How Did We Go Wrong As Sports Parents?

Not too long ago, I received a call from a well-intentioned dad who explained that he was an avid listener to my WFAN sports parenting show, and he wanted to ask my advice about his son, who he explained was a promising baseball pitcher. There was just one catch...
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This is a true story.

Not too long ago, I received a call from a well-intentioned dad who explained that he was an avid listener to my WFAN sports parenting show, and he wanted to ask my advice about his son, who he explained was a promising baseball pitcher.

In short, the father wanted to know if I could recommend any advanced summer baseball camps or private pitching tutors who could help develop this young man's pitching talents.

We chatted for a few minutes and I gave him a few tips. Towards the end of the conversation, the proud papa thanked me for my time, and then added, "Y'know, Rick, between you and me, I really do think my kid has a good shot at playing pro ball."

Impressed, I then asked where the boy went to high school, with the thought that maybe I should go watch him pitch a game.

The dad laughed heartily: "Naw, my son's not in high school yet... he's only nine!"

Funny story, but I've been tracking the world of sports parenting for more than twenty-five years, and I've come to this conclusion: That, for better or for worse, many of today's sports parents have morphed into becoming fully engaged sports agents upon behalf of their athletic youngsters.

By weekday, Mom and Dad go about their everyday jobs and careers, but if their son or daughter has ever shown the smallest spark of athletic ability, these well-meaning parents pick up on that talent quickly. They begin to dream that their kid might very well be the next Carli Lloyd or Matt Harvey. It's at that point that the sports parent decides that they need to look out for their child's athletic future and begin to filter their kid's activities only as they relate to sports.

Today's sports parents are sophisticated and usually work in a subtle and behind-the-scenes manner in a discreet manner. They are more likely to want to "befriend" the high school coach, or travel team coach, or athletic director in a controlled manner. These are the sports parents who feel compelled, indeed almost entitled, to approach their kid's coach if a sudden obstacle pops up in their kid's march to fame and fortune, as in:

"Coach, how come you had my Sally sitting out in the second half? She's clearly our best player... don't you want to win?"

"Coach, my son tells me you're trying to change his batting stance. You should know that he worked all winter with a private batting coach, and in truth, we're pretty happy with his current stroke."

"Coach, I know the varsity has a big game this weekend, but my boy has been selected for a high-powered showcase. He's going to attend that, because there will be lots of college coaches there. I'm sure you understand..."

These kinds of conversations happen everywhere in this new world of sports parenting. The irony is that these moms and dads are solid citizens who go to church, pay their taxes on time, and only want their best for their children. But when it comes to their kid's athletic career, that's when their competitive juices begin to flow. In short, today's sports parents are looking for any kind of advantage or edge that will propel their kid onto the fast track to a college athletic scholarship or perhaps even a professional contract.

This is why travel teams are popping up routinely for kids as young as six or seven years old. The general belief among these sports-ambitious moms and dads is that the sooner my youngster can get on a superior travel team, the faster their skills will develop. Think I'm kidding? I was reading not along ago about a new soccer clinic in Los Angeles for kids who just turned two years old. And the soccer clinic's business was booming.

Never mind that there are classic studies from Michigan State's Institute for Youth Sports which says that 74 percent of all kids who play organized sports will quit by the time they turn 13. Or that athletic burnout has become a real threat for kids who play sports all year round.

Then there's the harsh reality that too many parents seem to forget that once a youngster reaches their adolescent years, everything can change dramatically due to teenage hormones. Short kids suddenly sprout and grow tall. Chubby kids who were slow begin to lose the baby fat and become quick. Kids who were early bloomers and big for their age in elementary school stop growing and then watch their peers catch up to them in size and strength.

But again, today's sports parents don't miss a trick. This is why lots of sports parents decide to hold their athlete, um, student, back a year in school. They're convinced that it's better for their kid's overall development (read: athletic development) if he's one of the bigger and older kids in their grade, instead of being the youngest.

So what's going to happen next? That's hard to predict. On one hand, there's no question that today's kids are bigger, stronger, faster, and more talented that we were. But that being said, I often whether our kids have as much fun playing sports as we did. It's hard to have fun when you're always pressing to get the next level.

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