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4/23/2013 5:46:03 PM -
The State of Youth Athletics

Of all the people on this site, I talk to Harry Selkow the most about the state of youth sports these days. Harry grew up playing sports, he’s coached “real” sports, and from the sound of things, his son is a hell of an athlete at multiple sports—especially hockey. It’s awesome to get his perspective on what his son is going to need out of his coaches as he gets older, and I’d like to think I give him some useful insights when I talk about my experiences as both an athlete as a coach.

A lot of our conversations revolve around the way things have changed since the era when “we” were growing up. Harry’s older than me, but he’s not old enough to be my dad, so I can identify with a lot of the stuff he talks about (like rotary phones and shit), and vice-versa.

What we talk about most is the idea that things have changed since we were kids. As I point out ad nauseum, I played multiple sports all through youth and high school, and I played a sport in college. After that, I’ve coached long enough to see all these changes take place, especially over the past 10-12 years since the internet has taken over so many people’s lives.

The one thing you hear from a lot of guys of our respective generations is that kids these days are “pussies,” and that they don’t have any toughness because they’re pampered, they don’t know what it is to work, and they spend all their time with their phones, their iPads, and their video games. I’ve seen this, especially after working with more “privileged” kids in recent years.

This, however, leads me to wonder why athletes are so much better these days than when we played?

Take football, for example. Football players today are much bigger, faster, stronger, and highly skilled then they were 25 years ago. It’s a fact, and the game has changed to reflect this level of athleticism. When you have guards who can run as fast as running backs did 30 years ago, you can do all kinds of crazy shit on offense that you couldn’t do back then. Kevin Mawae was regarded as a freak throughout the 90’s because nobody had ever seen a center get out like he did on running plays. Nowadays, I’ve seen high school kids do that. You didn’t see anything like that 20 years ago, unless we’re talking about an undersized team that used wrestlers as linemen—which one team in my high school league did with great success.

Why is this happening?

I think it’s because the gap is a lot wider between the athletic “haves” and “have-nots.” Places like California, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, Ohio, etc, will always have their share of great football players and teams. It’s in the culture, it still means a lot to the towns involved, and even in poor areas, they still throw a lot of money into their athletic programs—and players who’ve “made it” come back and help out.

In other places, however, there are huge gaps in talent. You’ll have one high school in a league that’s absolutely amazing, and every other team in the league will suck. And when you go to that high school and try to figure out why this is happening, you’ll find out that it’s because they kids who go there are getting a level of coaching that’s far beyond what other schools are getting. At other schools, that gap in toughness and competition is why they won’t, and can’t, do anything to compensate.

Take Harry, for example. He trains people for a living, and he’s one of the best there is. If I were raising a family in the Bay Area, and I had a son who told me he wanted to play football, I know I could combine sending the kid to an athletically competitive high school with sending him to Harry, and I’d be reasonably sure he’d end up playing in college (even though my genetics suck).

Thing is, guys like Harry are expensive. We talk a lot on this site about how we want to help people, and the coaches here are always willing to share information for free, but walking into a gym and asking them to coach you on a daily basis is a different story. You want to work with The Thinker, or Harry, or McLaughlin, or any of these other guys? It’s going to cost you, because they have overhead and they have to pay their bills.

Most kids aren’t going to get that opportunity unless 1) Their parents can afford to send them, or 2) They’re really motivated to come up with some line of bullshit that gets them in the door for free (it happens). And if they’re NOT working with guys like this, they’re at a supreme disadvantage. So, if you don’t live in a district with a top-quality program where Josh Bryant is the strength coach at your school, and your parents can’t afford to send you to train with Joel Jamieson, you’re basically f****d, because you’re competing against kids who have BOTH of these advantages.

So, long story short, although athletes are better now, I think we’ve lost something in terms of competition, because at least in high school sports, it seems like not everyone is playing on a level field. And from a coaching perspective, it’s sure as hell easier to be part of the haves than the have-nots.

Angry Coach

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