Blogpost

5 Ways to Avoid Youth Sports Burnout

EmSoccer.jpgI remember playing soccer as a kid pretty vividly.  There’s a smattering of games, practices, camps, travel and associated activities swimming around inside my head.  Perhaps I’ve forgotten but there was only one time that I ever considered “quitting” soccer and that was near my transition to high school.  However that was because I was considering going out for football.  So other than that, I truly don’t have a recollection of not wanting to play anymore.  Perhaps I’m wired differently because I also ran track through high school and into college.  Basketball got left behind as a sophomore in high school.  That was more of a “talent” and interest thing than burnout.  When you’re getting the token minutes as a freshman, the writing is on the wall.  I needed to get a lot better in order to be successful at the sport that was not my priority.

Define Burnout – With the quick anecdotes above, it’s obvious that I am defining burnout differently than just discontinuing participation.  There are seasons for everything in our lives and sports are no different.  Allowing one season to end in order for others to begin or become more prominent is not something to bemoan.  It is the natural order of life.

So what we are specifically talking about is the idea of saturation to the point of generalized overwhelm, exhaustion with and possible contempt for the activity.  Notice the underlined word, generalized.  Everyone has moments where the things that they pursue can become difficult in the moment.  Burnout is much more than that, it is a constant rather than a one off.

The following suggestions are not the only possibilities nor a silver bullet but rather the beginning of a conversation.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is a relevant metaphor here.

Give them an “out” – Even though they may never take it, giving kids a visible way out of something can be an antidote to burnout. This can come with some stipulations such as finishing out the season/year but the message should be clear “if you don’t want this anymore, that’s ok.”

Renew the contract – This may seem like the same thing as giving them an escape route but it’s not.  Kids do not process things in the same way as adults.  Even though they may know that the can get out if they want to, they may not evaluate that “want” regularly.  At the end of the season AND before the next, check in to make sure that they want to continue.

Align the goals –  “I love soccer/football/hockey/badminton/etc.” may mean something completely different to your child than it does to you.  Make sure that the goals that you and your child have for the sport are aligned.  If you’re thinking, “college scholarship” and they are thinking, “I love hanging out with my friends and the games” that disconnect is going to cause friction at some point.  There’s always room for changing course but if parents and kids are pointed in different direction, problems may arise.

Find the model – If your youth athlete has expressed an interest in play at some higher level whether it is high school, club, academy, college or professional.  Find someone who is at that next step and talk to them about what it takes to get there.  Do not try to jump steps.  Your 8 year old does not need to understand the training regimen of a professional athlete.  Most young players would say that they want to go pro.  That’s not the question in the beginning.  The relevant question in the beginning is do they want to practice when no one tells them to?

LOVE THEM, no matter what – This should be obvious and it probably is to you, as the parent.  Often messages get convoluted in the day to day grind of all of the responsibilities that we have.  Regardless of the outcome of games, tryouts, tournaments or anything else; your child should have an overwhelming sense that their performance and your love are completely separate items.

I hope that after reading this that you’re saying to yourself “I didn’t need this article!”  Nothing would make me happier!  The unfortunate thing is that many people do.  So if you could spread it, that would be great!  I’m extremely passionate about my sport of choice, soccer, and also helping young people.  Almost nothing is more disappointing to me than to see a child who had a love for a sport driven out of them.

Sports are a great opportunity to bring the best out of our children.  Let’s take that opportunity to raise our children up and not wear them down.

Make today a great day!

Pete

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Cheering for Someone Else’s Kid (An Exercise in Perspective)

Huryk-LukeEvery weekend the players line up on the field, the referee blows the whistle and the microscopes come out.  I’m speaking figuratively of course.  Although a fusion between youth sports and science would be great, I’m talking about the tunnel vision of the fans on the sidelines.  It’s actually not their fault.  It is in our nature to pay attention to the things that we care most about.  So a parent’s focus on their child at a time of high emotion is both normal and expected.  Our youth sports culture has definitely swung toward the extreme with cost, intensity and behavior.  The thing that we often lack as we go through life is perspective.  We tend to think that the way we perceive the world is the way that the world is.  It is only our version.  There are billions of others and none of them is completely correct either.  So it may be valuable to gain a different perspective.

