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A generation on the sidelines: When the kids are raised to win
St. Paul Pioneer Press ^ | 03/23/2009 | Bob Shaw

Posted on 03/23/2009 5:09:27 AM PDT by rhema

What kindergartner would want to wrestle Joey Flores?

With a Mohawk buzz cut and a flare for takedowns, the 6-year-old exudes the cockiness that comes from three years of competitive wrestling.

"I feel good at wrestling," puffed Joey during a break in a recent tournament in Inver Grove Heights.

For a 45-pounder, he is intimidating. Few kids would want to tangle with him.

And therein lies a problem for wrestling — and every other sport Minnesota youth can play in middle and high school.

When parents and children see elite athletes like Joey, they think they can't compete.

They are daunted by a standard of competition that includes traveling teams, summer camps, specialty training centers and programs that start before kindergarten.

Even elementary-age latecomers find they can't catch up with the Joeys of their sport. So they quit — by the thousands.

That's one reason wrestling participation has plummeted in Minnesota by 58 percent since the 1981-82 school year. Participation for all school-sponsored sports has dropped an average of about half.

The demands of competition — on children and parents — worry athletics directors. Woodbury activities director John Soma sees the effects in all sports.

"It's unfortunate. If kids are not playing soccer year-round, they can't compete," he said. "And in basketball, it is tough competing against kids who have been playing since they could walk.

"The intensity is increasing, and I don't think it is good for kids."

'WINNING IS FUN'

If the quality of youth sports is high, one might reasonably blame couples like Kevin and Katie Featherstone.

The Woodbury parents freely confess to giving their children every opportunity to enjoy and learn from sports despite sacrifices that would be unthinkable in other families.

Their four kids have been involved in soccer and hockey since, in one case, age 3. Kevin helps or coaches three teams. Winter and summer, Katie said, there is a sports activity going on every day, often twice a day.

"I love sports for our kids. They learn how to win and how to lose," Katie said. "They learn sportsmanship and how to keep going when you are tired."

The level of competition is boosted by summer camps and free-standing sports training centers.

At Edge Performance Hockey Training in Stillwater, for example, experts in hockey use weights, dry-land drills and a skating treadmill to sharpen youngsters' skills.

Edge co-owner Matt Doman agrees with critics who say fun is essential in youth programs. But so is winning. "Winning is fun," he explained.

The way to do both, he said, is to give kids early training that boosts their competence.

On a recent afternoon, Tricia Sagissor, of Stillwater, brought her boys in for a workout.

"Absolutely, this is good for them," she shouted, over the roar of son Simon on the treadmill.

"The more active they are, the better off they are. This is what kids need, not to be at home on Facebook."

SAYING 'NO'

But in the face of ever-tougher competition, other parents are balking.

Kathleen Plasch gets steamed when she hears calls for parental sacrifice.

"They say they do it because they love their kids," said Plasch, of St. Paul. "Well, I love mine, too. But you have to be real."

At one time, she was a single mother of three hockey players. "It was easy," she said sarcastically. "You just don't do anything but drive them from October through March."

The demands on parents are "ludicrous," said Skip Peltier, director of the Herb Brooks Foundation.

Some youth hockey players play 65 games per season, he said. His daughter, when playing seventh-grade basketball, had 63 games — and only 15 practices. That skewed schedule emphasizes winning over development of skills, he said.

Marc Carlson, of Woodbury, said his 7-year-old son became a football dropout 20 minutes into his first practice.

When the boys were asked to assume the three-point scrimmage-line stance, Carlson said, he saw a coach shove his son to the ground with his foot. A short time later, the boy was grabbed by a coach and fell to the ground.

"I put my crying son in the car," Carlson said.

"As a parent, I am sickened by this event. He said he never wanted to play football again. He was afraid of the coaches."

NO TIME FOR LATECOMERS

Intense competition hurts participation, experts say, when a child is considered over the hill at age 10.

