16 Words for Dads: Week 5

Week 5:

Never let your child hear your voice when they are playing organized team sports. Never.

Okay, I know this one is going to get me in some trouble with some parents. Please let me elaborate.

I have been in organized sports for most of the past 40 years. As a player, coach, referee, fan, and most recently, parent, I have developed a pretty good sense of the games and the people who play and watch them. The stress that pervades throughout the ballfields and courts of America is getting worse not better. The level of importance we parents are placing on every at bat, every free throw, and every tackle is going beyond the pale. Parents are yelling more because they are vicariously living and dying with every play.

You may say, “I’m only yelling positive things.” Yes, but when your child hears your voice, they focus on it. They are reminded that you are there watching their every move, counting on them, ready to clap for them. You may think this is good. It isn’t. They need to concentrate on the game. If they are thinking about you and what you are yelling, what you are thinking, are you proud of them… they cannot concentrate. You want them to forget that you’re there. Let them hear the other parents. The din of the crowd, the cheers, laughter, clapping. Mostly, let them hear their coaches, because it is their advice that counts – not yours.

This is a tough one, I realize. Many parents just want to cheer on their kids. You can do that without getting up in their heads. Clap when they make a good play, cheer along with the rest of the crowd when they hit that home run, etc. Just stop with the instructions and little tips. Stop with the “Let’s go Jason…!” Little Jason doesn’t want your advice right now. He needs to get his head in the game.

Say it ain’t so, Greg…

Time was, when you disgraced the game of baseball, and were convicted of a felony, you were not invited back to coach children on how to play the game.

This was true during the infamous Black Sox scandal when one of the greatest players of his time, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson admitted to participating in the fixing of the 1919 World Series. (Jackson is portrayed in countless movie classics such as “Eight Men Out”, “Field of Dreams” and “The Natural” among others.) Legend has it that Jackson was leaving the courthouse in custody when a a young man stepped out of the crowd waiting to catch a glimpse of their hero and pleaded, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” Jackson, functionally illiterate but generally an honest guy responded with a simple, “I’m afraid it is, kid”.

Keep in mind, this was no run of the mill baseball player. Still to this day, his career batting average (.356) is the third highest in history. He still ranks #35 on the list of all-time greatest baseball players, and he continues to hold team records on the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox (for most triples and highest career batting average) some 90 years after he played the game. Babe Ruth claimed to have modeled his hitting style after Jacksons and he was voted the 12th best outfielder in the history of the game. Shoeless Joe had some game.

Although there are varying accounts of his involvement in the fixing of the games, the Commissioner of Baseball ruled that he cheated. Jackson was banned from baseball for life and remains ineligible for the Hall of Fame to this day. He and his wife returned to his native South Carolina and opened a dry cleaners and then a liquor store, which he operated until his death in 1951.

What’s my point? There used to be consequences for people, even those connected to professional sports, when they broke the rules.

Used to be.

I read yesterday in the New York Times that Greg Anderson has a new job. If you don’t know the name, Greg Anderson served prison time for conspiracy to distribute steroids and money laundering (to which he pleaded guilty) as well as contempt of court for refusing to testify before a grand jury. The people to whom he was distributing steroids? Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, among others. You may recognize those names – they are star major league baseball players.

How is Mr. Anderson spending his days? He’s coaching baseball to 12 and 13 year olds in California. Let that sink in a little before we go on… Don’t believe me? Read this… [NY Times Article]

I’m sure you’re thinking, well now that the New York Times has outed him, parents must be outraged. They are not. In fact, one mom had this to say. “The kids like him, and he’s a real friendly guy, so my husband and I don’t question it. Really, it’s kind of fun to have a celebrity coaching the team.”

Another parent said this. “My son said it was ‘cool’ to see his coach on TV.” Of course he left out the minor detail that the the reason guy was “on TV” was because he had been convicted on a felony! And for disgracing the very game this parent was now allowing him to teach his child!

The next time you hear someone bemoan “kids these days…” I hope you will correct them. It really isn’t kids these days – it’s parents. It’s parents who think it’s “fun” to have convicted felons…er, I mean”celebrities” coach their children. It’s the parents who think it’s “cool” to see your coach on a perp walk… as long as it’s on TV. It’s the parents (noun) abdicating their responsibility to actually parent (verb), and I hope you’ll remind them.

I also hope that, if you’re ever in California and you run into Greg Anderson, you’ll ask him a question for me. “Aren’t you supposed to be running a dry cleaners somewhere in South Carolina?”

Magic in the Backyard

“My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard.
Mother would come out and say, You’re tearing up the grass!”
My dad would reply, “We’re not raising grass, we’re raising boys.”

Harmon Killebrew, MLB Hall of Famer

Winter seems to be releasing us from it’s pitbull-like grip. Spring is here at last. I loathe the seemingly endless winters of Michigan. Once the basketball season is over there is nothing redeeming left until that first day when you can walk out of your house in bare feet. For many, they can tell spring is here by it’s colors, or perhaps the smells of flowers or fresh cut grass. For me, I can tell that spring is beginning to bloom in full because I can hear it in the backyard.