Go to a youth sporting event of someone else’s kid, not a niece or a close friend’s son but two levels of separation.  It may just be a different age group at the club that your child plays for.  Choose a child that you’re going to “support” for the game.  If you’re a cheerer, then cheer.  If you’re the quiet pensive fan, then be quiet and pensive.  Whatever you would normally do at your own child’s game, do you best to recreate it (bring your spouse to bicker about the coach if need be).  I understand this will be uncomfortable and feel odd for most people but here are some things that will probably happen.

You’re probably going to lose focus on “your player” from time to time and watch the overall game.  All of the reactions that you would normally have will be slightly muted.  You may be able to look at the player and pick up on subtle cues about them.  Do they like the sport?  Do they play with joy and look like they are having fun?  Are they afraid to mess up/of contact/of trying too hard?  Are they embarrassed by the stranger cheering for them (keep it under control)?  At the end of the game, was success or failure based solely on the score/outcome?

The payoff in this experiment will be different for everyone.  If the difference between the fan that you are in the two situations is small, that’s probably a good sign.  If the difference between the fan that you are is vast, it might be helpful to consider why.  In the grand scheme of the world, both games probably meant about the same amount.  Sports bring out some of our best and worst characteristics as humans.  The kids are practicing regularly in order to be their best, let’s be at our best as well!

Go!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Am I Good? Is the Wrong Question

TestThe spring season brings rejuvenation and tryouts.  Soccer tryouts, hockey tryouts and I’m sure many others.  The constant evaluation of players is now a cultural norm.  While it may seem like a necessary evil, it is our job as the adults or forward thinkers to ensure that it doesn’t become pure evil in the mind of a young player.  The constant question can go swirling through their head “Am I good?”  While it may be a common question, it is probably the wrong question.

Comparison is all around us.  There are grades, likes, follows, rankings and so many other ways to compare people and anything else.  Some of them are objective and others completely subjective.  They are easy to focus upon because they feel real.  A sense of power and prestige can be derived from comparison but the opposite is also true.  It is often easier to feel powerless and insignificant because we are usually comparing our worst with our projection of other people.  Neither of these pictures is completely accurate but the feeling of inequity can be overwhelming.  So we often look for validation from others, such as coaches, teachers, parents or others with the question, “Am I good?”  The answer is never going to satisfy in the long term.  It becomes a button that needs to be hit every so often to keep things in balance.  Multiple choice is not your friend in most instances.

Although most people avoided them in school, it is two open ended questions that allow for a more compelling look at one’s self.  “How am I better than I used to be?”  “How can I progress forward?”  Both questions are asked with a leaning toward positive self discovery.  Our brains are an amazing piece of machinery that will answer almost any question that we ask of it, even if it needs to make the answer up.  Consistently asking “Am I good?” will inevitably lead to plenty of instances where the answer will be “No” because metric and competition change frequently.  However by asking the open ended questions, the question sends a subtle signal that in some small way you are better than you were.  Also there are ways to progress forward if you’re willing to look for them.

These are obviously not the only questions that can be asked.  They are simply two examples that can break the comparison chain.  Done consistently, proactive questions like these can be life altering because we are evaluating ourselves and our lives continuously.  Wouldn’t it be better to stack the deck in your favor?

Have a great day!

Pete

Blogpost

Major League Soccer as “Fragile” Frankie Merman

FrankiemermanIn “The Junk Mail” episode of Seinfeld, we are introduced to Frankie Merman.  He is Jerry’s childhood friend who has many quirks including digging holes to sit in when he is upset.  Despite his eccentricities, George is slightly jealous of Frankie because Frankie and Jerry attended camp together.  George ruefully refers to Frankie as the “Summer Me”.  He even goes so far as to lie to Jerry about an imaginary summer friend of his own.  All of this ridiculousness is par for the course in the world of Seinfeld.  As far fetched as it all may be, it got me thinking about the soccer world in which American fans live.

PremNext weekend marks the end of the Premier League.  For those who religiously follow teams from England on Saturday and Sunday mornings, there is hole to be filled.  Recognizing this fact, it might just be time to embrace Major League Soccer as your “Summer League”.  I can hear the protests now, “MLS sucks!”  “There’s no promotion or relegation!”  “It’s a retirement league!”  I’m well aware of this and all of the other vitriol that comes out whenever someone suggests that our domestic league should be watched by our domestic fans.  I understand the thought process.  My son and I just took a trip to England to see two matches.  The allure of European soccer is not lost on me.  The only question is do we want it to be this way?  Do we truly want to be thousands of miles away from the best soccer in the world?  Americans account for the largest number of ticket buyers at the World Cup, other than the host nation.  Which means that we travel to far off lands at great expense to see the best in the world compete.  In 2026 when the World Cup is here, will Americans not attend the games because they are here?  That would be a ludicrous thought!  We want the best games with the best players to be in our backyards.  BUT we’re impatient, entitled and shortsighted.  Let’s take a look at each.

