When it comes to sports, I'm a bit of an OG. No, not an Original Gangsta, but an Old Guy. In my 16 years of competitive/varsity sports, I was the epitome of what many people call "Old School". I didn't have the latest flashy shoes that were guaranteed to make you run faster, jump higher, etc. I didn't take supplements to grow muscles out my ears. I didn't get tattoos or piercings to intimidate the opponents; I still have zero to this day, for what it's worth. I didn't trash talk during the game to belittle my opponent. And I damn sure didn't celebrate excessively after I performed well.
Obviously, much of this isn't applicable for the really young kids - elementary/middle schoolers aren't really getting tatted up or getting hormone injections. Or are they? These days, prodigies seem to be younger, stronger and faster than their predecessors. Maybe it's just the older I get, the faster everyone else seems.
But my question is, how young is too young? When is the cut-off from being just a kid playing a pick-up game to being on television as the next quasi-amateur sports champion?
The lead on the 10 pm SportsCenter last night was the Little League World Series. OK, I guess. But then they interviewed a 12-year-old. Asked him how it “felt” to have the game-winning hit. He said it felt “great.” Well, of course he did. Then the “reporter” asked him if he’d like to elaborate. The kid said he couldn't. Well, of course he couldn't. HE’S A 12-YEAR-OLD KID.
Can we dispense with interrogating little kids, please?
I really hate this kind of reporting. As such, I don't understand why a high school football team from Cocoa Beach, FL, is playing a game in Cincinnati, OH. I abhor the whole AAU culture in kid basketball. And I really don't need to hear the words of a 12-year-old baseball player.
Can kids be kids, or do we need to corrupt them, too? Nothing says false self-importance quite like the Worldwide Leader interviewing you before you reach junior high. Unless it’s some recruiting website/magazine deciding you’re the 6th best 5th grade basketball player in America. Just stop, K?
This has been a growing trend for many years now. It ranges from the Stage Moms dressing their daughters up like prom queens and prancing them around on stage to win a big shiny piece of metal, all the way to the overbearing father who has junior in the back yard throwing footballs through a tire swing until the sun goes down... even though he's only nine years old.
My father played lots of sport growing up, and he was pretty good at just about all of them. And by pretty good, I mean really good. He not only still holds his high school's record for the Shot Put, but still holds multiple basketball records as well. He also received a full-ride athletic scholarship to the University of Mississippi for basketball (back when white guys got basketball scholarships). In other words, the guy could ball. But did he have me out on the driveway shooting free-throws until my arms gave out?
He let me choose which sports I wanted to play - and which ones I no longer wanted to play - which included his beloved sport of basketball. I'm not saying that a little piece of his heart didn't break the day his youngest son told him he didn't want to play b-ball any longer, but he hasn't given me an ounce of grief about it to this day. Being that I was in 6th grade at the time, he was just letting a kid be a kid.
That's something I have kept in the back of my mind ever since then. When you learn that you're about to become a parent, even if it's not for the first time, you can't help but think about what your child will take interest in as they grow up. Will they like music or sports? Reading or arithmetic? "Catcher in the Rye" or The Immaculate Reception? I think too many parents are making those decisions for their child instead of with their child.
It's this type of parental pressure that has caused kids to become so driven and over-competitive that they take all the fun out of the game. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those wussy parents that thinks "everyone should get playing time at every level" and even the losing team gets a trophy. Some good, healthy competition prepares kids for real life where everything isn't just handed to them. But, they should still be having fun, right? That's why we play the game in the first place isn't it?
They're kids... just let them, you know, play.