Sunday, November 02, 2014

Kids and Sports

Interesting article about the pressure on kids to "specialize" in a sport from the Steve Nash Youth Basketball blog, called The Race to Nowhere in Youth Sports.

We had mixed experiences with sports with both our boys.  Great Little League experience (especially with the son with a disability). 

Great rec soccer experience for my younger son.  (He did try one year of select soccer - too expensive, too much travel, too much pressure.  My son, who had real talent, was the one to say no.) We had great parents on our team but some teams had win-at-all-costs parents and to hear them and their coaches scream at kids was astonishing.

Both played Ultimate Frisbee in SPS.  Mixed bag as one son was at a school - that shall remain nameless - that had a no-cut policy but also, basically, a no-play policy if you were not a star.  Really hurt his feelings to be told he would never play in a game - not even for 5 minutes because they had a "competitive" team and want to go to playoffs.  (I also think Ultimate should be a real sport in SPS - very inclusive - boys and girls on the team - cheap and fun.)

What is very troubling is the number of articles about kids who play a sport very hard and blow out their knees by high school.  That's just crazy to me.  I recall one NY Times article that quoted a mom - talking about her soccer-playing daughter - "sure she'll have knee problems in her '40s but she needs to get a college scholarship now."  That's one way to get your kid to college. 

And, as always, there is the issue of sports within a school district.  It's kind of like trying to assess the costs of a major league sports team in a city - is it really worth it?  Hard to say. The U.S. is a sports-crazy nation so I don't see sports going away from our high schools but it seems like it would be better to direct those dollars towards the physical health of ALL students.  I'm not advocating getting rid of high school sports but just throwing that out for discussion.

Any thoughts?

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't get the drive to get kids into sports teams with twice weekly practices and weekend games basically from 1st grade level onwards (or younger). It's a big disruption to family mealtimes during the week, parents spend weekend shuttling various kids to various games and standing on the sidelines, and really for what?
Everyone goes on about the importance of 'team work' and all the important things their kids are going to learn from being in a team, and how much their kids love it but half the time I think its the parents living vicariously through the kids (reliving their own glory days on the field), or keeping up the with Jones, or hoping the sport will be their entree into college.
Sports seems to be such a big time commitment from such a young age here. I disagree that things like school start times seem to be impacted by the desire to preserve afternoons for practices. The best academic practice for ALL kids should not be dictated by the needs of the sporting set.
Which brings me to another thing, one thing that has been shown in research is that countries that outperform the US in education have far less emphasis on youth sports. You can see here how kids are really lauded for their sporting achievements, families rearrange their life to accommodate their kids sports, teams expect a lot from their youth players from a young age, and it can be very competitive. Imagine if more of that time and energy and enthusiasm went into academics - then perhaps we'd be doing better.

Not sporty

Anonymous said...

One value I see in sports is that it is one of the few child endeavors where the winning/losing is clear and the outcomes quantitative. I think there are kids who need that, to know whether they've run the fastest (the competitive/comparative measurement of competency). I also think there are a lot of endeavors where comparative achievement plays a huge role in outcomes (i.e. getting a particular job, where you need to be better than the other candidates, not just good at your job, an audition, . . . .).

I think kids aren't necessarily getting enough learning in that realm at school (and, potentially shouldn't be, because, learning in school should not be a competition between students). So, I like sports for that.

zb

Anonymous said...

It is sad to me that kids have to be good at a sport to be able to play. I know there is basic competency required to be able to play, but if you don't focus on 1-2 sports from the beginning and become pretty skilled, you likely won't be able to get on a team or if you do, you won't play very much. I understand that this is a normal part of life, but I find this is happening so early (middle grades of elementary school) that many kids just aren't playing sports anymore by the time they hit middle school. I don't remember it being like this when I was a kid - I seem to recall a real mix of skills on the teams I was on.

And, I don't like school-sponsored sports. I played in them through high school, and they have a role, but for too few students. I'd rather the funds go into academics and things that benefit all the kids in the school.

- Rah Rah

WMS parent said...

I have a kid in 8th grade Ultimate at WMS and I think the coaches have been stellar. There have been no cuts, there are 5 squads, very well managed regarding skill level and ranking, positive and constructive coaching, kids on this squad are mature and thoughtful.
I tell all the parents at the elementary of my younger child how much I appreciate the program, that I'm so glad that there is no middle school contact football, how well the co-ed works, how great it is that they learn to self-ref. I have found Ultimate to be the best representation of middle school sports and I'm glad SPS and DiscNW support it.
After school sports also does not cut into our family life the way rec/club sports does, so another plus.

Anonymous said...

As a former college-level athlete, I shake my head at the parents with kids at the elementary and middle-school level, pushing their kids onto these "select" clubs and teams and traveling all over the state/country because their kid is going to get a college scholarship.

