Susie Bright, in addition to being a best-selling author, activist, and podcast host, is editor at large for Audible. Susie's blog, The Bright List, keeps readers and listeners apprised of new audiobooks.
Mark Hyman tallys the price of youth sports in the USA in dollars and lives. From equipment to private lessons, from tournament trips to MRIs, parents are bleeding themselves dry for their children’s activities.
The example of the parents who skipped health insurance payments to pay for their son’s golf lessons was shocking!
Some parents try to live their dreams through their children. They believe they're investing in their children’s future, led astray by the many corporate youth programs who tell them their kids are the next Venus & Serena Williams— they just need more lessons, more workshops, more camps.
Fine investigative journalism might make you think twice before you send your kid across the country to Lacrosse summer camp.
At what cost are we asking our kids to live out our dreams? Hard work and love of sport are one thing—but sixteen year olds, used up and limping around like old men— is quite another.
Mark Hyman examines the youth sports culture that drives kids to be "superstar" athletes at earlier and earlier ages-- starting with himself.
Hyman has been in the trenches as a "sports dad," getting heavily involved in the leagues and practices, until it became “as much a fulltime job as my fulltime job.”
I always thought the push for excellence in young players was so they could get scholarships to colleges, or into professional leagues. If their injuries make them used up before they even get there, what are we doing?
Hyman offers solutions and perspective— he knows how many people have this on their minds. I'd recommend this book to anyone with kids, especially those ferrying their kids to three kinds of practice every day of the week.
The United States Olympic team comprises 529 athletes, and it’s difficult to generalize about who they are. They represent 25 sports. They come from 44 states. The tallest is 7-foot-1. The shortest is 4-foot-11. There’s a 15-year-old swimmer and an equestrian athlete who could be her grandmother.
The parents of these athletes are equally diverse. No doubt, many are perfectly wonderful. For years, they’ve shouldered the responsibilities of sports parenthood without complaint or expectation. Some go to Olympic venues where their children are competing and hold their emotions completely in check. Others like Lynn and Rick Raisman, parents of the gymnast Aly Raisman, don’t even try. The last time I checked, video of the Raismans’ synchronized squirming had passed 100,000 views on YouTube.
Exuberant parents aren’t the problem in youth sports. Overzealous, overly ambitious parents are. Undoubtedly, they are part of the U.S. delegation too. As parents, we make a horrible mistake when we confuse our ambitions with what kids truly want and need from sports. I’ve been writing about the issue for years yet I’m still taken aback by some of the stories. A noted orthopedic surgeon in Los Angeles who operates on the damaged elbows and shoulders of youth pitchers once told me of a recurring conversation he has with patients. A young person confides that he does not want an operation and would prefer to quit his sport. But he’s stuck. “I don’t know what to do because I don’t want to disappoint my parents. It’s so important to my dad.”
Extreme Olympic parenting has been well documented. In her classic book "Little Girls in Pretty Boxes," Joan Ryan exposed the culture of excessive, often abusive, training including the story of a 14-year-old gymnast who suffered a broken wrist in the gym. Rather than take a break, she dulled the pain each day with prescription drugs and a dozen Advil. Subtract the parallel bars and it sounds like child abuse.
All the more reason to celebrate parents who keep things in perspective -- even if they don’t always stay in their seats.
Keegan Bradley, the new PGA Championship winner, set himself apart in so many ways last week. He won one of golf's four major championships in his first season on the PGA Tour. He won with an improbable back nine that included a triple bogey (to drop him five shots off the lead with three holes to play) followed by back-to-back birdies. Even more remarkably, he won the first major championship he ever played in.
There's one more biographical footnote that separates Bradley from other tour pros. He had a childhood.
More accurately, he had a normal childhood. Bradley grew up in Vermont, the son of a teaching golf pro. His aunt, Pat Bradley, was one of the most successful player on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour in the 1970s and 1980s. The adults in Keegan's life had a the good sense to allow golf to be a part of his life, not his whole life.
