow through, then it’s incumbent on that coach to seek out the player after the game, and even their parents if necessary, to privately apologize for the coach’s oversight and mistake. Just to assume that the player and his parents have forgotten about the unfulfilled promise is a real mistake unto itself. It will only fester and make the relationship between the player and the coach extremely strained.

The takeaway of this conversation is this: As Doug writes: “coaching other people’s kids is serious business” and that reality is at the basis of this sports parenting column, and indeed, pretty much all sports parenting concerns. And if you’re going to take on the responsibility of coaching, you have to keep this principle as your first and most important fundamental.

The same way that parents trust their children to educators in school, you as a coach, have to develop the same kind of care and sensitivity to those kids when they play sports. To that end, do not make promises that you can’t keep, and always be aware of your words as to what kind of impact they will have. Above all, if you do make a mistake, or screw up, have the courage of character to step up and do the right thing.

If you want your athletes to do the right thing, then you have to do the right thing too.

 

 

SPORTS PARENTING: Is It Okay for Our Young Athletes to Fail in Sports?

As many of you know, I was on vacation last week. That break gave me some time to catch up on a lot of email and articles, and during my time off, one parenting column in particular – written by a parenting reporter from CNN, Kelly Wallace —  caught my eye.

The column’s headline was: Why Is it So Hard to Let Our Kids Fail?

Wallace was writing about all different aspects of kids growing up and competing in school, theatre, music, and so on. And competing in sports was most definitely in the mix as well.

She was asking why do so many of us – sports parents included – simply don’t allow our kids to go out, try, compete, and if they fail, well, they’ll simply have to learn and cope with the sometimes harsh realities of life. In many ways, it’s what many of us sports parents went through and experienced when we were growing up.

Her overriding point, of course, is that kids learning what they are NOT good at is just as important as finding out what they DO have talent for, and what activities they enjoy. Those experiences, as one of my WFAN Radio listeners today called: “Those activities that put a smile on your child’s face.”

But as we all know, the problem is that parents today tend to rush in and do whatever they can to insure that their little one DOES succeed in their athletic pursuits, regardless of what kind of implications that kind of parental interference may have.

This is, of course, the essence and core of the meddling sports parent. Perhaps that’s where the problem begins with today’s Mom and Dads, all of whom want their sons and daughters to play sports well and to excel. But when Mom and Dad sense that their kid is struggling, or shows signs of just being average, then Mom and Dad will start to intervene any way they can to make sure their kid improves.

The CNN column by Kelly Wallace suggests that parents take a different approach – that it’s okay if your kid is struggling or not doing well. In effect, that it’s part of the natural process of growing up for a kid to come to grips with the fact that he or she is not going to be a great athlete – and that’s okay. Or if they want to develop their mastery of athletic skills, then it’s up to the youngster – not the parent – to do what it takes to get better.

WHOSE DREAM IS IT?

After all, every Mom and Dad wants their youngster to excel in life, whether it be sports, academics, or in other endeavors. That’s what parents dream about, and hope for. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But when the reality quietly sinks in that my child is not going to be a star athlete, that’s where Moms and Dads often find themselves becoming over-involved. They seem to have the sense that if my kid is underachieving, I need to get them a special skills coach, or a private coach, or get them on a better travel team, then they’ll begin to live up to expectations. In short, more often than not in our competitive youth sports world, this is the typical knee-jerk reaction from the parents.

But are we doing our children a disservice by jumping in and doing these kinds of things? Would they be better off if we simply left them alone, and if they don’t get better in a sport, well, that’s okay. Their world — nor ours — won’t come to an end.

Or, if the kids do want to get better, they will find their own pathway to improve their skills. After all, isn’t that what we did growing up, back in the day before parents were so involved in kids’ sports?

As Kelly Wallace writes:  There is no question that one of the most difficult things about being a parent is letting our children stumble, fail, make mistakes. From her perspective, making mistakes and failing is all part of maturing as kids.

But does that approach work with kids and sports? That is, at some point, especially at the youth level where kids are first learning the basic skills of a sport, they DO need to be coached and taught. I do feel that any youngster just starting out in sports needs the benefit of some solid coaching on the basics, everything from the rules of the game to learning how to develop individual skills that will help their appreciation of the sport.

