The story of a star quarterback whose parents let him be a kid

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My husband asked me to read a story from the Bleacher Report about USC Quarterback Sam Darnold. I put him off for a day because frankly, I wasn’t that interested. I finally read it to appease him and found Sam’s story to be fascinating—mainly because of the parenting style of Mike and Chris Darnold.

From childhood through high school, Sam played basketball, football, and baseball. I think he played volleyball, too. His parents let him try and decide what sports he participated in. They didn’t make him specialize or get him private lessons or coaches. In fact, Sam believes his success in football is from playing all different sports and learning a variety of skills. In a refreshing story written by Jeff Perlman, you find out about a dying breed of parents—ones who believe in fun and no pressure. Parents who let their child lead his own life.

“USC’s star quarterback and his parents do not live by the LaVar Ball theory of the universe. They let a multisport supernova grow up into his own man. And that’s why this 20-year-old might be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL draft.”

Yet the story of Sam Darnold isn’t the story of the modern quarterback, loud and sparkly and created to own the internet’s 24-hour hype machine. Nope, it’s the story of a young man on the verge of superstardom because, not long ago, he was allowed to diversify.

He was allowed to be a kid.

The Darnolds’ Capistrano Beach household is in the heart of south Orange County, where there are youth sports leagues atop leagues atop leagues, and private coaches atop private coaches atop private coaches.

In Orange County, it’s not uncommon for a nine-year-old pitcher to throw sliders and curveballs nine or 10 months of the year—with a father behind the backstop holding a radar gun. It’s not uncommon for a quarterback to play Pop Warner, then a season of flag and then spend the summer under the watchful eye of a $200-an-hour passing guru.

This was not going to happen to Sam.

“My parents,” the quarterback says, “wouldn’t have allowed it.”

On paper, this might come as a surprise. One would be hard-pressed to find a more sports-centric family than the Darnolds. Mike (Sam’s dad) was an offensive lineman at the University of Redlands, Chris (Sam’s mom) a volleyball player at Long Beach City College. Sam’s older sister Franki starred in volleyball at the University of Rhode Island and three of his cousins—Allie, Michele and A.J.—also participated in collegiate volleyball. Sam’s late grandfather, Dick Hammer, played basketball at USC and was on the 1954 team that went to the Final Four. He was also a member of the 1964 U.S. Olympic men’s volleyball team.

Put simply, organized athletics are a big deal in the Darnold world and have been for decades.

“But,” says Chris, “they’re not everything. We’ve always tried to keep things in perspective. Yes, our children have always loved playing sports. But around here, in this part of California, it too often becomes live and die. That’s a big mistake in my opinion. It has to be fun.”

“One day you open your eyes and it’s, ‘Holy cow, your son is in this position,’” Mike says. “I mean, it’s crazy, right? Crazy, crazy, crazy—one in a million.”

He pauses. Though Chris is acknowledged by family members as the emotional one, the father has been showing his soft side of late. He insists he never cared whether his children played sports or an instrument or worked a job—as long as they were involved and happy and tried different things. But to have a son as USC’s starting quarterback; to have a son who is a Heisman Trophy front-runner; to have a son who is humble and decent and respectful?

“Say what you want,” Mike says. “Sam’s not flashy, he’s not a yeller, he’s not a trophy collector, a bragger. But I feel like we worked hard to raise our kids the right way. And it’s paid off.”

I believe the Darnolds have lessons for many sports parents, myself included. Of course, they had an exceptionally athletic son who could have been recruited in basketball, baseball or football. But more than that, they raised a humble, balanced kid. They are proud of him as a person, not just as a star athlete. Their attitude and parenting style helped develop Sam into the man he is and will become.

I hope you take the time to read the entire Bleacher Report article about Sam Darnold and his parents. There’s also another great article in the Los Angles Times called “As expectations swell, USC’s Sam Darnold finds comfort at home near the beach” by Zach Helfand.

I’m excited to watch him play football this year. Here’s a YouTube of his 2016 highlights.

Click here to watch a recent interview with Sam Darnold by CBS’s Allie LaForce.

What do you think about kids specializing in one sport at an early age?

 

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photo of Sam Darnold from the Bleacher Report

 

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Is it time to take a break from youth sports?

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My daughter racing a few years ago.