Point #1: When there are 4-5 levels of a "select" team, its no longer a select team....more than likely they just want your money. It has turned into a huge money-maker that promises all kinds of things that it can't deliver

Point #2: Kids that practice 2x/day, day-in and day-out at younger and younger ages are much more likely to either get injured or just start hating the sport so much that they quit by Junior year in high school

Point #3: Colleges do not want burned-out athletes at the age of 18 that have reached their top potential and have no room for growth/improvement

Point #4: The decision to compete has to be 150% the kid's decision. I can remember a friend of mine that had all the talent in the world (never came to practice and still beat everyone when she showed up for competitions) but actually was only doing the sport for her dad. She finally walked away after Junior year in high school with no regrets, despite numerous college offers to compete in Division I.

Competing at an elite level can gain you entry into a prestigious college. There have been swimmers, divers, runners, soccer players etc. from SPS that have been accepted into Yale, Princeton and Harvard. They likely would not have gained access without their sport. However, that is the absolute top kid in the state - no questions asked - it is not the kid that has played on the select team for 6 years but isn't the star.

Sports can teach a lot of invaluable lessons, but my advice is absolutely do not push. Serious level play should not happen until 8th-9th grade and should be at the request of the athlete.

Otherwise, the recreational opportunities are so great and keep sports fun and are completely adequate for 90% of the kids out there.

-"Old" college athlete






Anonymous said...

I struggle with this, we are one of those families who specialized early. My DD loves soccer and plays on a select team. However it was her choice, as long as she wants to do it I'll support her.

She still has the flexibility to ski and play other sports so that's great, and our family emphasizes exercise twice a week (PE at school doesn't cut it) so my kids are required to do something physical twice a week, soccer or swimming or basketball, whatever. I really believe exercising on a regular basis makes a big difference academically, emotionally, physically and sports are fun exercise (for us).

I wish SPS had well run sports teams that were more accessible for all kids, honestly, soccer and basketball at our middle school are not that accessible or well run. I would rather they play at school but that's nor really an option.

-Just being honest

Anonymous said...

I have a sports eligibility question regarding middle school sports at Seattle Public Schools. I can find the district's athletic handbook online, but it only seems to give information about eligibility for grades 9-12.

At our middle school, the requirement during any sport season is to have the student fill out a weekly grade sheet that they ask every teacher to sign. This is done whether or not there is a game that week. Students must have at least a C in every class for academics (not a C average) and must have at least a C grade in each class for citizenship. The school administration tells me that all of this is a district requirement. To me, it seems like an awful lot of work for the students, teachers and coaches to be asking every teacher every week in every class to sign a grade sheet. Is that what other Seattle middle schools require? I'd appreciate the name of the school if anyone responds. Thank you!
--Athletics and Paperwork Parent

Anonymous said...

I have a question about athletic eligibility for middle school students in the Seattle Public Schools. I can find the district's athletic handbook online, but it only covers grades 9-12. At our middle school, those participating in sports have to fill out a weekly grade sheet where each teacher circles the student's grade for academics and for citizenship. The sheet must be filled out every week, whether or not there is a game. Each grade (not the grade point average) must be at least a C.

The administration says this is a district requirement. To me it seems like a huge amount of paperwork for all the students, teachers and coaches. Do other middle schools require this each week? And do other schools require a C or higher in each class? I'd appreciate the names of schools if others respond.

Sports and Paperwork Parent

cmj said...

Sports are great for exercise, learning teamwork, learning confidence, making friends, and --sometimes -- getting kids to keep their grades up to retain eligibility. However, I feel like so many parents and coaches make sports out to be more important than they really are, usually at the expense of academics and sometimes at the expense of integrity. Remember the Tony Wroten, Jr. residency scandal? Really, the district cared enough about where a 15 year-old athlete lived for an investigator to run surveillance on his house? Or the Chief Sealth basketball recruiting scandal? Talk about priorities.

The emphasis on college sports also frustrates me. Sports are great extracurriculars -- an excellent way for college students to let off steam -- but too many colleges have grossly abused varsity sports.

Sports: an excellent supplement to academics, but never a substitute.

A plug for ultimate frisbee: Seattle Times article about Bailey Gatzert's great ultimate frisbee team a few years ago. Melissa also commented on it.

Anonymous said...

I highly, recommend the book _Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain_ by John Ratey. In part it examines how fitness programs (note that sports are not always the best way for a kid to achieve fitness) have a positive impact on test scores among high school students. Our students do not even receive the amount of PE mandated by state law and so often PE involves playing games where the students move very little.

I think many reader of this blog would be fascinated by Ratey's work.

Active Mom

Catherine said...

I've got to say that on every one of the team sports we were on (baseball, ski racing, basketball, soccer, ultimate) over the 14 years is was the vast minority of parents and coaches who were the problem, and only two teams had problem parents who also happened to be the coaches.

