Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Adult Scheduling Olympics

Adult Schedule Olympics:
For those of you who have followed my blogs you probably saw this one coming a mile away. In the course of my attending over 2000 youth and high school sporting events, a constant theme has started to emerge. Parents are complaining about their hectic youth, club, and high school sports child delivery service. Some combination of all four mixed together has produced a new psychological status paradigm.  I call it the “My schedule is so much tougher than yours Olympics.”
I have written and talked about the “keep up with the Jones mentality pervasive in youth and high school sports. ( and society) There is an idea and strong belief that if I don’t do all these things for and with my children they will fall behind the other kids, and then there life will somehow be change dramatically for the worse, forever. (Or at least the parents and coaches are convinced of this)
Nonstop, at almost every single event that I attend in my “fly on the wall” mode I hear this refrain constantly. “My son/daughter has to be at this event at this time or another. Then I have to go take them to another one the same day in another city, or hurry back from there to play another game in their hometown. Next weekend I have to be in three places at once, so my spouse and I won’t see each other all weekend.” Whoa is me. Look at all I am doing for my kids, Not to be outdone, another parent chimes in with their schedule, and it is ALWAYS more hectic than the first parents lament. And when the schedules can’t be ramped up any higher the amount of money is brought up. They never say exactly how much they are spending. A simple statement rattled off listing ALL the places, equipment, and teams that they are involved in so you have no doubt that they are under a lot of stress and financial burden.
Then the Gold medal entry comes in. “Well I wish that was all WE had to do for our son. We had to take him to a Sports Orthopeadic surgeon (Insert Dr. name for status purposes only.) Then we had to take him to a personal trainer (insert first name ONLY of trainer for status purposes) and then he went for Physical therapy.
Well it does not have to be that way. The race they are being told that they are falling behind does not exist. In actuality, all that running around, is probably causing their child to be fatigued. This fatigue actually hinders a child’s development and makes the child more susceptible to injury. Also, psychologically, when a child feels the pressure to do all these things because they HAVE to and not because they want to, their desire and passion fade, it becomes a tedious job.
 Lastly the data points to rest being a crucial part of a child’s athletic development, and all the travel, multiple teams, and multiple events tires children out.
The very stress that the parents are complaining about for them is actually happening to their children on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. How ironic. The idea that you can try and mimic what you THINK top athletes are doing and have your child become an elite athlete and not be just a weaker copied version is inaccurate. While expecting professional results from this process is misguided at best and certainly has the potential to be very unhealthy children are not being allowed to be children.
At Frozen Shorts our organic holistic balanced way for a child to develop is less costly financially, physically, and mentally. The journey taken through the F.S.L.M. is more long term lasting, healthier, and of course my favorite, more fun!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Let the dream take her as far as it can

“Let the dream take her as far as it can”
I have heard this statement form well meaning parents repeatedly over the last five years. This story encompasses them all into one poignant moment.
 I had a parent bring his daughter to me after one of our presentations and tell me: “My daughter is an excellent athlete and a great lax player. I am going to give her every financial advantage and support that I can so she can live her dream.”
This little girl had on a pink hoodie and was only 12 years old. Her father was at least 6” 4” tall and a good 250 pounds. His hand was so big I could barely see this young girl’s hand as he held her close. I kneltd down to speak to her as I feel looking children directly in the eye at their level is critical to gain their trust and show that you truly care.
I simply asked her: “Would you like to go play with your friends from school tonight and do something different?” She looked me right in the eye and her face grew all aglow. Her smile lit up the room and reminded me of when my wonderful young daughter was playing at the playground with her friends having a ball without any interference from adults.
At that point her father glared at me, squeezed her hand, and all the joy in that little girl’s face was completely drained out. It was replaced by body language that was sad and fearful. He walked away with more than just her physical being; he walked away with that little girl’s dreams.
You see she was only 12 years old. And yes it is true that many children will say they want to play, and keep playing that sport, because they love it. But in that one instance, I saw a scenario that I have watched play out over the last 20 years of my coaching, mentoring, and parenting life. A child’s reality was sacrificed, even with very well meaning parents, for the parent’s need to keep up with the “Joneses” on their child’s team, their associates in work place, and their friends in the community.
 Television with the professional athletes, and the way TV is mass covering college, high school, and youth sports is sending a message of professionalism to parents and children that is myopic, misleading, and unhealthy. Words and descriptions used to define a childs developing athletic talent that not so long ago was only used for the very top of heap athletes, and only those who were 15 and 16 years old. This extrinsic force of glory, money, and status permeates the air waves. I am not here to decry that coverage. There is obviously a supply and a demand for it. But what I do question is the message it is sending to parents, coaches, and athletes. If that they don’t play year round on the best “elite” travel team, get personal trainers, play in showcases, and devote their free time to specialization instead of balance, that there is a race that parents are falling behind in.
However, it is a race that doesn’t exist.
We want children to dream. We want them to use their imaginations and creativity to think happy and wonderful things. But there is a difference between dreams and goals, and it is the parents role to know that difference and keep it in  perspective. Because when those dreams are not realized there can be a tremendous push back from the children. We see it every day.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Trophies for Everyone

