inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #0 of 119: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Mon 6 Aug 07 14:29
Our next guest is Regan McMahon, author of "Revolution in the Bleachers: How
Parents Can Take Back Family Life in a World Gone Crazy Over Youth Sports"

Leading the conversation with Regan is Bill Thompson.
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #1 of 119: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Mon 6 Aug 07 14:35

"Revolution in the Bleachers" examines America's over-the-top youth sports
culture and its effect on kids and families, and offers suggestions for
positive change. It grew out of Regan's life as a mother of two athletic
kids and is informed by her experience as a youth athlete. She was a
competitive figure skater from second through 10th grade and a member of her
high school basketball and swim teams in Pasadena, CA, where she grew up.

Regan is deputy book editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, where she's
worked since 1984. Prior to that, she was a writer, editor and critic for
BAM: The California Music Magazine. She and her husband, Blair Jackson (see
<inkwell.vue.50>), live in Oakland with their kids.

Our moderator for this conversation is Bill Thompson. Bill is a Bay Area
local whose sports-crazy kid is a sucker for anything that involves wheels,
a ball or hitting things with a stick (BMX bikes, basketball and ice
hockey).  Bill is the author of three novels (one demurely out of print, 2
in the bottom drawer of his desk) and currently works for a San Francisco
start-up in Product Development and Communications. His job title (really)
is, "Utility Infielder."

Welcome, Regan! Welcome Bill! Glad to have you join us in Inkwell.vue.
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #2 of 119: put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Mon 6 Aug 07 19:38
Hey Regan,  I'm so glad you're here to talk about your excellent book,
Revolution in the Bleachers.  I had quite a few eye-opening moments
when pouring through it. I have to confess right up front that my
family is in many ways a prime example of much of what your wrote
about. I have a nearly 12 year old boy who is a nut about sports but
has chosen to do one sport exclusively in the travel team competitive
arena. We're those weird types that play hockey and hang around ice
rinks for seemingly countless hours every week. I see that you were a
competitive skater so you know much of what that entails.

Doing travel hockey we pretty much give up our lives (the weekend
times of it anyway) from September to April every year.  We get a lot
out of it and also have a pile of challenges to our family dynamic. I'm
really looking forward to going deeper into some of these with you;
not only the problem issues but how we and many of the sports obsessed
families cope and adjust. It's far from a negative experience for us
when we put everything on the scales. These are interesting times.  

Anyway, for the benefit of those who haven't yet your book, could you
tell a bit about what spurred you into writing it?
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #3 of 119: Regan McMahon (r-mcmahon) Tue 7 Aug 07 08:18
My book developed out of a cover story I wrote for the Chronicle
magazine in March 2005 called "How Much Is Too Much?" that looked at
the impact of youth sports on modern American childhood and family
life. The inspiration for the article came from my own experience  of
running my two kids around to practices and games, sometimes in
mulitple sports in a season, and realizing how much time parents and
kids were spending in the car keeping up with these demanding
schedules, and how little time they had for anything else.

 And the families around us who had their kids on elite traveling
teams had an even more hectic life then ours, with little free time
time to do other things like hang out with friends, go to the beach or
the mountains for a weekend, visit relatives, spend holidays at home. 

I wondered how we got here, since it was so different from when I was
a kid, and if there was room for change so that kids and families could
get some balance back in their lives. I was also concerned about the
phsyical and mental health risks to kids, from overuse injuries, too
much pressure to perform and excel, and too little downtime. 

So I explored these issues in the magazine piece and got an enormous
and overwhelmingly positive response from readers. Parents were
thrilled that someone was finally talking about this. And what was
surprising to me was that coaches and league adminstrators were equally
thrilled, I guess because they have to deal with the over-the-top
parents and agree that things have gotten out of whack. When when I got
the book deal a couple of months after the article came out, I was
able to expand my focus and examine the issue on a national scale. 
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #4 of 119: put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Tue 7 Aug 07 10:25
One thing that interests me and was in big factor in me reading the
book was that I too have thought about how askew the whole youth sports
concept has become – in relation to what we knew as kids. And about
how it is not so much a problem as a reaction to a larger problem. In
my rosy remembrances of the suburbs of my youth, kids in the
neighborhood or school chums were always around and available.  Kids
played freely in the streets and without a lot of pre-planning of “play
dates.”  If you wanted something to do you just got on your bike and
drove down to the school yard to see if any other kids were hanging
around and wanted to start a pick up game of baseball or wanted to
shoot some hoops. Or you simply rode over to a friend’s house and
knocked on the door.  I remember almost always being in the company of
other kids.