If you have an athletic, active kid, chances are your lives revolve around youth sports—whether it’s tennis, gymnastics, swimming, basketball, baseball, soccer or another organized sports program. There are so many amazing reasons for our kids to enjoy, learn and have fun with teammates, but out of the 45 million who play organized games, 80% will quit by age 15. Not only that, but record numbers of young girls and boys are facing injuries and surgeries.

When is it time to put on the brakes and take a break?

According to a news report from FOX Q13 Seattle, “Should your kids take a break from playing sports?”

“This summer at Q13 News in a series called ‘Safe Summer’ we tackle the question — should your kids take a break from playing sports?

“Kids are more overscheduled, they’re focusing on a sport,” said UW Sports Medicine Physician Dr. Brian Krabak.

More practices, more games and matches, and more injuries is something UW Sports Medicine Physician Dr. Brian Krabak sees it firsthand.

“If you’re a soccer player we’re concerned about ACL types of injuries. If you’re a swimmer you’re more likely to get shoulder or lower back pain. If you’re a basketball player we’re more concerned with ankle or knee injuries,” said Dr. Krabak.

And it’s those injuries he sees in more kids now than ever before. Dr. Krabak says focusing on one sport or specializing instead of kids playing different sports limits their ability to develop naturally.”

I read in a USA Today publication,“Top orthopedic surgeon urges parents not to push young athletes too hard:”

“As spring turns into summer, most kids are given a break from the daily routine of sitting in the structured setting of a school classroom. For young athletes, however, summer can simply mean two more months of intense training, scrimmages, and over-passionate parents and coaches alike.

According to top New York orthopedic surgeon Armin M. Tehrany, who has been named one of New York City’s best doctors several times by New York Magazine, kids who play youth sports today have seen their risk of injury increase dramatically. Among the most common injuries, he says, are dislocated shoulders, concussions and tears of the ACL and meniscus. Believing that coaches and parents contribute greatly to the problem by pushing kids too hard, he urges them to understand the limitations of a young athlete.

“Competitive parents can often put a lot of pressure on their children to succeed in sports,” Tehrany said. “That has led to 70 percent of children choosing not to continue sports by age 13.”

“It’s important that parents and coaches voice the importance of never ignoring an injury or any type of pain,” he said. “Playing through the pain is dangerous, and can worsen an injury and increase risk or chance for surgery.”

As parents, we need to step in if our kids are playing injured. They may want to keep competing, but we are the grown-ups here, right? We want them to be able to enjoy being active in the long-term and may have to put their sports career in perspective. Yes, they may want to be at the Junior Olympics they’ve been training for, but missing a meet at 12, 13 or 14, won’t be the end of their careers.

My own daughter took a break from competing this summer. She took two weeks away from the pool and found out there were other activities like spin class, yoga and running. She believes that her break will allow her to come back and compete refreshed and stronger.

Here’s a great video with kids talking about how they feel about their parents watching their sports. It’s a good reminder for all of us sports parents. After all, we don’t want our kids to be among the 80 percent that quit sports, correct?

Have your kids taken a break from competing in sports? If so, for how long and was it helpful?

What are the odds of an athletic college scholarship?

 

 

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Pac-12 Champs.

 

I didn’t realize how lucky our family was. That is until one of my daughter’s former swim coaches sent me the “Odds of a High School Athlete Playing College Sports.” There is so much interesting data in this link, I recommend you explore it thoroughly. Although I keep telling other swim parents that there truly is a college for everyone—the odds are against getting a scholarship. The stats in the chart are about who plays in college–not who gets a scholarship. When you look at the depressing percentages of the number of college athletes versus those who participated in high school, keep in mind that the scholarship numbers are significantly lower than the numbers on the chart.

Our daughter is lucky she got one. However, never once during kindergarten through high school senior year did we put pressure on her to get a scholarship. It was a reward for her consistent hard work and love of swimming—kind of like an extra cherry in your Shirley Temple.

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Here’s a chart from the “Odds of a High School Athlete Playing College Sports” link above.

 

I know a couple kids who wanted to get into a particular school, for example, one applied to New York University—and when she talked to the swim coach—she was “flagged” for admission. It made a statistically tough numbers game to get into a top university more of a sure thing. Lately, NYU has had record-breaking 60,000 applicants annually and offers acceptance to around 18,000. Out of those, less than 6,000 attend. Having a coach on your child’s side can make a difference in getting in.

