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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 out 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.

Karen Cianci October 26, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Fantastic article !! Thank you for describing the truth in a way that we can laugh, because that is what sports parents need to do more -- LAUGH. It really is just a game. Now if only more coaches saw it this way......
Justin Folkwein October 26, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Thanks for the mention Ron. The kids did not believe that I would wear the dress, but I'm a man of my words. Alison said that she will never ever wear that dress again. One of the kids said that it made my butt look big. Their smiles were well worth the embarrassment. The kids are 11-12 though...I had to get that in there just in case some of them read the article. Nice job again Ron.
Tamara Kells October 29, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Love it, Ron! Jackson has an amazing grand father!
Keith O'Reilly October 30, 2012 at 02:27 PM
He can play both sports AND an instrument Ron. Keyboards are a good place to start because the child gets a great big dose of theory as well. When you can read music you have an easier time learning other instruments. When he is ready send him my way and I will teach him all about Zappa :)

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