Want your kid to get to the NBA, the NHL, or the Olympics? Stop hiring private coaches. Stop putting them in summer camps. Stop paying thousands for elite leagues. Let them play.
If you want your kids to make it to the pros, and succeed in sport, put them in a place where they can create. Move near a field, near a ski hill, near a lake that freezes in the winter.
Steve Nash, the newly retired NBA All Star, and father of 3, is encouraging parents to stop encouraging. He has noticed Malcolm Gladwell’s quote from Outliers has become gospel to too many. “[T]he 10,000 hr rule is a definite key in success,” Gladwell wrote, talking about the number of hours it takes for someone to master a skill.
And now parents are signing their kids up for 10, 20, 30, or more hours a week of practice, while they’re still in elementary school, to get try and get their prodigies over the hump. The advice from Steve Nash for parents is simple: don’t fall into the trap too.
“Both his girls play volleyball, the unofficial pastime of L.A.’s South Bay, and he observes youth sports with curiosity. “Parents try to buy the 10,000 hours,” he says. “It’s drills and strength coaches and skill development. But you lose a lot. At the park, there’s no instruction, so you create constantly.”
His own childhood home in Victoria backed up to Hillcrest Elementary School, which felt like a private playground. His mom, Jean, established a Netball team for young mothers and he tagged along to practices. His father, John, was a professional soccer player who praised his passes more than his goals. “That’s what made him happy,” Nash says. “So when my dad told me he liked a pass, I wanted to recreate it and get that positive reinforcement – that love from my father.” He tries to follow his parents’ example. “I want to foster in my kids a passion for sports, but I have to be careful. I can’t do it completely. I can only open an environment and encourage them in whatever they do.”
Nash is just repeating what other elite athletes have said before him: free play is more important than structure. The memories of being with friends more important than wins and losses. Success is measured in the person you are after your career, not whether you made it to the pros.
Bobby Orr has said it.
“There could be 15-20 players, two teams, drop the puck and away we go,” he said about the experience of playing outdoors. “And if you didn’t learn how to skate around the puck it wasn’t much fun for you.”
“You hear pewee coaches teaching the ‘trap’,” he said. “What the heck are we doing teaching the ‘trap’? Let the kids go, let them have fun; that’s how you improve.”
Cassie Campbell Pascall has said it.
When I get back together with my teammates, we never talk about our world championships or our gold medals. I never go over to kelly’s house and we pull out our gold medals and say “Look at this, remember this?” We just talk about the really fun times of playing the game.”
This kind of validation means so much to me. I live in an Olympic city and the home of Hockey Canada. So many parents here push their kids. There are year round hockey camps, dozens of training facilities, tournaments every weekend. I worry sometimes that I’m letting my kids down by not pushing them to play hockey, but they don’t like it.
My kids are not competitive athletes, but they’re doing what they love, they’re participating in a variety of activities, and I’m following their lead. I’ve exposed them to as many opportunities as I can (and while I may be a little guilty of pushing Zacharie to try luge next year), it’s always going to be up to them.
Sports, for a very very very gifted few becomes a career, for the rest it is the foundation of working together on a team, committing yourself with a consistent effort, and living a healthy life. That’s what I’m trying to teach my kids through sport.
Still, I feel guilt about the hockey thing. Each year we go for a skate on a frozen pond or lake on New Year’s Day.
“Do you want to play hockey?” I ask him. Every time the answer is the same. “No, daddy, I just like playing with the stick and ball and you and Charlie.”
Images via Ron Sombilon on Flickr