Although he is the son of a club teaching pro and the nephew of the L.P.G.A. Hall of Famer Pat Bradley, he did not specialize in golf as a youngster. He did not enroll in a hundred golf camps or travel away from home, boarding in a golf academy. He did not follow the path that is now so common to precocious athletes in most sports across America, which is to say he spurned suggestions he should quit all other sports and play golf year-round.
Bradley grew up in central Vermont. He was a ski racer in the winter and a golfer in the summer.
“People ask me all the time how I could be a pro golfer from Vermont, and they assume I must have went south a lot,” Bradley said Saturday. “But the truth is that when it started to snow, I put my clubs in the basement and didn’t touch them.”
In Until It Hurts, I write about kids who become early specialists. By eight or nine years old, they are full-time soccer goalies or tennis players. A small percentage of these children become fabulous players. They become varsity college athletes, attending school on full athletic scholarship. A few even become professional stars playing in big stadiums and earning millions of dollars a year.
Sadly, most do not. They advance as far as their talent will take them, usually high school sports-- and no farther. Or the steady diet of one sport--spring, summer, fall, and winter--eventually wears them down before they even get that far. As I write in Until It Hurts, they become victims of overuse injuries, ruptured ligaments, growth-plate injuries and the like. Or the sport ceases to be fun. Or what they want to do. So they quit before ever reaching their potential.
Keegan Bradley's parents played it right. They allowed their son to have a childhood, to explore many interests and eventually to excel at one. Keegan is the hero this week. Mr. and Mrs. Bradley deserve their own slice of the spotlight.
If your child's pediatrician diagnosed a contagious bug and prescribed medication, what would you do? Same as most parents, no doubt. Get the medicine. Give it to your kid. When a child's health is at stake, we tend to follow doctor's orders.
In May, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a widely publicized clinical report regarding kids and sports drinks. The AAP recommended cutting back on such drinks for kid athletes. In so many words, the kids' doctors group found them to be unnecessary at best, and at times even harmful.
Dr. Holly Benjamin of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness noted: “For most children engaging in routine physical activity, plain water is best, Sports drinks contain extra calories that children don’t need, and could contribute to obesity and tooth decay."
It's been three weeks since the AAP issued that statement. How many of us have heeded this simple advice? Anyone?
The sport-drink industry isn't exactly urging us to shut the spigot. Gatorade, for one, spends tens of millions each year in sports marketing. According to the Sports Business Journal, the four major sports leagues have deals with Gatorade as do a majority of teams in those leagues. Dozens of star players are paid to pitch the sports drink including Peyton and Eli Manning, Dwayne Wade, Kevin Garnett and Landon Donovan. Seventy-four college programs count Gatorade as a sponsor as do 13 college conferences and 11 bowl games.
Oh, and Gatorade is a highly visible sponsor of high school sports. Next spring, check out the ESPN Rise National High School Invitational Presented by Gatorade. I did last March. In a gym in suburban D.C., it was me, about 700 fans and about 700 Gatorade logos.
Maybe I'm off base and water is about to make a comeback as the kids' thirst quencher of choice. That would please your kid's doctor. It might not make the Manning brothers happy.
Sports drink photo by toniwbusch on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
Wednesday's New York Times ran my article on DVDs and group classes that introduce babies and toddlers to sports. A lot of reaction - pro and con - on the Times Web site. Last time I looked, 105 comments.
Each company cited in the article - and the entrepreneurs behind them - seems to be coming from a slightly different perspective. Doreen Bolhuis, who created the Gymtrix exercise videos, believes that babies truly can improve coordination by working out. She's quoted in the article on this point and during my interview with her spoke about it at length, telling me, “We sell babies short because they can’t speak yet. But they’re all about learning how their bodies work and about movement patterns. When we guide them they learn so much more quickly than if we leave it to chance and hope they’ll figure it out."
Other company executives quoted in the story cited different reasons for getting really, really young ones started in sports - fighting childhood obesity, getting them in the habit of being active and teaching the basics of games they may pick up later.