I think that tossing out all team sports because of a few bad actors is like demonizing all teachers and the current school system because of a few bad examples.

Anonymous said...

I can't say how Nathan Hale was in the past, but now, over 60% of the students at Hale participate on an athletic team. I don't of any that are cut sports. They all seem to have different levels available for different ranges of skills and abilities. The cheer squad is a cut sport but they aren't considered a sport and they are limited to a certain size for practical reasons.
Right now, Ultimate and Lacrosse are club sports and not supported by the district as a sport but at Hale they are no cut. I don't know if they have different levels or not.

Hale's Boys Ultimate team just won state championship vs Franklin. A super win for all of SPS because Northwest was finally beaten.

HP

Anonymous said...

I find the Seattle youth sports scene to be challenging. Our elementary school teams haven't been "official" school teams, so it was more about who you knew or how athletic you were whether you were invited to participate. There wasn't recruitment via the school newsletter or anything like that, so the "school" teams felt a bit exclusive. Throw in coaches who are also parents of some of the more athletic kids and who prefer to win, and you end up with a less-than-ideal experience for some of the less athletic and/or inexperienced kids--those who would probably most benefit from a positive, inclusive team experience more focused on growth and teamwork than winning.

In middle school, you seem to either end up with tryouts and cuts--in which case those kids who also play on club teams have a distinct advantage--or you end up with no-cut teams that are often too large for anyone's good. It's frustrating to play on a large team--and spend weekends at out-of-town tournaments--when you only get to be on the field a few minutes each game.

Logistics can be a real challenge though. At Hamilton this year there was so much interest in Ultimate Frisbee that 6th grade boys were only allowed to play for 2 weeks each. It's hard to get that "team" experience--and the associated benefits and learning that we hope kids get--when the girls play for the season but a random group of boys rotates through for what are essentially "guest" spots on the team. The coaches are great and I love to see Ultimate so popular, but it's not a great situation when the schools can't accommodate the level of interest.

The whole club/select vs rec issue also creates an unfortunate challenge. I'm sure parents are sometimes the driving force behind their kids' participation in select, but I think we've also set up a system whereby there aren't good options from which to choose. From what we've observed over the years, the more skilled players tend to play club sports, which tend to be more competitive (and expensive, time consuming, and intense). Rec teams, then, tend to draw more of the players who aren't as skilled, or who only have a mild interest in the sport. This creates a real challenge for the player who is skilled at and loves a particular sport, and who wants to play hard but just for fun. To me, this seems like exactly the sort of attitude we'd like to encourage as parents--play hard and have fun!--but there isn't really a venue for it. I'd love to see something more along the lines of club sports that focused on scrimmages rather than league games and tournaments and travel. Maybe highly organized pick-up leagues or something like that.

Youth sports have sure come a long way since I was a kid, but I'm not sure it all feels like progress...

HalfFull

Anonymous said...

Although I think that there is an overemphasis on sports and sporting achievement in our culture I am not against sport per se. My kid was interested enough and happy to join in with soccer, baseball etc initially but basically the amount of time commitment required for practices plus then weekend games was too much for my kid and our family. And that is just at ages 6, 7, 8...... So he was shut out of those sports basically, because it seems like there is an all or nothing environment. There does not seem to be much room for the low-key, playing of games for fun. At least not that we were aware of. What that meant is that over time any kind of participation in those sports has become out of reach to him - the pick up games on the school field are dominated by the kids that play, often in the 'elite' teams who, with twice weekly practices and maybe private coaching as well, are in a whole different league. So the kid who would enjoy kicking the ball around for fun, exercise, and a little bit of competition doesn't bother. Sport for even young elementary kids has become so 'professionalized' that it really has deepened the divide between the players and nonplayer, sporty and nonsporty. There doesn't seem to be any middle ground and I think that means a lot of kids who are maybe only mildly interested in sports, or interested but not particularly talented, or those without either the family means or interest in the hyper-kids sports culture get turned off sports altogether because there is no other way for them to participate and no one to play with ( all the other kids are in the 'big leagues'.)
I just don't think that is right at eleme
ntary ages, and maybe even middle school ages. But all these teams and leagues are big business nowdays. And everyone has their eye on a sports scholarship.

Although.....Academic scholarships are actually easier to obtain and worth more $- so maybe some of the time and energy that goes into sports would be better spent on academics, or the sports fees would be better put into a college saving account?

Not sporty

Anonymous said...

HP, when my daughters were in high school, cheer was definitely a cut sport at Hale. Not sure if that is still the case. My kids were not at Hale, but friends whose kids were there shared their daughters' heart break from the entire process.

Cheer Mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

HP, Hale was the school that would never let my son play a minute on the Ultimate Frisbee team. He left after he was told he would never play.

So yes, he was "on the team."

