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Wed, Sept. 18

Column: Kidding around with youth sports

It's a love and sometimes agonizing relationship, watching your kids learn to play and compete in different sports. They start out as little tykes learning the old hand-eye coordination stuff.How to throw, catch, hit, run, sprint, swing, dribble, shoot, kick, dive, slide, serve and everything else in-between. That's definitely a highlight as a parent and the more time you spend with them the better they get. You have to make sure you keep it fun, especially when they're learning to catch. Do your best to not let them get hit in the face by anything hard...it truly hampers their desire when they associate catching with pain.Next it's on to joining a team. The interesting concept for the league associations are to find enough parents to do the specialized job of coaching each team and making sure they are trained enough to get through a season without traumatizing too many of the children or themselves taken to the loony bin. The slogan for coaching could be, "Just say yes.... if you get my demented drift."You get your roster of players, set up your first practice, hand out the uniforms.That's tough because every kid has a favorite number. If you get too long-winded or expect too much from the young buckaroos at practice, you'll find half the team playing tag while the others will be pulling grass, stepping on ants and catching butterflies. Better keep it simple, fun and silly. As a coach, there is one very important aspect you most certainly want to get correct: the almighty snack list. There are some coaches who goofed this up and still haven't been found. The introduction of rules for the different sports is an interesting time of learning for youngsters. - What's traveling? - What goal do I shoot toward? - What's the infield fly rule? - What's a forward lateral? You've just gotta laugh. In a kids first non-competitive league situation, where everyone gets to play pretty much the same amount and no one is allowed to keep score - except the competitive parents on the sidelines - all the kids at the end of each game are to feel almost as if nothing took place because the coaches have to say they all played equally well and winning and losing doesn't mean a thing. We'd hate to ruin little Bobby or Susie's self esteem that someone wins and someone loses - what we need to emphasis is it isn't life or death and it's really about if you tried as hard as you know how. Kids aren't stupid, they realize who's good, who needs more work, and they know most games scores don't end up as a tie. Then there's the leap to the competitive leagues and real "tryouts." The coaches are now a little more seasoned - which means they probably played that sport in high school or possibly college - and the expectations are certainly higher for the kids who make the cut and are chosen onto supposedly equal teams of talent... . except for the special coaches who've learned to work the system. Which means, if I coach, my superstar son plays on my team.Also, I get an assistant coach who has two kids that are also very good, and somehow I finagle a first or second round draft-pick, and have a couple more kids who are really good request to play on my team.Before you know it, one or two of the teams in the league are practically unbeatable. This is just a fact of life. As parents watching the games of their children, umpires and referees are not supposed to be taunted with jeers and unsolicited advice... .well, let's just keep it at that. I try to remember that most of them are doing this because they love the sport, it gives them a little exercise and some beer money, but it's truly an almost thankless job. The trail of becoming an athlete for both the child and parent is filled with an amazing graph of up's and down's, laughter, tears, friends, sacrifice, learning challenges - physically, mentally and socially - dealing with injuries/pain, controversy, etc., and yet at the end of the day it really is a journey unequalled in most life experiences. Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at choward4541@q.com or 928-642-6775.
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