Today’s kids in many, many cases are shuffled by car to school and
back again to sit in their houses and do their homework. Or to
extracurricular activities and “camps” for computers, and drama and
language arts. If they don’t have extracurricular activities or are not
lucky enough to have school mates living close by, at times their
opportunities for social interaction with other kids outside of the
controlled environment of school can be pretty limiting. That and the
kind of overwhelming need by modern parents to know where their child
is every second and to manage their social activities makes an
organized team a natural go-to settings. There is also the factor of
the lack of sports programs in many public schools. I mean, when I was
in elementary school everybody  had the opportunity to play every sport
in P.E. classes. There was football in the fall, basketball in the
winter, soccer in the early spring, baseball in full spring and track
at years end. All presented by the school in P.E. and something called
after school ports programs. My two boys, one now not a boy anymore at
20 and the other about to turn 12 both have gone to CCC public schools
that did practically nothing in terms of sports for them. It was join a
team in rec leagues or nothing. In a way rec leagues and travel teams
have become my boy’s neighborhood.

That’s a long, round about way of saying that I feel in many ways
restoring the balance in our family life by fixing the sometimes
overzealous sports pathology is only one step in a larger process.    
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #5 of 119: Regan McMahon (r-mcmahon) Tue 7 Aug 07 13:05
I think it's absolutely shameful how schools have dropped the ball on
this (pardon the sports metaphor). And it's been very shortsighted of
taxpayers to cut school programs and not see that educating body and
mind is important, especially with the obesity problem in the United
States. I, like you, learned to play/try out  many different sports in
P.E. and then decide which ones I might like to play outside of school.
Today, P.E. and even recess are endangered species, thanks to the No
Child Left Behind act, which has led schools to focus so much on
testing and grades that they're willing to cut classes or play time
because they feel it won't help the kids on those standardized tests.
But in fact research shows that kids learn better in school when they
have time to run around during the shcool day, at recess and in P.E. 

I also think parents should push to bring back intramural sports. We
should all be striving to have our kids more active so we can promote
lifelong habits of healthy exercise. But what we've done is allowed
youth sports to go from something that was about wide participation,
fun, healthy exercise and skill development to a star system designed
to weed out the less talented kids and promote and push the most
talented ones. That's a big cultural shift and has meant a big shift in
resources, as the elite club system has come to dominate the landscape
of youth sports.  
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #6 of 119: put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Tue 7 Aug 07 16:06
That really hits the nail on the head; the mention of the shift from
wide participation to a star system. I was smallish and not great at
football and pretty lame at baseball, but dang it I got to play at
school and have fun. My older boy doesn't even know the positions on a
football team (partially my fault as we don't have a TV) and he's never
played volleyball or wrestling or gymnastics or softball -- all the
things we took for granted as kids. 

My younger boy's tiny school does its best but lunchtime soccer and
whiffle ball games are about all there is. 

There is an old hoop with no net, that I keep putting up fresh nets
when i notice but the kids having never had an intramural game don't
really know how to play and just kind of shoot around play some weird
game called "knockout"  It pains me as I was a high school and college
b-ball player to see the kids get no instruction and one year I did
volunteer to set up an after school basketball game for them but the
small size of the school made participation a bit spotty. my time as an
afternoon coach is pretty limited too.   

Most of the parents I know at our school would like to see something
happening but there flat out isn't any money for coaches or equipment. 
heck, the school has to fund raise almost 1/5 of it's revenue from the
community. Sports and music suffer always. it's a challenge.
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #7 of 119: Regan McMahon (r-mcmahon) Tue 7 Aug 07 18:37
I think your school is unusual in many ways, particuarly its small 
size, but sports programs are suffering in public schools across the
country. My kids go to Catholic schools, where sports always seem to
play a strong role. Team sports at my kids' K-8 school (in the CYO
League) start in third grade with basketball and cross country for boys
and girls, then volleyball starts in fourth grade. The kids play
soccer, baseball and softball in city leagues (and later on club or AAU
teams) and may do gymnastics or ice skating or horseback riding at
whatever local facilities there are.   