Talent often doesn't emerge until adolescence, Carlson said. He recalled being a "shorter, fatter kid" in ninth grade who went out for basketball — and eventually started on a team that won the Iowa state championship in 1988.

That probably wouldn't happen today, said John Uppgren, a Stillwater lacrosse coach and father of three hockey-playing boys.

"The myth of the farm kid who tries out for the team in 10th grade and makes varsity is a thing of the past," he said. The benefits of years of training are overwhelming, he said.

Latecomers learn that lesson the hard way.

Jenny Holmgren, a freshman at Champlin Park High School, remembers trying out for seventh-grade basketball.

"It was intimidating. Most of them had been playing their whole lives," she said. "I didn't get the lingo. I had to ask, 'What's a layup?' "

She jammed her finger, then told everyone she had broken her hand. Any excuse, she said, to quit.

Today, she enjoys playing high school softball, a sport she's been involved in since age 8.

The varsity tryouts, though, are grueling. "It's like trying out for the Olympics, and here we are in high school," Jenny said.

HAVES AND HAVE-NOTS

Super-charged competition widens the gap between winning and losing schools. When competition becomes a sham, children quit.

Central High School in St. Paul, for example, has a winning tradition in girls basketball. But Central drains talent from competitors, said John Loo, an Arlington High School teacher and coach.

"That lowers the total participation to have one powerhouse and the others on the periphery," Loo said.

There are only eight girls on the Arlington basketball team this year. One of them, Brandy McCrane, said, "You know you are going to lose. It is reality. If I knew that before, I wouldn't have joined."

A sport can get trapped in a downward spiral — losses lead to fewer athletes, which lead to more losses, which lead to ...

In towns such as Winona and La Crescent, wrestling teams consist of four or five wrestlers. One girls gymnastics team in Rochester has two athletes. Arlington had two boys swimmers last year, and none this year.

"The more you lose, the less everyone turns out," said Ashley Ehlers of the Arlington basketball team.

PRESSURE'S ON

The intensity of competition is evident in every grandstand — from this month's state high school championships to tournaments for those still struggling with their ABCs.

"C'mon, Joey!" shouted Frank Flores, of Albert Lea, as Joey grappled at the Inver Grove Heights tournament.

Nearby, Delbert Bullerman, of tiny Adrian, Minn., was asked if the pressure was too much for his 7-year-old son, Beau.

"You want pressure?" he snapped. "In our town we have 13-year-old girls who are pregnant. There are drugs and drinking in schools. Then there is paying bills in this economy."

He gave his boy a hand-slap and said, "Pressure is part of life."


TOPICS: Culture/Society; US: Minnesota
KEYWORDS:

1 posted on 03/23/2009 5:09:28 AM PDT by rhema
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To: rhema

As a left handed ball player who was told to become right handed, I eventually joined the target shooting community. There’s competition only if you want to do it but otherwise, it’s on a personal skills level.


2 posted on 03/23/2009 5:20:00 AM PDT by Shooter 2.5 (NRA /Patron - TSRA- IDPA)
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To: rhema
THE MONEY QUOTE:

"You want pressure?" he snapped. "In our town we have 13-year-old girls who are pregnant. There are drugs and drinking in schools. Then there is paying bills in this economy."
He gave his boy a hand-slap and said, "Pressure is part of life."

So now, the "everybody's a winner, we're all special" mentality may finally be dying!

3 posted on 03/23/2009 5:21:22 AM PDT by Old Sarge ("Remember, remember, the Fourth of November, the Socialist treason and plot...")
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To: rhema
I like competition. I like winning. I like having high expectations for kids.

But I don't see much room for normal kids in society today. There are lots of resources thrown at pregnant teens, kids with special needs, and kids from poor families. And there are lots of special opportunities for kids who look like they could be in the Olympics, or go to Harvard, or something.

Normal kids who dream of growing up, buying a house, raising a family? PPHHTTWWWWH! Who cares about them?