My son wouldn’t go near a pool when we were doing college tours. He refused to talk to a single coach. Looking back, he said that it was a mistake on his part. Maybe he should have explored swimming and not turned his back on a sport he’d spent 10 plus years pursuing. After getting rejected by eight out of nine schools he applied to, he thinks maybe talking to coaches could have given him more choices. It might have, but we’ll never know.

When my kids were younger, we looked up to this super fast sprinter on our club team. He won CIF and was so much faster than any kid around. Our mouths dropped open when we heard about his college scholarship at Arizona State University. Books. Yes, that was it—books only.

So, what are the odds of getting a scholarship if you’re a swimmer? Let’s look at the numbers for women, which have slightly better odds than men. There are approximately 166,838 high school female swimmers according to statistics from 2015. Of that pool of athletes,13,759 get spots on a college team. The chart below shows that 7.8% of high school swimmers swim at the college level and only 3.1% swim at the NCAA D1 level. That’s the participation rate–and not all athletes get scholarships. So, it’s a fraction of 3.1 percent–in the case of women’s D1 swimming, and even less for men.

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Here’s some more fine print from the data: Men’s swim teams are limited to 9.9 scholarships and Women’s swim teams are limited to 14.

“*Do the Math!   NCAA Division I men’s teams have an average roster of 29 swimmers but a limit of 9.9 scholarships to award per team. This means the average award covers only about 1/3 of annual college costs, and this assumes swimming is a fully funded sport at the specific school. Swimming is an equivalency sport for NCAA limits, so partial scholarships can be awarded as long as the combined equivalent awards do not exceed the limit. For example, an NCAA I school can award 21 women swimmers each a 2/3 equivalent scholarship and still meet the limit of 14 per team.”

We need to remember as parents, that putting our child in a certain sport for the hopes of a college scholarship isn’t that smart. They need to be passionate about their activities and spend all those hours and sacrifices because they want it. Not because of a dream we have for them to earn a scholarship. I do know that a lot of my children’s friends and teammates got college scholarships. So, it’s not impossible, but it’s important to put it into a realistic perspective.

What are your thoughts about college athletics and scholarship opportunities?

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Senior recognition day. The last home meet for women swimmers.

 

 

New Rules for Soccer Parents in South Carolina: Silence

images-1The big thing in sports parenting news today is that the entire state of South Carolina’s soccer association has made rules for spectators—this means you, parents—to be silent. That’s right. No cheering, jeering or yelling. Sit there and watch or you could be in trouble.

In “New rule requires S.C. soccer parents to be silent on the sidelines,” an article from USA Today spells out the rules:

ONE
All parents and visitors shall be silent during the game. No cheering, no jeering; just enjoy your player and the game that they love. Also during this Silent September, all parents and visitors shall be on that half of the parent touchline opposite their team’s bench.

TWO
In the event of a parent or visitor violates this rule, on the first instance during a game the referee will ASK the coach to counsel his parents/visitors to remain silent, on the second instance during the game the referee will TELL the coach to counsel his parents/visitors to remain silent, upon the third instance during the game the referee will direct the coach to DISMISS the offending spectator(s)—if they do not leave or the coach refuses—then the coach will be sent off. If there is not an appropriately carded adult to continue coaching the game, the game will be abandoned and the circumstances reported to SCYSA. Likewise, if the offending spectator(s) still refuse to leave, even after the coach is sent off, then the game will be abandoned and the circumstances reported to SCYSA. If in the opinion of the referee the situation warrants, first two steps (ASK/TELL) are not required.

THREE
Prior to the beginning of the season, each team manager shall obtain parent signatures on behalf of each player on their roster acknowledging their awareness of the parent/visitor code of conduct.

FOUR
Team managers are expected to be on the parent touchline in order to address any inappropriate behaviors directly.

FIVE
Teams / Parent Groups / Individuals who are reported as having been dismissed from a game are subject to sanctions for their inappropriate conduct. Repeat offenders will be sanctioned more severely. The purpose of this SILENT SEPTEMBER is to make parents/visitors aware of the SCYSA focus on appropriate sideline behavior and of the existence of a CODE OF CONDUCT, and re-establish that managing parent/visitor behavior is the responsibility of coaches and clubs, NOT referees. Following SILENT SEPTEMBER, SCYSA will have periodic SILENT SATURDAYS/SUNDAYS as a reminder.