In my book, I focus on team sports in particular, because in looking
at how the culture has changed, what's really changed is team sports.
There have always been indiviudal athletes who gave up normal life
because they were especially gifted and driven, kids who chose to make
a time commtiment unlike that of their classmates. But kids in previous
generations didn't get heavily involved in team sports till middle or
even high school. Maybe some boys did baseball or pop Warner a little
earlier. But the phenomenon of everybody putting their kid on a soccer
team in kindergarten is a practice that's only 15 or 20 years old. 

Before, kids got to goof off and have free play and try sports in P.E.
and throw the ball around with their dad for a bunch of years before
they got serious about team sports. Now your kid is the odd person out
if he or she isn't signed up for soccer in kindergarten. And while I,
as an figure skater, had a life very different from that of my
classmates and missed out on social things because I was training,
nowadays the whole class is locked into a team schedule from the
earliest years of grade school. Now greater numbers of people are
living the kind of intense, competitive life only top athletes used to
live. That's a big difference. 

And there are special pressures that come along with team sports. For
example, in an individual sport, the coach doesn't make you show up for
practice even when you're sick. 
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #8 of 119: put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Wed 8 Aug 07 05:52
In your interviewing people for your book did you find that the
pressure to "team-up" came primarily from the parents, peer pressure,
or were the kids in general were as happy as Brer rabbit in the briar
patch at the opportunity to play competitively at a young age?  I know
what you mean though, Ethan's entire kindergarten class signed up to
play youth league soccer en masse. For whatever reasons Ethan just
didn't want to even try soccer except at the lunch time pick up games. 

And how common is the example of your last paragraph of a coach
requiring a kid to show up, even when ill? That's one I certainly
haven't seen in our 5 years of travel hockey. Maybe we've just lucked
out on having really good coaches but showing up for practice when
you're ill?  recipe for injuries and certainly does nothing positive
for the team practice is some kid is dogging it because he's been
barfing for two days and still has a fever. show up and sit on the
bench to support the team during a game when you're out with a broken
wrist, yes. 
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #9 of 119: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 8 Aug 07 10:10

(NOTE: Offsite readers with comments or questions may send them to
 <> to have them added to this thread)
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #10 of 119: put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Wed 8 Aug 07 11:45
I would think that any coach that pressured a kid to practice sick
would meet with massive resistance from the parents; individual effort
sports or team sports.  i would certainly question his/her competency.

my boy has never hardcore, tier teams or double AA travel. I'm
guessing that is the kind of level where you saw that kind of obsessive
coaching pressure?  not in your basic rec league soccer or basketball
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #11 of 119: Call me Fishmeal (pk) Wed 8 Aug 07 12:30
I was exposed to a full range of sports in P.E. class, at a really good 
public school on Long Island. And I really hated most of it. I was not 
overweight or unusually klutzy, but my physical abilities were a couple 
years behind those of my classmates, so P.E. class was mostly an exercise 
in keeping a low profile and not getting hurt by the kids who played on 
the team of whatever sport we were practicing. Plus I was more-or-less 
repelled by the whole jock culture, being a geeky math and science type. 

Relief came when I was about 15 and started racing a small sailboat. (I
took secret pleasure in seeming my performance reported in the sports
pages of the New York Times every Monday.) But I still had to endure
those wasted hours of P.E. that were totally geared to producing better
interscholastic teams and usually left me standing out in the outfield
bored to death. More relief came when I was 16 or 17, and me and some
friends figured out that we could cut P.E. class and play tennis, but we
got caught at it and had to stop. I did a lot of bike riding then too. 

40 years later I still race sailboats, and my 11-year old, who follows the 
family tradition of disinterest in field sports, is finally 
getting interested in sailboat racing also. Plus we both participate on a 
dragon boat team, which is a paddle sport that I think has great potential 
as an entry-level alternative to field sports, especially suited to the 
klutzy and/or overweight kids from schools with no real P.E. program. 
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #12 of 119: Regan McMahon (r-mcmahon) Wed 8 Aug 07 14:06
To answer Bill's question about sick kids having to attend practice,
it definitely happens at the elite club level in soccer and I've heard
of it in basketball and volleyball as well. The young athletes have
told me it's required as a way to show your commitment to the team, and
perhaps not to miss out on any coaching instructions, even if you're
sitting on the bench and are too sick to play.

