Daddy Kamp

Brandon Crawford, Beards, and Baseball or Why I Love Youth Athletics but Hate Youth Sports

Okay – let’s get this out of the way.  Brandon Crawford is pretty hot.  My wife, who “can’t stand all that frigging hair”, doesn’t think so.  But if they remade Tombstone, one of my favorite movies, he would have to play Doc Holliday.  (Madison Bumgarner, of course, would play Wyatt Earp.  I imagined MadBum walking out in the fifth inning of Game 7 and sharing a word with Buster Posey:  “You tell ’em I’m coming, and hell’s coming with me!”) What a game, and what a cast of characters!

During one of Crawford’s at bats, my son said, “I want a beard like that someday.”  Knowing my wife was cringing at the thought, I told him: “No chance of that little man.  You’re 3/4 non-beard grower.”  Since my wife and I are molecular biologists, my son knew instantly that I made a genetic reference to his mostly smooth-skinned Asian heritage.  He is, after all, more comfortable around genes than most 8 year-olds.  Upon pondering his beardless future, he seemed a little sad.  But he instantly recovered as Panda caught that final out.  In all of the prolonged and deserved celebration, I forgot something pretty important:  I’m not a fan of baseball.  My kid, who loves baseball, immediately asked:  “Dad, can we sign up for baseball again?”  I replied that we’d think about it.

He really likes it, as is not bad either!  ;-)

He really loves it, and is pretty good too!

It seems parenting is filled with these little dilemnas.  Do I let my kid play baseball, even if I’m not a fan?  Should my own preferences influence what sports he gets to participate in?  Will this scar his little psyche forever or will it even matter at all?  As is usually the case, the answer can be complicated.

In the Blank Slate, experimental psychologist (and also a rocker of awesome hair!) Steven Pinker discusses a seemingly shocking claim about the development of human behavior:  The Three Laws of Behavioral Genetics.

  1. All human behavioral traits are heritable.
  2. The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of the genes.
  3. A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioral traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families.

What the heck does this mean?  In behavioral development,

“A handy summary of the three laws is this: Genes 50 percent, Shared Environment 0 percent, Unique Environment 50 percent (or if you want to be charitable, Genes 40-50 percent, Shared Environment 0-10 percent, Unique Environment 50 percent)” –Pinker, S. (2002). The Blank Slate. New York: Viking

Why is this shocking?  Because as some controversially claim, this can be interpreted as parenting doesn’t matter.  Of course, this is not just an oversimplification, but also incorrect.  What the third law asserts is that Unique Environment or Peer Group is very important if not arguably the most important factor in behavioral development.  Far from not mattering, “parents select an environment for their children and thereby select a peer group.  They provide their children with skills and knowledge, such as reading and playing a musical instrument.”  Or playing sports.

So is my kid going to play baseball?  It depends.  It turns out that I don’t have anything against baseball or any athletic endeavor.  Each has its unique demands and all are equally fascinating.  But as a coach myself,  I’m sensitive to a sport’s environment or culture.  I helped to coach my kid’s little league team last year.  The 8-10 year olds were a joy to work with and my fellow coaches taught me a lot about the game.  I agreed to assist because of the oaths and promises of “putting the kids first” and “teaching character and sportsmanship”.  My kids and I made lots of new friends.  But the horror stories of over competitive parents and coaches?  They are all true.  I was disappointed at the lip service paid to the codes of conduct and considered pulling my kid mid season.  Sadly, this isn’t an isolated experience.  John O’Sullivan, founder of Changing the Game Project, thinks youth athletics is heading for it’s own Race to Nowhere.  Referencing the educational documentary of the same name, O’Sullivan asserts that “while the race has a few winners, the course is littered with the scarred psyches of its participants. We have a generation of children that have been pushed to achieve parental dreams instead of their own, and prodded to do more, more, more and better, better, better. The pressure and anxiety is stealing one thing our kids will never get back; their childhood.”  Whether my kid plays baseball again will be determined mostly by the vibe I get from the other coaches and parents.

While my sons are stuck with the genes their parents shuffled up for them, we hope to provide them with enriching environments and experiences.  And I hope that we do it in the spirit of exploration, enjoyment and play.  It takes resistance and work, especially in the “sign-up” culture of today’s parenting.  But I try to make a point of just being around.  Lately, I’ve brought a basketball when I pick the boys up from school.  The 8 year old always wants to play while the 6 year old disappears to the jungle gym to get his American Ninja Warrior on.  What’s great is that a bunch of other kids are starting to show up and shoot around.  A game of 3-on-3, 5-on-5, or even 6-on-6 will break out.  It’s been fun. And the fifth graders, who are getting really good, are supportive of the first graders – who still dribble with two hands and often run into each other.   They’re just playing, and it’s fun to hang out with them.  It confuses some parents, who ask “how much is the clinic” or if their kids have to “sign-up”.  I just tell them I’m playing with my boys and that it would be a pleasure if their kids want to play, too.  We’ve all ended up making friends and expanding our peer groups.

In the mad scramble of post game interviews, Mark Ibanez from KTVU tried to interview Brandon Crawford.  The short stop, who was patiently answering questions, was cut-off by his fidgety toddler.  Ibanez asked, “Your little girl like baseball?”  Crawford replied, “She just wants to get down and run right now.”  On one of the greatest nights of his career, he gently lowered his daughter to the ground and let her go play.



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