Little kids, big problems in youth sports

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Updated: 1/31/14 10:41 p.m.

This space is usually devoted to high school sports, but I just finished watching “The Short Game,” a documentary available on Netflix streaming about eight 7- to 8-year-olds vying for the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship at Pinehurst in North Carolina.

The filmmakers didn’t just focus on American contestants, but included golfers from China, France, the Philippines and South Africa. They are such likeable kids at that age. All of them appear to be such good kids — no punk attitude — and you can’t help but root for each one of them. The executive producers are golfer-singer-actor Justin Timberlake and his wife Jessica Biel.

In a story we see all too often with kids in sports, it’s the adults that find ways to grab your attention. There are a few examples in “The Short Game,” but plenty more in a new controversial reality TV series. In the past week, I saw the first two episodes of the new Esquire Network series, “Friday Night Tykes.” The title is misleading. None of the games are held on Friday nights, but the football series borrows its name from the more popular “Friday Night Lights” franchise. These tykes like to wear their game jerseys at high school games on Friday Nights, much like our area youth football teams do in Chicagoland. We have feeder teams for the local high school team as well.


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But watching “Friday Night Tykes” will make you shudder about football in Texas, football and parents, football and coaches, or maybe youth football in general. This week, two of the San Antonio-based league’s coaches have been suspended as a result of the show’s airing. Perhaps it was their profanity on the practice field, their ridiculous power trips as coaches of young children or their nut job mentality that football will make you into a man, even if you’re 8 and about to puke on camera because it’s 105 degrees and your coach is yelling at you about doing more sprints. The cameras cut to the row of parents sitting in their sports chairs at practice, just sitting there watching the physical (and verbal) abuse.

The jaw dropping scenes are these youth football coaches still using the nutcracker drill where players form two lines and just run into each other as hard as they can. With football’s concussion crisis going on, it’s a wonder the sport is still around at the youth level. Since no one would allow their kid to box, why would anyone want their kid to play football after watching “Friday Night Tykes?”

You can check out the show’s first episode at Esquire Network.

Here are the recent articles about the show from, The Sporting News and Fox Sports and at the Wrap. It looks like the league organizers did not know how crazy their win-at-all-costs coaches would be portrayed on TV.

When kids are crying (before, during or after a practice or game), something’s wrong. There’s a lot of crying in “Tykes.” In “The Short Game,” there’s some crying and that’s just among the pint-sized golfers. I’d call it more pouting while watching the caddy dad of Amari Avery. Her father makes me realize that fathers should never be their kid’s caddie. If you miss a three-foot putt, your caddie should be last person to wince or bury his hands in his face. You would think that Amari’s father was taking the shot. He’s the perfect example of a parent living his sports dream through his child. It’s not surprising that Amari battles her own temper tantrums on the golf course, and she’s 7.

Amari’s father nicknamed his daughter Tigress after Tiger Woods. How about a law right now prohibiting parents from using Earl and Tida Woods as role models for raising an elite golfer? We now know that that turned out to be a disaster. Tiger might be the best golfer in the world, but the creepiest as well. How about forgetting what Earl and Tida Woods did to raise a robot child prodigy golfer with no respect for women as an adult?

One of the level-headed kids in “The Short Game” is surprisingly the younger half-brother of over-hyped tennis pro Anna Kournikova. Allan Kournikova seems to be a pretty adjusted golfer despite being aged 8. Strangely, there does not seem to be a father in his life. It looks like his golf coach is his caddie in the documentary. I was about to post this entry when I Googled Allan Kourikova. Apparently the filmmakers neglected to include this story about his mother’s arrest for child neglect in 2010 when Allan was 5. His mother, Alla, who is featured in the documentary, has never revealed the identity of Allan’s father. The documentary was released in 2013.

Now that my own young children are starting to play sports, I have am trying to be careful. I don’t want to end up on a reality show. I try to keep cool, keep it loose, keep it fun and remember that winning isn’t as important as I think it should be. I’m not pretending that my kids are going to get Division I scholarships and that’s just what’s wrong with so many parents in that San Antonio youth football league and in the U.S. Kids Golf circuit. Amari’s dad even comments that he’s worried about her college scholarship opportunity if she doesn’t win. Wow. She’s still 7.

I fear that there are too many crazy parents ruining youth sports.

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