Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
My last post was targeted at parents who were trying to determine if it was okay to play their child up a grade in sports. This is based on parents trying to challenge and develop their kids putting them in a position where they will have to face tougher competition. They typically are looking for life lessons that they hope will prepare them for high school and beyond.
So, on one level, you have the parent challenging their child. On another level you have the trophy chasers who put their high end select travel team into school division tournaments or AAA baseball or softball teams to build up their resume by heading to smaller communities to take on single A teams. That’s not illegal but bordering on being unethical and for sure lacking honor and sportsmanship. Coaches who would rather win against bad teams than lose against good teams fail to do the one thing they are responsible for - develop their players as competitors and people.
But there is an even darker side to youth sports, even beyond the craziness of parents in the stands (yes, that will be a future post as well!). Where parents and/or coaches are so blinded by winning or generating fame that they will knowingly bend, break, and trample the rules without a second thought.
Now, driven by the power and hype of social media, the new trend is for parents to play their kids DOWN a grade! Welcome to the Crazy World of Sports literally March Madness. Holding kids back a grade is understood when they are young based upon educational, physical, social, or emotional development struggles. Prior to Kindergarten, it is commonly recommended by the school system that boys born in the summer months should wait for the following year to begin school.
Some of you may remember almost 20 years ago when a dynamic pitcher took the U.S. by storm throwing a perfect game in the Little League World Series. Danny Almonte was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to the Bronx to be with his father. He led his team to the U.S. championship game but lost when he had used up all of his innings to pitch. He struck out 62 of 72 batters and only gave up 3 hits! A dominant performance for any 12-year-old. But the sad reality is that he wasn’t 12, he was 14.
The teams and coaches had complained that the young man didn’t look like a typical 12-year-old and definitely didn’t throw like one. For any of you that have had kids play travel ball, you know the feeling. How many times have you said, “Did he drive here?” “Is she a player coach?” When it came to light, the team had to forfeit all its games and they were stricken from the record books. The rest of the team had to pay the price because a parent was more concerned with their child's fame and success than the rest of the team or simply, honor.
Did the coaches know? Did the parents know? What about the kids? Was he able to keep up a like for 2 years never revealing his age? It’s more plausible in this case where birth certificates are not common when moving to a new country. But it isn’t only in those situations.
Around 2004, I took a mix of 1st - 3rd grade boys to play in an AAU tournament. We were playing up in the 3rd grade division and in our first game we were throttled something like 60-2. I was amazed at the size of these kids and how in 3rd grade they were shooting step back 3 pointers. Something that wasn’t as prevalent then as it is now. The referee came up to me after the game and said, “Just because this is a kid’s game, doesn’t mean the coaches don’t cheat.” I looked at him quizzically, and he said, “There’s no way those kids are in 3rd grade.” Our next game we were defeated soundly again but it was much more competitive. I talked to the coach before the game about the previous team we played, and he proceeded to tell me that a couple of the kids were 5th graders. He knows this because he coached one of the kids in football! Needless to say, that team did not advance when this was brought to light.
Now fast forward to today, with social media highlighting every play. Select teams have media specialists who market their players to all the national websites and sources. It is a huge business where every parent thinks their child is the next LeBron or Zion. With social media highlighting individuals more than the team, and hype versus substance is what is celebrated, parents are looking to get a leg up on the competition - defined as everyone who is not their child!
Welcome to the world of reclassifying! Initially, this was seen as a way to prepare for college and common practice with the eastern Prep Schools so players can get another year of development before entering college. For those very gifted high school seniors, some will reclassify to enter college sooner to fast track their way to the NBA and get round the rule requiring a person to be one year removed from high school before entering the draft.
But I’m not talking about high school seniors. Parents have begun to reclassify their 7th or 8th grade child, to give them the advantage of being a year older and more developed than their classmates. Many times, they will do this when moving between schools such as Middle School to Junior High. It is not about their development, but the positioning of their child for near term success. These are kids who are already physically developing and may be on the older end of the grade who will then be held back so that they can be a dominant player against kids that are 1 to 2 years younger than them.
Interestingly enough, in the basketball community, this isn’t met with outward disdain as you would expect for someone who is trying to game the system. In many cases they applaud the move, typically because they are hoping he will play with their travel team or school team. As an Old School type of basketball fan, I struggle with this mindset. Especially, when the parents and the “Hype Team” surrounding youth basketball shamelessly post highlights of the 15-year-old dominating the 13-year-old team.
Parents should know better, and you would think they would feel guilt. But they don’t. You can say the kids should know better, but if it is being pushed by the parent, well, chances are they may have a different view of right and wrong. Plus, when their twitter followers and Instagram posts are being shared, the euphoria can be too much. So, while these parents are clearing the pathway for success today, what will the future hold? What happens when the gym lights go out and the highlight dunk doesn’t translate to the real world? The question is whether the glory they are feeling today will lead to success and impact Beyond Today?
Tom Brown - a husband and a father who is simply trying to make a difference. Using my experience as a Manufacturing Executive to connect leadership from the boardroom to the hardwood to help teams grow and develop to make a difference in the lives of others.