“Seek opportunities to show you care. The smallest gestures often make the biggest difference.”
John Wooden

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Adultification of Youth Sports

By John O'Sullivan
March 18, 2015
The other day I had a conversation with a coaching colleague about the state of youth sports. I stated that the emphasis on travel sports and playing multiple games per day for young children was hurting kids and damaging sports.
“I agree with what you are saying,” he said, “but you are forgetting that youth sports is now a form of entertainment for the parents. We are just giving them what they want.”
Sadly, he was right, and I hear this a lot. The question is “should we be giving parents what serves them best, or what serves their children the best?”
Is that even a question?
Youth sports has become less a tool to educate children about sport and life, and more often a place where parents go to be entertained by their kids. They pay good money, add a great deal of chaos to their lives, and spend their valuable time travelling far and wide watching their kids play sports. When the product they see on the field does not live up to their perceived notion of the value of their investment, they get upset at the kids, the coaches, and at the schools and clubs. They want their moneys worth. They want to be entertained. But at what cost?
argue with refNow I know this will upset some people who read this. They will say that they would do anything for their kids, that they happily spend this time and money for their children. I believe them. But if youth sports ended tomorrow for your child, honestly answer for yourself whose life would be more disrupted, yours, or your child’s? That answer can be scary for some people.
I find it sad that we trade in the health and safety of our kids for the adult need to be entertained and get a return on our investment, yet that is exactly what we do. Can you name a professional contact sport that plays multiple games in a day? There are none. College sports? There are none. High-level high school sports, or leagues like the US Developmental Academy in soccer? Nope. These highly trained athletes do not play multiple games in a day, and rarely play games on back-to-back days, because it is not safe, healthy, or conducive to optimum performance.
Sadly, in youth sport we justify the travel to soccer or basketball tournaments by having kids play five games in 48 hours “to get our moneys worth.” We take developing children, often in their growth spurt and even more susceptible to injury, and place demands upon them that we do not place on elite pro or college athletes. Why?
The only reason I see is to entertain the people paying the bills, and justify the expense of getting to the venue. This must be it, because there is not a single sport scientist, physician, fitness expert, or professional coach who would treat their elite players this way, or recommend this path for younger athletes. Not one.
Using youth sports as a form of adult entertainment is just one example of what I call the “adultification” of youth sports. It is the introduction and prioritization of adults’ needs and values over those of the child. It turns the focus from process to outcome and from free play to deliberate practice. It creates barriers to participation financially, forces year round commitments far too young, does not allow for sport sampling, and is creating a generation of burned out, beat down kids who walk away from sports.
“Adultification” manifests itself in four main ways. If we want sports to become a place where kids want to spend their time and energy, we need to end it, now. Here is how it rears its’ head:
1. The push to become “elite” at younger ages
As Sherry Keuhl of the Kansas City Star recently wrote “Am I the only one old enough to remember when ‘competing at the elite level’ meant an athlete was training to make an Olympic team? Because now it also means a family is spending their weekend in scenic Omaha and probably dropping close to $1,000 (at least $250 of that in entry fees) so their 11-year-old can play volleyball in a junior high gym with 750 other “elite” sixth-graders.”
This is happening in every sport, all across our country. Over lunch recently, a family member of mine told me about his 11 year-old son having to forgo the upcoming basketball season.
“Why?” I asked. “Yes, he is a little small for his age, but he is a heck of an athlete, a very good basketball player, you are 6’ 3”, his mom is tall, he is going to be a monster.”
“It’s not that we don’t want him to play, or that he doesn’t want to play,” he said. “We just can’t, the commitment is too much with multiple kids in sports.” And then he told me the story.
You see my family member lives in a large metropolitan area, and his son is on the local basketball club “B” team, which is fine, except for the fact that this season was travel season. Every weekend they were travelling for tournaments. These events were usually out of state, and when you added in the costs, time commitment, and overall craziness, it was just too much.
The sad part is that his son’s team could probably find 100 competitive games within a one-hour drive, yet the “elite system” demanded that this was travel season. If you wanted to be on a team, there was no time to actually practice. You needed to hit the road and lay out thousands of dollars to play the same level of competition you could play any evening of the week and still be home for dinner. This is not “elite.” This is insane.
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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

At 65, Bobby Orr is focused on doing good — quietly


Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe
Kevin Keyes barely knew Bobby Orr, the hockey god of his youth, when he pulled into Orr’s driveway on a midsummer day, believing he was welcome.