Yet to me, the key difference is that it’s always much, much better if the youngster comes to the coach or to you, their parent, and asks to help them with their soccer dribbling, or fielding in baseball, or in shooting a basketball. If they have the inherent drive and motivation to come to you to improve their game, then it’s fine for you to help out. Why? Because it’s the CHILD who is showing the desire to get better – NOT the PARENT dictating to the child. And to me, that’s a big difference.

Several of the callers brought up this theme this morning on the radio show, and I couldn’t agree with them more. Too many parents take the attitude with their youngster with: “Hey, don’t you want to get better in sports? Don’t you want to be as good as your friends?” As you might imagine, that kind of negative motivation does not work, and yet too many parents think it’s an appropriate kind of statement.

Bottom line? Yes, especially when kids are just starting out in sports (up to age 9), it’s perfectly fine to let them explore all sorts of sports, and see which of them appeal to them. And if they enjoy a sport or two, chances are they will want to come back to it, over and over again, and at some point, will come to you for some coaching tips.

That’s the best solution. Because the initiative is coming from your child – not from you the parent.

 

 

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: What’s the Key Ingredient for Young Athletes Today?

 Advice From the Pros to Parents and Coaches

By Doug Abrams

In the Sun Herald late last month, writer Patrick Ochs reported on a talk that former all-star outfielder Darryl Strawberry delivered in Biloxi, Mississippi. Reflecting on his 17 seasons in Major League Baseball, Strawberry spoke about youth league parents who stunt their players’ development by sapping their enthusiasm for the game.

“We need to get back to letting kids have fun and enjoy themselves,” said Strawberry. “Parents need to chill out. Don’t go to games yelling. Let them play.” The eight-time all star does not like what he sees. “Parents today push their kids and before you know it they’re 18, 19 and don’t want to play anymore.”

His solution? “We just have to get back to understanding that the game is fun. . . . It’s fun. Fun. Remember, fun.”

Bjorn Borg

Strawberry is the latest former professional star to talk about fun to youth league parents and coaches. Earlier last month, CNN’s Sophie Eastaugh wrote about an interview that former tennis great Bjorn Borg gave to Open Court’s Pat Cash. “When we’re traveling around Sweden we see all these crazy parents, I mean it’s unbelievable,” said Borg. “[Y]ou can see sometimes the kids don’t want to play. It’s like the parents push them to do something they don’t want to do.”

Borg’s bottom line about youth tennis? “At this age, it has to be fun.”

John Smoltz

In his 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech, pitcher John Smoltz also stressed fun as an emotional foundation of youth sports. At the same time, he warned about physical excesses, including premature specialization in one sport and what he called the “epidemic” of Tommy John surgeries stemming from overuse of youthful pitching arms.

“I want to encourage the families and parents that are out there to understand that this is not normal to have a surgery at fourteen and fifteen years old. That you have time, that baseball’s not a year-round sport. That you have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports,” said the perennial major league all-star who played three sports each year in his youth.

Since his induction in Cooperstown, Smoltz has also emerged as a leading opponent of using radar guns to rate youth league pitchers. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports his advice that by encouraging youngsters to throw as hard as they can too often, this increasingly popular technology can actually damage their arms and their future prospects.

Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr

Two hockey legends also stress fun and decry premature specialization. Wayne Gretzky was a multi-sport athlete in his youth, and in the Globe and Mail he said that he encouraged his five children to have fun with various sports. “Just go out and play,” he told them. “Just enjoy it. . . . Learn what it’s like to be around your teammates – the highs of winning and the lows of losing.”

“The love and passion I had for the game was my key,” says Bobby Orr, who remains thankful that he “never had that taken out of me by my parents or a silly coach.” “I have stacks of clippings that tell of children being berated by an angry parent, humiliated by a frustrated coach,” he told the Boston Herald. “We’re talking about serious hurts, damaging blows, very personal wounds, all knowingly inflicted by adults who ought to know better.”

Orr told the Toronto Star that when parents and coaches stray, the problem “usually takes care of itself. The player will eventually quit hockey; it’s as simple and sad as that.”

