Tag Archives: value

Stop Turning Youth Athletics Into More Than It Actually Is

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Heads up parents, this post is going to sting.

Your child:

  • Is not going to play professional lacrosse
  • Is not getting recruited to play at Maryland, LeMoyne, or Lynchburg
  • Is not scoring the winning goal in the high school state championship
  • Is not getting All-American honors as a freshman on the Varsity roster
  • Is not getting “Most Improved Player” on his youth team

Your child is not getting any of this. At least not right now. Or even tomorrow, or next week, or a year from now. All your child is doing tomorrow, next week, or next year is playing and practicing lacrosse along with homework assignments, other sports, sleep overs, pool parties, movie nights, and family vacations.

AYL has posts up about recruiting and parental responsibility regarding a child’s athletic development. We maintain a strict policy on how every fan should behave at all of our games, practices and league events. We put a great deal of responsibility on the young players to bring their own gear and take ownership of the game they are coming to love. As I’ve said in numerous posts I do not have children so I am not about to make this post about how to raise your player because I don’t know the first thing about child rearing. What I have is an outsider’s perspective, separate from winning and losing, that I want to share with every parent who has one or more children in any youth extracurricular activity. That perspective is one of a sports official who has seen many kids start playing the game in middle school, grow through high school, and head off to college. I’ve seen the successful players and the not-so successful players go on with their lives, but I noticed that the successful players tend to have one thing in common: their parents got out of the way unless asked.

I’ve seen middle schoolers stunned speechless by their parents critiquing their ground ball technique after a game, and other kids reduced to tears because their mom or dad thought the kid should’ve scored that goal in the third quarter. Parents who do this adulterize their child’s sport. They swoop in like some out of town interloper and steal the game away from their kids. These parents are sport-adulterers and they’ve gotten rid of the “youth” in “youth athletics.” Now it’s just “athletic development pursuant a full collegiate scholarship, professional contract, or some high accolade.” See the problem? The sport-adulterers become their child’s agent. I’ve spent season after season deprogramming young players from their overly excited and demanding parents to just relax when they are on the field. It’s like every game is a tryout to these kids because of the pressure imposed by the parents.

I had one player that I constantly reminded to not pay attention to his parental unit on the sideline. I got him to understand that I as the coach was the only adult voice that he cared about when he played. The best part is how great the young kid played when he wasn’t beholden to some arbitrary performance level. His parents wanted him to score three goals a game and they let him know it – he never scored. When I rebuilt his operating system I wanted him to relax, have fun and smile – he scored five goals in our next game. Suddenly I’m a great coach who understood the value inherent in the young kid that his parent’s thought never shined in the old coach’s system. Not the case. I simply allowed the young player to play like a young player. Oh, the kid was eight and a half by the way.

The worst part is how innocent-sounding these parent’s justifications are:

  • “I just want little Johnny to have more confidence on the field.”
    • Translation: My kid needs to go to the goal more often.
  • “I just want little Timmy to get tougher”
    • Translation: My kid never gets ground balls. Maybe we should invest in an athletic trainer so he gets more explosive.
  • “I’m just not seeing any improvement.”
    • Translation: What if a scout sees my player now and isn’t impressed? His whole chance to get a scholarship will be ruined!
  • “He/she doesn’t seem to be having fun anymore.”
    • Translation: I don’t get it, I’ve invested thousands of dollars over the last three years in his athletic development, he plays all year for two different travel teams, and I’m sending him to a recruiting camp for four days. He just seems to be going through the motions and I’m worried all of this money I’ve spent is going to waste because he is spending more time playing flag football with his friends in the park.

If you want to be your child’s agent then go all the way and actually hire an agent. I’m sure the big names agencies are stoked about signing your twelve year old who shows great potential (sarcasm). I’m being sarcastic because it is the only way I can discuss this issue without breaking down into tears. I’ve seen too many young players quit before they turned thirteen because the adults around them were more interested in the final outcome than the process. It is the adults that care which team wins or loses the U13 championship game at a summer tournament because they think it means more than it actually does. What does it actually mean? I say it means less than the plastic the trophy was made out of.

I won championship games in the spring and summer during my youth lacrosse days. I know I won because I have warm, happy feelings thinking back to those games. What I don’t remember is more significant:

  • I don’t remember what my team name was for any of the championship/playoff teams I was on
  • I don’t remember what the final score in any of those games were
  • I don’t remember what the championship t-shirt looked like
  • I don’t even remember if I had a good game or not

I do remember that I had fun, and because I had fun I stuck with it past thirteen and got to be a pretty decent player. These days I officiate, which has completely changed my understanding of what achievement and accolades are all about. I was the Chief Bench Official for the Georgia 1A-4A State Championship Lacrosse game in 2013 between Westminster and Northview. It took five years of hard work to become the best official I could be before I was made the fourth man on a championship game crew. In my mind it was a huge accomplishment and a just award for the work I put in.

Here’s my point for this backstory – After the game no one cheered my name, no one asked for an autograph, no one gave me a trophy or a medal, and no one told me if I had a good game or not. All I knew for certain was that I did an exceptional job for my role in the crew. Officiating crews don’t get many accolades outside of the officiating world, but my internal knowledge that I did a good job was worth far more than any plastic championship trophy. Let’s teach our young players accurate self-evaluation, it will pay off better in the long run than pawning that plastic trophy.

What I love most about AYL is that we do everything with one core concept in mind – “it is all about the kids.” Everything we do is put up against that belief and that is why we are successful. I want kids to win, improve their game and grow as individuals. However, I will not stand for any adult that puts professional-level pressures on an eight and a half year old. Matt Ryan is paid to be under pressure and scrutiny, while your eight and a half year old probably doesn’t realize that you are paying for him to play. Keep that in mind next time you are on the sideline.

Cheers,
Gordon