What I’ve Learned In 10 Years of Youth Sports Blogging

As it happens, New Year’s Eve 2018 is the 10th anniversary of the premiere of this blog, which I called Your Kid’s Not Going Pro when I started it as an independent site. So here is how I started:

The title of this blog (“Your Kid’s Not Going Pro,” in case you hadn’t figured that out) sounds bitter and dream-killing, but instead it should be taken as a positive. Realizing your child will never go pro, or never get an athletic scholarship, will free parents from the burden of believing someday your child is going to become LeBron James and whisk you out of your debt-ridden, sorry life (a result caused in part by the amount of money you spent on trying to make your kid LeBron James — something that is not a uniquely American situation.) It will free youth sports coaches, most of whom are volunteers, from pretending they have to be the Bill Belichick of 7-year-old football so they can parlay that gig into the head coaching job with the Chicago Bears. You’re not going pro either, bub.

If you’ve dipped a toe into in the youth sports world since Dec. 31, 2008, you’ll see that my words did not turn children’s games into a carefree, fun-for-its-own-sake activity, and if you want to know why, I have 10 years’ worth of material for you to study (seven years of it here at Forbes).

In the last 10 years, my 11-year-old son has grown up to enter his last semester of college at Ohio University, which he’ll spend as a student teacher in social studies at Crooksville, Ohio, High — go Ceramics! — before he enters the U.S. Army as an officer after completing his ROTC program. My 9-year-old daughter is now a sophomore microbiology major at the University of Iowa, already spending a lot of time in the lab when she’s not co-hosting the campus radio station’s LGBT-themed talk show (for which she might book Elizabeth Warren and anyone else who runs for president in 2020). My 6-year-old son is now driving. My 3-year-old daughter is now gearing up for her high school orientation for next year.

So it’s been a while.

There a lot of things I’ve learned in 10 years of writing about youth sports, coaching youth sports, parenting youth athletes, and just being a parent (with my lovely wife) in general. If I were to boil down everything I’ve learned into one sentence, it’s this:

By the time a child is 13, he or she will discover a sport, interest or activity that you as an adult won’t understand; what that sport, interest or activity is, and how you react to it, will determine the tenor of your relationship from that point forward.

There’s certainly nothing stopping parents and other adults from forcing children into or out of a certain sport, interest or activity, or making it abundantly clear they want the child to do — or not to do — a certain sport, interest of activity. However, that’s only going to make everyone’s life a lot harder. My kids have taken a lot of twists and turns in activities — picking up sports, dropping sports, changing interests — for example, I’ve written about my youngest son deciding against theater and singing, which he had done as a lead performer pretty much all through elementary and junior high, in favor of basketball in high school.

My kids in 2016. Soon after I took this photo, my youngest daughter retired from softball as a lead-off batter and league champion at age 10 in favor of singing, acting and music, including playing the piano, saxophone, trombone and ukulele.BOB COOK

It’s tempting to want to push your child into a sport you understand, or for coaches to press players to stick around because they’ve shown some ability. But the goal in raising children — in my mind, at least — is not pushing them on a path where they are trying to reach No. 1. The goal is to raise well-adjusted, sympathetic adults who have had the opportunity to explore their interests, who understand that life is a changing process where learning and new experiences never stop, and who think of the needs of others rather than only their own.

This doesn’t mean I have a philosophical issue if you’re spending tens of thousands of dollars per year to put your kid in elite-level travel sports — as long it’s something your child wants to do, and you’re ready to move on if your child becomes interested in something else. I’m not saying it’s easy to take the news that a child you’re raising, or you’re coaching, has decided to move on to something else. But I am saying the short-term pain can be worth a lot of long-term gain for that child — and for the adults, too.