4 posted on 03/23/2009 5:23:15 AM PDT by ClearCase_guy (American Revolution II -- overdue)
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Comment #5 Removed by Moderator

To: Aroostok Republican
Here's the previous story in the series, an excerpt from which follows:

. . .When games are fun, no one worries about children participating. They do it naturally.

Parents and psychologists see great benefits when children go outside and organize themselves into neighborhood games. There, they learn leadership, negotiation and teamwork.

Jerry Keenan, athletics director for Harding High School, has been coaching in St. Paul since 1961. He said most kids in the 1970s played street-corner games that they controlled.

For example, he said, baseball hall of famer Dave Winfield played at a local playground — unsupervised by adults.

"There were one or two games a week, and you'd be lucky if you saw two parents at one of those games," said Keenan. "It was all playground-driven."

6 posted on 03/23/2009 5:33:09 AM PDT by rhema ("Break the conventions; keep the commandments." -- G. K. Chesterton)
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To: Aroostok Republican

“Marc Carlson, of Woodbury, said his 7-year-old son became a football dropout 20 minutes into his first practice.

When the boys were asked to assume the three-point scrimmage-line stance, Carlson said, he saw a coach shove his son to the ground with his foot. A short time later, the boy was grabbed by a coach and fell to the ground.

“I put my crying son in the car,” Carlson said.

“As a parent, I am sickened by this event. He said he never wanted to play football again. He was afraid of the coaches.”

As a football coach and a parent I am sickened by this event - any a$$hole is allowed to coach little league.


7 posted on 03/23/2009 5:33:18 AM PDT by Cyclone59 (You know why there’s a Second Amendment? In case the government fails to follow the first one.)
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To: rhema

Isn’t this what intramural sports are for?


8 posted on 03/23/2009 5:34:21 AM PDT by Terabitten (To all RINOs: You're expendable. Sarah isn't.)
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To: rhema

I played high school football in the early 70’s and a good many of our starters had played Pop Warner Youth football. They already knew the fundamentals of the sport and were also acclimated to the hitting. I was too big to play Pop Warner (they have weight restrictions), so it took me a while to catch on, but the inter-team competition made me a better football player and I eventually started.

My sons and daughter all played sports. They learned teamwork and discipline, had fun and made good friends. My youngest did will enough in football to earn a partial scholarship and is playing college football now.


9 posted on 03/23/2009 5:44:43 AM PDT by rochester_veteran ( http://RochesterConservative.com)
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To: Terabitten
Isn’t this what intramural sports are for?

Good point. As a modestly talented, two-sport letter winner in high school, I found out I was destined for about zero playing time in college athletics. But my school had a great intramural program: touch football, basketball, cross country running, bowling, and a host of other sports.

Today's kids, for whatever reasons, don't find high school or college intramurals as appealing as my generation did.

[excerpt from previous story in the series, linked in an earlier post}

SITTING IT OUT

The Minnesota Department of Education annually checks sports participation at the state's schools to see if schools are meeting the goals of Title IX, the 1972 federal law calling for gender equity.

Computerized records begin with the 1980-81 school year. Since then, sports participation peaked in 1981-82 at 45 percent for boys and girls combined. Participants in boys' sports equaled 54 percent of all boys, and the girls' participation rate was 36 percent.

When officials issued the 2007-08 totals last month, the numbers showed a few gains since 1980-81. About three times as many girls were playing interscholastic soccer, and girls hockey had surged from virtually nothing to about 2,800.

But the gains were swallowed by a wave of declines in other sports.

The participation rate for interscholastic girls basketball is down 55 percent. Girls volleyball dropped by half.

Boys wrestling is down by 58 percent. Basketball, cut in half. Football, down 46 percent. Hockey, 31 percent.

Track and field dropped about 40 percent for boys and girls. Some sports, such as boys gymnastics, have died.

Intramural sports took the biggest hit of all.

In the 1980s, about 74,000 children picked from a smorgasbord of 70 intramural sports. The range was impressive — everything from co-ed wrestling to roller-skating.

"It used to be you could play sports by just showing up," Coonce said.

