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Archive for August, 2019

Youth Sports: Sunday musings…8/25/19

Sunday musings…

1) Westbrook. Russell Westbrook was traded to Houston?! When did that happen? Reunited with Hardin. How is that a better idea now?

2) Luck. As in Andrew Luck. As in lucky to have his wits enough about him to realize that the near-constant reality of injury-rehab-repeat as an NFL quarterback was making  him unhappy to the point of being unhealthy.

Ans so he has retired at 29.

He will re-pay the Colts for either $12MM or $25MM depending on the reading of his contract, but will leave the NFL having made at least 40 or 50MM, so money is not the issue. Disaffected Colts fans are unhappy because he waited until 2 weeks prior to the season to make his decision, putting the team in a difficult personnel position. I can honestly sympathize with that feeling among hardcore fans, but ultimately Luck worked in a meat factory where he was just one more piece of meat. And he said no more.

Fair winds Mr. Luck. I walked away from amateur football at 21, the game done with me before I was done with it. Not you. May you be at peace.

3) Sport. The retirement of Andrew Luck comes on the heels of a series of events and subsequent opinion pieces on those events regarding the state of youth sports in the U.S. You’ve doubtless heard all of this before. Single-digit aged athletes who are single-sport specialists and all of the pitfalls therein. Participation in sports overall is apparently in the midst of a decline. Something like 45% to 37%, or numbers to that effect.   Did you know that the average age at which this cohort retires is 11? No, not 11 years of participation (I hesitate to call it “play”), but age 11. Washed up before they get to try out for a Junior High JV team.

What was your youth sports experience like? Mine was strongly influenced by the times of my upbringing. The 60′s and 70′s when I was playing local league and school sports had yet to spawn the tyranny of youth travel teams (except for hockey) and all of the havoc they wreak. I’ve written on this here on Random Thoughts at length (search “Three Sport Athlete”), but this latest news about the corrosive effects of early hyper-competition prompt me to spend a few more moments on the topic.

Among the many benefits I accrued from being a team athlete was learning how to both lead and be led. At least as important was learning how to sublimate my ego, my own need to not only excel personally but also be singled out for excelling, in favor of the more generalized success of my team. Tough, tough lesson, that. As a genetically programmed early achiever I certainly would have been selected for any number of teams that were filled through scouting, recruiting, and try-outs. Looking back I can hardly imagine a worse outcome for me as a kid. You see, I wasn’t really all that good, or at least it turned out that whatever gifts I may have been given at birth only made me look good in the earlier stages of an athletic career. With the exception of a little mini-peak as a college sophomore (and that only occurring due to an injury to the player who beat me out for the position), my reign as a standout talent was probably over as a high school sophomore.

What if I’d been on some sort of elite travel baseball or basketball team, all of my efforts (and likely substantial family assets) devoted to the singular pursuit of some sort of athletic achievement? It wouldn’t have been my choice to leave the games, someone would have escorted me out.

Kids who are true athletes, who will be capable of having some kind of advanced career in college or beyond, will find their way even if they aren’t put on a one-sport super highway at age 7. Andrew Luck is actually a pretty good example; I think he played pretty much everything well into high school. Heck, LeBron James was a heckuva wide receiver through 10th grade. Now we have personal quarterback coaches recruiting 8 year olds, parents being led on like so many sheep9ii. Not kidding. 8 years old and being taught how to read coverages in the secondary when you’re supposed to be learning how to spot bubbles in the sand so that you can dig up those cute little crabs that live 2 inches deep at low tide.

Please don’t get me wrong; this isn’t a missive about participation trophies and not trying to win. I am all about the lessons to be learned in preparing to win, and those you hopefully learn about how to comport yourself as both winner and loser. Ya gotta keep score to learn those lessons. The world keeps score for everyone eventually. It’s just a much better way, and time, to learn that lesson by playing youth sports. But playing on teams with kids who are both better and sometimes much worse at playing the games than you might be is in itself also a very worthwhile lesson to learn as a kid. How much better would I have been at life in general if I’d been a little aware of that part of the sports curriculum when I was a kid.

While I’m talking mostly about team sports I truly believe that many of these lessons are there to be learned in the individual sports as well, especially those in which you compete as an individual in a team setting. Think swimming, track and field, and any number of high school sports like tennis and golf. My buddy Chuck was number 1 on the tennis team from the minute he set foot on campus as a freshman, and yet he was arguably the most beloved member of that Williams team for all 4 years. Why? Well, partly because he never lauded his excellence over a single teammate, but mostly because he openly reveled in the TEAM outcomes, not his own W-L. Although he certainly entered his share of USTA Junior tournaments he never left his high school team in so doing.