Striking a Common Chord

This accumulated wisdom from these and other pros about emotional and physical excesses in youth sports should resonate with parents and coaches. The pros know what they are talking about.

After moving up from rung to rung, the pros have reached the pinnacle of their games and they are looking down from the top. They know what it takes, and they know what wise parenting and wise coaching can mean to the minuscule few youth leaguers who make it big, but even more important to the multitude who do not. These elite athletes speak from the heart because usually they are not talking only about their own children. They are talking about what is best for the millions of American kids who play sports every year.

Virtually all of these athletes strike the same refrain – make the game fun, maintain perspective, don’t burn out the kids, don’t physically overtax their young bodies. If more parents and coaches took this advice, perhaps the percentages of youth leaguers who quit playing by about the age of 13 would fall below the usual range of about 70%.

Listening to star professional athletes talk about nurturing young athletes must resemble listening, say, to a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry talk about what makes high school chemistry classes work. The Laureate may say the same things that the local high school chemistry teacher says. Parents may think that they know better than the teacher, but it is hard for parents to close their ears to someone whose resume includes a Nobel Prize.

Parents and coaches similarly may think that they know better than the array of youth sports reform voices who have been sounding the alarm for the past several years. But it is quite another thing for the adults to close their ears to someone whose resume includes major league stardom and perhaps a Hall of Fame nod.

More youth leaguers would be much better off if more parents and coaches would listen to the wisdom that the pros speak in unison.

 

Sources: Patrick Ochs, Darryl Strawberry Has the Best Advice For Baseball Parents, Biloxi (Miss.) Sun Herald, June 28, 2016; Sophie Eastaugh, Bjorn Borg Shocked By “Crazy Tennis Parents”, CNN, June 16, 2016; John Smoltz, Hall of Fame Induction Speech, http://genius.com/John-smoltz-hall-of-fame-induction-speech-annotated (July 26, 2015); Mike Luck, Smoltz: Radar Guns Not Good For Youth Sports, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Jan. 12, 2016; Eric Duhatschek, The Great One’s Message to Parents: Let Your Kids Have Fun, The Globe and Mail, Sept. 26, 2008, p. A3; Joe Fitzgerald, Adult Egos Stick It to Youth Sports, Boston Herald, Mar. 14, 2012, p. 10; Bobby Orr, Orr: My Story (2013); Stephen Whyno, Hockey According to Bobby Orr, The Canadian Press, Oct. 16, 2013, p. S3; Paul Irish, Orr’s Hockey Message? Have Fun: NHL Legend Says Parental Pressure Can Make Kids Quit, Toronto Star, Oct. 15, 2012, E5.

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.

QUOTING DAVID DENBY OF THE NEW YORKER

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.

LIVING UP TO ONE’S POTENTIAL

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.

 

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: More and More Youngsters Are Quitting Sports Because They Sense They’re Not Good Enough…

 A New Canadian Report Holds Lessons For American Youth Sports

By Doug Abrams

In early May, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) wrote a series of articles about Sport & Belonging, a new report that spotlights excesses that mark many youth sports programs in that nation. The report’s influence should not stop at the border because similar excesses mark many youth sports programs in the United States.

In both nations, many sports programs conduct travel or elite teams for players at younger and younger ages. Programs ramp up the pressure by creating longer seasons, and by dismissing greater encroachments on family life. Programs tolerate cutting or benching of youngsters judged less talented by coaches who are ill-equipped to make such profound judgments about elementary school children. Pressure leads some parents and coaches toward confrontation, violence, or other misconduct. About 70% of youth leaguers quit by the age of 13, often burned out from too much adult pressure imposed too early.

Pressures on Youth Leaguers

The new report was prepared by Vital Signs, in partnership with the True Sport Foundation. (Vital Signs is a network of more than 190 community foundations devoted to enhancing the quality of life throughout Canada; the True Sport Foundation advances fairnessexcellenceinclusion, and fun as the core values of sport for Canadians of all ages.) The report’s researched findings about the nation’s youth sports programs include these:  

3 out of 4 children and youth ages 5-17 are active in sport, but participation rates peak at age 10 to 13 and then decline steadily and dramatically with age”;

In Canada and globally, 5- to 19-year-olds say lack of enjoyment, feeling they are not good enough to play and an increase in family and intrapersonal stress were the most common reasons for dropping out of sport”;

“[T]he most important factors in sport drop-out rates include lack of fun, stress, too much competition and negative coach or parental behavior.”

