"Raising athletes is overrated."

February 6, 2015

Notable Stats

Fast-Twitch, Slow-Brain Conflict Ratio (FTSBCR) – Yes, you may be excited that your child excels at slithering around the monkey bars or in their domination of the youth soccer league, but they also may think they can stand on top of the blender to squeeze into the stove vent.

Breakability Index (BI) – The relationship between athleticism and destroyed objects children test their athleticism on. Measured in shards of glass. 

Sure, everyone wants to be raising a Hall of Fame athlete. So they say. People practically redshirt their kids by the time they are four so that they can get an edge by Kindergarten. To support our children’s athletic possibility, we set aside retirement investments just so we can endow the fee for a former NFL quarterback to teach our child how to be a quarterback.
I had a nice major league career, my wife was a highly competitive ice skater, so in the chromosome lab, the genetics say there is a chance that at least one of our three kids could be a good athlete.
But, how long does it actually take to harness responsible athleticism? What must a child do to explore and develop these “skills” when they are not actually competing or formally practicing? In the meantime, at six, five, and three years old, they interpret “practice” as spinning to dizziness in the grocery store while “bowling” over citizens, or running full sprints in the kitchen that has corners and knifes in it, or my personal favorite, climbing furniture to jump off of while ignoring the blades of the spinning ceiling fan. 
Maybe these are the required steps to athletic greatness. Before you understand the rules of baseball and understand how to properly use a bat, you take a broom and swing it around the house, “accidentally” hitting your sister in the nose. You grab anything that is round (or not round) and throw it in a random direction, just to test physics. Nevermind there is a 50% chance you will hit the dog or put a dent in the cabinet. 
There-in lies the issue with athletes. They sense they have a physicality they want to use, in fact, must use, but they are too young to understand all the rules that govern and control that athleticism. So they practice with your mops, stemware, framed art, or contact lenses.
We often respond, “we have to get them out of the house so they can run around.” Yes, this is true, but what also is true is once they taste the untethered outdoors, they come home and see your couch as the defensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The hand-sewn heirloom pillows apparently were placed on the dirty floor to represent “astroturf.” The stairs become a slide, their heads become a battering ram, the three-year-old starts to morph into a strike zone for target practice by her elder siblings.
I often wonder what it is like to have a calm and reasonably sedentary, unathletic child. Do they just sit there? When I put them down, are they exactly where I left them? My son learned to roll before he crawled. One day I put him down away from the kitchen area so I could cook and he could play with blocks. I looked up a few minutes later and he had rolled all the way back to the kitchen. No wonder he gets motion sickness. But I will chalk it up to sheer determination. Kudos.
Be careful what you ask for when praying for world-class athletes. Sure, it would be amazing to go to the Olympics one day and see your daughter capture the gold, but just remember, part of that level of greatness involves practice, and that practice will most likely occur inside your living space while you are actually living there.
So if you don’t want frequent trips to the ER or to buy a lot of replacement cost insurance, think twice about young athletes. These young jocks have to practice, have to express their bodies in ways that others may not, and inevitably, that means someone will get hurt, something will get broken, and you will be repeatedly saying “stop running in the house!”.
To see if this resonates, here is the sport and its indoor equivalent:
Baseball – Hitting the dog or sister with an empty art tube, then throwing a paper weight at a glass door for the double play.
Football – Tackling the lamp, then spiking the waterproof camera on the tile floor.
Basketball – Shooting dirty laundry at any opening they see. This includes shower drains, sump pumps, and a window they opened when it was -5 degrees outside. 
Bowling – Pretending to be a gutter ball that miraculously jumps back into the lane, then using your body to knock over all chairs in a ten foot radius. Ooops, one chair was actually an easel with the original Mona Lisa on it.
Tennis – Standing on the bed with a dust mop and hitting a golf ball over a crib and into the face of the youngest in the family. Her face represents the service box. 
Hockey – Using a snow shovel twice their size and trying to hit a tupperware container full of chili. The goal is your laundry basket full of to-be-folded white linens. 
- Doug Glanville
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