Trophies for everyone
At each and every presentation I am asked about my opinion on whether or not trophies should be handed out to all the children participating in a youth sports game. My answer is no. Not only do I not think that all the kids should get a trophy, I do not believe that the adults in charge of these children’s activities should even keep score. Before the age of 13 it should be equal play.
Putting an extrinsic value on child’s play is a relatively new concept. Whether it be in the form of a trophy, or in a fancy new uniform or organizational gear, the belief that a child should have his or her self worth determined by something they are wearing or getting materialistically , is not backed by any science or child psychology. Giving a child a trophy to let him or her know whatever they do requires some kind of recognition or external reward goes against the very proven concept that children need to learn from internal realization and not external forces.
Science, psychology and even data gleaned from studies on childhood behavior over centuries,  not just the last 30 years, does not support the current youth sports dynamic as being a safe, healthy, educational path ,and journey for most children participating. On the contrary it is becoming in the words of the Chief of Pediatrics/Orthopeadics at URMC a national health problem.
Children grow and understand at different times and at different paces. To lop them all together into a situation that requires then to compete against each other in the very atmosphere that that should be learning cooperation and sharing to build a stronger self, is against the very nature of childhood growth and long term development. Giving them a trophy for that only confuses them.
The belief that somehow an adult youth sports coach can come in and teach children how to win and the consequences and benefits of winning and losing, when even the very top professional coaches and team owners don’t know how to win, is amusing at best and in reality quite impossible and frustrating to understand. So the reaction to this was, well we have to do something, so let’s give them all trophies. No.
Let the kids play for fun. Let them learn from each other. Allow them to fall down, get up and learn from their mistakes and failures, without the needless extrinsic pressure of winning and losing.
 A trophy at the end of a game or tournament is just another misguided and certainly not scientific or psychologically based reaction by adults to put their feelings and egos into a child’s play and fun, and make everything nice nice for their kids. It really is just another form of entitlement. The trophy just ends being put in the basement or worse, as part of a shrine reminding the child that their life is tied to a great extent to their youth sports journey. Hey, no pressure there.
 It is psychologically proven that children are creative and learn more when left alone to their own path and journey with less structure and more freedom. When this environment is created, children will literally play all day by themselves, or at least until they are exhausted, or called home for dinner.
Guidance in the form of positive support and having to have your child be the best in that small myopic group you call a youth sports or high school team has thrown this whole journey out of whack.

 At frozen Shorts, we are bringing the backyard back. Coming soon, we hope, to a community near you.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Girls the Coach and the ZEN

The “Girls”, the Coach, and the Zen
This is a story about a coach and his team. If you have followed my blogs you know that the sport being played is not of real importance to me. When something is really true, it applies to all situations, games, activities, and academics.
 Teaching children applicable life skills in ALL environments, in as many situations as possible is more important than any single victory. That long term sightedness has been lost to a great extent in the "me now" mentality pervasive in our society. Modeling of that “community” behavior is crucial to our children’s long term growth and well being.
 Back to the story. They were playing a game on a very hot muggy night. They were up by 8 runs going into the last inning. The coach had substituted freely with his players as he always did. Unlike many coaches he put the girls into different positions constantly. If they made a mistake, he kept them in the same position. He asked them if they would like to try different positions. If they did not want to play a certain position at that time, he STILL left open the possibility that they could try that position later on in the season. Sometimes, when children see others doing something and having fun, they forget their fear and trepidation, and want to join in and try something new.
When they see a friend try something, make a mistake and try again and not get yelled at or reprimanded, but instead get encouragement from adults and teammates, it makes them feel safe.  That safe feeling transfers into trying and reaching for something a little bit out of their comfort zone. At Frozen Shorts we see this as the most important part of youth sports development.
This coach would take his best players and put them on the bench, rotating the girls into different positions regardless of the score or inning, in a true team concept.  He didn’t just play his two best girls at shortstop and pitcher. He played the children in all positions, keeping a mental note on who played where and for how long.   (And if you don’t see how this benefits the children over the coach’s ego, you should take a hard look at why you coach children.)
Well, on this particular sultry night the other team came back. They made the game really close: 10-9. He gathered the girls around him on the mound and then did a very remarkable thing. He told them to concentrate on getting just one more out. No speeches on how close the games had gotten. No moving his best players to certain positions. No scouting report on this hitter and what kind of pitch to throw. He didn’t remove one single girl from their position they were playing at the time. There was no wringing of the hands because the other team had scored a lot of runs to tighten up the game. OUTSTANDING.
You see at this point, although the girls were not aware of it, all the playing of different positions, the team chemistry, and all the moves he had made for team development, instead of managing the game to win, were  about to pay off.
Think of how much more these girls learned about trust and the journey from this coach. If they had won the game 10-2 a huge learning moment would have passed without anyone noticing. But, as you know, I believe in the Zen and the journey attached to life.
These kids may not remember this game when they are older, but they will certainly have planted in their brains the model this wonderful coach set for them that day and every day they played for him.
Way to go Mark!

P.S. You are right if you noticed I did not mention the final score on purpose.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Children learn from internal realization not external force.

Children learn from internal realization not external force. These words when applied to either youth sports or education seem to have lost some of their critical importance to our children’s long term mental and athletic growth.
Children have certain skill sets that are age appropriate and no amount of pushing, yelling, and “coaching” will change that fact. To teach (which is why teachers have masters degrees) and to coach, practically no training except a huge amount of TV or sideline watching.
Last night I was listening to two football coaches talk about how they were going to coach their team going forward. Forget for a minute it was July 20, these kids needed, just like the pros, to “get with program.” They needed more practice, not less. They needed more plays and diagrams instead of allowing them to play and learn at their own pace.
As I listened to their reasoning and implementation of their own self importance on this team, I was struck by the fact that neither coach talked about any age appropriate activities for these children.
What they did want to talk about, and did for a great extent of the time I was listening, was the children’s inability to understand what they were trying to “coach,” that’s right “coach” not teach these children.
Not once in their meeting did they talk about how to teach the kids sportsmanship, togetherness, sharing, or simply to teach the children how to have  more fun playing football, not once.
They had cards written out and figured out how to go over and over the mistakes the kids were making with these cards and to “coach” them to get it right.
They had complex defenses figured out to “adjust” for their kids’ inability to grasp their defensive schemes and to make up for the children’s lack of understanding.
As I studied these guys it occurred to me that neither one had the athletic frame or “gate” to make me think that they had ever played football or even been high school varsity athletes. I am all for parents helping out and coaching. With all the kids playing youth sports today there is certainly a shortage of qualified coaches out there. Only 20% of all youth coaches have formal training.
 Furthermore, both guys were “parroting” statements and ideas I had seen promulgated on NFL and DI pregame and post game football shows. “Let’s go with this defense if they don’t get what we want.” one said. “They have to be able to play this defense. We need to keep going over it until they do it right.” “We will show them the cards with the plays we have written out for them.”
Let me make this clear: only 1% of ALL kids who go to college play at the DI level, and only half of that group play for free. So why on earth would any one coach these kids the same way that the colleges and pros do and not realize that it is extremely difficult for children to understand and play under those conditions.