 

This story is being reported widely, throughout national and local news. A local South Carolina NBC TV affiliate, Channel 4 WYFF, reported on it as well:

The South Carolina Youth Soccer Association oversees soccer referees throughout the state, and is the state governing body of the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The association said it is having so many problems with parents heckling referees and with referees that quit because of the heckling, it is implementing “Silent September” for all South Carolina Youth Soccer Association sponsored league games, at all levels statewide.

The SCYSA posted a memo saying that because of the “continuing problems with sideline behaviors on the parent/spectator touchline and the impact that inappropriate behavior has upon our youth, especially upon youth referees; and the additional impact that inappropriate sideline behaviors have upon overall referee retention, SCYSA is implementing a Silent September for all SCYSA sponsored league games, statewide, at all levels.

In an article called “Poor behavior leads SC officials to silence youth soccer fans,” from The State you can read more details and direct quotes from the people involved:

Andrew Hyslop is co-executive director of the Carolina Elite Soccer Academy (CESA), which has had “Silent Sundays” from time to time in the past.

“I don’t think it’s pointing the finger at one group in particular,” Hyslop said. “I think it’s coaches, players and parents kind of coming to see that there needs to be a common ground, which will allow referees, especially younger ones, to make mistakes. Players need to be allowed to make mistakes, and referees need to be allowed the same leeway. It’s probably long overdue. I’d like to think in coming years we don’t need to take these kids of steps, and people can enjoy being at a game on the weekend.

This all seems heavy-handed to me. However, I am not a soccer parent, but a swim mom. I can’t imagine that the SCSYA made rules like this out of the blue. They must have thought about this for some time. I don’t know if the parents from the swimming and soccer sports are that much different, but in many ways, swimming isn’t as subjective. In swimming, the clock and the swimmer’s time is the ultimate authority. Yes, there are officials who disqualify swims, but when they make a call, rarely do you see a parent argue or protest.

I love cheering for my kids. I love cheering for their teammates and some of my best memories are standing at the end of a lane during Junior Olympics with noise makers, pom poms, cheering loudly with other parents. One time, our team was so loud, we were told to tone it down. But, our cheering was being done with enthusiasm and good will.

Like I said, I’m not a soccer mom and I’ve been to very few soccer games. I wonder if it’s the majority of parents making this so tough on the players, coaches and referees, or is it a handful ruining the experience for everyone? If it’s only a few individuals, I wish they’d be dealt with and let everyone else cheer and have fun.

One of my biggest pet peeves, when my kids were in elementary and middle school, was group punishment. I never did buy into it and felt it unnecessarily punished kids who weren’t deserving of it. I talked with a few teachers about it and they felt it was a tool where peer pressure would get the troublemakers in line. Tell me how this will work with parents?

I think we all have to remember that sports are for the kids. They have so much to gain from competition, staying fit, and being with friends. If we put the focus on the kids learning life lessons and what they’ll take away from their sport, rather than winning at any moment in time, things may fall back into perspective.

What are your thoughts about the new South Carolina “Silent September” soccer rules? Do you think they are warranted? I’d like to hear from soccer parents if things are things really that out of hand?

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Role Reversal: From Swim Mom to Swimmer

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US Master Spring Nationals, 2017 at Riverside City College.

Is it easier to watch your kids compete? Or, swim yourself? I found out the answer at the US Masters Spring Nationals in Riverside, CA this past weekend.

It was the second time I’ve competed in a swim meet in my entire life. I was nervous, anxious and wondered repeatedly, why on Earth did I sign up for the meet? Who do I think I am that I can dive in with Ryan Lochte and Nathan Adrian?

The answer from one of my fellow masters swimmers was “You’re not racing either of them!” True. I’m not in their age group, nor do I share their gender. But, still. Who do I think I am to swim at a meet with 2,026 swimmers and some of them Olympic champions? I am in my 50s, new to swimming—and slow.

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Me and two of my masters swim buddies.

While riding in the back seat to the meet, with my husband and daughter up front, I looked back at car rides to meets with my kids with a smile. The mornings were filled with anticipation as I wondered what the day ahead would bring. I wasn’t nervous at all then. I hoped for a successful, fun day and a happy car ride home.