How many parents are buying videos and signing up for classes hoping to turn their babies and toddlers into superstars later on is impossible to say. Clearly some companies are appealing to that instinct, subtly or otherwise.
I had a small role in putting together this video which ran with the article on the Times site. It's worth a look.
Last week, on my Youth Sports Parents blog, we raised the question: Is football too dangerous for kids? Just so inherently violent that, before a certain age, say 13, the simple act of participation places kids at an unacceptably high risk of serious injury? For those of us persuaded that it's a question worth raising, here's Exhibit A.
So far, research has linked head trauma resulting in permanent brain injury to football players as early as the college ranks. Last month, the New York Times reported on the case of Owen Thomas, captain of the football squad at the University of Pennsylvania.
Thomas, an outwardly happy student and accomplished player, hanged himself after what the Times story described as "a sudden and uncharacteristic emotional collapse." Thomas was 21, the youngest player yet discovered with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease thought to affect moods and impulse control.
Is there any doubt that a high school player soon will be diagnosed with C.T.E? From today's Chicago Tribune:
Of 21 high school players monitored for a full season by a team of researchers from Purdue University, four players who were never diagnosed with concussions were found to have suffered brain impairment that was at least as bad as that of other players who had been deemed concussed and removed from play.
"They're not exhibiting any outward sign and they're continuing to play," said Thomas Talavage, an associate professor at the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering at Purdue and the lead researcher on the study. "The cognitive impairment that we observed with them is actually worse than the one observed with the concussed players."
The report, published in the latest edition of the Journal of Neurotrauma, found that some players received more than 1,800 hits to the head during practices and games, some with a force 20 times greater than what a person would feel while riding a roller coaster.
Banning youth football may not be the answer. But the response has to be very bold. The best suggestion I've heard so far comes from Chris Nowinski, a former Harvard defensive tackle and co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine.
Football needs “hit counts” like youth baseball has “pitch counts.” In baseball, all kids are subject to restrictions because some may suffer cumulative injuries to their elbows. Yet in football we’ve never thought the brain, which is more important than the elbow, could be subject to the same kind of cumulative injury. That is insanity.
I imagine there will be lots of comment about how difficult it would be to monitor hits and enforce a "hit count." For years, youth baseball coaches said the same thing about pitch counts, which are now uncontroversial and common.
It's a big week for us here at Beacon Press. While Cambridge celebrated their "Go Green" awards, Boston has been displaying its LGBT pride all week. Across the globe, nations are being unified by a common love for soccer with the World Cup. Our authors are also getting involved and getting their universal messages out there to the public. Here are a few of their latest updates and achievements:
Carlos Ball's new book, From the Closet to the Courtroom, chronicles five ground-breaking LGBT lawsuits that ultimately defined history. In this month's newsletter from the Lesbian and Gay Law Association of Greater New York, Ball's book received the following praise: "This should become a basic text for college LGBT studies courses and can be read with profit by all students of LGBT law, but it is also aimed at a more general audience and is recommendable to non-specialists as well."
The World Cup has officially begun. Symbolizing the drive, determination, and love for soccer, The Boys from Little Mexico, by Steve Wilson, delves deep into the lives of an all-Hispanic boys' soccer team who, despite cultural differences, language barriers, and academic struggles, won the Oregon state championship. In an interview with Dropping Timber, a soccer blog for the Portland Timbers, Wilson stated, "My hope with the book… is that it humanizes people." OregonLive.com also featured an article on Wilson, focusing on the care he took for the privacy of the students featured in his book.
The more negative side of youth sports represented by the strive for academic scholarships, the pressures of overbearing parents, and the injuries inflicted on overworked children, is the subject of Mark Hyman's book Until It Hurts. In a recently published article in Sports Illustrated, Hyman documents the efforts of Dr. James R. Andrews and his celebrity-athlete endorsed prevention program STOP (Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention).
A thorough examination of the overpopulation myth, Fred Pearce's book, The Coming Population Crash, discusses lower average birthrates across the globe, the growing epidemic of world hunger, and the first upcoming population decrease that this world has seen since the Black Death. Pearce's book was recently discussed on amnews.com.
