An excellent new book, “What Size Balls Do I Need?” aims to help parents (and grandparents) navigate the world of competitive sports with young athletes who hope to play in high school and college.
The author is Steve Morris, owner of Coast Sports, who has been the Coaching Director for AYSO Region 69 for 16 years (and a coach for 23 years) and is on the club soccer board for LA Breakers (14 years).
He provides common-sense perspective that includes advice on how to avoid toxic coaches and how parents can help their child cope with the inherent pressures in today’s ultra-competitive youth sports industry.
Morris, whose three children competed in AYSO, club and high school sports, explains the tradeoffs that occur when even well-meaning parents are convinced through “relentless pressure and persuasive mission statements that promise college glory in exchange for three practices a week and three grand a year.”
Parents everywhere are buying into the sports dream, with Forbes reporting “that 67 percent of parents (who participated in their survey) held hopes of their children earning athletic scholarships to college, and 34 percent figured their kids would move onto the Olympics or go pro. Though the level of spending required to facilitate those dreams ‘didn’t leave a lot of financial wiggle room for feeding college or retirement funds,’ it wasn’t a big deal for these parents. Universally, they considered the added expenses an investment in their child’s future.”
Morris writes, “When thirteen-year-olds are tearing ACLs and sixteen-year-oldsare undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery so they
can continue pitching, you’ve got to start questioning where we went wrong. One doesn’t have to look far for the answer. When programs and coaches – and even parents – focus on competition, getting to the next level, and winning, which can translate into playing a hundred games a year, an increase in injuries is inevitable.”
Morris says sports can be a life-affirming, transformative force, but reminds parents to look for a productive vehicle for achieving these goals. He tells parents to ask themselves, “Who are we doing this for?”
He answers, “Of course, we’re doing this for our kids, hoping that they will reap the benefits of a lifelong love of sports: fitness and well-being, personal growth and development, friendship and community.”
“Studies abound that confirm the advantages of getting our kids off the couch,” Morris writes. “The Aspen Institute’s Project Play reported that organized sports activity helps children develop and improve cognitive skills, while positively affecting academic performance and classroom behavior by enhancing concentration and attention.”
Morris said that through his coaching and sports camps, he stumbled on a simple formula: “Recreation + Perspiration = Exhilaration. Keep them moving and laughing and they’ll come back for more.”
But too often youth sports become a battle ground with 8-, 10- and 12-year-olds told they aren’t good enough.Parents then try to “help.” Morris relates a conversation in his book:
“Parent: I’m thinking of finding a private coach for Josh.
Coach: Really? Josh is doing great. He works hard, his shot is coming
along and he plays the best defense on the team.
Parent: I agree, he’s getting so much better. And, please don’t think
I’m one of those parents, but I just think if Josh had some one-on-one
coaching, it could take his game to the next level.
Josh was six.”
The book is also written from a parent’s perspective, since Morris’ three kids were on competitive club teams.
He reflects, “We live in a world that puts very little premium on childhood innocence, and anything that we can do to preserve it should be fostered. Professionalization, specialization, and any –“ation” that encourages children to work for the future rather than play in the present needs to be resisted. Worrying about what our kids will become rather than celebrating who they are nowshortchanges both them and us.”
Simply put, Morris lays out a road map that every parent can follow. “If you’re looking for a decade of excitement, memories and magic, you might consider this path: general classes at a young age, with fun and energy disguising instruction. Play a different sport each season up through ages twelve or thirteen. If your child falls in love with one sport, maybe then join a club team. If not, there’s no stigma playing recreationally in less competitive outlets. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.”
But what if your kid is truly an eight-year-old wunderkind – he scored more goals than any kid or leads the basketball team in points or has the highest batting average?
Morris gently reminds parents, “Today, every kid is exceptional! Every kid is amazing! Twenty-first century kids exude genius, whether in computers or academics or theater or sports.”
But, “Be wary and ask lots of questions. What kind of athlete do I
want to raise? What kind of adult do I want him to become? Do I care
more about his behavior or his achievement? If this last one gives you
a moment’s pause, your child is already on a perilous path toward entitlement.”
He wisely points out, “As parents, we’ve invested an ungodly amount of time, energy, and emotion into our kid’s journey, but that’s just what it is: his/her journey. We surely know what’s best for him, or at least we think we do. But the sooner we accept that on this ride we’re the passengers, not behind the wheel, the happier all of us will be.”
Circling the News asked Morris why he wrote the book. He responded by email on September 6: “It really played to the challenge parents face when they think they’re simply signing their kids up for sports and this whole universe waiting to devour them opens up. As my kids progressed along their path and one-by-one aged out, and my own journey approached the endgame, I figured it was time to see if I could do it [write a book]. I’d catalogued enough stories, saved enough emails and felt I’d learned enough lessons to give it a shot.”
The book is filled with personal, eyewitness stories, and people on the Westside will easily recognize some of the parents/kids Morris speaks about.
He and his wife Marcy, an entertainment lawyer, have three adult children. Evan, 28, writes music and edits text and video for a social media company; Dori, 24, is in her third year of law school; and Griffie, 22, is a senior at Penn (majoring in computer engineering and statistics at Wharton).
I asked Morris if they had read his book and if they had given him feedback. “Evan and Dori both loved the book and thought I accurately portrayed their experience,” Morris said. “Griffie’s read some of it, but he’s too busy writing code for who knows what?”
Morris, who grew up on Long Island, attended Baldwin High School and then Yale, where he studied history. After graduating, he produced television commercials and wrote screenplays before “falling” for the world of youth soccer. He founded Coast Sports in 1997.
Morris has already started on a follow-up book, dealing with some of the same themes but building upon first-person interviews of players, parents, coaches, referees and administrators, in the hopes of presenting a truly three-dimensional picture of the youth sports experience.
He can be contacted via the website: whatsizeballs.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.