I know a Bay Area volleyball club that makes the players make up any
practice for any reason -- sickness, family vacation, school event --
by attending pratices of other of the club's teams who train on
different days. (I suspect they are not the only club that has trhis
rule.) So one family I know canceled their spring break travel plans (a
family vacation they had always taken before) rather than have their
11-year-old daughter have to make up two or three practices when she
got home after vacation, in addition to the two or three practices
she'd be doing with her own team. The parents don't complain, they
don't resist, because the message is: You don't like it? Go back to a
rec league. 
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #13 of 119: put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Wed 8 Aug 07 14:19
w.o.w.  and I thought travel hockey was intense. Perhaps it is say
back in New Hampshire or Mass. Our coach two years ago would ask any
player who missed a practice to make up the hour with ice time of any
kind. Meaning, miss that horrible 6:30am full ice Sunday morning
practice due to parental laziness (waving hand) and your kid was be
required to at very least hit the rink for an hour on a Saturday
afternoon public session -- just to keep his legs on ice.

hi Paul, dragon boat racing sounds like big fun.  And hey, I was a
geeky science lab assistant and math brainiac and musician and
participating in jock culture gave me enough cred to not get bullied --
especially in middle school. Being on the wrestling and basketball
teams gave me a tribe and kept me from being totally being tagged a
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #14 of 119: put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Wed 8 Aug 07 14:23
also, the few times I've been lucky enough to be invited onto a
sailboat the words klutzy never came to mind. Anyone who can sail and
keep things together is being self-effacing if they refer to themselves
as geeky an klutzy, imo.
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #15 of 119: John Ross (johnross) Wed 8 Aug 07 15:00
Is this kind of pressure to participate in sports purely a middle-class
phenomenon? Are the kids in urban and/or poorer neighborhoods (there's
probably some common euphemism to describe those schools and neighborhoods)
under the same pressure? I know about the (mostly Black) kids for whom the
goal of an NBA or NFL contract is the only way out, but do the kids with
less potential talent also have the same kind of pressure to participate as
their opposite numbers in the suburbs?
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #16 of 119: put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Wed 8 Aug 07 15:09
also, the few times I've been lucky enough to be invited onto a
sailboat the words klutzy never came to mind. Anyone who can sail and
keep things together is being self-effacing if they refer to themselves
as geeky an klutzy, imo.

inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #17 of 119: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Wed 8 Aug 07 16:14
I called my sister on her 50th birthday and she was down in California
(from the Northwest) with her oldest daughter, age 17, who had a
soccer tournament in Sacramento.  Meanwhile, her husband was with their
youngest daughter, age 13, in San Diego for a different club
tournament.  The boy, age 16, went with his dad and younger sister. 
Five r-t plane tickets, two hotels, variations on this same routine
numerous times a year.  

The boy plays school sports--football, wrestling and track, while the
girls are sucked into the soccer vortex. The oldest girl plays on both
her high school team and in the premiere league. She'll probably land a
college scholarship.  College coaches pay much more attention to the
club play than the schools and, thereby, reinforce this immersive
approach to their respective sports.  

Just a guess, but I think my sister and brother-in-law probably spend
$20k a year on soccer and the related travel. This is not to mention
that my sister only works part time and loses income because of all the
demands of having all three kids in organized sports. The involvement
with the girls, though, is far more demanding.  

When and why did sports become so specialized and, frankly, elitist? 
No poor family and few middle-class ones can participate in this costly

Looking at my nieces and nephew, all are good natural athletes and fun
to watch play.  However, the boy, in playing three sports, seems to
have more natural passion for the sports he is in than my nieces, who
have, in my opinion, exhibited burnout, at times.  This isn't to say
that they are forced to play, but more that they have been sucked in by
a system.  The boy, on the other hand, is no less likely to go onto
the collegiate level and approaches his participation in sports as a
fun challenge, not an all-consuming obligation.

The sporting successes of all three kids are, obviously, positively
reinforced in the home.  Is the competitiveness, team-building, and
goal-setting of these kids necessarily a bad thing in a society that is
so competitive, corporate, and fixated on measurables?

