sportsvirtual children by Scott Warnock

My kid plays on that team — my jacket says so

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There was a time when kids played organized sports and enjoyed the experience in whatever form it took. They didn’t have much perspective on a bigger youth sports picture. Now, we turn them into little joiners. We want them connected to the best team possible. We want them to experience heightened competition at the ripe old age of nine. But is it for them and their athletic hopes, or is it just so we can look good at neighborhood gatherings?

I have known many parents who have maniacally clambered over others to have their kids play for some so-called elite team. They say they want their kids to rub elbows with the high rollers of the seven-year-old sport set. They need competition, and their kids get nothing from running around with all the other saps. They see scholarships.

Sometimes it’s a mythical coach of nine-year-olds that is the draw. Now, look, I’m a teacher and coach, so I believe a dedicated/coach teacher can help people, but even a Sentinelese fisherman could successfully coach these stacked youth all-star teams, especially when the kids are small. You get a bunch of parents to fork over $400 to play on an all-star team, and those kids will probably win. After all, the kids have to ride home with a parent who paid $400 — that car ride after a loss ain’t much fun.

My own extensive embedded-tribe anthropological pseudo-research reveals that this parenting behavior usually has nothing to do with the kids. It is largely driven by parental ego, fueled by a desire to have other parents swoon over your youth team garb. What is really wanted is the envy of the masses, the other parents, as they take in the Decimating Wrenchers 12x League Champion custom windbreakers at local barbecues and pancake breakfasts (which, by the way, Decimating Wrencher parents can almost never attend due to the Decimating Wrenchers’ intense travel schedule).

Back in prehistoric times, kids played in town leagues. They all got the same uniform. In my youth baseball league, everyone got the same greyish uniform with different hats and socks so you could tell teams apart. Parents got nothing. The kids were mixed up from year to year. One year your team ruled. The next year you played with different kids and your team got rolled.

(I remember a season I played for the Mets [light blue socks and hat]. We were having a great year but we got trounced one summer evening. We were all standing in the infield bawling during the last inning. The coach pulled us together on the mound, and he asked what we had been doing all day. Everyone either had spent the day down the shore or swimming, as I was, in a pool. Rubber-armed and sun-burnt, we had nothing left for baseball. I remember he looked kind of amused.)

In days of yore, parents would say something like this: “My little Chris plays [in] baseball.” Parents didn’t say, “My little Chris is a member of the Decimating Wrenchers, a high-level baseball team that played games in three time zones last week as testament to our excellence.”

Although little about this current moment in time in U.S. youth sports culture surprises me, I am still struck by people who fight to join some team even if it means their kid sits the bench all year. They want that damn windbreaker! And the kids, indoctrinated as all of our kids are, will see the local schlubs and say, “Have fun in your league championship game. We’ll be playing in the Class A+ Apex Tournament in Panama next weekend,” even if the most exercise that kid will get that weekend will be clapping.

But to this parent sect, does it matter that their kids, playing over their heads and spending their childhood weekends in cars driving to places like Panama, are often so sick of it all that they’re done playing by the time they’re 13? Nope.

What matters to these parents is that while they’re at that spring barbecue, which they can only attend because a class 5 tornado suspended the elite league games that weekend (barely), and the other parents are talking about their schlub leagues, they can let these poor suckers get a glimpse of the Decimating Wrencher windbreaker. If they’ve had a few beers, they might even let the suckers touch the damn thing.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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7 Responses to “My kid plays on that team — my jacket says so”

  1. This “must have the best” mentality is what I blame for my son’s hatred of baseball. In a small town with 4 teams they “had” to stack teams with kids the coaches know can play instead of just ensuring the coach gets their kid. Being new to town, new to the league meant a bunch of kids who were told quite clearly by the other players that they were just the cast-off team which killed any enjoyment even of practice.
    I long for the days of mediocrity and pick-up games of kick ball or kick the can. I’m tired of organized sports the coaches and a surprisingly large number of the kids who pick up their parents’ elitist attitudes.
    I tell myself that maybe part of it is just that it’s so expensive to support any professional sport so all of the passion is poured in to this arena now but then those champion teams are all in the front row at the Phillies game.

  2. Scotty, you are so right! It seems our experiences are very similar.
    I’ve had parents act as though I’m abusing my son by continuing to have him participate with his friends from school for our local teams, as opposed to working with an Olympic champ from Bulgaria, at an hourly rate that would make an attorney blush.

  3. And if anyone is doing it for the scholarship money, good luck. Less than 1% of high school athletes play a sport in college; imagine what percentage get athletic aid. I have heard SO MANY people say they are investing now to save later, it is sad.

    There is some measure of credibility to higher level training at a certain age, but the majority of “super stardom” will be determined by mentality, instinct, and luck, regardless of where the kid plays.

  4. Spot on. Scott, I am thinking of forming an elite writing for standardized tests club. I still need a varied syntax and paragraph unity coach. Any interest?

  5. You know what really burns my ass, a match about this high. Seriously how do you send your kid to Eustace or Augustine (esp Auggies) 18K plus a year to have them compete against a bunch of ringers. Augustine has been using it’s overseas affliates to send 6-8 to 7 footers to Augustines and right to Villanova it’s a farm system. We’ve all seen Hoosiers and it’s a movie but the facts were true everyone came from Hickory. I’ve had a few guys I know personally make it all the way to the pros football and basketball. They are genetic freaks, athetically sharper more instinct then your snort nose kid could dream of being. I’ll pick one guy out for you the pro experience ended in short fashion made a couple years. But the size and talent he had was off the charts Tony Sacca go see him he’s coaching near by at Wilson. The guy is 6′ 5 265 and can run like a deer and he’s one of the smallest guys on the field. His senior year in high school Delran he won state football champ and basketball champ. He’s a freakish athelete and everyone on a division one team is a freak. Go see Tony and then look at yourself and look at your wife (nice cans good buy) and unless you are both above average in size or living under some power lines make sure Johnny get a really good education because there’s 1 billion indians and 3 billion chinamen who want nothing better then to kid your kids ass mentally believe it. I was just counting kids.

  6. Kick your kids ass sorry

  7. Since I am only an observer of the elite baseball teams enjoyed by the children of wonderful friends, I feel compelled to comment.
    My daughters are now 32 years old and unfortunately, for various reasons, never had the opportunity to participate in organized sports when they were in grade school and high school. During those years, I regretted my lack of ability to fit team play into our work and leisure schedule, but secretly was a bit joyful that I didn’t have to worry about the time lost to travel, juggling a financial burden that certainly didn’t fit into my budget and the hours spent after a full day of work waiting around for practice to end. It would have been nice for my girls to experience the friendships developed by team members and the experience of learning a sport that they already showed much interest in.
    However, when I observe the intensity of participation and the angst brought on by being chosen for the “right” team, I feel I luckily missed the bullet on that issue. When did it all become sooooo competitive?
    I have wondered and watched families who can well afford the exorbitant costs of these team travels enjoy long distance game conferences right along with families I know can’t comfortably afford the same costs and wonder how the roads converge. I may not be as well informed as participating parents, but I couldn’t have missed all of the scholarship and pro-ball announcements of awards presented to kids participating on these teams. Could I? Well, anyway, I agree with you, Scott, that the true message of playing sports has been lost in the power of having the best windbreaker!

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