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Youth Sports: The Parental Dilemma

Do we live vicariously through our kids and grandkids playing sports?

At 53 and deep into manopause, with kids in middle school, I find myself sitting in the stands as if I am a scout or assistant coach. In many cases, I find myself wishing I was the head coach. My son plays AAU basketball and it’s more competitive then ever. Parents are holding their kids back one and even two years so they can dominate their sport, whether it’s basketball, football or baseball. In eighth grade, my son is playing against a couple of kids that are 6’6″ and 7 feet tall and weight 240 pounds! My son is 5″7′.  

Sports has become a business as early as the second grade. My son played in a flag football game when he was in second grade when we spent the Thanksgiving holiday in New York. He wanted to see how he played against the northeast kids since we lived in Florida. He dominated, but there was a kid twice his size and we found out this boy should have been in the fourth grade. His parents held him back to help him become a standout on his team without any thought of the social disability they were creating for their child by preventing him from surrounding himself with kids that were his age-appropriate peers.

At many AAU games a coach has to check in their team before a tournament and each player has to answer some questions about their school and teachers. I have witnessed the coaches of other teams tell each player what to say and who their teachers are so the players don’t get busted for being in the wrong grade.

When we played sports, and I know that sounds like OUR parents, we played because we loved the game.  Very few of us had the “it” factor and it didn’t matter. However, today colleges are sending scouts to middle school games. It’s serious business for our kids today and if they want to play at the next level it seems they have to focus and train in one sport. They have to practice and play regularly so they will be noticed. In fact, they need highlight reels as early as eighth grade!  

Since I am witnessing this behavior throughout amateur sports, especially in AAU basketball, I ask myself if I should just watch the game or if should I push my son and give him the opportunity to be the best he can be. He is typically the best shooter on the court. He is a straight A student and likes to excel at everything he does. I was a good athlete without the “it” factor, and I could hold my own no matter what sport I played, but it was drilled into us that how we played the game was most important. I will never cheat the system and definitely don’t want my son to feel that is okay. Maybe that’s why I want him to realize his own talent through his hard work. Like many of us, I just want the best for my son and I am proud of him no matter what he does. 

Between training, practice, team and travel, basketball can cost up to $500 a week. My daughter does competitive cheer, another challenging and costly sport! I believe that if my kids are learning life lessons through their sports, it’s worth it. Studies have shown that doing sports in school focuses kids, helps them learn time management, and often dramatically improves their grades.

The bottom line is that parents today have to make early choices if they want their children to have a chance to play at the next level. So we need to decide as parents or grandparents if we are really there to just cheer them on or if our main goal is to help set them up for the possibility of stardom down the line. In either case, whether you have kids, grandkids, nephews or nieces playing sports, you will find yourself feeling the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”  

By the way, my son shut the 4th grader down in second grade playing flag football with 4 interceptions and 5 touchdowns. They never invited him back to play again. As stated, I am a proud father!

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About The Author
Rubin Hanan
Rubin Hanan
Rubin Hanan is a visionary with a successful track record of running sports specialty companies and creating brands over 3 decades. Mr. Hanan is the former President and CEO of Champs Sports, the 17th largest athletic retailer in the world. Prior, Mr. Hanan was the President and CEO of Foot Locker Canada where he led the turnaround of the division to record sales and profits. Previously, Mr. Hanan was the SVP of Marketing for Foot Locker Inc. where he led the marketing efforts in the United States that supported sales in excess of $3 Billion. Currently, Mr. Hanan is working as an executive consultant to both established and start-up companies helping C-Level executives scale their businesses. Mr. Hanan has a unique skill set of both marketing and operations and has a vast background in business development, merchandising, licensing, sourcing and building world class organizations.
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