But, when they were behind the blocks for their first event, I’d get a tight feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’d wring my hands and hope for a good race. I was a nervous wreck until their first race was over. Then I sighed with relief that yes, they actually could swim and I relaxed for the rest of the day.

Then this past weekend at the pool, it was my turn to be the swimmer. I had a pit in my stomach. It was all up to me to get to the blocks in time for my race. I had my daughter at my side. She helped me with my cap, sprayed on sunscreen and held my towel. She said she’d been looking forward to this day. I wanted to make her proud.

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My daughter in the 8-and-unders, when she swam 25’s.

She walked me to the warm-up pool and I stood there. She told me to get in and warm up. Each lane had seven or eight swimmers—real swimmers—not wannabes like me. They wore fast suits, flipped fast and hard. How could I get in with those sharks?

“Mawm, get in!” she said.

“How? They’re so fast.”

“Get in there, then,” she said pointing to the lane marked 65 and over.

I do have some pride, so for the first three-hundred swim part of my warm up, I jumped into the mosh pit and repeatedly felt my foot pulled, got flipped turned on and stressed out on how I was going to make it through warm up. For my kick and drill sets, I did move over to the 65-and-over lane. After all, it was empty and I’m really, really slow when it comes to kicking and drills.

It dawned on me that the race would be okay. I would have my own lane. If I could survive warm up, I could make it through my races in one piece.

My daughter was at the end of my lane cheering for me along with my husband, coach and teammates. After my races, she told me how proud she was of me.

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Role reversal: my daughter sitting in the stands reading a good book.

Sometimes it’s a good to switch roles with our kids. My daughter said after Masters Nationals, that she never wants to be a swim parent. After all, it was a long hot day, with two swims, hours and hours apart. But, in spite of that, she was a darn good one. She was encouraging, positive and her presence made me feel calm. I knew I had her unconditional love, no matter how I swam. She acted like a perfect swim mom. I could learn a few things from her.

My 50-breast with husband and daughter cheering me on. 

Round Two: Why Parents Need to Compete, Too

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Our beautiful Palm Springs pool.

This past weekend, I was at my second swim meet where I was the swimmer. I made the plunge once before—a year ago at the Palm Springs Piranhas hosted meet. I worried all week as the date of the meet approached. What had I done to myself? Why did I sign up for the meet?

Here is a partial list of things I worried and stressed about:

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Standing on the blocks. It’s scary up there.

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Diving off the blocks. I was afraid my goggles would fall off and I’d lose my contacts.

THREE

Doing a flip turn. In practice, I stick with slow open turns. While practicing flip turns the day before the meet, I got water up my nose and hit my head on the bottom of the pool.

FOUR

Breathing. I worried that halfway through my 50 free I’d start to panic and revert to breath-holding.16387450_10155016389794612_6785187209915237532_n

Then, I realized that last year I couldn’t get out of the pool and I had to swim to the ladder. This year, I didn’t have to worry about that. I can now get out of the deep end. That thought made me realize all the things that I had done to prepare for the meet and what was under my control:

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I had gone to practice consistently for an entire year.

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I had improved my diet to make sure I was properly fueled.

THREE

I stayed hydrated.

FOUR

I worked on dives and flip turns with Coach Jeff and felt more confident.

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I started a stretching regime that included warming up my shoulders.

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I was one year stronger and better at swimming than at my first meet.

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Here I am with a few of my Piranha Masters friends.

 

I was mentally prepared. I was physically ready. I know I’ve made huge progress. Maybe at the next meet, I won’t get so worked up.

My only regret is that I didn’t start swimming when my kids were young. I’ve learned so much from swimming masters about how hard they work, how great their technique is and how hard it is to swim fast. I took it all for granted. I would have had a different perspective on swim meets and practice if only I had begun swimming years ago. I would have shared this bit of wisdom my favorite ref, Paul, told me at the meet, “Relax and have fun. It’s only a swim meet!”

Why do you think swim parents should compete? What makes you nervous before swim meets?

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Me and Linda. Two swim moms and swimmers.

P.S. One of my most favorite things this weekend was to see and talk with three “kids” who swam with my children on Piranhas at my Masters meet. They are all grown-up and continuing with the sport they love.

Photos courtesy of Piranha Swim Team.