From overpopulation to income inequality, Chuck Collins, coauthor of Wealth and our Commonwealth, describes personal wealth as being not only achieved through personal decisions and hard work, but also through the opportunities for success inherent in our society. Collins was quoted in an article for The New York Timeson estate taxes and the legacies of the opulent.
There are a million questions that run through the minds of liberal consumers. How will our purchasing powers affect the economy or the environment? Who frantically toiled in a foreign country to make this coat and what were their wages? Fran Hawthorne, author of The Overloaded Liberal, tackles investing your money into the perpetuation of liberal ideals. In a recent article for The Jew and the Carrot, Hawthorne describes kosher living through the humane methods of animal slaughter and the inhuman wages paid to workers behind the scenes.
In the vein of liberal-minded consumers, we here at Beacon Press would like to congratulate the Harvard Book Store for winning the Cambridge "Go Green Award" for transportation. The store's Green Delivery Service boasts a quick and inexpensive method of using emissions-free vehicles to deliver book orders to readers across the Boston area. Harvard Book Store's actions not only promote eco-friendly methods of delivery, but also support local businesses.
This week, our authors' words have been quoted, posted, and commented on throughout the online community on a wide range of urgent topics. They're going viral and we invite you to continue the conversation. Here are a few highlights:
Mark Hyman's book, Until It Hurts, is a central topic for Jane Brody's recent article in the New York Times. Documenting the history and facts of overworked young athletes, Brody's piece delves into the Phelps family and other fascinating examples of the
abuses of our obsession with youth sports.
From its highly lucrative revenue to its inherent racial biases, the adult film industry continues to thrive and affect many. Marie Claire addresses five shocking facts from Gail Dines's book, Pornland, set to release this July.
In an interview with WBUR, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner is described as "push[ing] for better science, better evidence and convictions that she can have more faith in." Gertner's new book, In Defense of Women: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Advocate, is due spring 2011.
In an article on Grist correlating falling birthrates to sexism, Fred Pearce author of The Coming Population Crash, is quoted for his research on the conservative ideals of Italy and the Vatican versus the flexibility of Swedish gender roles.
Finally, we close honoring a writer whose teachings still inspire conversation today. In a 1972 lecture titled "Why to Believe in Others" (recently posted on Ted.com), Viktor Frankl, author of Man's Search for Meaning, expresses the psychiatry behind reaching human potential through his use of insight and humor. Frankl states with zeal: "If we take man as he is, we make him worse; but if we take man as he should be, we make him capable of becoming what he can be!"
Oher isn't that difficult to spot. Not at 6-foot-4 and 309 pounds. But, apparently, the place I am least likely to see him around town is at the neighborhood Cineplex going to see "The Blind Side," the movie about his remarkable rise from the mean streets of Memphis to stardom in the National Football League. Oher doesn't seem that interested. He passed on the gala premier in New York a few weeks back, thus missing a chance to hob nob with the movie's stars Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw. A few days ago, when the Baltimore Sun asked, he still hadn't seen the film.
I can appreciate Oher's ambivalence. At least, I think I can. On the one hand, his life is a testament to the power of resolve, love and, above all, serendipity. I'm amazed by it. And after three decades as a sports journalist, I thought I was just about amaze-proof.
The opening ceremonies are upon us and Mark Hyman shares with us today a story of the parent of one of the many Olympians representing the U.S. in this summer's games. Hyman is contributing editor for sports business at BusinessWeek, and writes frequently about the business of sports, sports and law, and about the role of adults in youth sports. His book on the impact of parents, coaches and other adults on youth sports, Until It Hurts, will be published by Beacon Press in April 2009. Hyman's writing may be seen most often in BusinessWeek and Sports Business Journal, and has also appeared in Sports Illustrated, TV Guide, Inc., Best Life, Child Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and National Public Radio's "Morning Edition."
Not that long ago, I spent some time in the principal's office – about 45 minutes in a hardback chair, if I recall correctly.
