Monday, September 8, 2008

Play Should be Fun - Are you Parenting or Coaching?

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One of my favorite books is Once A Runner by John L. Parker. It is the fictional story of a collegiate runner, Quentin Cassidy, a senior at a mythical Southeastern University. It follows the evolution of his running as he moves from the slightly under achieving collegiate miler to someone who becomes engrossed in his pursuit of running a sub four (4) minute mile. It is just a great story, in my opinion. One that should be read by every high school athlete. The book is out of print and as a symbol of it's popularity you can find a paperback version on E-Bay for somewhere between eighty ($80) and two hundred ($200) dollars - yup, 200 bucks!

There is a passage in the book where Quentin and his girlfriend return to the house he shares with most of the members of the university track team. They are assembled in the backyard and one of the athletes is jumping over a Volkswagen and landing on a mattress while his friends cheer and scream. Now this is relatively easy for the high jumper so he is goofing around and just plain having fun with it. Quentin's girlfriend does not get the humor of the scene.
Quentin remarks to her that often times elite athletes forget that they originally got engrossed in their sport because it was FUN. Surprise! They did not start running or high jumping or playing soccer or swimming because they saw it as way to earn a college scholarship or to make the Olympic team and earn billion of dollars. They did it because it was fun.

As a father of four collegiate athletes and one aspiring high school athlete, I have had the opportunity to be on the sidelines for thousands of hours of practice for swimming, gymnastics and soccer. Often times I am dismayed by the pressure I see parents placing on their children as they dissect each practice or game.
A lot of research indicates that many children stop playing sports as they enter their teenage years because they are burned out in high school or before high school by the pressure of training and competition and PARENTAL expectations. So as you parent from the sidelines, I want to encourage you to leave the coaching and teaching to the kids' coaches and teachers, after making sure that their coach or their teacher has the athlete's welfare and long term future in mind - not short-term glory for the team. You should encourage and support your children, not coach them, and emphasize the fun aspects of what they are doing.

Now for the good news. Amazon lists
Once A Runner as being reissued in April 2009. So you can try and get it on Ebay or have patience and wait until April. I have a copy but I am not telling you where it is kept!

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