Youth sports at their finest are played locally on teams consisting of kids who grew up together. Kids who spent lazy summer days touring their town hunting salamanders or hanging out at the city’s local Boys and Girls Club, away from harm. I can’t begin to count the number of boys who matriculated at one of our local Catholic boys’ schools specifically to play their chosen sport, only to be washed out of the program before 10th grade. How much more fun might they have had if they had gone to their home town high school and continued to play one or several sports with the kids they grew up with? My oldest son, Dan, went to school with a boy who went to St. Somebody as a 3-sport athlete and by the time he got to Junior year he was down to being an afterthought on just one team. It was heartbreaking because on a talent-basis he should have been starting on at least two varsity teams. His response? Well, he transferred to his hometown public school, played two sports, and had a ball. Got a D1 scholarship, too.

It’s time for a re-birth of local sports. Town leagues where kids get to play with their friends. A chance to learn a bit more about a sport, maybe even to excel, but more so a chance to be a kid having fun playing a game. At least at 8, no? At least until they begin to mature in adolescence, or at least until we start making cuts in high school. Play with your buddies. Learn how to be a good teammate, to win and lose with equal grace. To coexist, perhaps to thrive, with teammates who may not be quite as good at the game as you might be.

The average age at which children retire from organized sports is 11. That is a far greater tragedy than Andrew Luck retiring from the NFL at 29.

I’ll see you next week…

Musings on Home

Sunday musings…

1) Hero. Beth’s new horsey partner has finally arrived from Spain. Christened “Hortalano” but nicknamed “Hero” by the Man Cub (after Hiro, the protagonist in Big Hero 6), he is now home.

The latest actor in a long-running passion.

2) Drip. Street for “fashionable wear”. As in “LeBron was wearing crazy drip when he got off the bus.” Makes about as much sense as calling a high maintenance person “extra”.

3) Twee. Affectedly or excessively quaint, pretty, or sentimental. Never yet applied to any room decorated by Beth.

4) Bolt hole. A safe or restful place; one where you can hide from something unpleasant. Pretty much describes every place I’ve lived with Beth, especially Casa Blanco.

5) Home. What becomes of a place once it is no longer occupied by the people who made it a home? It is certainly changed. Can it remain home to those who are still there to make it one? Of course. Until, that is, it can’t.

My Gramp was so very smart in so many ways. He and Gamma could very well have stayed in the little ranch I remember as their home after my Aunt Barb went off to college. I’m pretty sure it was paid for, and it was certainly user friendly for a couple entering what we would now call middle age. But Gramp saw no advantage in the history of place, nor could he find a use for the extra room in even so small a dwelling once all three daughters had fledged the nest; he and Gamma decamped to a modest 2 bedroom apartment in Newark where he worked as the assistant superintendent for Newark schools.

They took along their living room furniture, and as luck would have it they also managed to take along (or had been taken along by) a few of their close friends at the time. Gamma and Gramp seemed to be about as social in Newark as they’d been in Glen Ridge. In all of my visits to their house I never remember any interaction with the neighborhood or the neighbors. In the Newark apartment it seemed that everyone knew my grandparents, and by extension, me.

In the late 60′s and early 70′s the great diaspora of retired north easterners to southeast Florida had begun. My two aunts had already moved to Miami, and Gamma and Gramp followed shortly after Gramp retired (the race riots in Newark prompted him to hang up his spurs at the earliest opportunity). I should note that in both Newark and Miami my grandparents became renters. Just another example of Gramp’s genius because neither they as a couple, nor Gamma as a widow, would be encumbered by place.

Like a spiritual tortoise, home would travel with them.

Gramp died when I was in high school. My memory of that time is kinda fuzzy. Maybe I was a junior. Gamma stayed in the King’s Creek apartment alone for at least a couple of years. She hosted my buddy Kid and me for a spring break visit during my freshman year in college. Her days seemed to be filled by time spent with friends in the apartment complex, usually centered around the pool. With two daughters and four  grandchildren only a few miles away she also had their activities to attend if she wanted to. I remember watching my cousins baseball games with my uncles and my Gramp. Did Gamma use their games (and Jenny’s tennis matches) to fill the hours of her days?

It’s been almost 4 years since my Dad died. Unlike Gramp there was so much of what constituted home for my Mom and Dad in the house where I was raised that they remained in place. Mom still lives there, moving through that big space like a ping pong ball in a gymnasium. With the exception of Thanksgiving and other family gatherings the house at 30 Kirkbrae Drive has been much too much for the 30 years it’s been since my youngest sister graduated from college, the last of the four of us to fledge. Mom and Dad stayed so long that home and place became one and the same for them.

After a couple of years alone in her apartment in Miami without Gramp Gamma either decided or was convinced that it was no longer home. Or at least that it wasn’t not enough home to stick around. My folks and my aunts were clearly on board because all three sisters built homes that had spaces ready for Gamma; she was welcomed into each of their homes for varying periods of each year, the specifics changing as she got older and the northern winters became more of a challenge. What changed for her? What had been there at King’s Creek in the first couple of years after Gramp died that was no longer there after a few years?

