Should Kids Play Only One Sport To Achieve Athletic Excellence?

I have written several posts about the role of youth sports in our society, and the impact parental decisions have on our children’s social development.   When I was a child, I played multiple sports.   I played soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring (as well as tennis socially but could not play competitively due to the overlap with baseball).  I even picked up golf in high school and continue to play from time to time.   I played travel baseball in the summer and could still play for my school in the spring.  I chose not to play club soccer until late high school, but many of my soccer teammates played on a club team yet could still play for their school team.   Our soccer team was one of the top teams in NJ, and one of my teammates who was an All-American/NJ Player of the Year, played multiple sports as well.  We all did it, and I was fortunate to have a successful Division I baseball career.

Keep in mind that these are all team sports, not individual ones.   So this writer has no experience watching someone develop as a track star, a gymnast, a tennis player, or even a golfer.   However, as a parent, I have been troubled by the increasing emphasis on only one sport.  Several parents tell me that it is their kids that make the decision to do this, and we are seeing the European model of soccer, for example, now championed by Jurgen Klinsmann, taking hold in the United States.   We are creating “development academies” which are supposed to act as a feeder into the MLS or national team.   Their caveat:   they “own” you for 10 months, where you are not permitted to play for your school or play any other sport.

For a long time, I felt my concerns about focusing on one sport were simply my own opinions, nothing more and nothing less.   But earlier today, an article appeared on one of my social media feeds about this exact issue.  Written by a personal trainer, it presents a compelling case about the moral hazard of one sport focus.   Take this quote by Wayne Gretzky:

I played everything.  I played lacrosse, baseball, hockey, soccer, track & field.  I was a big believer that you played hockey in the winter and when the season was over you hung up your skates and you played something else.

Many of our most successful athletes:   Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson to name a few – all played multiple sports.  What I found interesting about the article was that it talked about the “carryover” that certain sports have on others; for example, the favorable impact of sprinting on your golf swing.   In addition, Ohio State Football Coach Urban Meyer recruits nearly all multiple-sport athletes!

I worry about burnout with one sports athletes.  I worry about injuries.   Could focusing on one sport have any correlation to the alarmingly high increase in Tommy John surgeries with pitchers?  Or the number of torn ACLs in high school.

Kids need to a diverse set of experiences in their formative years.  Sports should first of all be fun, not a chore.   But yet we are all guilty of facilitating this cycle of one sport focus if you want to reach the pinnacle of the sport.  That is simply not true.   Perhaps we should take a hard look at this issue and get some empirical research to support such concerns.  I have no doubt the research will corroborate my opinion.    It’s time to act on this, for the sake of our kids.

Teaching Students About Commitment And Tenacity

This past week, I had the privilege of hearing a motivational speech by former NBA star Jerry Stackhouse.  In a very conversational, lighthearted tone, Stackhouse delivered a very important message to youth everywhere.  While trying to add levity to a rags-to-riches, meteoric rise to stardom due to superior basketball skills, he enforced the importance of listening to your parents and finding a support network to help you navigate the twists and turns that life throws at you.   He concluded his talk with a poem, written by Edgar Albert Guest, titled See it Through, which I’m posting here.   All kids should adhere to this message – too many run away from adversity.  That needs to change.

When you’re up against a trouble, 
Meet it squarely, face to face; 
Lift your chin and set your shoulders, 
Plant your feet and take a brace. 
When it’s vain to try to dodge it, 
Do the best that you can do; 
You may fail, but you may conquer, 
See it through! 

Black may be the clouds about you 
And your future may seem grim, 
But don’t let your nerve desert you; 
Keep yourself in fighting trim. 
If the worst is bound to happen, 
Spite of all that you can do, 
Running from it will not save you, 
See it through! 

Even hope may seem but futile, 
When with troubles you’re beset, 
But remember you are facing 
Just what other men have met. 
You may fail, but fall still fighting; 
Don’t give up, whate’er you do; 
Eyes front, head high to the finish. 
See it through!

The Complicated Legacy of Thomas Jefferson

On the day of his birth, I thought I’d write a post about the legacy of one of our Founding Fathers – the author of the Declaration of Independence and the godfather of “states rights” and a weak Central Government.

I am not a Jeffersonian, but I cannot deny his intellect.   A brilliant man who left so many legacies – founding the University of Virginia, and his inventions in areas of gardening, architecture, science, etc.  And of course, the Presidents who followed him in office; James Madison and James Monroe.    He acquired the Louisiana Territory and significantly expanded American sovereignty on the continent.

But Jefferson left another legacy – in some respects, he was the original Tea Party member.   He tried to convince Americans that the old man (George Washington) was senile.   Instead of civil discourse with Alexander Hamilton about the role of the federal government, he decided to resign as Secretary of State rather than to follow the consensus of the administration – and eventually working with James Madison to create the “yin (Democratic-Republican Party)” to the Federalist Party’s “yang.” 

