All too familiar

Jul. 07, 2013 @ 06:13 AM

I didn't become a sports journalist for my love of writing. Yes, I do enjoy writing and like to think of it as one of my talents, but I'm a sports fan. I grew up playing and will always watch. I wake up in the morning, turn on ESPN, go to work, read and write about sports all day and then go home and turn ESPN back on. I'm a sports fan who didn't have elite athletic ability, so I coupled a talent with a passion so I could make sports my life.

And with all the reading I do on a daily basis from magazines and websites, I rarely find something that I relate to on an incredible personal level. But in the most recent issue of ESPN the magazine that found its way to my mailbox, the worldwide leader in sports hit home.

It was the first installment of a "Kids in Sports" series, two months worth of storytelling about kids in sports in print, online and on television. The first paragraph on the opening page set the tone.

"There's nothing better than being a kid playing sports: The ping of a bat. The ecstasy of touching the net. The illicit thrill of most any tackle ... There's nothing worse than being a kid playing sports: Delusional parents. High-pressure pipelines. Every blow to the head a seismic event ... Kids plus sports equals a messy, joyful, booming business."

Now I'm not too far removed from being a kid paying recreational or school sports. And now that I'm an adult, I see it every day as part of my job, especially recently with the tidal wave of Little League tournaments.

I've lived the life of the child and now I observe the parents on a regular basis, and the aforementioned statement from the magazine could not be more accurate.

As a child I cherished the nights that my parents drove me to the city park to play baseball or to the YMCA for basketball. I loved spending time with friends learning and having fun no matter the sport.

But I'll admit, I dreaded failure. Not only because I would rather win and do well, but because I knew my dad would have some sort of criticism or disappointment.

At the time I didn't think much of it other than it fueled me to do my best, but looking back on it now that I have a more adult view of things, he was pretty brutal at times.

The thing that frustrates me the most looking back on it is that he was so hard on me, but he never really provided me with too much to help me succeed.

I was one of the top five 10-year-old baseball player in the county but from then I never really progressed, I'll be the first to admit it. I had natural ability that got me by as an above-average player, but while other kids were spending their summers at baseball camps getting better, I was working with my dad. He drove me to one baseball camp — I'll never forget the day — but once we got there it was too late to register. We drove back home. That was the first and last attempt.

Now I see kids driving hours for practices with their travel teams carrying bags with multiple bats and gloves. AAU basketball teams are traveling all over the country and parents are spending thousands of dollars on their children to play sports.

The pressure for theses kids has to be immense.

And as I've spent the past two weeks at Little League fields I realize how early it all starts. And as I've told people, the parents of these children are everything I hope to be one day and everything I hope not to be.

I love the passion the parents show for their kids. They sport their jersey numbers on their clothes and dodge rainstorms to see them succeed. For a moment I think they're everything a parent should be, but then the umpire makes a bad call. Or their kid strikes out. Or the coach takes them out of the game. At that moment the parents show true colors that makes their children cower in embarrassment.

Every time I hear a parent yell or tip over their lawn chair, I cringe. When your child is 7 or 8 years old, the game should still be about fun for them. Let them worry about wins and losses when high school rolls around.

I've had multiple tournament officials look at me and roll their eyes when a parent explodes and I've had them smile when a player has a pure moment of joy. Like they say, these kids have no idea that they might be losing by 10 runs. They're just out to have a good time.

And I know I'm not a parent, so I don't understand. But let's remember, youth sports isn't about the parents.

Encourage your kids, give them the tools to succeed, but let them have fun and carve their own paths. Over-involvement does more harm than good.