Ricky Davis 79We’re impatient.  Major League Soccer is barely 20 years old.  Even the re-branded version of the English first division is older by around 4 years.  Comparing MLS to any of the historic first divisions from Europe is at best an apples to oranges comparison.  At worst, it ignores all common sense.  Teams and leagues are made up by players and their endeavors are supported by fans.  European fans have supported their clubs for generations.  MLS clubs have not existed for a generation yet.  Love for a team or club is not built overnight.  It is a slow process and we’re in the thick of both the development of love for clubs and a talent pool.  If the desire is that MLS should just buy the best talent in the world, do some research on the Cosmos.

LeaguesWe’re entitled.  Other than MLS, the other major sports leagues based in the US are arguably the best in the world.  NFL, no competition.  MLB, takes whatever talent is produced in other leagues.  NBA, second tier talent from the US go to play in the other leagues.  NHL, brings in talent from all over the world.  Is it really that disheartening to have one league of the top five major sport that is not YET the best?  Especially when you consider that with the exception of hockey, the others are “American” sports.

We’re shortsighted.  In the 1990’s my knowledge of English soccer was actually pretty limited.  At the time, the Italian Serie A was arguably the best league in the world.  The ingredients that contribute to the rise or fall of the fortunes of a particular league are multiple.  One of the most important parts to a successful league is fan interest.  If there are not enough fans, there is not enough money to buy enough talent and the product on the field suffers.  The shortsighted thought that, “MLS sucks now.  I’ll pay attention when it’s better.”  is a recipe for disaster.  The league cannot reach a status of world renown without the backing of American soccer fans.  If you want the best players in the world, playing in your backyard for your local team, then you need to pay for it now, not then.  We never get there if we don’t put down the deposits (both financial and emotional) right now.

So yes!  Major League Soccer might be Fragile Frankie Merman.  It may have all kinds of eccentricities that may not fit your model of a perfect replacement.  BUT if you spend your summer pining for the return of George and don’t pay attention.  Frankie will continue to disappoint and your summers will always be George-less.

It will never be “The Summer of George”

Pete

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The Championship Photo

ChampionshipPhotoIn this country and around the world Champions are lauded for their accomplishments.  Usually the scene of victory is filled with a trophy to be kissed, confetti falling, champagne popping and players/fans rejoicing.  The reason that this scene is so easy to recreate in one’s mind is that it is pervasive throughout sport.  Depending on the particular sport, one could be even more specific about the scene.  Regardless of which championship is one there is an invisible specter that is ever-present but has seemingly been forgotten by many who are watching.  The fruits of the labor are on full display but the labor often gets overlooked.  In a world where instant gratification is becoming more of the norm will we be seduced by the empty triumph of getting the small reward now or choose the labor that creates real results?  The answer is that both will happen.

There will be many people who get swept up in the power of the “Now Economy”.  They will take the short term rewards and overlook some of the long term consequences.  It is not a surprising phenomena that people take the easier path.  On a biochemical level, our reward system is easily seduced by the immediate regardless of its hollowness.  It takes time and training to override this system.

The greatest of all time were able to train themselves to be long term greedy.  Rather than giving in to the temptation of the moment, they put in the work now in order to reap the benefits later.  Often that was months or even years later.  The prize at the end may have been what drove them but the process of attaining greatness is won daily.

Each of us has the power within to choose.  There probably won’t be a championship trophy at the end for most of us.  Our accomplishments won’t be on ESPN.  It will almost all happen on the inside.  The triumph will be over self and circumstance with only a few fans (friends and family) there to celebrate.  Will you be able to hold your head high based on what you have done?  Or will you be looking down at the path of shortcuts that you took to run yourself in circles?  You have the power to choose and you’re choosing right now.  Choose wisely!

Pete

 

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An American Soccer Manifesto (Part 1)

lukesoccerSoccer in the United States is gaining undeniable momentum in American culture.  While the progress of the sport in this country has been slow, its impact is becoming more widespread.  Through the various parts of this “Manifesto”, I will plead a case for the reasons for the proliferation of the sport and the impacts on the country at large.  Physical, social, psychological and philosophical outcomes can be reaped through the more widespread acceptance of soccer as a national force.  It may be a difficult argument to the general public because as Tom Weir of USA Today wrote in 1993, “Hating soccer is more American that apple pie.”  While this sentiment may be changing, a deep dive into the facets of a transition is in order.

