Thursday, February 23, 2006

Individual sport and team game...or is it the other way around?

Long time coach and manager Mike Cubbage once told a story about an exchange he had with Gregg Jefferies in the minor leagues. Jefferies frequently bellowed loud obscenities after unsuccessful times at bat in a manner which echoed about the smaller, more intimate minor league parks. Cubbage, wanting to change the young talented player's behavior called him into his office.
To make his point, he asked a bit of a rhetorical question, "What would you mother say if she heard you?"
Jefferies easily brushed it aside by saying, "she's heard it before."
I've learned something as a high school teacher I hadn't realized working in professional athletics. Kids need to develop social skills. Schools are as good a place as any as we don't expect them to be perfect. They're kids. Their going to make poor choices, make mistakes and learn from all. Sins and misteps are addressed and their held accountable for them. Discipline is applied. For better or for worse, they grow.
We encourage after school activities such as sports, musical ensembles, marching band, service clubs, academic clubs, student councils, special interest clubs. The list goes on and on. Any activity that keeps a kid after school exposes them further to invaluable lessons. Maybe its just friendly fellowship or something simple as knowing what a sense of belonging means. Often its learning the value in group efforts through the channel of common goals. Here's where team sports come in. And here's where parents make it or break it.
Little League and Recreational Soccer are extremely popular and valuable for kids to develop physically and socially while building self-esteem. Some are talented enough to excel in their sport and take further steps by playing for school teams and various forms of competitive teams. Some parents have a tendency to get involved in their training and advancement of individual skills. Sadly some forget their son or daughter is playing a team sport and disregard team goals as they nurture them along. Parents will openly demonstrate their emphasis on their child's individual success and things as playing time or what position they play. It goes beyond advocacy and many live vicariously through their children.
I've witnessed some kids reject their parents , embarrassed by their behavior. But others buy in and we'll witness a selfish, narcissistic athlete and one who's socially unskilled.
Recent behavior of American speedskater Shani Davis at the Winter Olympics comes to mind. After blowing off the opening ceremonies, he snubbed his teammates and opted not to take part in team pursuit. The bizzare behavior of his mother has spoken volumes as well. Make no mistake. As part of the team, Davis was obligated to take part in this team event. Yet values developed in his long quest for individual goals enabled him to easily make these snubs of his teammates and countrymen.
The increase in the number of high school and undergraduate basketball players entering the NBA has affected the league in a way that's been bemoaned by knowing observers for some time now. At an early age, players are spoiled by sycophants and those seeking to take advantage. Individual skills and goals are over emphasized and placed at a premium. An underdeveloped player arrives unable to play into a team concept and socially unskilled at accepted criticism and coaching. The coach becomes an impeding to the player's individual goals. The player either learns quickly or fails miserably, and quite publicly.
Such examples of a failure at the parental level to both demontrate and instill values at an early age are becoming more common and in more sports. More than ever there's a financial gain to be made from sports in adolescents. Private training, traveling clubs , summer camps are the norm that weren't so 25 years ago. Exploitation by the adults who should be providing adult supervision is slowly, but assuredly taking us away from the value that team sports and concepts have provided for generations.


At 11:23 PM, Blogger Metstradamus said...

Even though I am not a parent I can say that I agree with you 200%. Unfortunately, there are people in all walks of life (not just athletes), who lack basic social skills...whether it be because of growing up with a lack of organized recreation such as little league, or due to sub-standard parenting in a more self-centric society. (In other words, there are people on this planet who just shouldn't have kids).

Great read as always.


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