Seventeen years ago, when my daughter was 3 and my son was 1, I wrote a story for the Los Angeles Times about how a handful of pro athletes managed youth sports with their own kids. At the time, I figured the research would help me immeasurably when I took my turn at youth coaching, which I soon did – mostly in soccer.
I looked up the story the other day after I heard on the radio that Bob and Mike Bryan, twin brothers from Camarillo, Calif., won the doubles championship at the U.S. Open. It was their 100th career tournament victory and 16th grand slam title, which is a ridiculous level of achievement by any measure.
Mike and Bob’s father, Wayne, was one of the parents I interviewed for the story. He had been a professional tennis player, though not a top one, and he represented the dissenting opinion among the high-level athletes I spoke with. Wayne and his wife, Kathy, also a retired tennis pro, directed Mike and Bob into tennis as toddlers, and Wayne’s opinion was that too many Baby Boomers take the wrong approach toward parenting by not pushing their children and letting them dabble in a little of this and a little of that. In Wayne’s view, that leads kids “to Madison Avenue. What they’ll do is play video games, ride skateboards, eat sugar-sweetened cereal and watch TV all day.”
Interesting theory, and a good counterpoint to the more hands-off attitudes of the other athletes, who included baseball player/manager Bob Boone, tennis star Tracy Austin, basketball Hall of Famer Ann Meyers Drysdale and Pro Bowl cornerback Rod Perry.
I also interviewed Karch Kiraly for this story, and his views weren’t too different from Bryan’s. He noted that he developed tremendous confidence as a kid after his father, Laszlo, got him playing volleyball at age 6.
My conclusion after 20 years of parenting? Bryan has a point. Too much of a laissez-faire attitude toward parenting can lead to teenage inertia, which is never a good thing. That said, parents need to be realistic. If you and your spouse are short, stumpy and have slow-twitch fibers, don’t think that any amount of “direction” is going to get your kids to the NBA. In fact, forget about the NBA no matter how tall or quick you are. It’s not a realistic goal. Help your kids get good at something at an early age, but do it because it’s good for them to be good at something, not because you have your sights set on fame and fortune.
Here’s the link:
Check out the story and let us know what you think.