In today’s column, I’m going to make a strong suggestion and try to make a case that perhaps there’s a better way to raise our kids in sports than what we’re currently doing.
Now, admittedly, this is something of a radical approach. I’m the first to admit that.
But the truth is….
I just don’t see any end or improvement to what’s happening now in the world of sports parenting. I don’t see any evidence that things are getting better.
You know the headlines: helicopter sports parents everywhere are over-involved…HS coaches are under siege and getting burned out and quitting…travel teams continue to be unregulated and travel coaches and teams don’t have to be certified by any local state or federal laws.
Kids everywhere feel they have to specialize in one sport at an increasingly early age….travel team tryouts add constant agonizing pressure to parents and kids.
We all know these realities….and yet…we don’t seem to have any ability to come up with a new or creative solution to any of this. It’s just become the hard-faced reality of youth sports in this country. In my opinion, we need to start focusing on how to change this.
Let’s face it, every year, there’s a new crop of sports parents who come onto the sporting scene, all of them hoping that their 5 or 6 year old is going to be something really special in sports. But for those parents who aren’t well versed in the sport, or aren’t educated in travel team mentality, they – and their kids – seem to be placed at an immediate disadvantage.
Parents look for answers and guidance everywhere — but of course, there are no guidelines. Parents assume that tryouts for travel teams are about all equal opportunity, not knowing that pretty much the entire roster has already been pre-selected by the coaches.
What about hiring a private coach? Sure. But how do you know which coach to hire? Just through word of mouth? Remember, Mom and Dad, you’re paying for this.
Meanwhile, every kid and their parents are hoping that maybe….just maybe…they will develop into that rare athlete: the one who stars in HS and on travel teams and gets that golden ticket to play in college.
But the bottom line is that for those very, very few and very rare athletes who DO get that golden ticket, all the others kids and their families will come away disappointed. They THOUGHT being on a travel team would make them good enough. They ASSUMED that being All-League made them special. They BOUGHT into the private coach telling them how good they were.
But of course, it just doesn’t work that way.
So….here’s a suggestion:
NATIONAL ATHLETIC BENCHMARKS
Suppose we had national athletic benchmarks for kids at age 10, 13, and 16?
These benchmarks of athletic ability would be totally objective standards that basically say to parents, that if your kid can’t perform at these very high levels, then the reality is that you need to know there’s almost zero chance of them getting a scholarship or turning pro.
In other words, compared to other kids the same age from around the country who are also chasing that same golden ticket, these standardized athletic tests show that your kid is just not projecting to be good enough.
Very simple. Very straightforward. No reason to sugar coat this. Let the youngster know he or she – when compared to other athletes their age – they simply don’t match up as compared to all the other kids their same age nationally who are pursuing the same goals.
These physical aptitude tests could consist of 6 to 8 basic tests: A kid’s jumping ability….their speed in a 60- yard dash…how good is their visual acuity (most major leaguers have 20-15 vision, not just 20-20)….overall strength in terms of weight lifting…one’s balance….eye-hand coordination….a kid’s current height….and weight…you get the idea.
Now, let be clear about this….the national scores they would be matching up against are NOT the AVERAGE or ACCEPTABLE physical abilities for a kid their age. We’re talking about the superior athletes and how they match up at the same age as your kid at age 13, or 16.
To do this, we would ask the medical experts and athletic trainers to come up with national standards in these kinds of athletic abilities, and then – just as kids take SAT or ACT standard tests for college admission , they can see how their athletic abilities compare with real college scholarship athletes.
That is, when a HS student takes the SAT or ACT tests, those are standard, universal scores that help inform the kid and their parents how they stack up against all the other HS students in the country. And of course, these scores go a long way in determining where they can get into college.
What does this all of accomplish in athletics? Well, for starters, it helps to give the parents a much clearer understanding of just how difficult it is for any athlete to compete at the highest levels.
That is, we keep telling parents that less than 4% of all HS varsity athletes will ever make any kind of sports team in college at any level. The problem is, of course, that the parents look at their own athlete and naturally assume that he or she is one of those 4%.
But by having these national standard numbers posted everywhere in schools, the parents will have to come to grips with the harsh reality that while their youngster is indeed a very big athletic fish in their local community, their community is just another small pond – and that there are thousands of comparable small ponds around the country.
It also sends a similar message to the athletes — that this is how your national competitors are checking in — and that maybe, just maybe, you might want to start thinking about another back-up passion in life besides playing sports.
My sense is that we have to start thinking proactively as to what and how we can change our current system. Or at least do something to better inform parents and their kids about what the future has in store for them.
HOW WOULD THIS WORK?
You could have benchmarks for such easily measured elements as:
Speed in a 40-yard sprint.
Physical strength (e.g. how much can a kid lift?)
Height and weight
For example, let’s take simple speed. By the time most college football wide receivers are, say, 16, — and I’m making these numbers up – I’ll bet they are very, very fast. Maybe the average speed for D-I wide receivers in a 40-yard dash is 4.4 or 4.5 seconds.
Okay….so your son is 16 and plays wide receiver on his HS team. What is his time in a 40 yard dash? Clearly if it’s not 4.5 or better, then it would appear he’s not going to be competitive in a sprint with all the other HS wide receivers – all of whom want football scholarships as well.
In other words, let’s start to develop some meaningful numbers along a range of athletic measurements so kids and parents and coaches know what the truth is.
Won’t this have the effect of just discouraging kids from competing? No, to me, it will have just the opposite effect. That is, kids will play sports SIMPLY because they’re fun to play….for the pure joy of playing….which is something we did a generation ago. We played sports because they were fun, no because we were chasing a college scholarship.
It will also send the message to parents and kids that while it’s great for your son or daughter to play, they had better realize that maybe there’s no real money in their future as an athlete. Yes, it will help them on their college application to be All-League or a team Captain in their sport, but that may simply help them get into a better academic college….NOT get them an athletic scholarship.
“But my kid has the heart of a lion,” I can hear parents saying, “And you can’ measure a kid’s heart.”
Well, that’s true. But unfortunately, if your boy is 5-11, 180, and plays linebacker in HS, there’s just zero chance of his being heavily recruited by any D-I schools. Even if he has great speed, his physical size is going to eliminate him. Why? Because college football coaches can find linebackers who are 6’3, weigh 225, and run with tremendous speed. Plus these kids also are blessed with great determination.
So, there’s no need to recruit a smaller and slower kid.
My point? Better to let this smaller linebacker know the truth while he’s 16 or 17, so that he can focus on developing other parachutes in life….AND he can still compete in HS football because he enjoys it – not because he’s thinking he’s going to play in college.
And what about travel programs and private coaches?
Well, the same rules apply. Your kid may be a talented travel player, but regardless of whether they play on an elite travel program or have a private coach who assures him he’s doing great and is on the fast track, the national benchmark numbers are going to be very hard to dismiss.
Look, kid, you’re really good….but you’re just not fast enough, or big enough, or strong enough to make the big jump to the next level.
What do you think? Is this approach a good idea? Or do you have another idea to educate sports parents and kids on the realities of competitive sports? Otherwise, the current issues we face today in sports parenting are just going to continue. And that’s what concerns me.