Or was it more that something had changed in Gamma herself? Even the tiniest of spaces can feel awfully empty when they aren’t really home. Without the rest of whoever made up “home” I imagine that the loneliness makes everything seem simply massive. And empty. The comfort of the familiar gets lost in the emptiness. When do you try to make that emptiness smaller? Gamma left in her late 60′s I think. Having already moved at least twice she simply moved with whatever she had left in her little tortoiseshell of home and began residing with her daughters and their families.

While we 8 grandchildren all considered her a part of our homes, I wonder now if Gamma ever really did feel at home in all those years lived without Gramp. Untethered to place she’d moved early at each stage. Probably not the first in any of her groups to do so but most definitely not the last. Blessed to have options she (and Gramp) seemed to grasp the reality that someone else would make decisions for them if they didn’t make them for themselves, even about something as fundamental as home.

There is certainly an aspect of place to home, but home is more than place. Leaving a place does not need to mean leaving home, or even leaving behind what made a particular place a good home. How do you know when it’s the right time to leave? Sadly I don’t think you ever really do. Gramp made moves which, looking back, seem to have been brilliant. Prescient. I think what you do realize all too often is that you probably stayed in place a bit longer than you should have. That the natural attachment to place that is part of the home equation has lasted longer than what really made that particular dwelling a home.

Home can be terribly difficult to leave unless we believe, like Gamma and Gramp, that home is not really where we dwell but where we live.

I’ll see you next week…

 

Taking Stock: Sunday musings…8/4/19

1) Crafty. Lovely Daughter’s term for the charting of a co-worker. Seems to mean equal parts clever and devious.

2) 28. This year marks the 28th consecutive summer vacation for the extended White family on Cape Cod. Same house, same beach, same neighbors. And yet, like so many years before, it was hardly the same trip. If memory serves this is the third Cape Week without my Dad (he passed in the fall almost 4 years ago), and it was one that saw for the first time less than 100% beach attendance by my Mom. Like the last 4 or 5 our children’s generation was sparsely represented as they pursue their early adulthoods. In fairness to them it should be noted that all four in my generation were out of college and married in the earliest years of Cape Week, 3 of us also already parents.

What is this year’s take home from our week? I’m afraid it was a bit too new and different, and it’s a bit too fresh for me to say. It was peaceful and free of rancor, but also awfully frenetic with the addition of my whirling dervish Man Cub; Beth and I had him solo for a few days. Being in the active pursuit of grand parenting without parents present does not lend itself to introspection of any kind, and since we flew home the internal dialogue of a 12 hour drive of years gone by has not yet taken place.

It was different. We were, all of us, different. It’ll take a little bit to sort through it all.

3) Goals. An Op-Ed in this week’s WSJ caught my attention. A daughter entering college asks her Dad at breakfast if he’d accomplished the goals he’d set out when he was a young man her age. It’s the kind of question I could easily see my own daughter asking me in any of a dozen scenarios. As I meander toward my 60th, in stark contrast to the year I spent careening toward my 50th, what little time for quiet thought I enjoyed this past week was devoted to this question.

Of course, like the author of the WSJ piece, in order to reflect on whether I’d actually met my goals I would have to reach back and try to retrieve some sort of memory of what those goals may have been. In doing so what strikes me the most is how few goals I seem to have had as a young man. At least when one thinks about large, grand, life-long goals that are significant enough that you actually express them in some way, shape or form. In retrospect most of mine appear to have been strikingly short-term, with a pretty complete lack of any deeper considerations of the longer term impact of those goals. I wanted to continue to be a football player as long as I could, and I wanted to be a doctor.

As far as I can see that pretty much covers it for goals as I exited adolescence.

What goals I remember setting and what accomplishments I’ve made seem to have arisen from the ground along the paths I’ve walked since my last moment on a football field and the milestone moments in the journey of becoming a practicing physician. We all start out believing that we will do something great. Something that will have a greater meaning with an impact that reaches far beyond our closest environment. At least the groups I was part of early in my life did. We’d just left the 60′s, a time of momentous change effected by seemingly out of nowhere leaders. Looking back I can see that I just assumed something like that would happen to me if I simply kept moving forward.

But it didn’t. Those great big goals and accomplishments that the author’s daughter was asking her Dad about never materialized for me. Each time the chance to choose that kind of path arose it was blazingly clear that doing so had consequences locally. All of the bigger, broader worlds fell away as the smaller, more intimate world around me became my focus. Our family. My modest, local practice. My role  model, Dr. Roy the pediatrician in Southbridge, was a very important man, but the reach of that importance was decidedly local. Each time an opportunity arose to extend beyond my own locale I chose, instead, to follow the lead of man whose life made me choose medicine as a career.

Looking back now I guess my goals were always rather modest. In the end what I wished to achieve was a family like the ones my wife and I grew up in, and a small measure of what Dr. Roy meant to our little mill town in Massachusetts: to be important in my own village. To be someone who had earned the respect of his fellow villagers. As I travel the slow, easy curve at mile marker 59 the journey is smooth because I’ve tried my very best along the way to achieve those two things. In the beginning and during the journey they seemed to be the only goals that I remember saying out loud.

After that I would just keep moving forward.

I’ll see you next week…

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