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Hopes for a Grandson's Future in Youth Sports

Ten years is a lifetime to a young athlete. Here's wishing he has the best of the coaches our there.

 

My grandson will be arriving any day. Maybe he’s here by now. It’s a rough journey through the birth canal for the participants, so I intend on giving the little guy some time to recover before introducing myself.

And though there will be that initial period of getting to know each other, I expect that we’ll become the best of friends. Grandparents have it like that — we can be their friends. Let them rebel against their parents. We’re owed at least that much.

In about five years, Jackson will probably ask his mom and dad if he can play a sport. I doubt anyone will care which one he chooses. When you’re 5, it’s just a ball and a bunch of friends trying to do what the coach is telling you to do.

In about 15 years, Jackson will most likely have found his way to his favorite sports — or not. Maybe he’ll enjoy playing an instrument more than throwing a ball around. Maybe he’ll be an academic genius and use his spare time writing editorial responses to the NY Times.

Or maybe he’ll have become jaded by too many coaches concerned about too many things that had little to do with nurturing his enthusiasm to continue playing.

I’ll bet Coach Justin’s players will all be back next season. He coaches a local football team of 7-, 8-, and 9-year-olds. He lost a bet to his team over the weekend. I don’t know the details. What I do know is that he showed up at Monday’s practice in a dress. The sight of a youth coach running around the practice field in a dress had to be beyond silly. Kids like silly.

I remember Coach Phil a few years back. His team of 12- and 13-year-old football players had made it to the league's championship game. During the final practice, Coach Phil pulled a soccer ball out from his bag and tossed it onto the field. Kids like surprises.  

I don’t recall who won the championship that season. And by the time his former players are telling the story to their college buddies, own children, or grandchildren, I doubt they’ll remember anything more than the night that a soccer game interrupted football practice.

I did a quick and unscientific study. I reached out to friends around the state who coach various youth teams: recreational, travel, elite, etc. I was hoping to gauge the success rate between the various leagues for jumping into the high school sports mix.

Let me tell you — by the time the ink on the high school coach’s lineup card has dried, most kids have exchanged their bodies and minds for new and improved versions of each. They often show little resemblance to the super studs or inferior duds who competed for stardom, survival, or both.

Studs and Duds — they get labeled early. And then if they are separated by ability, they will get labeled again until the lines between them eventually get redrawn and the judges get replaced by high school coaching staffs.

Without getting some type of enjoyment out of playing the game, the studs will choke on overkill while the duds eventually fall off the end of the bench and into something else.

It’s too bad because, according to my unscientific research, as the years pass, the gap between stud and dud oftentimes becomes miniscule. And sometimes (gasp) a stud turns dud or a dud blossoms into a stud (gasp again) by the time they hit high school.

We’re creating a youth sports’ system that revolves around the specialization and separation of the athletes while giving Mr. Disappointment and Mrs. Overuse Injury front row seats. The 10 years between start and restart seem more designed to satisfy the hopes and dreams of “Coach Parent” than mixing our children in the same sandbox and letting them figure out how to divvy up the pails and shovels. 

Yes, Jackson will be here soon. I have no idea what he’ll be encountering if he decides to play sports. Luckily for him, there are individuals such as VJ Stanley and organizations like the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports which states that “98% of athletes who specialize will never reach the highest levels of the sport.”

I hope Jackson’s parents will not be tempted into pushing him onto the single-track of low percentage dreams. I hope my grandson plays for a coach who comes to practice in a dress or uses a soccer ball to turn a football practice inside-out.

But mostly, I hope that my grandson enjoys playing several sports leading into high school rather than being too serious about mastering one. Numbers hardly lie. Kids can burn out.

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