I have the privilege of working from home most days so I get to hear the action in the backyard late in the afternoons. The kids are playing. The shrill voices of pre-teen boys at play are unmistakable. Baseball is their game of choice this time of year. The evergreen tree on the right is first base, the maple tree in the center is second, the neighbors tree on the left is third base and, well… the dirt patch where they all stand to hit, that’s home of course. Anything hit over the house is a homer, but there is also a (literal) short porch in left that counts as a round tripper too. And of course, if anyone breaks the neighbors window… run! Ahem, I mean, of course, they will pay for it themselves.

The kids do much more than play in the backyard, of course. They also argue. They fight. They choose sides, many times unfairly. They make up rules, often times to purposefully give themselves an advantage. They will even make up entire new games, intentionally created because the other games were a little too difficult for them.

They also work things out. They settle disputes. They even the sides when necessary, and change rules back in order to be fair. They call bulls#@t when they see it, and have to cop to it when it was they who tried to put one over on their buddies. In short, they will learn how to become a member of the world. This tiny little world that they create and inhabit becomes their training ground. Not just for being able to slap a single to right field when you need to move the runner, but also, how to argue, settle it and then move on.

That’s the real magic of the backyard. The moving on. Kids have a powerful ability to move on. We “grown ups” could learn a thing or two about that. Perhaps a little more time in the backyard would help. Nah… we’d just screw it up. Eventually someone would try to seed the bare patch. Soon there would be a couple of sticks in the ground with string and a handmade sign saying “Stay off! New grass.” Grown ups just don’t get it sometimes.

I have seen parents try to mess with the backyard. They want to organize things for their kids and institute rules. In our yard there is only one. Everyone can play. There is no such thing as “We already picked sides…” or “We have enough.” Anyone who shows up in our yard can play. Boy, girl, young, old, never played the game before, etc. Everyone can play.

From time to time I will make an appearance. I’ll be “designated pitcher” for an inning or two. I’m a sucker for the little kids and serve up softies (that inevitably they get the bat on), but I throw chin music to the hot shots. And every once in a while, I’ll bring out the “Blooper Pitch” my dad taught me in the 1960′s. The kids roar belly laughs when the frustrated batter can’t quite hit the slow moving, high arcing pitch. Soon I go back in, allowing them to get back to making the memories they will tell their kids about someday.

I love our backyard. Truth be told, it’s one of the primary reasons I moved away from California. We had no real backyard out there. Nice view – No yard. Says it all about California. I had a job that allowed me to live anywhere so I choose to give my kids the magic of a backyard. And just to be clear, I’m not talking about simply a lawn and some shrubs. I mean a backyard where they will meet new friends, argue with old ones, lay in the grass dreaming fanciful dreams while watching the clouds drift overhead, and even earn their first few dollars from genuine hard work mowing the lawn…

There is magic in the backyard. And it is worth every Michigan winter I’ll be forced blessed to endure.

It helps them grow up, and it keeps me from growing old.

Do All Athletes Need Heart Screening?

Follow Up To A Recent Broadcast

Several weeks ago on our show we had Dr. Dana Ewles from our Roundtable, and John Johnson form the MHSAA on to discuss the sudden death of Wes Leonard, the 16 year old basketball player from Fennville, MI who died suddenly after making the game winning shot for his team.

Wes Leonard

Leonard died from an undiagnosed condition known as Cardiomyopathy. There is much debate over the merits of screening athletes. Below are a few articles that go further in depth on this subject.

For those wanting to have their student/athletes screened in the Oakland County, MI area, Beaumont Hospitals are providing free screenings. Click here to learn more…

A Guy Died Last Night

The quarterfinals of the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) basketball tournament were held last night at the University of Detroit. There were two games being played, four teams with exceptional athletes displaying exceptional skill. My four sons and I were joined by two friends of mine and their sons, along with the head coach at our high school. We sat in a crowd of approximately 5,000 others, packed into a college stadium to watch high school athletes play this game we all love so much. It was really a great night.

Except that a guy died last night.

After the first game, there was a 30-minute intermission. Somewhere between the multiple trips to the concession stands and the commensurate trips to the bathroom, we noticed a commotion in the stands near us. A man was down and others gathered around him seem to be trying to help him, medically.

We watched a bit more, and soon we noticed someone had begun chest compressions on the man. His heart had stopped. He wasn’t breathing. Paramedics arrived and police officers as well. Stadium staff held walkie talkies to their mouths and seemed to be barking orders to someone. The area around this growing group of medial and security staff was cleared of all others. The entire section of the stadium was now empty as they worked feverishly to save his life.

Down on the court, the players for the teams playing in game two took the court and began their pre-game warmups. Music played over the stadium speakers and people scampered around trying to get good seats.

After approximately 30 minutes of this, the group helping the man changed their postures. No one was hurrying around anymore. The medics took off their gloves. The police now started filling out forms. He was gone.

