Feb 27, 2007
This may seem crazy coming from a man who makes a living through sports, but I think sports in this country are out of control, particularly youth sports. You’ve probably seen the video of that lunatic who attacked his son’s wrestling opponent, and we’ve all heard stories about other ridiculous parents in youth sports. I see a lot of problems with adults now who have their identities determined by their kids playing youth sports. That’s big enough of an issue, and merits a blog entry on its own, but the greater problem, I think, is the children themselves.
It’s very dangerous for a kid today to have sports be his or her identity because 98% of them will not play professional sports. I don’t have the figures, but I’d venture to say that over 80% of all child athletes don’t even wind up playing in college. In fact, one recent study I did see said 70% of child athletes quit at 13. So once a kid hits even 17 or 18, and sports are out of the mix, what kind of person do you have?
I’ll tell you what you’ll have more often than not: a very uninteresting person. I converse a lot with my kid’s friends, teammates, etc. and for the most part, I don’t think these kids have much to say. I can’t blame them, really. It’s not like they have time to read, follow current events, listen to good music, or watch a good film; they’re too busy juggling their rec league and all their travel teams. And of course there’s the annoying schoolwork that takes up some time.
And when sports is a kid’s only interest, the likelihood of burnout increases greatly.
I think I have a unique perspective because my two oldest sons are very different. My oldest is a very talented baseball player. He’s 14, and he’s played, in my estimation, about 325 games. This includes regular rec leagues, all-star teams, and separate travel teams. When I was 14, I had played in about 50. Thanks to all this, he’s burned out from baseball, and he’s not playing as well as he could be. And now he’s embarking on a high school career.
Here is where I could go off on a 10-page rant about how competitive and specialized youth sports are these days, and how, if you really want your kid to do well you better get him private coaching. It’s definitely true. Traditional coaches don’t coach anymore; if you’re not great and polished by the time you go to the tryout, you’ll be beaten out by someone who’s been training with a former pro for the last nine months. I must admit I recently took my kid to see former MLB player and the current head of the Dodgers’ minor league hitting, Bill Robinson, but that was only one lesson for one hour. I’m not going to give up on my kid playing high school baseball, so I have to do something to help him compete.
My younger son isn’t quite the athlete. He’s a reader, and he takes piano and drum lessons. He’s got a better personality than my oldest son, and although both are very good, my younger is a better student. He honestly has more knowledge about things like space, nature, etc. than many adults – and he’s nine. He’s more interesting than most adults. My younger son does play sports – soccer, basketball, and baseball – and he has his moments and is usually an asset to his team. But to him sports are just one piece of his childhood. He has no interest in practicing baseball, his best sport, in the fall. That’s soccer or basketball season and he only plays or practices the sports of the current season. He’s made some travel teams, and it’s been a nightmare experience for him that only alienated him from the sport. If he makes any more, we’ll probably say thanks, but no thanks. I’d much prefer him to read, travel, and develop a foundation for his upcoming adulthood, not try to kick a ball through a net.
I don’t know if my oldest son is going to have a successful high school career. To be quite honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if he wound up dropping baseball in 1-2 years. He has the talent to be an impact player all four years, and he might just be, if not a very, very good player. But I’m no longer sweating his baseball stuff, and I keep telling him to do his best with it and let the chips fall where they may. He will, too, because sports are no longer his identity. His identity right now is that he’s an A-B student at a college prep high school, a good musician who performs on stage, and also a baseball player.
Two years ago I witnessed my son hit three home runs over the fence in consecutive at bats in a 12-year old all-star game. As someone who loved baseball as a child, I couldn’t see myself being more proud of him. Just last week, he performed in a Pink Floyd tribute show at a local high school for the performing arts with other kids his age. I’m a huge Floyd fan, and I was definitely more proud of him.
Here’s a clip: