"Let Our Kids Be Kids" Part II

Set Against the Backdrop of the 2012 London Olympics, It is a Good Time to Revisit and Become Reacquainted with the Right Values


This is a follow up – part II – of the column I wrote, , that ran in Easton Patch on April 30 of this year.   

The column urged the reinstatement of some healthy balance and healthy values to the relationship between parents and kids and the games, athletics, and recreation in which kids engage.

As for today’s column, first off, everyone, please check out this audio-video – it is a Nike “Find Your Greatness” advertisement; it is part of the Nike ad campaign attached to the 2012 London Olympics.

Every kid, every parent, should watch this ad.  It puts things in perspective.  It puts things in a healthy perspective.

So here we are now about a week into the Olympics, and parents and coaches in America and all over the world – but I only focus on America – are becoming and have been so enthralled and grabbed a hold of the gold medal performances of athletes that they are now figuring on how they can sign kids up for camps, enroll them in elite athletic performance schools, and maybe hire an all-star coach.

Why?  Well, duh … because these parents have a daughter – or a coach is training an athlete – who has a Gabby Douglas … or Aly Raisman … future all in front of her. 

Or maybe we are talking about a boy who has Michael Phelps written all over him.

And it is here where things start getting a bit messed up.

Then again, it is all too easy for things to get messed up.

There are light years in difference between the epidemic of Dorothy Hamill wedge style haircuts among young girls following Hamill’s gold medal winning performance in figure skating in the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Olympics – and parents becoming domineering task masters who force figure skating on to a child – whether that child wants figure skating or not. 

How many young people now are moving away from home in their early to mid teens so that they can train in some high tech sports compound complete with world famous coaches?

Sure – for some this is great – and the experience results in major athletic success, and the learning and appreciation of the most important virtues:  hard work, dedication, honor, responsibility, and honesty.

As well, even for those who undergo the Spartan training and lifestyle – and who do not win big in athletics – many are wholly improved through the experience.   They become better people because of it. 

But how many lose their enjoyment of sports – or worse, overall happiness – because of what becomes for them torment?  I suspect this happens for many. 

Parents!! …. Yes, you, PARENTS!! …. And, you, coaches!! …. Yes, COACHES!! …. listen up!! ….

Parents, pay attention to your children – and watch and listen, and talk with them, how and what they feel about sport and competition.   Coaches – you are among the most important mentors in society – and you have the power to nurture a positive and healthy relationship between young people and athletics; and you also have the power to just about totally screw everything up for kids and their relationship with sports. 

Now, mind you, I am not New Age and “Let’s Hold Hands and Have Kumbya Moments” – and one who believes in constantly seeking to become more and more sensitive so that we don't offend anyone. 

I grew up in a family and environment busy and heavy with athletic competition – and, yes, winning.   I believe fully in the benefits of hard work, getting knocked down, sticking with the program even when it hurts something awful inside and out, and subjecting yourself to tremendous angst and deprivation in pursuit of a goal.

I believe in the value of winning – and of defeat – provided that both are arrived at through honest effort. 

And I also believe that young people need to learn early on that there are winners and losers – and that for society to improve and advance, we need winners and losers. 

Not everyone gets a blue ribbon or a trophy – nor should they. 

Yet also important is for boys and girls, young men and young women, to know – and here I commend to you that video link earlier in this column – that there is so much to gain and a life can be made incalculably stronger and better through hard work, pain, and “staying” and “continuing” after it, no matter how well one does in sports. 

I also believe that if a young person does not get a whole lot of thrill and fun out of sport, then that sport – or that particular sports experience – is not right for him or her. 

I am also about dreaming – for dreams are the foundation and the genesis of Olympic gold and all other high achievement – whether it be in medicine, teaching, music, painting, leadership, business building, mentoring, coaching, acting, a religious life, storytelling … you name it. 

Dream.   Dream BIG!!   This is all good – and in the broad constellation of all that is positive about sports, inspiring spectators and young people and, yes, parents, ranks right near the top. 

Yet let us never allow our dreams to corrupt our values and our sense of what is proper and right.

It seems that Missy Franklin, the 17 year old U.S. swimming phenom, and her parents, have the right values and know what is proper.  

Franklin has won two gold medals in London.   She will win more medals before the games are over.  Yesterday, following her gold medal performance in the 100-meter backstroke – but before she won her second gold medal – the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial titled, “Missy Takes the Gold:  A high school swimmer with the right priorities.”  

Here is an excerpt from the editorial:

…. [Missy Franklin] may win a few more [medals] before she returns to Colorado for her senior year in high school. But don't expect to see her on a Wheaties box anytime soon.

Ms. Franklin is something of a curiosity in her sport because she has resisted lucrative endorsement deals in order to maintain her amateur status ….

An economist might question her judgment, but Americans will likely be encouraged that in our texting, tweeting era of instantaneity, there is still a teenager somewhere who believes in deferred gratification.


Americans may also take note of her parents' decision not to uproot their daughter to place her in one of the nation's top swimming programs in California, Florida or Texas. Instead, Ms. Franklin still has the same coach who gave her lessons when she was seven years old. Parents wrestling with a youth sports culture that seems to treat every Little League contest as a World Series game might conclude that, sometimes, less is more.




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