On the court, the game started on time. The PA announcer loudly proclaiming the name of a player who just slam dunked.

Eventually the group of people who had tried to save this man’s life, carried his body out of the stadium. Soon a maintenance man arrived with a mop and pail and seemed to clean up the area where the man had been.

On the court, one of the coaches was complaining about his player being called for a foul. He thought it was unfair.

The section, about 15 minutes after they took the man out.

I watched over the next several minutes as the section of the stadium was reopened and people started to drift back into the seats there. It didn’t take long until the area was nearly full of cheering, taunting, hot-pretzel-eating fans who just came to watch a game.

Except that a guy died.

I couldn’t help but think that this isn’t the way I’d want to go. Alone, on the filthy floor of a basketball stadium in Detroit, while the speakers blast the Black Eyed Peas’, “Tonight’s Gonna Be A Good Night…” No thanks.

It was such a stark reminder of how fragile this existence really is. We are here, and then, in a blink, we are gone. And the world just keeps turning. The area we occupied simply fills in with new people. And the game on the court plays on.

I don’t know the man’s name. I don’t know what happened to him. I have scanned Google and all of the Detroit media outlets looking for any reference of the man, to no avail. It’s like it didn’t happen. It’s as if the night was about other people, and other things. It wasn’t about him. If one of the coaches or an official had died, almost certainly, the game would’ve been postponed and we all would’ve been sent home. Instead, this man died. So they sent in the guy with the mop. And they played on.

I don’t have a punch line for all of this. No snappy sardonic wit to conclude with. It’s just that… a guy died last night. And I thought that someone should mention it.

A Game of Hope

My friend (and Morning Roundtable Member) Jeff Carter writes an intelligent and provocative blog called Points and Figures (www.PointsAndFigures.com). Jeff brought this story to my attention and I had to plagiarize… er, steal… er I mean, pay homage to him by presenting it here in this space.

What you’re about to watch is special. It shows that, even in football-crazed Texas, there are lots of things more important than the scoreboard or the lousy call the ref made or the number of playing time minutes your kid gets.

As a high school basketball coach, I am constantly trying to get players and parents to understand what is really important when we play our games. We preach the importance of character, keeping the game in perspective and playing and behaving with honor. Mostly, we teach them that this is a privilege. We were all fortunate to be born into these privileges and we must never trample them with our egos.

The following video will be required viewing from now on during our preseason meetings.

You can hear Jeff Carter each Saturday morning at 7:30 AM (Eastern) onYour Family Matters with Michael and Gina, WLQV_AM 1500 in Detroit or streamed live on the Web at www.FaithTalk1500.com

Cuts Like a Knife

Tomorrow, I have to do something truly distasteful. It is something I do every year around this time. Something that literally turns my stomach. Tomorrow, I have to cut kids from the high school basketball team.

As a basketball coach here in Michigan, I have coached at all levels (freshmen, JV, varsity) and at small parochial schools and now at a large public Class A high school. November is a great time of year for us coaches – you see, we’re all undefeated right now. The promise of things to come will quickly be replaced by the stress of wins and losses. Although the struggle of trying to repeat the wins or reverse the losses is endless and anxiety ridden, it’s what we sign up for.

November also comes with the responsibility of uttering the sentence, ”I’m sorry, we did not have room for you on this year’s roster.” Good kids, hard working kids, kids who have played the game since they were in kindergarten, will now have their organized basketball career ended by those simple words.

I have the impression that most folks think tryouts are only hard for the players. That coaches are simply making lists and rosters and plans and that none of this really hits home to them. It does.

The truth is that there are usually about 7 or 8 sure thing players on each team – guys who are so good they stand out from everyone else. They made the team the minute they walked onto the court. Then there is a group of 10 – 15 players who really are pretty close in abilities. Out of those I have to pick 5 and send the rest home in tears.

There will be a lot of parents tomorrow, all over this area (we have three high schools in our town!), who will disagree with the choices I make. Some will choose to tell me about it. Most will simply stew and only mention it bitterly to their friends and neighbors. “That coach just didn’t like my son…” they will tell people. They will be wrong.

Coaches like good ball players. They like players who can help them win. If your son got cut, then he wasn’t one of the top 12 guys in the school who fit that description. Period.

They say that team sports offer kids a great opportunity to learn about life. I believe that is true. But it isn’t just making the team that offers that lesson. Sometimes, not making the team can be just as powerful to a young man or woman. I only wish that parents could see that too.

In any case… I can’t wait until the day after tomorrow.

Parents – Drop and give me 20… dollars that is!

Compelling read about youth sports statistics:

The takeaway is that, ironically, parents are spending tens of thousands of dollars attempting to gain a college scholarship for their children, the odds of which are more than 10,000 – 1! If they saved that money for all of those years, they would actually guaranty that their children would be able to go to those colleges.

Another perspective is here:
Sandlot ball going the way of wooden bats – Other sports- nbcsports.msnbc.com

Send me your links to articles and opinions on this topic. And take a minute to answer the question of the week in the right sidebar.

When is the right time to start kids in organized sports?