Before I start with actual content today, I have to share this link first. My wife and I are both Saturday Night Live nerds. The cold opening Deflategate parody of A Few Good Men had me rolling. Feel free to skip to the 3:35 mark where the good stuff begins.
My intention this week was to write about the role of officials and their link to coaches and parents using a video clip of an angry youth hockey dad that circled the interwebs last weekend. However, after the massive and unexpected response to last week’s blog, I felt it was important to revisit that today. For those of you that I promised to write about the physical effects of sports specialization, it’s still coming; I’m just pushing that back another week.
There were many common themes throughout the comments following last week’s blog. Because the content of the post struck a nerve in the athletic community, it was read by many people who hadn’t been to my blog or are unfamiliar with my philosophy of high school (and other youth) sports. I’ve tried to keep up with responding to everyone who commented, but I realize that those messages would reach individuals rather than the whole. Because of that, I wanted to use this week’s post to address my thoughts on some of those recurring comments. In no particular order, here are those themes:
1. Yes, I realize that the athletes Coach Meyer recruits are extremely special athletes. They were no doubt targeted by multiple coaches in their high schools and probably had every opportunity to play every sport they could. And, yes, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of those athletes’ second sport in high school was track and field.
2. Yes, I realize that some athletes need to specialize early in order to obtain the skill level needed to play beyond high school.
3. No, we shouldn’t be forcing kids into playing sports they don’t want to play.
4. No, this theory isn’t a “one size fits all” theory that will work for or apply to every kid.
5. Specifically to gymnastics parents…I hear you; I get it.
Here’s the deal. If you look through other posts in my blog, you’ll see that my efforts are to run an educational based athletic program that services the majority of our kids. I realize that last week’s blog looked like I was focusing strictly on the 3%’ers, and I suppose that I mostly was. To that end, it’s important for our best athletes to know that the opportunity for growth exists in other sports as much as it does in specialization (without the same level of concern for burn out, disappointment, or injury). Speaking from my own philosophy and thoughts, here’s how I reply to those five themes above.
1. Meyer’s recruits are athletic freaks, so I wasn’t suggesting that it was strictly their involvement in other sports that landed them on OSU’s roster. The chart was just a way to take a popular, current picture to spark this conversation. The point I was trying to get across was that cross training is loaded with benefits to all athletes that can’t be obtained through specialization. Those benefits are available to D1 kids, NAIA kids, JH kids, and everyone in between.
1a. In terms of risk and reward, multi-sport participation raises the chances of our 97%’ers having a positive high school athletic experience. The vast number of kids that are specializing hasn’t changed the finite number of college roster spots available. We’re seeing more kids putting their proverbial eggs into one basket, but that hasn’t statistically increased their odds of earning a scholarship. Too many times I hear from parents who feel like their investment in specialization was wasted when a kid doesn’t make a college roster (or a high school roster!). We need to get back to allowing kids, and encouraging kids, to do lots of stuff just for the sake of being able to do lots of stuff.
2. I’m sure that many of us can find a specific example of a kid or two who specialized early and became skilled enough to make a roster (or even better, like a Tiger Woods type). But what about the kid who specialized and didn’t get a roster spot because of some other kid who specialized? From an AD standpoint, those are both of our kids, and I need our program to be a positive experience for both of them when they’re done.
3. If a kid really doesn’t want to play something else, I’m not suggesting that we force the kid to play. The benefits of any activity are largely negated if the participant isn’t a willing participant. As a parent, I struggle trying to force my kids to brush their teeth and wash their hands; I certainly don’t want to force them into a sport where I can watch them pout about playing that, too!
4. Many of you brought up other activities, family time, kid stuff, jobs, injuries, etc. as a reason to not be in multiple sports. I wasn’t trying to undervalue those things. If your kid enjoys fishing/hunting/skiing/hiking/whatever, I’m not saying he should stop those things. My stance is more anti-specialization for those kids who are dropping sports to “focus” on one, not an indictment of kids who have other interests.
5. Gymnastics is the one sport that I really struggle with inside this philosophy. Kids and parents, I completely get it. I understand, and I feel badly about it. You are stuck in a huge Catch 22 that essentially forces you into year-round gymnastics if you’re going to improve. (Again, this isn’t true across the board! I know we have plenty of gymnasts who compete in other sports.) For those gymnasts (and other sport athletes) who choose to stay in the sport year-round for advancement purposes, just be honest with yourselves. Your increased time, cost, and effort commitment is not a guarantee that anything awaits you down the road. If you’re going to fully commit yourself to any sport, you have to be comfortable knowing that the end will come at some time, and probably sooner than you were hoping.
Hopefully, those comments are a little clearer than last week. This is, more or less, an expansion of the last paragraph of last week’s post, something that I would have done last week except I was already getting wordy (English dork problem).
As always, any thoughts/questions/suggestions, please comment! For those of you asking how to follow my blog, there are four boxes on the home page just below the cover picture that will take you to the feeds for Facebook, Twitter, or an email registration page.