Sport & Belonging also reported that a bulk of Canadians believe that the nation’s youth sports programs give short shrift to values. “4/5 believe that promoting positive values in youth should be a priority for sport in Canada, but fewer than 3/5 believe community sport currently reinforces them.” Not only that, but “almost three-quarters (73%) of Canadians say children’s sport has become too focused on winning at the exclusion of fun and fair play.”

Pressures on Parents

CBC Sports writer Jamie Strashin places much of the blame on an environment that leads kids as young as eight to quit because “they think they’re not good enough” when they are cut from a travel or elite team that is driven by “the hyper-competitive environment that lords over most youth sports.” A North Vancouver youth soccer coach told CBC News writer Gavin Fisher that scheduling too many practices and games can kill many kids’ passion for sport by the time they reach their early teen years. “If your child is playing more games than an NHL player,” says the coach, “you seriously have the balance wrong.”

Sport & Belonging also finds that youth sports can exact a heavy toll on Canadian parents themselves. Despite the demonstrated benefits of lifelong physical exercise, sports “[p]articipation rates for adults are dropping in every province,” and “7 out of 10 Canadians aged 15 and older . . . do NOT participate” actively in sports at all. Among the nation’s adults, the shift “from player to spectator at amateur events . . . almost doubled from 24% to 40%” from 2006 to 2010.

A suburban Toronto physician offered Strashin this reason for the drop: “People often tell me, ‘Doctor, I don’t have time to exercise. I’m too busy taking my kids to sports. . . . The emphasis on kids’ sports has completely wiped out parents’ ability to keep themselves healthy.”

The “Youth Sports Arms Race”

By spotlighting the physical and emotional toll on players and parents, Sport & Belonging raises provocative questions about the potentially harmful effects of the escalating “youth sports arms race.” Many parents today are too young to remember the Arms Race that pitted the United States against the Soviet Union during the Cold War from 1945 until the Soviet state dissolved in 1991. The Arms Race was fueled by mutual fear of falling behind. When one nation built X nuclear warheads, the other nation would respond by building X+. Year after year, each nation would continue stockpiling more armaments to maintain perceived superiority.

Many adults today similarly fear that “if the next town’s team played 40 games for six months last year, our team had better play 50 games for seven months this year, or else our kids will fall behind.” Or that “if Johnny and Susie down the street get expensive private coaching, then our Billy and Mary must get it too, and maybe for more hours a week.”

Youth sports seasons can consume six months or more, plus playoffs and tournaments. “The big machine doesn’t stop eating until it has chewed up all twelve months of the calendar year,” says former NBA player Bob Bigelow, who has spoken about youth sports reform to audiences in the United States and abroad for nearly 30 years.

Many youth teams play too many games. In my 42 years as a youth hockey coach, our teams never played more than about 30 games in seasons that ran from early October to the first week or so in March, including playoffs in many of those years. I doubt that playing 60 games rather than 30 would have produced players twice as talented. The Law of Diminishing Returns suggests that a 53rd game would not have honed skills, but that it would have encouraged burnout, increased the risk of overuse injuries, and intruded unduly on academics and other aspects of family life that the parents also valued.

With about 70% of kids dropping out of sports by the age of 13, our youth hockey program’s negligible or non-existent dropout rates each year (even among teen players) suggested that our robust but reasonable game schedule “kept the fires burning.”

Over-indulgence comes with a price. In his excellent book, Just Let the Kids Play, Bigelow quotes former San Francisco Giants baseball player, Erik Johnson:  “I see a lot of burnout. It used to be high school, but now it is ten-, eleven- and twelve-year-old kids. The kids get fried.”

A More Wholesome Balance

The new Vital Signs report comes on the heels of polling data that suggests that many American parents would welcome a more wholesome balance between their children’s organized sports and other aspects of family life. For example, a nationally representative poll of parents, released early in 2014 by espnW and the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program, found that “seven in ten parents have concerns about both the time commitments and rising costs of participation in youth sports.”

