Monday, May 20, 2013

Let Them Play (If They Want)

Jason Gay, who was recently blessed with the birth of a son, has an insightful piece in today’s WSJ on Building a Child Sports Prodigy (Kidding):

I don't care if he plays anything. I want him to do what he wants. Of course: He may be falling behind. It may already be too late to produce a sports prodigy. We may have to cross the Brazil World Cup off the list. The Rio Olympics, too. He needs 10,000 hours. Isn't that the formula? Five figures of solid sports commitment—and boom—he's being overpaid by the Yankees.

Let's get an hour of practice done right now in the crib. Boom. Only 9,999 more to go.

Should I get him a coach? Does he need off-season training camps? A swing guru? A nutritionist? A nutritionist for his swing guru? Do I have any idea what I am getting myself into? My friends with older kids, it seems they are always either A) driving the car to a game, B) driving home from a game, or C) standing on a sideline at a game. They are soccer dads and hockey moms or in long, complicated relationships with lacrosse. They talk about travel teams like they're the chicken pox.

I love this and I am scared by this. I adored playing youth sports. But later on I was an umpire and referee for youth sports. I had parents run me down after games and yell at me. I learned curse words I didn't even know were curse words.

I was a referee for USA Hockey for a few years and can relate to this. The best of the job was being on the ice with the kids. The worst part was the parents and sometimes the coaches.

If you ever see me yell at a Little League umpire, just wrap me with duct tape and leave me in the dugout.

I want to approach it the right way. Is the right way even possible? Have fun, don't take it too seriously, forget who won five seconds after it's over. I want him to space out in the third quarter or forget to hit the cutoff man and have it be no big deal. I want the games to be funny. Like they are with the Mets.

Or maybe I need to push. He's not playing winter baseball or summer basketball. His spiral isn't perfect. Nick Saban has yet to make an offer. Coach K isn't interested. Should I be worried? His bench press is iffy. His vertical leap is unknown. I've timed him in the 40. He just lies there, sleeping, dreaming about milk.

This is the struggle that parents, I think especially dads, face with kids and sports. You really do want them to just have fun, but there’s also that nagging worry that not pushing-at least a little bit-is going to result in them missing out on opportunities. It can be a tough line to walk.

I'd say third-round pick at best. Maybe second if the Jets get desperate.

It's my fault. I don't give him much of a head start. I wasn't much of an athlete as a kid. I spent a zillion years in youth soccer and never once scored a goal. I raced cross-country and specialized in last place. I cannot teach him how to hit a curve. I can teach him how to catch a pop fly with his face.

But if he wants to play, he should try everything. Don't specialize. Experiment. Try baseball. Try badminton, volleyball, wrestling, lacrosse, squash, hockey, swimming, skateboarding, cricket, crew, anything. Try tennis, because it's the game my Dad taught me, and still teaches, 40 seasons in, at the high school not far from where I grew up. I bet his grandpa makes him try playing with a wooden racket just once. To give him respect for how they used to do it.

Try basketball, just to learn how to spell H-O-R-S-E.

Try golf, just to be humbled.

Try running, because it's so beautifully simple. You can run anywhere you go on the planet.

Try cycling, because when you really get pedaling, it feels like you're flying.

Try yoga...well, he's already tried yoga. Baby yoga classes, with his mom. This is what happens when you live in Brooklyn.

But I don't mind if he doesn't try any of these things. I want what any parent wants. I want him to be happy. I want him to find his own way.

Those goals are so simple and so sweet and yet at times they’re easy for parents to forget despite the best of intentions. Best of luck Jason.