One Varsity Mom -- the one in my house -- took issue with two things in yesterday's post that launched from a review of Tom Farrey's fascinating new book, "Game On." I actually meant to cover them yesterday, but in my rush to get the post up, they were left out inadvertently.
Issue No. 1: This isn't about dads raising kids to play sports; moms are involved, too.
Absolutely! This is about parenting of young kids, and gender lines were obliterated years ago. In Tom Farrey's book, many of the examples of overwhelming sports-parenting are the moms. I would argue that in our case, Margery is far more attuned to high-pressure youth sports. That's a good segue...
Issue No. 2: High-pressure youth sports aren't all bad.
This is true, and I didn't mean to say otherwise. I was speaking in broad strokes. Obviously, there are some for whom high-pressure youth sports is a good thing.
Margery started swimming when she was 6 and by the time she was 8, she was fast-tracked into a super-development program that basically consumed her life for the next 10 years.
(After reading Farrey's book, it is obvious that what was "6" 25 years ago is now probably halved to 3-year-olds...or younger.)
Generally, she was able to find a balance between hyper-intense (Olympic-track) commitment and her schoolwork, her family and some semblance of a life (though I'm pretty sure she would concede that her life wasn't nearly the same as if she didn't have to wake up at 4:30 a.m. EVERY day).
But I would argue that she is probably a unique case: I know first-hand that she was raised by incredibly level-headed parents, who ensured that she had as much of a balance as was possible given her schedule and the expectations. Even then, they weren't entirely successful: You can be the best parent in the world -- and her parents are among them -- and you can get blindsided by a single-minded "elite-focused" coach. I don't meant to set up a competitive dynamic between parents and coach -- it should be coordinated and complementary -- but often that is how it plays out, and the parent isn't in a position to have the influence they would normally have, just as it is in the classroom or in any extracurricular activity.
And it is worth noting that as intensely as she trained and was into the sport and as high as her aspirations were, she eventually burnt out and left the sport before her senior year in college. I barely ever see her in a pool and it is never to actually swim. She doesn't particularly care when I bring up swimming-related news. I can't believe that isn't a function of her experience as a kid.
Now, she really wants to get Gabe in the pool, not because she wants him to swim competitively, but just because it was such a big part of her life growing up and I think she wants him to experience it for himself, too. (He doesn't have to worry about a life as a competitive swimmer: No. 1, half his genes are mine, and I'm a sloth; and No. 2, I'm busy at 4:30 a.m. writing a sports column, so I ain't taking him to practice.)
The bottom line is that (a) both parents are involved -- should be involved, HAVE to be involved -- in their kids' sports participation, whatever that might be, and (b) not all intense youth sports result in corrupting a kid's youth...but it takes even more work by the parents to avoid it.
I sincerely believe that the default state of intense youth sports is that it screws up the kid. If the parents don't do it right in terms of balance and oversight and positive involvement, you can really mess the kid up.