This soccer fixation, though, seems to parallel the way that a
well-rounded liberal arts education is supplanted by a vocational
approach to higher education. Instead of well-rounded, adaptable
graduates, we have come to favor the specialist.  My nephew is gaining
a well-rounded immersion into sports while my nieces are spending their
formative years and most of their free time as soccer specialists.   

What will it take for hackysack to become the new national pasttime?  
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #18 of 119: put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Wed 8 Aug 07 16:39
funny you should mention something like hackysack. My sister up in
Seattle has at times led to me an insane kids sports life. with one
daughter and two boy, all who have played soccer and swimming and
basketball, plus my sister not only coaches a team but played in adult
leagues -- her husband the same. with everyone in a 5 person family
doing multi-tasking sports it just seemed insane to me. she needs a
couple fo paid drivers!!

However with all that intensity of competitive athletics, the oldest
daughter, now at Stanford plays on the Frisbee team. She travels all
over the country to playing collegiate tourneys.  And now her younger
brother has taken up the sport, playing on a Washington state travel
Frisbee team. The mind boggles.
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #19 of 119: Regan McMahon (r-mcmahon) Wed 8 Aug 07 17:09
Boy, I had no idea there were travel Frisbee teams! Could hackeysack
be next? 

The change in youth sports developed just in the past 15-20 years.
There are a lot of factors that contributed to the change, including
the rise of soccer, Title IX and the increase in women's sports
scholarhip opportunities, the success of the 1999 U.S. Women's World
Cup Team (referred to as "Title IX babies") -- so families watching
said to themselves, "That could be my girls!" -- and the advent of
24-hour sports programming. So parents who at one time might have
thought, when watching sports on TV, that it was an extreme longshot
that their kid would make it to the NFL or be a major leaguer, now see
everythign from beach volleyball to water polo to women's basketball on
ESPN at any time of day and are convinced that their kid could be
destined for TV and/or professional sports stardom.

 And as pro sports salaries have gone through the roof, and younger
and younger athletes are getting multi-million-dollar contracts and
endoresement deals, youth sports has become a means to the an end of
financial reward rather than an end in itself of playijg for fun with
your friends, representing your school, etc. 

These changes in culture and media have spawned a frenzy for college
athletic scholarships. So that today when parents are making a decision
about what team to put their 8-year-old on, that decision may be based
on some statistacally unrealistic dream of that kid  getting a
scholarship whenhe or she is 18. In fact, less that 2 percent of kids
who play youth sports ever get a college scholarhip.

What many parents don't know is that there is much more money for
academic scholaships than athletic ones. One college coach I
interviewed said he tells parents, "If you really want your kid to get
a college scholarship, get him a math tutor."    
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #20 of 119: put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Wed 8 Aug 07 18:20
That's darn good advice.  My niece is one of the rare ones that hit
the scholarship jackpot. She grew up in San Diego and swam for years
and played soccer and volley ball. In high school she discovered
basketball just as she was really starting to grow. She hit 6'2,
dropped the swimming but not the volleyball and over 4 years of high
school averaged 16 pts per game. She also had a 4.+ gpa and was editor
of her school paper. She ended up getting a full 4 year ride to a
division I school for basketball.  She's a rare one and by her own
admission, she tells us that she thinks there were three or four other
girls in her high school's league who were better than her or at least
as accomplished who didn't get a scholarship. There just aren't that
many to go around and she feels immensely grateful. She holds out no
hopes for a professional career except perhaps as a sports writer.
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #21 of 119: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Wed 8 Aug 07 19:31
<<So that today when parents are making a decision about what team to
put their 8-year-old on, that decision may be based on some
statistacally unrealistic dream of that kid  getting a
scholarship when he or she is 18.

Interestingly, my niece who is 17 has been offered a scholarship at a
Catholic private university, which she prefers, even though she has
never been Catholic. She will probably get offers at an in-state school
or two, also.  So, if she insists on going to the private
college--even with a scholarship--my sister and B-I-L will be shelling
out a great deal of $$ to make up the difference between the
scholarship and the cost of her education. So, even as one of the lucky
few, it has and may well continue to cost dearly.  I'm imagining my
niece, after all that sacrifice and education, taking a vow of poverty,
and living her days as a nun on the streets of Calcutta, just to teach
her parents a lesson. 