I personally have never seen a cheer team that wasn't a cut sport. The sheer costs and logistics would make it difficult.

Anonymous said...

I said Cheer is a cut sport but that it isn't considered a sport at SPS. It is mainly a cut sport for practical reasons. Hale has a large squad so they make it is as big as manageable.

I don't think Ultimate is cut anymore but I'll ask. I'll ask about play time too.

HP

David said...

I am decidedly non-sporty myself, and I honestly loathe the way athletes are glorified in this culture, so much so that they get away with assaulting women and children and are rarely punished because it matters more in the USA that you can carry or throw a ball down a field than it does if you beat up women. Ahem.

However, i have an only child. I signed her up for sports mostly for the socialization aspect. I wanted her to learn how to be part of a team, how to share, the satisfaction of working at something and getting better at it, that sometimes other kids are better than you at certain things and sometime you are better than other kids, etc. And to get exercise.

She played rec soccer for 4 years and middle school soccer for 1 year. She also played Little League softball for 5 years. She had some great coaches and made some good friends that she's still friends with today. I consider that a successful sports experience.

Anonymous said...

The whole idea that some kids get to have a sports experience (because they are good at sports) and other kids don't get to have any sports experience (because they suck at sports) just smacks of the worst kind of inequity. Students with disabilities, for the most part, are particularly poor at sports and have the fewest opportunities for them. They also need sports and other extra curriculars more than other people. Why should they not get an equal opportunity to this extracurricular activity as everyone else? That is actually the law. IDEA specifically gives students with disabilities the rights to EQUAL access to disabilities. And, Melissa is right about Ultimate. Here's a sport predicated on "spirit of the game".... yet is worse than so-called cut sports as far as playing opportunities and inclusion. My child had a similar experience in high school when we were told something similar in Ultimate. Eg. "Well I guess you can be on the team, but we'll never let you play." To that I asked, "What does no-cut mean then?" Really. Never, ever get to play??? A quick reminder that students with disabilities needed equal opportunities to participate - sure enough, did get the coach's attention, and some playing time for my student. But, man oh man, it's not the inclusion you really are hoping for in a public school. Sometimes you just have to stand up for something though.

Sped Parent

Anonymous said...

I checked with the Hale Ultimate team and found out that they now have enough boys playing Ultimate that they have two teams: Varsity and JV. It is a no-cut sport and all the JV members get to play. Most of the sports at Hale have Varsity and JV teams to address the different levels of skill and because there is enough interest for 2 teams. Some sports also have a C team or a Freshman team. Gymnastics lets everyone participate in at least 2 meets and the varsity team is not named until the end of the season at Metros when the team is only allowed to send 8 gymnasts. Gymnastics also has an all-comers meet at the end of the season for everyone who doesn't go to Metros. Swimming is also has an all comers meet where kids that didn't qualify for Metros during the regular season have a chance to qualify then.

For kids with disabilities, there is a Soccer United team. Some of the other schools also have a Basketball United team. Also, the cheer squad has a member of the team who is in special ed. She does all the cheers and dance routines as well as stunting. She is an integral part of the squad and well liked.

I agree, that it is unfortunate that Hale Ultimate did not let players play in the past. It is disappointing to me, in that not letting players play is against the code of Ultimate. I am glad to see that it has expanded to allow more kids to play. Hopefully, the coaching staff has changed too.

HP

Anonymous said...

It's not "United", it's "Unified". And SPS minimal support of Unified sports does not constitute equal access to anything.

Students with disabilities should not have to be stuck with an all volunteer, no fidelity (eg, they don't play the real games), step sister program (Unified), when they could just play regular sports if not for being "good enough". Heck, Unified basketball gets the courts like once a month, and only get to play half-court. Seriously. An all volunteer, "do it if we can" and "we'll make up our own rules" program can not be a substitute for a sports program, and is no way equitable to opportunities other kids get. In regular sports, there is a presumption that there will be a coach, and that kids CAN learn to play. Yes, Unified is a fine start. Yes, maybe it is a great ends for some - but really. It's second class. Why should people with disabilities be stuck in a "disabilities" venue?

And, as to Ultimate. Having a JV team, or multiple JV teams still does not guarantee kids playing time. That was the case for my kid. I wasn't trying to get him to play "Varsity" (laughable because Ultimate is a "club" sport), just to have an opportunity to play at all. The real game, with real peers, with the real rules.

Sped Parent

Anonymous said...

At Hale, the Unified team is treated like a club sport (Ultimate and Lacrosse). It does not get support from the school directly with ASB funds or coach pay but they are a part of the Sports Boosters. As a part of Sports Boosters they have access to the Chris Dumlao scholarship funds and they have their own account. The parents participate in concession sales to earn money for their team just like all the other sports and club sports.

Not perfect but better than it was several years ago.

HP

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