As John Adams’ Vice President, he decided to leave Washington because he disagreed with the Alien and Sedition Acts.  He then secretly plotted with James Madison to write the “Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions,” an attempt to nullify these acts and thus an act of insubordination.  Jefferson decided to build his own opposition party instead of working in a bi-partisan administration.   And lest not forget Jefferson’s role in the XYZ Affair – where he sabotaged Adams’ negotiations with the French to avert a war.  Eventually, Adams was able to avert a war, but the political price was the loss of a second term in office.

Jefferson was about limited government and states rights.   But his politics were as underhanded as they are today.   Jefferson was a slaveowner, and he knew that the only way to ratify the Constitution was to skirt the issue of slavery, which came back to haunt America for 200 years.

Jefferson was brilliant as were all of our Founding Fathers.  But he was not a collaborator, not by any sense of the word.  Our nation is at a crossroads – a very fragile balance between federalism and state control.    Can we maintain equilibrium?   I do not know.   But we can thank Thomas Jefferson for ensuring the battle wages on.


Is America Facing Another Kind Of Civil War?

I’ve been thinking for several weeks how to pen the post I’m about to write.  I know the title is provocative and will make readers a little uncomfortable.   But hasn’t the rhetoric in our country been quite uncomfortable the past few years?

In the 19th Century, the United States fought a bitter Civil War due largely to the fact that the Founding Fathers elected to skirt the slavery issue when crafting the Constitution.  The issue finally came to a head after the 1860 election.   Sadly, our country did not integrate the South until the Civil Rights era of the 1960s.     As we have seen from recent events that took place in both Ferguson and New York City, many would argue that racial tensions still linger.

Today, I feel we are facing another kind of Civil War – an ideological one.   Our form of government is a Republic, not a democracy as many choose to believe.   It is a representative form of government where you elect officials to represent your interests.   The two branches of Congress were constructed to ensure that both big states and small states had an equal say in government, and checks and balances were established in order to prevent the establishment of another monarchy, or one branch from usurping excess power.   Our constitution was well crafted – Benjamin Franklin made this eloquent reflection as he encouraged delegates to approve it:

When you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, he reflected, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinions, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does.

However, it was John Adams who showed such clairvoyance when he made the following warning (of which George Washington agreed):

There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.

I fear we are reaching an ideological test to our Republic like none we have ever seen.   Some facts to support my hypothesis:

  •  Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig has demonstrated how special interests and money has driven elections and taken away the voice of the individual. 
  • Efforts to create a formidable third political party have failed.
  •  Ideological extremists have invaded political parties (I will discuss this later).
  •  The branches of government are not respecting each other nor the Constitution

Ideological extremists such as the Tea Party have reignited the debate between Federalism and State autonomy (i.e., Jeffersonian philosophy).  We are seeing legislation that reasserts state rights (e.g., Anti-Common Core bills) and also trying to permit discrimination under the auspices of “religious freedom.”  Further, these factions are attempting to rewrite U.S. History under political biases, not too dissimilar to what Vladimir Putin is enacting in Russia with his “Anti-American” propaganda largely surrounding their aggressive Crimea annexation.

Our branches of government have recently engaged in very disturbing behavior.   For example, Congress attempting to sue the POTUS for his Immigration Executive Order, the genesis which was due to the lack of collaboration in Congress to enact a strong immigration reform policy.   We see Congress skirting executive branch protocol and not only allowing a foreign Head of State to speak to members of Congress without executive consent, but also publicly damaging the administration’s fragile, yet critical negotiations with Iran.   We see almost daily public statements of a personal nature attacking the President, and then seeing members of Congress assail one another almost regularly.   The discourse is not “civil” anymore.   All of this aggression places enormous pressure on the judicial branch who must play “King Solomon” around issues including health care and same-sex marriage.   The Supreme Court has arguably been forced into an activist posture (which it detests) never before seen since the Bush vs Gore decision that settled the 2000 Presidential Election.

Many people though that the election of a well spoken black President would help unite our country, but instead, it appears the ideological divide has widened.   Do we face a constitutional crisis, and has our Republic ever been tested more severely than it is now?   As an American, this is what keeps me up at night.   Can’t we just find a way to get along, respect differences, and work together to reinvent America as the greatest country in the world?


The Importance of Positive Role Models for our Youth

Last night I received a very harsh tweet from some person who took issue with my comment that I felt the Tampa Bay Buccaneers risk destroying their franchise by making Jameis Winston the face of it.   We all know that Winston has proven he lacks maturity and has not handled fame well – in some ways like Johnny Manziel.  We have seen major sports leagues prioritize winning over everything else, and are not concerned with slapping players on the wrist for criminal behavior that would likely terminate them from most other jobs.   These are the players whose fans will buy jerseys for their children to wear proudly.   It is dangerous to idolize professional athletes.   However, sometimes we see these athletes demonstrate true leadership and welcome the fact that they are considered “role models.”   Examples  of positive role models include Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning, and possibly Russell Wilson (too soon to tell but he shows promise, as does Marcus Mariota).  But for those few gems out there, we see so many bad eggs whose off the field behavior makes front page news and oftentimes the police blotter.   We must be careful who we let our children idolize or look up to.  And they should look up to folks other than professional athletes.

