I've been doing a weekly show on WFAN Sports Radio in New York City for the last 18 years. I focus exclusively on sports parenting issues.
Over the years I have discussed an extensive variety of topics, ranging from random drug testing of high school athletes, to legal issues regarding high football players deliberately hitting an unsuspecting ref from behind during a game, to why are boys allowed to play on girls' field hockey teams, to why zero tolerance policies should be used to keep rowdy sports parents on a short leash, and dozens more.
I usually get a healthy number of callers from listeners on these issues and others like them.
But a few weeks ago, I presented a question that I had never asked before. Quite simply, I wondered what the next generation of sports parents will be like. That is, when our current teenage athletes grow up and become parents themselves, will they be better sports parents than we are? Or will they be worse?
The response was overwhelming. The six phone lines that come into WFAN immediately lit up. Emails to my website, askcoachwolff.com, were off the charts.
I clearly had struck a nerve with this seemingly innocent question. Maybe, just maybe, in all of the ongoing debate about sports parenting issues today, nobody had asked this question before. In short, what kind of legacy are we leaving our kids?
Here's a quick sampling of the responses.
One parent said that our athletes today have developed a sense of entitlement because if things don't go right in their sports career, Mom and Dad are always there, always ready to intervene with the coach. The caller felt that attitude would carry over to the next generation.
Another felt that kids today don't seem to react as strongly to adversity as we did when we were playing sports. That is, if a youngster gets cut from a team these days, or doesn't get much playing time, then that's okay. They simply accept the disappointment, give up, and move on. Not knowing how to cope with setbacks did not bode well for our kids when they become parents themselves.
Another caller observed that kids today are much more focused on their own individual statistics and awards than focusing on the team's overall achievements. That is, with so many kids playing on travel teams and attending showcases in the hope of impressing college coaches, concerns about how the team is doing simply gets pushed to the side. It will be curious to see how this shift regarding "team" values carries over to the next generation.
One caller commented that kids today are much more aware of fair play when it comes to sports than we ever were -- that our athletes today are better trained when it comes to a sense of sportsmanship.
I pushed back on that one. It seems to me that when my generation grew up playing sports on playgrounds and sandlots, there were never any parents or refs around to intervene. If a game was interrupted by a debatable call, the players would argue for three or four minutes and then just declare a "do-over."
Nobody complained. The game continued. Everybody agreed that a do-over was fair play. I don't even know if kids today know what a do-over is. And I know the next generation certainly won't.
Another listener felt that today's teens will have their own athletes shy away from playing competitive sports because they don't want their children -- your grandchildren -- to have to suffer all the stress and anxiety of trying out for travel teams. That's a good point.
Let's face it -- we expose our kids to grueling tests of competition at very early ages, long before they even reach their teenage "growth spurt" years. If we're trying to develop top athletes in this country, our current approach of cutting kids from teams when they're 9 or 10 seems totally counterproductive.
Then there were some people who emailed me and wrote that when our kids become sports parents, they are going to be even more competitive than we were. That they will plan out well in advance how their kids are going to be raised playing sports, even making sure their offspring are born early in the year so that they end up being the oldest (and presumably biggest) kids on the travel teams. Most cut-off dates are January 1st.
Others took the opposite approach. They think that today's kids will grow up to totally reject traditional sports for their children, and will gently nudge them into individual sports, the kinds of sports most of us know very little about: extreme sports such as snowboarding, mountain biking, and skateboarding.
Other predictions included that with the next generation, three-sport high school athletes will become extinct. On the other hand, there was concern about focusing on just one sport all-year round. Repetitive use injuries didn't exist a generation ago. But these days, they account for half of the injuries of teenage athletes. In the next generation, such injuries will become epidemic.
Finally, a recurring theme was that our kids just don't seem to have as much fun, or draw as much enjoyment, from playing sports as we did. There was a sense that kids today look upon sports more as an obligation, simply as a means to get ahead, perhaps into a better college, or to earn a scholarship.
If that is true, then our legacy as sports parents will have left out the integral part of the athletic experience. For our generation, having fun was the basic driving motivation for us, not about getting ahead.
Here's hoping our grandchildren will discover the joy of playing sports that perhaps we didn't allow our own kids to have.
RICK WOLFF is a nationally recognized expert on sports psychology and sports parenting. Find him at www.askcoachwolff.com