By 2007-08, intramural programs had evaporated — with only eight sports and 5 percent participation.

10 posted on 03/23/2009 5:45:28 AM PDT by rhema ("Break the conventions; keep the commandments." -- G. K. Chesterton)
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To: rochester_veteran
I played high school football in the early 70’s and a good many of our starters had played Pop Warner Youth football. They already knew the fundamentals of the sport and were also acclimated to the hitting. I was too big to play Pop Warner (they have weight restrictions), so it took me a while to catch on, but the inter-team competition made me a better football player and I eventually started. My sons and daughter all played sports. They learned teamwork and discipline, had fun and made good friends. My youngest did will enough in football to earn a partial scholarship and is playing college football now.

I played high school football and baseball about the same time. My town didn't have Pop Warner football, but we did have American Legion baseball in the summer. A big difference between then and now: less travel, not as many games, and more time devoted to practice and learning fundamentals.

11 posted on 03/23/2009 5:51:05 AM PDT by rhema ("Break the conventions; keep the commandments." -- G. K. Chesterton)
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To: rhema
I played high school football and baseball about the same time. My town didn't have Pop Warner football, but we did have American Legion baseball in the summer. A big difference between then and now: less travel, not as many games, and more time devoted to practice and learning fundamentals.

Back when we played, New York State didn't have the state playoffs for football. We played an 8 game season and the state champion was determined by votes of coaches and sportswriters.

12 posted on 03/23/2009 6:02:05 AM PDT by rochester_veteran ( http://RochesterConservative.com)
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To: rochester_veteran
Back when we played, New York State didn't have the state playoffs for football. We played an 8 game season and the state champion was determined by votes of coaches and sportswriters.

Ditto for Minnesota back then. Mostly because I was from a small town, I was fortunate to be a two-way starter on a conference-champion team that enjoyed a 7-1 season. The newspaper polls determined the state champion. My little school cracked the top 25 only toward the end of the season. Most of the top rankings went to teams from 2,000-kid high schools.

13 posted on 03/23/2009 6:12:21 AM PDT by rhema ("Break the conventions; keep the commandments." -- G. K. Chesterton)
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To: rhema
baseball hall of famer Dave Winfield played at a local playground — unsupervised by adults.

Parents today won't let their kids play out in their own neighborhoods, much less go to a playground unsupervised. Parents today have to supervise every event and if little Suzie gets her designer jeans grass stained it's the end of the world. If little Johnny's team loses then they call foul and claim everyone's a winner.

As for that kid who quit football after 20, I dunno. While I've know more than enough bully coaches, I leaning toward that mama and kid were just whiny babies.

14 posted on 03/23/2009 6:18:39 AM PDT by bgill
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To: rhema

If mom and dad show unconditional love whether he wins or loses. Good for them.

But if they are living their childhood through him.

When he burns out or rebels. It will be ugly.


15 posted on 03/23/2009 6:18:57 AM PDT by TomHarkinIsNotFromIowa (Just so you know, we're ashamed the President of the United States is from Kenya.)
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To: bgill
Parents today won't let their kids play out in their own neighborhoods, much less go to a playground unsupervised. Parents today have to supervise every event and if little Suzie gets her designer jeans grass stained it's the end of the world. If little Johnny's team loses then they call foul and claim everyone's a winner.

More's the pity. In the days of my youth, a friend of mine and I would take about 8 baseballs to a field and take turns pitching to each other. When one guy had hit all of the balls out of the infield, we'd shag them, and the other guy got to bat.

16 posted on 03/23/2009 6:28:12 AM PDT by rhema ("Break the conventions; keep the commandments." -- G. K. Chesterton)
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To: bgill

I coached youth sports for many years, mainly baseball, football and basketball. Although there were some jerks who were coaches, most of the coaches were great guys and gals who had the best interest of the kids at heart.


17 posted on 03/23/2009 7:53:25 AM PDT by rochester_veteran ( http://RochesterConservative.com)
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