I don’t have an answer, I’m hoping we can brainstorm and figure it out. But I do know we need one because I’m seeing this now becoming more normal, where years ago it was just a random observation. Insanity has become the norm. We’re chasing an outcome that isn’t realistic or even really often desirable.
I’m at a red light next to a park with my 14 year old daughter and it’s a beautiful day so we have the top off the jeep. Over on the field is what I’m assuming is a dad and his son. The little guy appears to be approximately 3 years old and is standing on home plate with a bat that’s as tall as he is. He’s struggling to get the thing up to his shoulder and my daughter and I are each saying, “awwwwww, he’s so cute!”
Dad winds up and throws a pretty fast pitch. Meredith and I look at each other. “What?” He’s 3 holy moly! The kid is fearless, takes a swing with this enormous bat and topples over as he misses it completely. Oh my, his dad must be so excited that he got that bat around! We both look over to dad on the pitchers mound. He grabs his hat and slams it into the dirt. “Stay on your feet! Keep your eye on the ball! How many times have I told you to stay on your feet!” Our eyes quickly dart back to the little boy, remember, he’s barely out of the toddler phase. He drops his head and gets up and drags the giant bat up over his shoulder. I may be crazy but he seemed to keep looking over at the pretty incredible playground not 50 feet away.
Then Meredith tells me a story of the day before while she was running over by another playground. A dad was playing football with his son, another under the age of kindergarten professional athlete in training. When he drops the ball he was forced to run laps around the playground.
I’ve spoken with new parents about the culture of sports and the answer I usually get is that they’ve heard its bad, but they don’t know the extent or details and certainly don’t think there’s any danger of them falling into that trap. But then they ask me questions like, do you know someone who does personal lessons for lacrosse? I’m thinking of signing my don/daughter up for a team because they will be old enough next year. Professional lessons, before they ever play on their first youth team. I cannot tell you how many private lessons people have tried to hire me for a child under the age of 7. I always say no.
This has been built. This system has been programmed. This has become the new normal. I don’t have the answers, I wish I did. I’d love to hear thoughts on this, not so much on blaming how it happened but how we can restore balance and truth back into sports. We need to start with education. Things people making money won’t tell you.
Do parents know that there are literally college programs at incredible schools out there who don’t have enough players and face possibly losing their sport, just waiting for your son or daughter to come play for them? Do they know that there are actually many college programs that take players who have never picked up a lacrosse stick before, and it’s not uncommon for them to learn the sport as an 18 year old and have a fantastic experience? My son who played 2 years of high school lacrosse and never touched a travel team is now loving life and playing D3 lacrosse at a college that’s a great fit for him and where he will have the opportunity for tons of playing time.
Do parents know that athletic scholarships are tiny even if you’re fortunate to get one. That there are thousands of unclaimed academic and memorial fund scholarships out there that no one even applies for? Do parents know that many kids who get picked up to play a top tier team may be the 46th person on a roster and never set foot on the game field? That they can be cut at any time? That an injury could mean the end of that scholarship and all that “investment” was for nothing? That the chase is more like a circle than to a finish line? And at the end of all that, then what? Do parents know, or are there even statistics on, the amount of kids that quit sports after or just before their senior year that were very dedicated and talented? Because after all that pushing, when it came down to it, they have other interests they can’t wait to explore. As a high school/college coach I see it all the time. Turns out that youth playing career was just that, a fun memory, but not their career path or even their college path.
It’s kind of like a dog chasing a tail. Running, working, strategizing, and then aha! You get the tail. But what does the tail give you? What are we chasing? Is the end result what we wanted? Or are we running in circles just to say we got it..whatever it is. Personally, I’d rather wag a tail than chase it. Find a balance that keeps athletics fun and as an enhancement to life in each moment as they live it, rather than a chase for some unrealistic outcome, some future glory, that many don’t want once they get it.