Too Much, Too Soon?

Meet David Sills, Jr.  David is in middle school, a seventh grader in Delaware who loves to play football.  And he’s entered into a verbal agreement with USC to play for them in 2015.

I was all set to be incensed at this.  I even started arguing about it with Steve.  I used Michelle Kwan as my backup argument, and even as the name left my lips, I realized that I’d defeated myself.

My argument was that Sills is too young to be looked at by college recruiters.  He’s too young to make a decision about where he wants to go to school, whether he’ll play football for the NCAA powerhouse.  What kind of pressure will that put on him?  What will that do to his academic performance?  “Forget the math test, David… you have drills to run!”  No, no, I thought… too young.  Let him have a childhood.

And I threw out the Michelle Kwan argument.  Look at her, I said.  She started skating early, but she also had … tutors … but she never … well … I guess maybe she WAS looking toward the Olympics at a very early age.  And she was.  She burst on the national skating scene at the tender age of 12, when she took the senior division by storm and earned second place at Nationals, finishing behind Tonya Harding.  She attended the Olympics that year as an alternate, providing an island of calm in the Kerrigan/Harding soap opera.  Kwan then went on to a long and distinguished skating career.  She remains the same class act that she’s always been, on and off the ice.

So why should I be all chuffed at USC offering this kid a shot at a future?  Isn’t that exactly what the Olympics does?  And isn’t that, in effect, what we all do with our children, starting at a very early age?  Parents start quizzing little Johnny when he can barely talk, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”  Some beam with pride when Johnny replies that he wants to be a fireman or a policeman.  Others gently correct him, saying that he should shoot to be a lawyer or a doctor like Daddy.  And then they start setting aside money to finance a very expensive college career.  Johnny is on the career track before he can even write his name… if it’s in academics.

But when it comes to sports, the argument becomes, “it’s a risk.  Only the best of the best are the huge successes.  Have a backup.”

But isn’t that true of every career?  Barack Obama used to be a lawyer, and is now President.  Not many lawyers become President of the United States.  Does that mean that no child should ever aspire to be a lawyer?  Bill Gates started out as a computer geek, messing with programming systems and learning the inner workings of the computer when he was in eighth grade.  But not many computer geeks end up as the Richest Man in the World.  Does that mean that kids shouldn’t aspire to be computer geeks?  I daresay that if parents of current seventh graders were offered college scholarships to prestigious universities for their budding lawyers and computer geeks, they’d jump at the offer, and never once tell the kid to “have a backup plan”.

Why, then, is it different with sports?  Is it because of the fickle nature of the game?  The possibility of injury?  It can’t be the pressure.  Kids who want to be lawyers, businessmen, even musicians feel pressured, not only by themselves, but by parents, teachers, even society, to excel and be the very best that they can be.

It could be argued that this IS different.   With the Olympics, Bill Gates’ rise to success, the Presidency, most any career, the impetus, the push, the drive all come from the bottom.  They all come from within the individual.  No American Olympic Athlete was ever approached by the Olympic Committee offering free training.  Certainly no President was given a hand up as a child by any organization and set on an “expenses paid” track for the Oval Office (with the exception, perhaps of JFK, and it was his father, not an organization, that paved the way).

But here we have what could be construed as the start of a disturbing trend, and here is where one could shoot holes in my “it’s the same as any other career” theory:  Now the elite organizations – the colleges and the professional organizations – are fishing in the guppy ponds.  They are not sitting back and waiting for the talent to develop, for the individual to come to them.  They are actively seeking out and recruiting the very youngest in the field, based on speculation rather than on proven records.  They are wading in and actively influencing youngsters perhaps before they have given serious thought to their future career.

The question has not been posed, but what if David Sills has dual dreams?  What if he thinks about being an NFL quarterback and a high school math teacher?  Given the regular course of things, he would have had the rest of middle school and all of high school to investigate those two goals, to flesh out the pros and cons of each.  To develop his throwing arm and his mathematical muscle equally.  But now, USC has stepped in very early in the game, and influenced that decision in a profound way.  Yes, David can, at any time, back out of the deal with no repercussions beyond losing the scholarship.  But who turns down a full ride to an elite university like USC?  So the decision has, in effect, been made for him.  He will be a football player, not a math teacher.

Where do you stand on it?  Do you think this agreement puts too much pressure on an 11-year old?  Or is it a natural progression, similar to any other career track when a kid knows, at an early age, what he wants to be when he grows up?

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12 Responses to Too Much, Too Soon?

  1. SKL says:

    I think a bigger concern is, what’s going to happen to middle school sports now? And elementary school sports for that matter? If an 11-year-old has already been “picked,” is that going to motivate a lot of other kids at that age to put an unhealthy focus on being “picked”?

    My assumption is that this boy has an exceptional gift, and that’s great for him. Nothing wrong with being recognized for your exceptional achievements. But it seems a bit irresponsible for a college to play around with the environment of the middle school sports scene. Maybe I’m not the only one thinking this, and they will make some rules against this going forward.

    I’m not too worried about this kid wanting to have a different career. Going to USC isn’t like being stuck going to vo-ed or community college. I’m sure he will find some program there to challenge his mind – and I’m sure there’s an easy out if he doesn’t (no way they can hold him to an agreement he made at age 11). And he can always go back to school after he’s done with sports.

    That is one argument I never understood – insisting on a “normal” educational track for athletes – like letting the LeBron Jameses of the world go pro before finishing 4 years of college would endanger their future career. Like LeBron isn’t going to have the means to finish his education later? I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over that.

  2. Joy says:

    This is an excellent post for thinking. I know I’ll come up with a lot of mixed thoughts.

