"Why even bother? You're a joke."
As I leave Vegas after 5 fun-filled days watching my two sons play a sport they love, basketball (ages 16 and 13), it gave me pause this week to think of our youth hoops journey to this point, dating back to this picture from above where my older son, CJ, at age 9, (making a dunk face) just "balled for love of the game".
And it's still stinging a bit thinking of all the pressure they and each athlete faced this week. The grandstanding by the parents and the coaches, the expectations that are put upon these kids to "win at all costs", particularly for those who are now in high school. The bar is very high and the tension in the gym, you can cut with a knife.
The further my older son's team progressed in the tournament this week, the more vile and aggressive the parents got, yelling at the refs and sometimes even swearing at the kids, each and every time up and down the floor. There was one Dad who literally moved to the bottom row of the bleachers to get closer to the floor so that he could heckle the ref each and every time she ran by.
Was the ref'ing perfect? For sure, not. There were many missed calls and bad oversights on the floor. And, I guess, you could rationalize that most of the yelling wasn't targeted "at the kids", so it's not that big of deal, right?
When did it become so accepted that you target the girl or guy, who I'm guessing are making $30-$50/game, who are also doing their best to try and call a "good game?" What are we modeling for our kids about what's acceptable behavior?
I believe this phenomenon has been growing, and it started sometime back when Tiger Woods, Andre Agassi and the Williams sisters game into their prime. It happened when parents started to fantasize that if they are able to sink a lot of money into their kid starting a sport at 3, 4 or 5 years of age, they too can "create a prodigy" (despite, perhaps taking their own lack of athletic background into the picture). It happened somewhere around the time when it changed from "just a game" to a belief for so many parents, that this could be their "golden ticket".
Where we have gone so wrong from one generation to the next is allowing this heckling and pressure on young kids, all for the .001% chance that "my kid is the one" to make it to the next level. When I was a young, we used to play because it was fun, because we needed to be outside until dark, because we LOVED the game. If my parents came to the game, great, but there was ZERO expectation that I would play sports in college.
But it's now evolved so that when 1,600 kids and their hopeful parents show up in Vegas (and many other places around the country for so many different sports including football, baseball, softball, soccer, volleyball and lacrosse) with hoop dreams, they believe they are paying for results and, it would seem, are entitled to belittle, scream and demean whomever they want to get results they desire.
This whole phenomenon has made me curious on the math and I wanted to help level set expectations for my son. What are the real, true odds my kid can play at the next level, college, much less the Division I level?
It ain't pretty, people!
It is really not in most people's favor....84:1. Not great Vegas odds.
Maybe they should post these statistics near the front door as you walk in the gym of every tournament and pay your $10. But then again, that really wouldn't do anyone any good, as it's become such a business. Everyone from the club programs to the gyms up to the college programs, need to make money off of this so I guess we're better off letting parents pay the big bucks, give up family vacations and quality time together as a family (what's that?), in hopes of chasing one of these very rare unicorn scholarships.
For male high school basketball players according to scholarshipstats.com:
And if these statistics aren't sobering enough to encourage you to say pass to at least one of these recruiting events this year and spend some family time together, consider this.... the AVERAGE height of those 5,134 Division I players is 6'7". A-v-e-r-a-g-e.
So as our family leaves Vegas and hits the road this week for Jackson Hole, Wyoming (wo-hoo!), I am reminded that as much as my son dreams of playing at the next level, he should be doing his summer reading in the car (to get good grades!) and we should enjoy every minute together as a family, grateful to be making memories that will last long after the last buzzer sounds.
Don't get me wrong, I am not discouraging kids to chase their dreams. I am in full support of my son going after his, but what is it going to take for parents to have some modicum of decency when they go to a high school game? Reality check. It's a game, people. Cheer. Have fun. Support your child, but please stop cheering against the other team and yelling at the ref like they have a vendetta to pay against your kid. They are just doing your job. When's the last time you walked into your office and everyone yelled, "You SUCK!" as you headed to your desk.