Saturday, November 20, 2010

Youth Sports Fanatics by Nature or Nurture?

I was recently interviewed via phone by Mark Hyman, professional journalist and blogger (Youth Sports Blog) about youth sports. He asked me fairly basic questions. The questions were not difficult to answer, but they made me stop and think and think. I will post about some of my answers over the next couple of days.

One thought provoking question was Why do we invest so much time and money in youth sports? After the call, I wondered if the real question was - Why would you subject your kids to this hectic schedule? Is it for you or them? Let's face it, if you read this blog we're nuts. But why are we nuts? was the thought provoking question that I wanted to answer for myself. I thought about it all last night and could not wait to write it down.

As I answered Mark's question, I am sure that I rambled on before I articulated the pure and simple answer which is - we're a sports family. My wife and I come from sports families. We love sports and either by nature or nurture our kids love sports too. None of us can get enough of it.

My wife and I do not have grand illusions of our kids playing pro sports or even getting college scholarships. My kid's 529s are at the ready. We would love it if our kids had a chance to play in high school because my wife and I both have fond memories of HS sports. My kids are considering HS programs with very competitive athletics, as such, playing HS sports is not a given. So as long as they have the desire to play sports, we will invest the time, energy and money to help them advance as far as they want to go.

As a kid, I played sports non-stop year round. I played organized soccer, baseball, lacrosse, tennis and basketball. I got consumed in the sports season that I was in. If it was baseball season, my friends and I played baseball (or some form of it) day and night. If we were not playing in an organized league, we were playing pick-up baseball games or stickball or whiffle ball. When it rained we played ruler ball. Ruler ball was a form of baseball played in a basement on rainy days. A 12 in. ruler was the bat and wadded up tin foil was the ball. We played baseball in one form or another non-stop and never once thought about pitch counts.

During basketball season, if I was not playing on an organized team, my friends and I (or my dad and I) would play at a park or on driveway somewhere. We played pick up games, from 5V5 full court to 1V1 half court, it all depended on how many kids we could find to play on any given day. Additionally, we played horse, pig, 5-3-1 and Around-the-World all day long and at night under spot lights. In the winter, we would shovel snow off the driveway to play.

When I wasn't playing sports I was watching sports on TV or live at a stadium. In other words, I had no time for Boy Scouts or Indian Guides and that was just fine with me.

My dad
I was probably obsessed with sports because my dad was. My dad was a tremendous athlete. Much better than I was. At 6ft 5in, he was bigger, faster and more athletic than me. Heck he was bigger, faster and could jump higher than most people of is era. He played 3 sports in college (baseball, basketball and golf). He was simply good at every sport he picked up and loved nothing more than to teach me how to play each game to my potential.

JJ's Great Grandmother
My wife was a multi-sport athlete as a kid. She played boys baseball, basketball, volleyball, softball, golf and also participated in track and field (hurdles and high jump). She played softball in college. Athletics were ingrained in her by her family. Get this, her great grandmother, played college basketball at Waldorf College in Iowa from 1913-1916 not too long after the first ever women's college basketball game was played. Her grandfather and mother's first date was a tennis match. Her grandmother beat her grandfather.

I wouldn't be married to my wife if not for sports. 

The Cincinnati Sports and Social Club formed the year I moved to Cincinnati in the early nineties. The club was based on a simple principle, co-ed sports for young adults followed by co-ed drinking at a sponsor bar.

The first year of the club, I played volleyball against my wife. The next season I recruited her to play on my team. Together, we won the Cincinnati Sport and Social Club Volleyball Championship several years in a row. We traveled to places like Atlanta, Orlando and Phoenix to represent the Cincinnati Club at the Sport and Social Clubs National Finals. We also won a softball city title and countless floor hockey city titles. We did not stop playing when we had kids either. We would bring a playpen and put it in the corner of a gym or the end of a dugout and play sports 3 or 4 days a week year round. We did this until our kids schedules precluded this.

The Main Point

I guess my kids are sports fanatics because they come from a long line of sports fanatics. We are motivated by the love of sports pure and simple. It's a passion. We do not see sports as a path to stardom and money. It's about lifelong enjoyment.

Before you jump to any conclusions. Academics come before sports in our family.  Thankfully, my two young, over-scheduled athletes are great students. Perhaps, they got that from me. I brought my competitive nature to school. I graduated number 5 in my engineering college and earned an Ivy League MBA. Like athletics, we will invest the time, energy and money to help our kids advance as far as they want to go in school too.

Finally to answer the question, Is this for us (parents) or for them (kids)? Just yesterday, my daughter asked me if she could join the Girl Scouts. I said, "Sure honey but you will probably need to cut back on your sports schedule to do Girl Scouts." Without hesitation she said, "Oh - no way dad, forget it." And that was that. Like father, like daughter.

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