Tuesday, March 31, 2009

AAU: Anything But Amatuer, and the Reality of the Longshot

Wiley codger and punching-enthusiast Steve Lattimer tipped me to a certain point about the state of sports among American youth.

In Arkansas, one of many Tim Tebow bills across the country hopes to allow home-schooled children access to public school activities.

Lattimer then introduced an interesting notion, that of a high school athlete, or perhaps, even younger, could possibly stand as a free agent. Within the context of my political article on another site, Lattimer commented that this was in fact a detriment.

But hasn't this always been the case?

By show of anonymous and technologically-voyeured hands, how many of you were awesome at little league sports? Me too. I played baseball until high school and football until college. I was alright in those domains, but little league was my dojo. In baseball, I played every position, save for the wackiness that surrounded second base and shortstop. In football, I played every down, usually with a dominance not unlike that of grizzly bear over a salmon.

Why was I such a force to be reckoned with? Easy, I tried hard. I put out my best effort, and when the physicality is relatively equal in its prepubescent stages, effort is all that matters.

Notice I have no lucrative shoe deals, contracts, or playing time. I'm not even sure that I own a jock strap anymore. That's because there comes a certain point when effort is not all that really matters.

Genes take over and mold men from boys. Not only that, but some people are driven to work hard for that coveted college scholarship or professional opportunities. Combine the two, and voila. The cream of the crop emerges and many go on to productive college and professional careers. Many lack the physicality. Many lack the prioritization of sports over the endeavors of academics, or tomfoolery.

I happened to lack both, by the way.

So you hear about these traveling AAU basketball, baseball, and now it seems, although unofficially, 7-on-7 football teams. The goal of all of these is to develop and showcase individual talents. If you're in my age bracket, you remember the kids selected for these teams. It was a traveling All-Star team, featuring the best players from the little league pool.

I think here is the rub for most people is that adults realize what these children, while playing do not: Of the thousands and thousands of kids playing in these "amateur" sports, with practice regiments and schedules that are anything but, a fraction will actually make it. No matter how good all of these kids get, baseball teams only play nine players at a time. Basketball is a little more than half that.

This notion of taking a child — a child, mind you — and molding them into some sort of longshot superstar seems backward. My neighbor through my developmental years was always groomed to be a world-class pitcher in baseball. He looked the part, tall and athletic, and was provided incentives for hard work: a possibly lucrative career.

But my neighbor would not play. A bad nerve in his throwing arm rendered him nearly disabled after every outing in the infancy of his college career. He couldn't help it.

The notion is simple enough. Responsible parents are worried about kids who are too focused on sports, and not focused enough on being well-rounded, productive members of society. But if a kid like this Allonzo Trier, a 5'5" sixth grade youtube basketball sensation, wants to make 450 shots — make, not take and miss, and oh yeah, take away one from the total if he misses two in a row — to be the best he can be, who's to say 'Stop working so hard to live that dream, boy!"

But a healthy dose of the reality of the long shot wouldn't hurt. What is to come of Trier is he has a degenerative condition and doesn't grow past 5'5"? Bye bye NBA, hello something else.

I think the status quo is inevitable for developing athletics. Dedication has its dividends. As for developing decent human beings, that is yet to be soundly determined.

And the jury is still out on whether the development of one is indirectly proportional to the development of the other.

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