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 Matters Most: Times Together

18920581_10213697294890444_4649514921325596156_nThis past weekend, I was in mom heaven. My daughter was at a swim meet an hour away from where my son now lives. We didn’t do anything that special, we got to hang out together. It was one of my favorite weekends in recent memory.

At first, I was worried about how my daughter was going to do at the meet. She had already told us that due to other things going on in her life, her last few weeks of practice were not consistent at all.

I told her, “You can still get a best time and swim well.” 

She thought I was delirious. She was very realistic about what she could do at that point in time. I have to admit that after her first race, I got it. I relaxed about the times and understood that this meet was about being together as a family. It was a small slice of time where we could hang out and enjoy each other’s company. If I had been focused on her times and upset that she wasn’t at her peak fitness, I’d have been so disappointed. Instead, I reflected on being the mom of two almost grown kids that I’m so proud of. And, the fact that they enjoy being with me and each other.18920513_10213697294250428_7072346138704993087_n

While we were driving around town, the kids were in the back seat pretending to be little kids elbowing each other. I turned around from the front passenger seat and said, “Children, there’s an imaginary line going down the middle of the car. You can’t cross that line!”

My daughter immediately yelled out, “Mom, Robert crossed the line!”

Later, after fits of laughter, we hung out together in a park, lying on the grass and staring at the green leaves and blue sky.18835878_10213697294490434_3338216834463049598_n

We shared books, ideas and meals. My son’s vocabulary had us looking up new words and trying to memorize and pronounce them, like “primogeniture.” One of my kids favorite things to do was to copy our faces. My son does an imitation of me, while Kat has perfected her dad’s scowl. It always ended in a burst of laughter and fits of giggles.

The swim meet was exciting with a who’s who in the swimming world in the final heats. I witnessed amazing races and the international flavor was so hopeful and invigorating with countries in attendance including Argentina, Mexico, Japan and China.

It may be the last time we’ll be staying in a hotel with our daughter at a meet. Ever. Her final college season is ahead this fall and she’ll be with her team, not us. I was a little teary-eyed when the weekend flew by and it was time for me to return again to my empty nest.IMG_7880