History

The history of the kicking game has been chronicled at length by others.  Therefore my historical narrative will not be about the development of the game in the country but rather a juxtaposition of our historically American sports’ positive impacts on the country at large.

Despite baseball being considered the “National Pass Time”, American football has largely been the dominant sport of the past century.  This is due in large part to the sport developing during the emergence of the US as a world power while also sharing the American ethos of progress.  Football (American Football)* served the country well in the 20th century as it ingrained ideals that were instrumental during the manufacturing age.  The ideals of teamwork, coordination and positional hierarchy ran deep within the factory system and football.  Plans and decisions were centralized to management and passed down for execution by the line.  Statistics are used to track progress, performance and predict the emergence of talent.  The school, industrial and sports models of the 20th century complimented each other in structure and values.  Therefore football, baseball and basketball became dominating forces in the sports landscape of the United States.  Their appeal was compounded because of the community component and inherent aspiration of the team.  Professional sports teams created a sense of belonging to cities or regions.  High schools fed players and students into colleges.  Colleges fed players into professional leagues and students into jobs.  The systems worked almost seamlessly for a long time.

Identity Crisis (My independent film about soccer’s place in the US)

Times Change

Nostalgia is a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.  While nostalgia may feel good and there may be good reason to long for times past, the present is the only place where we truly exist.  The past cannot be recreated.  While this may seem sad due to things that are perceived as “lost”, there are many gains that have come from that passage of time.  So where are we now?

factoryAs we progress even further into a new century and millennium, several of the rigid systems of the past are crumbling under the pressure of technology and the democratization of information.  The old systems are being replaced for the very same reasons that they thrived a century ago.  Cheap/efficient labor, mechanization, standardization and a consumer culture brought forth prosperity to the US.  Now, cheap labor is found elsewhere or replaced entirely by machines.  Standardizing of products has made many of them generic where cost and convenience become the most sought features rather than quality and craftsmanship.  The model of consumerism has left many bankrupt financially, depressed emotionally and weighed down physically.  The mantra “that’s the way we’ve always done it!” is the calling card of those primed for a fall to irrelevance or extinction.

The new economy of the United States is a connection economy that no longer depends on exclusively on commodity production but rather the unification of resources with opportunity.  Entrepreneurship is not a buzzword of the silicon valley.  It is an integral component of the new American economy that requires a more nimble approach to business.  Bigger is not particularly better.  Growth is not particularly the marker of success as people are often creating lifestyle businesses to balance work and life.

entreprenThe traditional American sports do not fit as effectively into this new economic paradigm.  The industrial model of tracking productivity in order to become more efficient in the name of progress does not hold.  The measure of a good worker in the new economy is not a mindless cog that produces more than the other cogs.  It requires a mixture of technical ability mixed with the emotional intelligence to make decisions based on varying factors.  In the traditional American sports, these decisions were made solely by the coach, quarterback or point guard.  Most other players were doing their assigned job as a part of an orchestrated unit.  Divergence from the rules of the system was not desirable.  The new economy needs more decision makers rather than rule followers.

This new system is more in line with the processes of soccer.  Eleven people working toward a common goal with principles in mind rather than plays.  Each individual must analyze what they see in front of them and decide what to do next.  Although there are statistics available in soccer, they do not particularly indicate good or poor performance.  The intricacies of the game are human.  There is a balance between pushing toward a goal while not overextending to the point of being exposed defensively.  While there is a coach with a certain amount of control, the players and their decisions are the key components to the performance of the team.

The individual has greater power to impact the world than ever before in history.  Our games, systems and education should be centered around the improvement of the decision making faculty while maintaining an empathetic compass.  Realizing how our individual decisions impact the rest of our team, community and world is a skill that needs to be developed in the generations to come.  Although soccer is implicitly a sport, there are components to its play that can have a greater societal impact.  This is not at the exclusion of the other sports but in addition to them.  The 20th century American ethos has a place in the amalgamation of our future as a nation.  It is through our diversity that much of our strength comes.

*From here on, I will refer to American Football as Football and International Football as soccer.  I’m sure this will upset someone somewhere but it is not my intention to please everyone but be as clear to as many people as possible.