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Posts Tagged ‘Athletics’

Playground Basketball Dying… and so is Childhood

July 28, 2014 Comments off

Two article recently drove home the point that my experiences as a child have gone the way of defined benefit pensions and full paid health care.

A few days ago I read “Playground Basketball is Dying” a multi-part ESPN article written by Myron Medcalf and Dana O’Neill. I spent the greater part of two years playing outdoor basketball in West Chester PA in the mid 1960s, sometimes with young adults and “wannabes” and sometimes with members of the varsity high school team. The games had no referees and were “make-it-take-it” games that you HAD to win if you wanted to stay on the court. Growing up as a college and professional basketball follower I read about the various urban basketball playground meccas in the 1970s described in this ESPN article and was saddened to read that fewer and fewer youngsters are playing pick-up games outdoors in part because the “elite players”, including high school athletes, are being siphoned off to play indoor AAU basketball. Why? Because they want to avoid the possibility of getting injured on the court and jeopardizing their college opportunities. With no local pick up games happening, marginal athletes, like me, have no hope of playing with “elite” athletes… and in cities, where the crowds drawn to pick-up games made the courts safe havens, the lack of these games makes the courts part of gang turf.

All Played Out” orthopedic surgeon/parent Ron Turker’s Sunday NYTimes, illustrates how the death of playground basketball is playing out in the more affluent communities. Turker describes the situation in suburban America:

The landscape of youth sports has changed markedly in the last 20 years. Free play, where children gather after school, pick a game and play until called in for dinner, is almost extinct. Highly organized and stratified sports have become the norm. Time, place and rules are now dictated to our kids rather than organized by the kids.

And as adults interpose themselves into athletics, pressure to succeed becomes higher and higher and Turker sees mental stress as well as physical stress in his practice as an orthopedist. Like the urban athletes, the suburban athletes are increasingly motivated by the almighty dollar:

As parents, we want what’s best for our kids but we’ve abdicated our parental rights and duties to the new societal norm. Youth sports have become big business. Millions of dollars flow to coaches, leagues, equipment, road trips, motels, tournament fees — and the list goes on. We give in to the herd mentality along with our confounded friends so that our kids won’t be seen as outliers.

So instead of a bunch of kids playing half-court basketball on asphalt courts we have a small group of “youth athletes” playing in arenas on corporate sponsored teams. Instead of town recreation leagues (“Wreck Leagues” to use the disparaging term cited in Turker’s article) children are expected to select one sport to play and make a “traveling team”. The result: more and more kids are using out of team sports altogether and playing video games… and we are losing the cohesion that comes from playing on a team and the self-regulation that is developed when adults are not available to intermediate… and turning back is going to be a daunting challenge.

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Early Glory, Early Dismay in Sports

November 22, 2013 Comments off

My niece, who attended college on a sports scholarship, has a keen understanding of how youth athletics is out of control. She shared a post on Facebook by John O’Sullivan, who writes the Changing the Game Project blog. I was unfamiliar with this undertaking until I read this post, and must say I wholeheartedly endorse the mission of the organization:

The mission of the Changing the Game Project is to ensure that we return youth sports to our children, and put the ‘play’ back in ‘play ball.’  We want to provide the most influential adults in our children’s lives – their parents and coaches – with the information and resources they need to make sports a healthy, positive, and rewarding experience for their children, and their whole family.  Parenting and coaching young athletes is an art, not a science, and the information you find here can help you navigate the maze of youth sports, and put a smile on your young athlete’s face, whether he or she is 6 or 16 years old. – See more at: http://changingthegameproject.com/about-us/#sthash.6norSRVc.dpuf

The post, titled “Our Unhealthy Obsession with Childhood Sports” bemoaned the fact that we identify “All-Stars” in sports earlier and earlier and emphasize winning and losing in athletics from the very outset. The article offers several specific examples of this trend and offers several reasons why this is unhealthy, not the least of which is that by identifying “winners” at an early age we are simultaneously identifying “losers”… and the so-called “losers”, many of whom are immature as opposed to incapable, get discouraged and never participate when they are older. The article elicited this comment from me:

Here’s what’s worse: this whole mentality is pervasive in schools as well… and getting worse. We are giving standardized tests that measure performance based on age cohorts which has the same perverse effects as using age measurements in athletics. A kids who tests poorly in kindergarten and first grade kills their enthusiasm for learning as certainly as getting cut at an early age dampens enthusiasm for athletics…

Several years ago (in the mid 1980s) I read the Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman, which described the negative effects of having adults interposing their organizational structures on “play”. He cited examples of how sandlot baseball and playground basketball required children to regulate themselves while Little League and AAU formalized the process. Postman contended, rightly I believe, that this diminished the ability of children to develop conflict resolution skills and led to marginal athletes being excluded from sports… neighborhood kids who otherwise might have played right field in the sandlot games.

Getting back to sandlots and playgrounds is increasingly difficult… I know that before we learned mediation skills as kids we had lots of “pass interference” disputes handled with fights and lots of hard fouls on the basketball court… but we ultimately found a way to play fair and clean because we hated tearing our clothes and blackening our eyes. But unless kids are given the chance to play by themselves without adult supervision these skills will never be learned…. so burn those little league uniforms, lightening soccer jerseys, and basketball t-shirts and PLAY BALL!

 

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For Profit Colleges Enter Division 1 Athletics

November 30, 2012 Comments off

In addition to reading daily blogs by Diane Ravitch, Yves Smith, the ASCD, the NYTimes, CNN, and the Boston Globe, I am an avid fan of Greg Easterbrook, the Tuesday Morning Quarterback who writes a weekly column for ESPN and periodically writes for Atlantic and other magazines and media outlet. Both Easterbrook and Joe Nocera, a NYTimes columnist write frequently about the hypocrisy of the NCAA, the institution that oversees college athletics and presumably ensures that the athletes playing on college teams are bona fide students. For better or worse, today’s NYTimes reports that a for-profit college, Grand Canyon University, is being elevated to a Division 1 status and playing in the Western Athletic Conference indicates that the NCAA isn’t completely hypocritical: it’s in effect acknowledging that graduation rates don’t really matter when it comes to judging an institution any more than those rates matter when it comes to determining whether a university is operating a sound athletic program.

The entry of a for-profit college into major college sports raised questions in the mind of at least one education consultant:

For-profit institutions have been criticized for spending more money on recruiting students and marketing their schools — particularly to draw online students — than actually educating them. A recent study found that more than half of the students who enroll in for-profit institutions leave without a degree, that those students are often left with hefty loans and that taxpayers, in a recent year, spent $32 billion on companies that operate such schools.

“I find it alarming that an institution with questionable academic practices is sort of ingratiating itself into the mainstream of American athletics,” said Barmak Nassirian, an independent consultant on higher education policy, adding, “That traditional, bona fide institutions find it not at all problematic, to be members of the same club, I think is a fair question to ask.”

Easterbrook knows why the question isn’t being asked. This past week he led his column praising Notre Dame for being ranked #1 in football— based on it’s graduation rates for football players as well as its #1 ranking in the nation. At the same time he chided the NCAA and the national media for overlooking this accomplishment. In Easterbook’s ideal  world, if athletic prowess isn’t matched with high graduation rates the school should not be qualified to win any championships. But the NCAA doesn’t place any emphasis on academic prowess and the national media don’t bring academics to the forefront in their reporting to college sports fans.

Interestingly, Arizona would be one of the last places to question academic practices: their flagship college, Arizona University, had only 46% of their football team graduate, among the worst in the country. I doubt that they will be leading the charge to keep their neighboring for-profit on-line institution out of Division 1 based on academic deficiencies.