    My first reaction is there in NO WAY an 11 year old is even ready to begin this kind of thought process and it’s really the parents that want it. I’m sure he does love football but so do most little boys.

    Then my thoughts go to maybe he can get that good education at the wonderful school and be a football player and a math teacher. Anyone recall Randall McDaniel, former Viking who was inducted into the hall of fame a few years ago was a football player and is a 3rd grade teacher here in Mpls.

    BUT, 11 is way to young to make this choice. I think…….

  3. SKL says:

    It is funny how we are so oriented toward our kids’ futures nowadays. I am not sure, but I don’t think things were like that when I was a kid. Well, maybe they were. I do recall my mom encouraging me to want to be a lawyer since I was in elementary school. (I resisted it until I was 19!)

    My kids, like all kids, have clear strengths and weaknesses. Just about a week ago, my friends were sitting around the table, very seriously discussing that one of my daughters would be good in some particular field (can’t remember who or what). Like I needed to inform her of her future career and maybe start looking around for apprenticeships. Dude, she is 3 years old. This is America. She gets to decide what she’s going to be; as long as it’s legal and pays the bills. Right? Yet I spend time every day working on preparing her for what she “may” want to do – so how different is that?

    And come to think about it, what about the apprenticeships of the old days? And the kids working in factories and mines during the industrial revolution? Could it be that our generation is actually treating our kids as younger, not older, compared to other times?

    • Joy says:

      I’ve noticed the same thing SKL in regards to treating our kids older for some things but working and being responsible is getting later and later in life. Both my boys had to work in order to drive. I was not going to pay for a car or insurance for them. Guess what? They both had jobs as soon as they could drive. That’s all they had to pay for but I felt it was a right to drive and in order to do that, they had to work.

      I know way more kids than I can say who don’t start working until they are seniors in high school. So then these kids have worked one year, had no responsibility at all and you expect them to leave and go to school the next year?? It doesn’t usually work out when it’s a case like that. These kids don’t have a clue how to even make a can of soup for supper. So many parent’s now really baby their kids.

  4. Sue says:

    My immediate thought is that HE didn’t make the choice. His parents had a hand in it. What are the odds that HE called USC and said come look at me I’m great and they said, oh, let’s listen to some 11 year old! Ah, no. I don’t buy it. Just like an Olympic hopeful who starts out young, the parents are (usually) right there. I guess it’s kind of on the same path as kids training for the Olympics, but it doesn’t seem right.

    • Joy says:

      I thought the same thing Sue about the scouting thing. I wonder how they found him? I wonder if it’s the coaches or who does that. I’m pretty sure it’s not the parents. I don’t think a school would send a scout out on a parents say so. We parents all think out kids our wonderful. But I wonder who does it.

    • Laura says:

      He goes to a football camp, somewhere, that’s pretty prestigious, and the coach at that camp called the coach at USC and said, “you gotta come see this kid”.

  5. mssc54 says:

    Well you were making some pretty good points until you shotyourself in the foot with this sentence.

    “Barack Obama used to be a lawyer, and is now President.”

  6. Nikki says:

    Well sports is very important to a lot kids. It’s a tool to stay in school. For us anyway! Bailey can not and will not play any sports if he isn’t doing well in school. His dream is to play professional football AND baseball, depending on the season and sometimes even the day! He also has talked about being an English teacher and a veterinarian! LOL He dreams and I let him. He knows school, college comes first and foremost. I suppose once he’s 18 he can make whatever decision he wants but we’re hoping we will still have an impact on his decisions. Education is thee most important thing. What if, what IF he got hurt? What IF he lost that love for football?
    This boy is too young to be pressured about his future careers. I see nothing wrong with him having this dream, as long as the parents aren’t putting more pressure on the sports aspect then the schooling aspect!
    Jason talks, loosely, about agents scouting Bailey when he’s in HS. He’s a damn good baseball player but we all know the odds. It’s fun for us to dream about that too. Knowing his love for the game will only enhance his education though. He could never live without baseball.
    I think it’s all about balance. Keeping him humble is key. Being a parent and not a agent/coach is also key!

    Parents should play a part in their kids future. A PART! They should not be planning it! That’s their job when they get older.
    I also think kids need to start thinking about jobs earlier too. They should be working as soon as they are old enough. Like Joy said, even if it’s just to pay one bill. They are learning and it can’t hurt. Responsibility is one thing kids need to learn at a young age or chances are they will go through the whole, “finding themselves” after HS. And in my own experience and what I have seen from some of my family, that doesn’t end well!

  7. Tessa says:

    As you mentioned with other careers like Bill Gates or the President or the Olympics, I say if the kid wants to shoot for a football star as a career-and he has potential at a young age-go for it!! The Olympic stars and sports stars have to start training young. It is funny you mentioned Bill Gates, I just read how he has very distinct autism traits, so did Einstein. Usually genius minds are a bit autistic and this is really interesting-how their minds work differently.

    But, if it is the parent’s dream and they are just pushing the kid to do it, that is wrong. But I think it is great if the parents are just behind a kid’s dream. How awesome to have a scholarship at age 11-if he changes his mind, he changes his mind and the parents should support that too.

  8. Tessa says:

    Very soon, college will be costing around 25 grand a year, who can afford that? I also would hate for my kids to end up with a ton of loans like I have, which would cost more loans because tuition goes up every year, so if kids love a sport they do or some activity whether ice skating or drawing- why not encourage them and help them get scholarships? I think it is wonderful and important.

  9. joz1234 says:

    I don’t have a problem with this situation as long as the family he has teaches him responsibility and expects more than just football for him. If he were to be injured, he needs a backup plan. He has to be maintaining good grades. Kids get injured in high school all the time.

    Other than that, I think it is an awesome thing for him.

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