There was a boy who played many sports but really liked baseball the best.  When he was 12 years old, he attended a summer baseball camp.  At the camp one day was a very special guest:  baseball Hall of Famer Monte Irvin.   Irvin was one of the first African Americans allowed to play in the major leagues.   He played with Willie Mays on the San Francisco Giants and before that had a a heralded Negro League career with the Newark Eagles.   He was a sensational hitter who was also a great ambassador for the sport.  

At the camp, Monte Irvin watched the boys take batting practice.   After this one boy took his swings at the plate, he hears Monte say, “son, come over here for a minute.”   The boy walks over to Irvin and Monte says to him, “Son, I wanted to tell you that you have a great swing.”  The boy is speechless.  A hall of famer is telling him that he has a great swing.   That was the day that the boy decided he wanted to not only learn about the Negro Leagues and Monte Irvin’s life, but also wanted to work as hard as he could to become a major league baseball player.

That boy was me.

Lets Teach Historical Empathy In Schools

What is historical empathy? Here’s a textbook definition (from “Empathy:  A Historical Concept):

In the historical context, the concept of empathy is much more than just seeing a person, idea or situation through the eyes of another, but rather is a much deeper understanding of the circumstances and concepts surrounding the event. Questioning how and why someone acted in a particular way would need to involve knowledge circumstances and an understanding of bias. Moreover, there would need to be an inquiry into the author of the text and an idea of the time and place in which the event occurred, while also considering changing social practices and ideals over time. Evidently, it is an empathetic understanding rather than just an emotional understanding; an individual must instead adopt a third person view where it is not what they personally would do in the situation, but what the individual in question did in relation to their own circumstances. Such positioning would encourage a more balanced, equitable view of history, which allows for a greater depth of understanding and insight into the content which is being discussed.

I am a history buff.  I have read all of the major biographies on the founding fathers and other famous American historical figures (e.g., Abraham Lincoln).  Recently, I read a biography about Robert E. Lee that was written by Jonathan Horn titled, The Man Who Would Not Be Washington.  In school. we didn’t learn much about the General of the Confederacy, other than he led the secessionist forces and ultimately surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.   However, Lee is an intriguing historical figure.

The title of the book is the ultimate juxtaposition – as Washington was “the man who would not be king.”   I don’t want to give the details away, but Lee married into the Washington bloodline and he was forced to choose between the Union he fought for and the state he called his home (Virginia).  He did not support secession, and he was forced to make a choice that ultimately sealed his fate.  I could not begin to understand the conflicts that people had in the Civil War era.  Families were divided, and not just by geography.   The Union was on the verge of collapse.   You have to read the book to understand to a small degree what Lee was dealing with, how his views were shaped, and why he made the decisions he made.  The reader may not support those decisions, but if you use historical empathy, you can understand them.

This is how our children must be taught history – why choices were made in the circumstances afforded them.   This is why history should not be taught through a politically biased lens.   And we must tread cautiously when taking steps to amend an AP U.S. History Curriculum so that we do not forget the concept of historical empathy.

In Case You Didn’t Believe Me About The Moral Hazard of Youth Sports….

I have written several posts in the last few months about the concerns I have with youth sports.   I have discussed the risks of a “winning at all costs” mentality, the lack of consistency with discipline, and the poor role modeling done by adults.  I encourage you to read the last few posts on my blog about this topic.

I was in my car this morning listening to the local sports radio hosts, and I was unfortunately not surprised to hear that the Jackie Robinson Little League Baseball Team (Chicago, IL) was stripped of its 2014 world title because they recruited players from outside their zip code – a clear violation of Little League rules.   The parents and coaches cheated the kids here.   Not only does this embarrass the United States, but lets not forget that the POTUS is from Chicago!  

This is yet another example of how the “winning at all costs” mentality is starting at such a young age.   Where is the uproar?   When did our priorities get so screwed up?   We are forgetting the role of youth sports, and winning is NOT the primary goal.   Yes, you play to win, but you play to learn, you play to be a good teammate, a good athlete and a good son or daughter.  You play to develop tools to live a life that is healthy in mind, body and spirit.   When you do that, you win in life. 

Why does this keep happening in our youth sports programs, our college sports programs, and our professional sports programs?   See the common link, everyone?   What you teach kids stays with them through their lives.  It’s going to take a generation to fix this program, so we better start now.