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Kids same, but message isn't in youth sports

May 19, 2007|By BOB PARASILITI

Sometimes it takes a little time for things to sink in.

This time it was a comment by Terry Truax at the recent Hagerstown Community College press conference that announced his hiring as the Hawks' new men's basketball coach.

"Kids are kids," he said. "You hear how kids have changed and are different. They are the same as they have been. Parents have changed and coaches have changed."

He went on.

"We've been giving kids a sense of entitlement just because they can make a basket. ... Kids don't care how much you know until you show how much you care."

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Those statements kind of hung out there, looking for a place to call home.

Welcome home.

The "kids are kids" theory isn't a novel one, but I know I've been biased by the numerous trips around the sun I've enjoyed.

I had pitched a tent in the camp that believed kids aren't like they were when I was growing up.

They don't try as hard.

They don't work as hard.

They don't care about anyone but themselves.

The world is in trouble.

I heard it all before.

I think it was said about me when I was that age.

The jury is still out, but I think I turned out OK. I won't take any credit for it, though. I'll pass that over to my parents and coaches who dealt with me over the years.

Their messages were clear and precise - sometimes stern and correcting - while instilling character.

I hope this generation is so lucky.

You have to wonder, especially with some of the messages these kids get nowadays from today's parents and coaches.

Messages aren't always verbal. Often they are visual, like signs coming from the third-base coaching box.

For some reason, today's kids are only allowed to experience success and be spared of any failure. They are too fragile to deal with making mistakes or errors and the consequences of being singled out for those flubs. We must protect them from the despair of not finishing first, losing or negative circumstances.

If they make an error, don't point it out or print it in the newspaper because they will be scarred for life.

Don't say they lost. Just commend them for an outstanding effort in an unfortunate situation.

If they take 15th in a race, reward them with a participation medal or ribbon because they should earn something for trying so hard.

Is that the right message?

I haven't looked for a while, but I haven't seen any stories about a kid donning a goalie's mask and carrying a chainsaw because he made an error.

Nor have there been any reports of wearing low hats and sunglasses to avoid paparazzi because they were named for giving up a home run.

Have there been any suicide notes saying the shame of striking out with the bases loaded in the last inning was too much to handle?

I don't ever remember taking a call from a young player who was upset because he was named for committing an error. Nor, has any child athlete taken the time to dial in because he was missing from a Little League roundup.

Parents and coaches do, though.

Most kids go out and still compete in sports for the reasons I tried - it's fun and you hang out with your friends - the ever-changing world of parents and coaches distort the focus.

Sports are supposed to a game.

To be honest, it means nothing should be published or televised.

But if it is, every story or highlight on every level of sports has a hero and the poor unfortunate who allowed him that honor.

Batters get game-winning hits off a pitcher's mistake.

They hit game-winning home runs off pitcher's bigger mistakes.

Football players score touchdowns on an opposing player's blown coverage or missed tackle.

Basketball players get layups and dunks off of an opponent's loose defense.

And in it all, there isn't anyone burying their head in remorse for more than a few minutes.

That's the beauty of competition. Tomorrow is another day.

Yet youth scorekeepers - a.k.a. parents with pencils - call with phantom hits because they "want to get every kid's name in the paper." (Hits hit the field clean and untouched, they aren't when another player is forced at a base).

Coaches admit they shave scores in routs because they don't want to embarrass the other team in print (even though it didn't bother them when they were walking over the opposition on the field).

Losing coaches won't report games for fear of ridicule.

You have to wonder who's feelings they are trying to spare, their own or the players'.

These are probably the same grownups who tell the kids they didn't strike out. The other kid just cheated and threw the ball funny.

Or that grandma didn't die, she moved to Alaska for a change of scenery.

Or the dog didn't run away. He needed a vacation.

Or it wasn't your fault you got a D. The teacher just made the test too hard.

Truth is, real disappointment is part of living and growing up. It makes you stronger.

Some grownups worry about the scars of failure for the wrong reasons. Their child's mishap - a growing pain caused in learning to compete - is probably fair game around the watercoolers at work the next day.

But the kids, they have short memories. They are able to go out unaffected to play again the next day.

What they do remember, though, is that it's all right to lie if you can benefit from it. Cheating is acceptable if it prevents having to deal with reality. And you have to be considered a success even if you fall flat on your face.

Lost in the whole thing is maybe the greatest lesson and experience of all. It's the feeling an athlete gets and knowledge earned from playing a great game after suffering through a bad one. That makes the taste of the cherries in life's bowl all the sweeter and more memorable.

That's when athletes become a real winners because they become more prepared for the ups and downs of life through competition while learning the true meaning of success.

That's the time when it should finally sink in, for athletes, parents and coaches alike.

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