virtual children by Scott Warnock

Instant gratification and youth sports

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Once us humans reach a certain age, a gene activates that triggers an unwavering belief that our generation is vastly superior to the one currently coming to bloom. With unflinching righteousness, we believe that back in our day, things were more character-forming. All schools were farther away from all homes. There were weird places that were always uphill. Roads were bumpier. Things weighed more. Life was tougher.

One thing we adults now like to lord over our video game-playing progeny is that they are, without a doubt, we say, the instant gratification generation. “You have no patience,” we crow to them. “You’re so impatient,” we aver.

We had all this character development stuff in the 70s and 80s: cassette players, rotary phones, board games. For them, it’s all instant. Now. Immediate (Louis CK, no surprise, is great about this topic). Digital technology has led to social media which has led to a generation of people with such extraordinarily low EQs that they cannot wait for anything.

But were/are we that different? I think not, and I also think our own impatience is clearly demonstrated for us, my rapidly graying generation, by the way we’re raising our children. We are rushing them into everything, and if we don’t see results now, we’re pretty frustrated and maybe downright angry about it. While yeah, these kids do want everything now, we exhibit the same tendencies, and not only that, but we are doing so with arguably the most delicate task of our lives: Raising them.

Whether it’s science or soccer or saxophone, we want instant greatness, we want to see the glimmer of superness as soon as possible. They should take fourth-grade classes in preschool, high school courses in fourth grade, and college classes in high school.

As with many things in parenting culture, the youth sports scene exemplifies these attitudes. Every youth sports season, I see how impatient parents are to let their children develop. Parents want their kids to be dominating athletes now! I see parents breath a sigh of relief when they think their kid has finally found “her sport” — at the ripe age of five.

Admittedly, I love the story of success delayed, of the late bloomer. I love that 22-year-old swimmer Brendan McHugh recently burst onto the national swimming scene. I love that Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school’s varsity team as a sophomore. I love that Debbie Harry sang “Heart of Glass” at 34. I work hard to develop young athletes on the field and young people in general in my professional life, and I try to guide myself – and it can be challenging – with the idea that you can help — and hope that! — kids succeed without being in a big fat rush about it.

So enjoy those fall afternoons, and don’t go apoplectic if your kid trips over his feet a few times; that’s not an omen of a life of misery. On the flip side, don’t allow one moment of triumph to become your benchmark of every performance for the rest of his career.

Many of us can get a Willy Loman-like mania about the importance of the game, but we linger too long over both victories and defeats. Sure, we want to derive the same age-old pride in our kids’ accomplishments, but we’re pushing them now so the accomplishments pile up fast. Number of books read at six years old.  Goals by age 10. Businesses started by age 12. It’s all early and elite.

So, yeah, we want it fast too. It’s just funny that we see our youngsters and think they’re the ones with no patience. We’re starting a new season of driving our kids all over kingdom come, and maybe chewing them out as they fiddle with devices in the backseat. “You’re the instant gratification generation,” we chastise, and after they pile out of the car in their bright jerseys, we tromp behind them, eager for our quick fix.

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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2 Responses to “Instant gratification and youth sports”

  1. If your forty-something parent audience, of which I belong, is patient enough to read to the end, I hope they’ll give this consideration. Khalil Gibran said it well; that our children come through us, not from us. It’s an idea with which parents struggle. It’s intimidating for humans to not have control, especially over our own offspring. We fight that like we fight the complete mystery of death. But you are so right; patience, letting nature take its course, the path of least resistance, etc. Frame it how would like. These kids are like us and, like us, will learn from their own experiences at their own various speeds. What amazing parents we would be if we could support and guide those experiences without trying to control, create, judge, or dictate them.

  2. I started to read this but couldn’t get through it. Do you offer Cliff notes versions?

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