Friday, May 27, 2005

How Hard to Push Kids

This is an excerpt from an article by Matt Furey:

How Much Pressure Should We Put on Kids to Be Great Athletes?

I would have never believe it, but attending a P-K graduation brought tears to my eyes. And next year I'm sure when Frank graduates from kindergarten, it'll be more of the same.

In the olden days, (back when I went to school), there certainly was no pre-K, and kindergarten was optional.

Frank's pre-K hours are 8-3. In a couple weeks when we go to China for the summer, his school hours will be 8-5, six days a week.

All this got me thinking about my own childhood, exercise, sports, and so on. I started in competitive swimming when I was 8 years old (same goes for wrestling). I wanted to be on the swim team because my older brothers were on the team and they brought home blue ribbons all summer long. The walls in their bedrooms were lined with blue ribbons, and I wanted some of my own.

Training, if you could call it that, consisted of showing up at the pool in the morning, swimming some laps, playing some water polo, some more laps, going off the diving boards, and then heading home for lunch. After lunch we would walk back to the pool, get some sun, swim some more, dive some more, get some sun, and then walk back home. This was the routine all summer long. What a life! The competitive swim meets were just an extension of summer long fun. The only time it was serious was when the starter's gun went off to start the race.

We only swam in the summer.

Today, if you want to play basketball for instance, you start at 8, and play year round. You travel all over, and by age 12 it has become very serious business, with trainers, and specialists, and crazy parents; and by age 14 some 80% of the kids who started in sports have quit. That is tragic and it's a sign that the plan many parents have their children on is "the wrong plan."

Why? Because parents, coaches, trainers, and others have sucked out the fun.

In their quest to have their child be the next Michael Jordan, or Diana Taurasi, they have forgotten that sports are supposed to be fun.

Exercise and sports are good for kids. But they have to have fun doing them and the desire to be a champion, to be numero uno and to succeed has to come from the child. Yes, the parent and coach can help increase the kid's desire - but he cannot force it. If he does, eventually you end up with the 14-year old who won't be involved at all.

Sort of coincides with the old line, "The man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."

Frank has been doing all sorts of exercises with me since he was 18 months old. He has done a little of everything in the catalog at Furey Central. But I don't push. If I'm going to exercise and he says he'd rather go in the pool, he goes in the pool. If he wants to do some pushups at 10 PM I do some with him. During a regular week he gets plenty of exercise, but there are no set times, I don�t care if he does 5 reps or fifty, or if he does 1 exercise or all the ones I do.

And if he has the desire, maybe someday he'll have a whole wall full of ribbons and trophies like I did. Lord knows he lives with someone who models success - and that alone is key, I think. The little guys may not appear to be watching, but they are.

Now, if and when my son gets competitive and ends up with a room filled with ribbons, medals and trophies, I want him to look back at them and say, "That was a whole lot of fun. I really enjoyed whooping all those people."

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