There’s a disturbing trend of parents pushing their kids into sports thinking far too long term. Elementary schoolers toting half-sized golf bags around the driving range are the next Tiger Woods. Pop Warner football players are Heisman material as soon as the other 8-year olds have trouble catching them on long runs. Little Leaguers who can hit the ball out of the infield are given $200 bats and $3,000 in batting lessons in preparation for that call from Brian Cashman of the Yankees. The problem with all of these postures is that they teach kids that sports are a business rather than a pleasure.
Teaching kids to play means infusing them with a love of the game, whatever game it may be. Don’t think too far out; enjoy every season, every game, every at bat or shift or putt that successfully clears the windmill on the 8th hole. Youth sports should be a preface to adult sports, and adult sports are primarily about life skills and lifetime enjoyment. Very, very few youth players are going to play or participate in professional sports, but kids who learn to love a sport will become fans, play in adult leagues, or teach their own kids the love of the game and create familial traditions that are far more valuable than any dreams of a professional contract.
Put another way: my love of the NJ Devils and meanderings at late night Friday skates has helped me land or influence business through taking customers to games and “talking shop” with my peers. My love of hockey has become a family sport as well, as was gloriously demonstrated this weekend: Bubba and I skated together for the first time, on the same team, not playing shinny but playing with the “big boys.” On the way home, he remarked that we almost had a Stern-to-Stern scoring play, as he fed me the puck at the half boards. There’s no way to put monetary value on that kind of fun. When we pick our sports heroes, I look for that same balance of loving the game and the family around the game. I became an even bigger Mike Cammalleri fan after a post-game hallway scene at the Rock last season – Cammalleri had picked up two assists in a game the Flames lost, and had a gaggle of fans waiting for autographs, pictures and handshakes. His first action, though, was to hug his father and greet one of his father’s friends. Nothing was said about the game, because father-son relationships trump all other commentary. His dad clearly taught him how to play the right way.
So what’s a parent to do?
Your kids and their teammates will usually appreciate understanding over screaming, time over money, and in the musical phrasing of Dire Straits, love over gold in all interpretations.