I am just going to cut right to the chase, and this one is going to sting a bit. Your eight year old — the one you have doing drills in the driveway before practice, who sleeps in his equipment and is the best player your local officials have ever seen at this age, your trophy-winning, all-star-earning, athletic pride and joy — ain’t going pro. So you can chill out.
The truth is, there are a million reasons even the brightest little league stars are likely headed straight for college intramurals. But basically it boils down to this: The percentage of kids who grow up to be professional athletes is very, very small.
Take men’s basketball for example. 3.4% of high school players will play in college, and of those only 1.2% will make it to the NBA. And the stats are even more bleak for women’s basketball. Unfortunately many parents (some of whom probably line the fields, courts, and rinks of your own town), think their kid has the golden ticket. And they can’t help but turn into complete assholes trying to make the family dream come true. I watch so many of these people scream and carry on, getting real-life mad at their kid for ball skills or missed goals, yelling at refs and coaches as if there was something real on the line. But I guess in their mind, there is.
I watch parents pack their young kid’s schedules to the brim with camps, clinics, tournaments, and teams. They spend thousands of dollars on at-home equipment and turn leisure time into family practice sessions. Trouble is, the kind of athletic success necessary to achieve professional status is rarely earned through hard work alone.
Simply put, you have to be a genetic freak. Little kid phenoms also generally peak in middle school. They are little and quick, super-coordinated and low to the ground. The professional Adonises, the real athletic specimens, those guys are usually nicknamed “Big Slow” for the first half of their life until they learn how to control their oversized, out-of-control physiques.
And I know all of this because I lived it. Both myself and my younger brother excelled in middle and high school athletics. We played alongside kids who seemed better than all of the rest, whose parents were prepping for professional signing day. I made all-star teams and attended out of state “elite” camps and never — not once — did I play with, or even play near, anyone who went on to play professional sports. Because despite all of their local New England talent, they just weren’t actually that good.
To be clear, this is not an argument against youth spots. This is an argument for perspective. Instead of treating your kid’s formative years in youth sports like he is one highlight reel away from draft night, maybe just chill out. The focus should be fun and learning. Not everything in life needs a pecking order, and your kid being the best in their local youth sport league is actually not that impressive. Maybe don’t scream and yell in a very serious tone about a plastic ball and a hoop. Maybe offer praise after the game for teamwork and happiness on the ice, rather than their hat trick. Maybe don’t take the fun out of a game — for your kid, and for everyone around you.
Don’t get me wrong — I love a good competition. I love high energy, and I love watching kids compete. But there is a very clear difference between supporting your child and pressuring them. Between encouraging them and using them to relive your own athletic fantasies. Between enjoying the game, and acting like a sideline jerk.
It is such a small window of life that you get to enjoy these incredible, under-the-lights, buzzer beater kinda moments with your kids. The ones that leave your throat sore and your heart full. Where you can watch your child’s full-face smile, as he works with teammates and learns from coaches, feeling confident and successful.
So instead of angry-screaming loud enough to pop a blood vessel, try laughing instead. Enjoy and find humor in the shots on the wrong net, missed double-dribbles, and un-officiated off-sides. Chat with other parents, cheer for your kid, and relax. Because this athletic career is going to be over long before you want it to be, so just enjoy the ride.
Samm Burnham Davidson is an ex-lawyer mom of four who swears a lot. She lives in Beverly, Massachusetts.