The espnW-Aspen poll reaffirms findings reported a year earlier in a poll conducted by the online market research company uSamp at the request of i9 Sports, a youth sports league franchise that stressed one-day weekly commitments, local play without long-distance travel, and focus on fun.

Sixty-eight percent of mothers responding in the uSamp poll said that their children’s youth sports involvement causes stress in their lives; 51% said that this involvement causes stress for the whole family. Twenty-four percent of mothers said that this involvement causes conflict with their significant other, and 24% said that they have resented their children because sports consumes too much time.

Of mothers who reported sports-induced stress, 87% blamed scheduling conflicts, including five-night-a-week commitments. Sixty-seven percent cited cost, and 53% said that their children’s sports deprived the family of holidays, weekends and free time. Seventy-six percent said that they are happy when the sports season is finally over.

A Silent Majority?

Rick Wolff reported on recent shows that, according to the Wall Street Journal and other sources, participation by 6-12-year-olds in team sports has declined since 2008 in the United States. No one reason alone likely explains the decline, but perhaps growing numbers of kids are turning their backs on artificial pressure as growing numbers of parents see youth sports moving in an essentially unhealthy direction.

When a hesitant parent sees other families fueling the youth sports arms race, the parent may feel guilty about being the “only” one who considers saying no. Each family must reach its own decisions about participation, pressure, burnout, and family balance. But polling data suggests that parents who want to slow the arms race have plenty of company. In some places, these parents may even be the Silent Majority.

Postscript. . . . Sport & Belonging also warrants attention because it stresses reforms designed to open sports to children other than ones discussed in this column, who have had the opportunity to participate. These reforms, also described by the Aspen Institute and other thoughtful American sources, include overcoming the chronic under-representation in the youth league ranks of such children as girls, at-risk youth, youth with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, and children from low-income families. In the United States and Canada alike, parents and coaches and league administrators should take these reforms seriously.

 

Sources: Vital Signs, True Sport Foundation, Sport & Belonging 6, 7, 16 (2016); Gavin Fisher, Too Many Practices and Games Are Killing Youths’ Enthusiasm For Sport, Coach Says, CBC News, May 11, 2016; Jamie Strashin, Why Your Kids’ Sports May Be Bad For Your Health, CBC Sports, May 11, 2016; Jamie Strashin, No More Joiners: Why Kids Are Dropping Out of Sports, CBS Sports, May 19, 2016; Bob Bigelow, Tom Moroney & Linda Hall, Just Let the Kids Play: How to Stop Other Adults from Ruining Your Child’s Fun and Success in Youth Sports (2001), pp. 97, 113; Tom Farrey, ESPN Poll: Most Parents Have Concerns About State of Youth Sports, espnW.com (Oct. 13, 2014); i9 Sports Survey – Moms Stress Over Sports (2013); Brooke de Lench, Balancing Sports and Family: 13 Tips for Parents, http://www.momsteam.com/successful-parenting/balancing-sports-and-family-13-tips-for-parents .

 

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.

 

 

TRENDS: What Will The Next Generation of Sports Parents Be Like?

Have you ever wondered what kinds of sports parents our children will become when they reach their 20’s and 30’s? In effect, what the next Generation of Sports Parents will be like?

Will they become even more super-competitive than we are? Will they try to start their kids (our grandchildren) on an elite athlete pathway at even younger ages? Will they become even more super-competitive, even to the point where they plan and plot the birthdays of their own offspring so that their children end up as the older kids, born right after the cutoff date for travel teams?

Or will these parents go in a totally different direction, and not get involved in in their kids’ sports at all? Just let them do whatever they want to do?

 

I asked this question on WFAN Radio this AM, and had a number of intriguing responses (be sure to find the complete podcast at WFAN.com).

Here’s the problem. In my knowledge and ongoing research, there are no long-range psychological studies as to what we will happen to our kids as they become the Next Generation of Sports Parents.

In other words, in our culture presently, where being the top or premier athlete is seemingly all that counts, have we reached a point where we are pushing too hard on our kids? Are they playing for the dream to turn pro….or just to please us and our egos?