[BTW, the greatest traveling hackysack players were known as Deadheads
and could be found periodically playing outside the greatest sports
arenas in the USA.]
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #22 of 119: Regan McMahon (r-mcmahon) Wed 8 Aug 07 19:46
The previous niece story -- of Watadoo's basketball player niece and
her scholarhip -- shows, among other things, how someone can find their
ultimate sport later in their young life. One of the college athletes
in my book didn't play any team sports till 5th grade, when she took up
basketabll, and she ended up getting a basketball scholarship to St.
Mary's, a D-I university.

These kinds of stories are why I advocate having kids play mulitple
sports. The parents who decide when their kids is 5 that he or she is
going to be a soccer star, and has them specialize early, may be
denying them the discovery one day that basketball or baseball or
whatever is their true calling and passion.

The college coaches and pro athletes I interviewed told me there is
absolutely no evidence that starting early and specializing early has
any bearing on how good an athlete a kid will ultmately be, or whether
they'll get a college scholarhip. The turning point is puberty, as your
niece found. For example, the kid who is the best basketball player in
4th grade because he's the tallest and most coordinated,  may find in
8th grade that his classmates have caught up with him, and he's now in
the middle of the pack in terms of height and coordination. So the
youth coaches and personal trainers who tell parents they can see that
their second grader will be a star athlete, so they should sign him up
on the travel team immediately, may be selling them a bill of goods. 

The college coaches and pro athletes I interviewed told me that the
best players on their teams were always the athletes who had played
three sports in high school. But the trend now is to specialize. Many
parents and club coaches will tell you the multisport athlete is a
thing of the past. I bet your niece's prowess in basketball was helped
by her development in those other sports. 

On a much smaller scale, I didn't start my daughter in soccer till
second grade. She had been doing gymnastics for several years before
that. I remember on the first day of soccer practice she was doing
really well, getting to the ball with grace, speed, focus, agility and
aggressiveness, and the other parents standing around kept turning to
me and asking, "Are you sure she hasn't played soccer before?" Her
gymnastics training (and natural athletic ability) served her well as
she took on a new sport. And it's been that way with every sport she's
learned -- and there have been many! 

inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #23 of 119: Regan McMahon (r-mcmahon) Wed 8 Aug 07 20:11
re scholarships: Scott's story points up how rare the full-ride
scholarship is. So in this obsession among parents to have their kids
get scholarhips, it's often not about the money. It's about the status
of being able to say my kid got a scholarship. Because it might only be
a small portion of the tution, especially at a private school. And the
amount can change from year to year. You might get a big chunk the
first year and a much smaller amount -- or nothing -- in successive

And parents spend many thousands of dollars on all those years on
elite club teams, with team fees, uniforms, camos and other
suplementary training, plus the enoromous travel costs. So to say, as
many do, that the reason to push the kids and give up family time and
family vacations and free play and downtime and holidays and rites of
passage from sleepovers to sleep-away nature summer camps to even the
prom is because of the high cost of college is rather disingenuous. As
an educator and sports reformer in my book told me, if they'd put that
money in an ivestment fund, they'd have no trouble no trouble paying
the college fees. In fact, as somenoe already pointed out, many of the
people who can afford this expensive elite sports life often are in a
position to afford college, so they are not truly depending on the
scholarship to provide their child with a good education. 

That's another unfortunate byproduct of the rise of the club stystem:
that youth sports is becoming an upper-middle class endeavor. 

The kids who make the high school teams in many sports -- soccer and
volleyball among them -- are the kids whose parents can afford to have
them on club teams. It used to be that high school was a level playing
field, where whoever showed up for the tryouts and had raw talent could
be chosen and developed. But now the kids with elite trainng under
their belts will ace out other kids who did not have that expereince in
middle school becasue their parents couldn't afford it or didn't
choose the tournament lifestyle for their  family. High school coaches
told me it's still possibnle for a "diamond in the rough" to be
selected in football or basketabll, but at this point, it's much more
attractive to select a soccer or basketball playr who's already had
years of sophisticated training. 