Let the kids have fun. Give them equal play under the age of 13 so they can get better in a positive atmosphere and learn life skills, athletic development, and the benefits of fair competition and positive stress without having to worry about pleasing adults egos.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Long Term Sub Part 2

This school had adopted block scheduling for their classes on certain days. What this means is the children would have a double session, or two classes of the same class in a row. I noticed that the kids were having a hard time staying focused during the entire hour and fifteen minutes of class.
I called the teacher up and asked her if I could introduce a new concept in class. It’s called “Simon Sez.” She loved it! I believed that the more active the children in the classroom the better they could engage their minds, and thus would be more attentive to learn.
 With all the testing going on even in Physical education class, I thought lets go a different route. I modeled the game for them. I “explained that they would have to earn this “play time.” We did a couple of sessions and immediately the kids were engaged. After a couple of times with me leading it, I asked if anyone would like to try it. Many hands went up in the class.
The kids then took over with me sitting in the back of the class. Some kids took to it quickly. Others struggled, but got the gist of it and learned how to lead. Other kids didn’t want to do it, but once they saw they wouldn’t get mocked and it was all about fun and positive reinforcement (with some competition thrown in for good measure) the paradigm took off. They would correct each other and referee. I would interject if the conflict interrupted the flow, and that only took place a couple of times.
Then it was back to work. Even before we played though, I saw the kids more eager to participate and learn. I certainly could not match my friend’s expertise in Biology, but I could get them excited and interested in learning
I even brought in my daughter to teach two classes. She was a senior in High school and an AP Biology student. As I sat in the back of the class watching her teach I was so proud of her and the class. They worked together. It was awesome.
I was there every day at 7 AM and stayed after school until 330 most every day. If any of the kids wanted to come in to study or get some extra help, I wanted to be there for them
 One of the kids hooked up the computer to the smart board and overhead projector and these kids got a taste of old time music, the blues. A long time ago I was a DJ and wrote songs for a band and helped them get some gigs. I played a lot of classic rock, 60’s, 70’s, and 80s music also. We had fun.
When my six weeks were over, and I can’t thank these two ladies enough for all they did for me and the kids, the teacher sent me an email; Most of the kids had done better grade wise. They improved.
Now I don’t proclaim to be anywhere as good a teacher as she is. She is great, on many levels. But what I did do was create an environment where the kids could be creative and learn by being involved and interacting.
If something is really true, it should be true for all things. Learning in the classroom, the playing field or in life happens more often when everyone is engaged and has the freedom to try, fail, create, share, and learn as a community.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Long Term Sub Part #1

Long Tern Sub.
Last spring a very good friend of mine had to go into the hospital for surgery. She was going to be out for six weeks. She is a fantastic seventh grade Biology teacher. I was very pleased when she asked me to teach her class while she was away.  When both the teacher and the student learn at the same time, that is when true creative education happens, and I knew this would be the case in this classroom with these students.
 My major degree is in History, with minor degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, as well as a Masters in education. I have always believed that if you can teach, you can teach basic fundamentals, and the joy of learning. When that environment exists, you can teach just about anything. (The same holds true for coaching)
Cursive writing is not a big thing with children these days so I thought I would have them each sign their study “packets.” with their opposite writing hand. We wanted to teach them balance and the importance of the journey. The kids loved the change, and embraced the new learning technique. It was a fun thing to do.
When I was doing just a day long sub I used to tell the kids:” Give me 35 minutes of work and I will reward you with 5 minutes of free time at the end of class. “This paradigm served me well, but as always, there are some things that just do not go as planned and you have to adjust on the fly.
 There was a saying I thought up for the kids and related it to the children at the beginning of my first class.
“I’m a huge believer in choice. I can’t force you to study nor do I want to. But I can and will maintain an atmosphere in this classroom for those children who want to study can do so in peace and quiet. The deck is stacked, the game is rigged. I’m going to win. I’ve seen me do it. It’s not my job to decide when, how, or even if the educational light goes on for you, my goal is to just keep flipping the switch.”
Two weeks into my tenure I noticed that there were children missing classes on Friday and these same children were coming in on Monday tired. I went up to see the Assistant to the Head Master for the Middle School and asked her if she too noticed this phenomenon. (Another great child loving lady who was very thoughtful and helpful to me during this time) She said some of the kids were going to play with their club sports teams over the weekend and that they had seen this happening for a few years now.

I had heard of this happening at many schools I had visited, but this was the first time I had seen it up close. Boy, did the kids look tired, and stressed.