Furthermore, has the fun really been bleached out of the equation? Think about that. From the 1920s to the 1980s, when sports were mostly pick-up games organized by kids and there was minimal parental involvement, we played for fun. But ask yourself: do our kids play for fun? Will our grandchildren play for fun?

I don’t know about where you live, but in my community, I rarely see any kids these days playing pick-up basketball, or touch football, or even soccer matches. Baseball or softball? Not a chance. Ironically, the athletic facilities have never been more plentiful or in better shape. But let’s face it: unless kids play in organized leagues or games sanctioned by parents, you just don’t see kids playing games with their friends It’s pretty much gone from the American landscape. And that doesn’t bode well for the next generation of athletes.

THE CLASSIC STATISTIC

You have all heard this statistic before from the Institute of Youth Sports at Michigan State: that 74% of all kids quit playing sports when they’re 13. …But my theory is this is not all due to burn out. Rather, it’s because kids by that age realize that they’re not going to be a star, so why make the effort? Why bother continuing to play sports through HS and go through all the work and effort that entails if they don’t think that’s going to add to the resume.

What about having fun playing ball for your school team? Doesn’t that count for something? Sorry. Apparently, not any more. A generation ago, making the HS varsity was not only a big deal in one’s town, but it also meant a great deal of fun playing with one’s buddies and friends on the school team. Kids weren’t driven about getting a college scholarship; they were more focused on having a successful season and beating their cross-town rival.

But these days, we’re made our kids mindful of their individual stats, and generating video tape that might capture the eye of a college coach. Would it be nice to have a winning year and beat the school rival? Sure, that’s fine, but too many parents have their kids looking beyond HS to college sports programs.

What gets squeezed out? Having fun. Generating memories. In short, being a kid. Those all get pushed to the side.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Sadly, the majority of the callers today felt that things are only going to get worse as our kids become sports parents. We’ve done TOO good a job in teaching them how to find that extra advantage, that extra edge to make them superior to their peers in sports. And when they have kids of their own, the consensus was that the lessons we taught our kids about how to get ahead in sports will not be forgotten.

As for fun? Well, that’s not a top priority these days, and most likely won’t be for the next generation either.

What a shame.

 

 

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: New Jersey Divides Public HS Football from Non-Public Programs

The issue of whether public high schools should compete against non-public high schools (meaning private or parochial schools) has been a hot button issue for a long time, and in a lot of different states.

But in New Jersey, this has been a point of contention for several years now, especially in the area of HS football. Over the last decade or so, some of the northern non-public HS football programs have become real powerhouses. I’m talking specifically about schools like Bergen Catholic, St. Joe’s, and Don Bosco. And there are others as well.

Please note that there’s nothing wrong about this. Nor is it illegal. These schools have long recognized that, unlike public HS football teams which are restricted to just those students who live within that school’s district, the non-public schools can and do open their doors to kids from all over. Not just nearby, but some of these student-athletes commute a long distance on a daily basis. Others even come in from neighboring states.

What’s the attraction? Well, for starters, these powerhouse programs have developed into a great showcase for top college coaches, who are eager to scout these top athletes. And of course, as these programs grow in stature and in financial ways, they are able to schedule and compete against other top non-public schools from around the country. I covered the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, a few weeks ago in this space, and IMG is one of the premier HS football teams in the country. And they play against schools like St. Joe’s and Bergen Catholic.

Meanwhile, as for the public HS programs, they keep chugging along, and doing their best against these powerhouse programs, as they often appear on their schedule. You can just imagine if you were a top player for a public school, and when your team gets trounced by a top non-public school, that coach might suggest you ought to consider your talents to a better program….like his.

Now, for public HS coaches, for the most part they have been fed up by this growing disparity. I mean, every athlete and coach wants to compete on a level playing field. But clearly when one team is stacked with great talent from all over, the other team is quickly overwhelmed and demoralized.

NEW JERSEY RULES IN FAVOR OF COMMON SENSE

Two weeks ago, the athletic directors of NJ made history. They passed a strong resolution to separate the non-public football teams from playing the public teams. The measure still has to be affirmed by the Commissioner of Education in NJ, but for me, as an outsider, this just seems like a common sense move.