I've been thinking about that visit and about the principal of Windsor Mill Middle School outside Baltimore, Debbie Phelps. Debbie will be in Beijing for the next two weeks for the Summer Olympics, which begin Friday. Her 23-year-old son, Michael, will be there too. Michael is the iconic American swimmer of whom much is expected by U.S. sports fans. He will be the favorite in every race he enters during the Summer Games. A record eight gold medals is a possibility. Fewer than six for Phelps would be a stinging disappointment. It's a good thing Michael Phelps has the broadest shoulders on the planet. He'll need them to carry those outsized expectations.
That trip to the principal's office was connected to a book I've just written for Beacon Press. It'll be out next April and the title is Until It Hurts. The book explores youth sports in America and the role (often misguided) of the adults in charge. The sports world we've created for kids isn't really about kids at all – that's the point of view expressed and documented in the book. More and more, it reflects the aspirations of adults, well-meaning and wrong. In short, adults like me. The regrettable result is that many kids are being pushed beyond physical and emotional limits. More in April.
The only way I knew to get started on the project was to strike out in every possible direction, interviewing parents, coaches, doctors and, in one case, the mother of a champion Olympic swimmer.
When I went to see Debbie, it was evident that I wasn't speaking to just another sports mom. We spoke about a trip she was planning to see Michael swim. Rome or Vienna or someplace similarly distant. She mentioned her own literary project, a book she would be writing about her experiences poolside, a guide to raising a humble, well-adjusted world record holder.
In other ways, I was struck that her story was so utterly unexceptional.
She had three kids, Michael being the youngest. She and her then husband lived in rural Maryland in a home surrounded by five acres. "I got the kids involved in as much as I could: baseball softball, gymnastics, tap, ballet, scouts. Michael was never a scout. But the girls were scouts," she told me.
The family belonged to swim club. Debbie says the main attraction was for her children to learn water safety. She wanted them to conquer any fears early in life. In short order, the two girls were on the club swim team. Then champions. Then dreaming of the Olympics.
The Phelps sisters were such hotshots, a swim club in Baltimore more or less recruited them to join the swim team. Debbie shuttled them to practices with a new baby. Boy Michael spent hours, days, at the pool. "Michael grew up with the smell of chlorine. It was such a natural environment for him," Debbie explained.
There's more, obviously. I devote several pages to the Phelps family in my book.
As I sat with Debbie Phelps, I asked how she saw the role and responsibilities of a parent whose child is a superstar athlete. She told me that parents frequently approach her, asking the same thing. With a laugh, she also explained that they tell her she is a role model for them. Hard to say exactly what about Debbie they were modeling. Or maybe not so hard. My guess: raising the best swimmer in the world.
"People often wait around to speak with me, to ask questions. Like, 'My son was 9 he was doing this, and when he was 11 his time was that.' They're looking for answers. I just say, parent your child. Love them for who they are, whether they swim the fastest (butter)fly or finish eighth in their heat.
"To me, there's a very fine line between the athlete, coach and parent. Everyone has their roles. If you sat here right now and told me you'd give me $200 million to recite Michael's world fly record, I could not tell you that. Yet there are parents whose child is trying to beat my son who can spit out those things out. I don't get involved in that. I talk to Michael as a parent."
I asked Debbie what concerns her about the parents she runs into at swim meets.
The answer was somewhat impolitic. Yet it sounded like one that would come easily to a middle school principal. "They nag too much," she says.
"They go to an athletic event and their kid isn't doing their best time. They get upset with the child. They think that it always has to be better, better, better, better, not realizing that even for the most talented swimmers it's a progression."
"Parents just need to chill. Realize that it doesn't help to set expectations, especially unrealistic ones. Put yourself in their shoes. Do you map things out so carefully in your own life? Such as, 'I am going to be CEO of a company'? Does it fall out in nice little pockets? Same with kids. Their progression is not going to fall into nice little pockets. There may not be another Michael Phelps for decades, even though I have parents tell me their son is on the same track." As I left her office, I asked Debbie to let me know when her book was coming out, and told her I would very much like to read it. I suggested a publication date well after mine.