So I fear the day is coming (if it's not laready here) when the
majority of kids on the high school teams come from privileged
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #24 of 119: Call me Fishmeal (pk) Thu 9 Aug 07 00:42
  >And hey, I was a geeky science lab assistant 
  >and math brainiac and musician and participating 
  >in jock culture gave me enough cred to not get 
  >bullied -- especially in middle school. Being on 
  >the wrestling and basketball teams gave me a 
  >tribe and kept me from being totally being 
  >tagged a geek.

Yeah, a good P.E. teacher could have sent me on that same route, if they
hadn't been so obsessed with building the teams and winning county
championships. I would have gone for bike racing or maybe even tennis in a
big way if given the right kind of encouragement and an appropriate
competition venue. Frisbee too, if it had been a sport back in the '60s,
but that's partly because it was always a kind of anti-jock thing (and the
cool gyro-aerodynamics, of course.)

As it turned out, I was probably as much of an annoyance to the P.E.  
teachers as they were to me. Thank Gopod for the fat kid in the class
(back in those days there was only one!) who prevented me from being
picked last when we chose up teams.

Now I get to be a doting parent as I help out in the Richmond Yacht Club
sailing program, where my 11-year-old is learning how to win sailboat
races. It's been a long wait - I bought the boat for him before the litmus
paper was dry on the pregnancy test kit. For 10 years I was very careful
not to be the least bit coercive about taking him sailing, and he showed
almost no interest. Finally, about a year ago, the role modeling seemed
to take hold and he decided he wanted to start sailing and racing. But I
feel like my enthusiasm for this could backfire at any time.

Fortunately RYC has the good sense to keep parent volunteers on different
parts of the Bay from their own kids...
inkwell.vue.305 : Regan McMahon, "Revolution in the Bleachers"
permalink #25 of 119: put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Thu 9 Aug 07 06:26
Good on you Paul for letting Rocky find his passion for himself. I
suffered from having a fairly pushy dad who decided early what my sport
was going to be. See, my dad was a big time college basketball star
for Cal. He was always on all-star teams and getting awards and
recognition and from what I can tell, got most of his self-imaging from
his jock basketball star status. He even claims to have had a pro
contract offered to him when he was fresh out of Cal in the Fifties.
hrmmm. So he decided I would be the same. From the time I could walk I
was bouncing a basketball and dissecting the UCLA press while watching
Johnny Wooden's championship teams in the 60's.  CYO and school
basketball was my main focus though in those days as I mentioned
earlier, thanks to good public schools the kids all got football and
baseball and track and wrestling and gymnastics and if you liked sports
you had the opportunity to be pretty well rounded. 

However I got my height from my mother's side and never really got
tall enough to be an impact player. In middle school I excelled at
cross country and wrestling going undefeated for two years running. I
really liked wrestling. When I was in eight grade, the local high
school coach was recruiting me to join the wrestling team but I was
told by my father that was out, as it conflicted with Basketball --
which I dutifully went out for and rose quickly  to find my level of
mediocrity -- Regan is spot on about how the kids that mature early get
caught up with by 14-16 years old. Whereas at 11 by tenacity and
constant coaching by my father I was a pretty good CYO b-ball player,
by 16 I was just another 5'9" guy in the crowd going to tryouts. I
could play smart, but physically I had challenges. 

I held onto a lot of resentment about not being allowed to continue
doing what I wanted and by my junior year dropped out of the basketball
program. I determined NOT to do this kind of pushing to my kids and
though Ethan has got Grandpa's natural ability with all things
physical, he also gets to pursue anything else he wants to do. This
summer he's doing Shakespeare camp and playing drums in a band program,
and told me last night that acting is his favorite thing  (he;'s
performing a role in King Lear tomorrow!!). I told him at dinner last
night that if he ever felt overwhelmed and wanted to drop any other
activities like hockey or playing the drums and just do drama that
would be okay. He looked at me like i was nuts. Quit hockey??!!??  har.

Which segues into my next question for Regan. In your interviewing
parents and kids and coaches et al, where did you find the pushing
mainly coming from and are the kids doing these multi travel teams (the
baseball kids playing on two or three teams playing year round were
the scariest case studies, imo) happy about it?  Is the pushing to join
these travel level teams at a young age for sports like soccer coming
from the parents, coaches, peer pressure?  


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