Let the powerhouse programs play each other. Let the public schools play against the other public schools. There’s no need to try and make a case that this is unfair or wrong. And yes, I recognize that, every so often, a public school football team will upset a powerhouse private school.

But for the most part, as one public HS coach said, “Look, those schools are apples. My school is orange.”

And that’s correct. Over the long haul, there’s no way that growing non-public football programs are ever going to be equal with the local public schools. In this day and age of increased competition and elite programs, kids will have to decide whether they want to enroll in a powerhouse program and run the risk of being a third or fourth stringer and rarely playing. Or would they have more fun playing at the local public HS where they can be a starter and maybe even a star.

Again, this is HS football. Not college ball. To me, it’s a no-brainer. The fun still resides in playing in the games. Play for your local HS team. And remember, if you really do become a star, you can always go on and play in college.

Meanwhile, as one caller asked, “If this is being done in football, why not continue the concept with other sports in NJ, like basketball and baseball?”

Good question. And yes, it’s also a good idea.

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: The List of “Don’t Assumes”……

I became involved in the world of sports parenting in the early 1990s when I was serving as the roving sports psychology coach for the Cleveland Indians. During those years, my own three kids were very young and just being introduced to the uncharted territory of youth sports. I was curious as what they (and my wife and I) might expect as they entered in the wild frontier of sports.

I wrote my first sports parenting book, GOOD SPORTS, which was published in 1992  by Dell. It was meant to provide an overview and prescriptive advice for Moms and Dads who had kids in sports. I recall doing doing hours of research for the book, and discovering so little in the library (this was, of course, pre-Internet and Google) about sports parenting. But there was certainly enough to fill the book, and as the years have progressed, the interest in this challenging topic has only grown more and more.

A few years after the GOOD SPORTS book came out, I was hired by Sports Illustrated to write a few columns on youth sports. But the response to those columns was so overwhelmingly positive that SI asked me to keep writing more columns. Over the course of the next ten years, I wrote hundreds of pieces for SI.  By then, and judging from the bags of mail I received each week, parents (and coaches) everywhere were looking for answers and guidance. It was clear that sports parenting was becoming more and more complicated. Ultimately, all of this led to my weekly sports parenting show on WFAN Sports Radio in NYC, which I have hosted and produced for close to 17 years.

The reason I mention all of this is because  it’s become clear to me that each year, an entire new group of young sports parents come into focus. Yes, they may have played sports themselves as kids, and they love sports, but as sports parents, they are often not prepared to know what it means when their little one takes the field for the first time.

To that end, I wanted to take a moment to present a short list for new sports parents. In other words. if the world of sports parenting is new to you, you might find this helpful:

THE LIST OF DON’T ASSUMES….

Dear new Sports Parent:

Don’t assume….you know how to coach kids just because you used to play the sport. Playing the sport…and coaching it…are two different talents.

Don’t assume….you know how to handle your emotions when you watch your kid play. The truth is, very few of us can. Instead of grimacing during a game, do the best you can to put a smile on your face.

Don’t assume….you know how to talk to your child after a game is over. Give them plenty of time to chill in the car on the way home. DO NOT give them a post-game analysis. Let them doing the talking about the game – not you.

Don’t assume……you know the rules better than the ref or umps…especially if it’s a sport you didn’t play as a kid. For example, I never played soccer, ice hockey, or lax as a kid. So when my kids played those sports, I had to learn the rules for the first time.

Don’t assume….your child is blessed with unique and special athletic talent….chances are he or she isn’t. Yes, you want them to reach their full athletic potential, but let’s be candid: you have a better chance of winning the lottery than of your kid being the next great professional superstar.

Don’t assume……you know more about game strategy than the coach does….if you do, then maybe you should coach next year.

Don’t assume……the other parents on the sidelines look upon you as some of sports expert, that somehow you know more about the sport than they do. Best bet? Keep your comments to yourself. You never know who’s listening.

Feel free to download this list of Don’t Assumes and share it with your youth league administrators. In the meantime, my show airs live each Sunday from 8-9 AM EST on WFAN Sports Radio. You can stream it live on WFAN.com, and if you miss a show, you can link to each week’s podcast.