Keyes remembers “jumping out of my skin’’ with excitement as he led his four children to Orr’s door. He knocked. No one answered.
His children knocked. No answer.
What happened next may not have struck Keyes as exceptional had he known about the innumerable acts of kindness Orr has quietly committed since he arrived in Boston 47 years ago as a peach-fuzzed prodigy on skates.
No one had told Keyes that Orr once turned his home into a hospice for the final months of a dying friend’s life.
Keyes never knew about Orr’s singular effort to save a former Bruins teammate who was wasting away from drugs and drink.
Or that, for decades, Orr has privately counseled and comforted the sick and dying, the disabled and disenfranchised, the poor and grieving.
He is 65 now and still considered by many the greatest hockey player who ever lived, an indelible revelation on ice. During his 12 years in the NHL from 1966-78, he twice led the Bruins to Stanley Cup titles, in 1970 and 1972, and accumulated nearly every honor the NHL grants, including early entry to the Hall of Fame.
But if the true measure of character is found in the deeds done when no one is looking, then Orr has forged a transcendent legacy in the decades since he first wielded a wooden hockey stick on Causeway Street.
His effortless speed, power, and scoring touch, unrivaled in the history of NHL defensemen, revolutionized the sport he loves and turned New England into a hub of hockey fanatics.
His work changing lives is much less known, for a simple reason: He won’t talk about it and loathes anyone else talking about it. The idea of receiving credit — or worse, appearing to seek credit — for doing what a good person does repulses Bobby Orr. This article, which touches on some of those quiet acts of kindness was, in a real sense, written against his wishes.
“I don’t do things to get ink,’’ he said in an interview last week. “I just sneak along and do my thing and meet wonderful people, some people I’ve never met, new friends.’’

Few dare cross him

He is old enough now for Medicare, his boyish face wrinkling, his chestnut hair graying, his mangled knees remade with titanium, and he has not played professional hockey since 1978, seven years before current Bruins star Patrice Bergeron drew his first breath.
Orr, at his Sandwich home, would prefer he were not the subject of this story.
But “Number 4, Bobby Orr,’’ as he was known generations ago by children who ate from Bobby Orr lunch boxes and skated in Bobby Orr gear on dozens of new rinks that opened amid Orr Fever, reigns as one of the most admired athletes in North America both for his transformative hockey career and personal grace.
“No one does superstar like Bobby Orr,’’ said Derek Sanderson, a former Bruins teammate who credits Orr with rescuing him from a potentially deadly addiction to cocaine, Quaaludes, and alcohol.
Orr is no saint, of course. He can be tough, stubborn, sometimes loyal to a fault, and can hold grudges for years. “He has had a temper all his life,’’ said Harry Sinden, his friend and former coach.
For decades, Orr has controlled his public image so tenaciously that few have dared cross him, or intrude on his treasured privacy.
“I know some of the incredible things Bobby has done for people, but he would hit me over the head if I ever mentioned them,’’ said Nate Greenberg, a former Bruins public relations chief who has been Orr’s friend for 40 years.
A prominent research physician has never forgotten Orr’s anger. In 1976, Dr. Murray Feingold asked the hockey legend to visit a gravely ill boy at a Boston hospital. Orr agreed on the condition the visit remain private.
The encounter went well until Orr departed and was engulfed by reporters.
“ ‘Oh my God, Bobby, I had nothing to do with this,’ ’’ Feingold recalled saying.
Seething, Orr glared at the doctor.
“Bobby was visibly upset, mainly at me,’’ said Feingold, who later learned the boy’s mother alerted the media.
Orr divulges almost nothing about his acts of charity in his autobiography, “Orr: My Story,’’ due out Oct. 15. He wrote the book, a copy of which the Globe received in advance, as if he were coaching both his sport and society, delivering lessons in honor and responsibility while he examines hockey at its best and worst.
He said he is most disturbed about what he considers the corroding culture in youth sports.
“Some coaches act as if the mortgage were at stake if their Pee Wee team doesn’t win a game, which is outrageous,’’ Orr said. “We’ve got to do a better job with our kids. Teach good values, teach the fundamentals.’’
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