Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Agassi, LeBron on what's wrong with youth sports

As noted here before, I'm compiling a list of pro athletes who speak out about adults messing up sports for kids. Today, two new, high-profile additions, LeBron James and Andre Agassi.

I just finished Shooting Stars, James's recent book chronicling his early basketball life, with an emphasis on bonds forged with his rec league and later high school teammates. Not your typical "How I Overcame Impossible Odds" story. A good read.

James makes the list for opposing the national schedules played by the top high school basketball teams, including his, St. Vincent's, in Akron, Ohio. The last half of the book is filled with stories about this small Catholic school sending its basketball team on the road for games at Pauley Pavilion (Los Angeles), the Palestra (Philadelphia), Trenton, NJ, on and on. (In LA, James writes, scalpers were getting $250 for a ticket - to a prep game). It's what you do if the goal is achieving USA Today's No. 1 high school ranking, as St. V's was.

LeBron writes: "Was it insane for a high school basketball team to jet around the country? At the time, I thought it was exciting, going places I never ever thought I would get to see in my life when I was a scared, lonely young boy. Now I believe it was excessive. I believe it was too much, for us and every other high school around the country that followed a schedule similar to ours....I can virtually guarantee that when we traveled, there were plenty of promoters who enjoyed a nice payday on us as high school kids, knowing that our presence would fill arenas."

Agassi's new book, Open, is getting attention for admissions about his drug use. Descriptions of what his dad did to raise a tennis champ were as disturbing to me. Actually, more.

This is an excerpt printed in Sports Illustrated:

"I'm seven years old, talking to myself, because I'm scared, and because I'm the only person who listens to me. Under my breath I whisper: Just quit, Andre, just give up. Put down your racket and walk off this court, right now. Wouldn't that feel like heaven, Andre? To just quit? To never play tennis again?

"But I can't. Not only would my father, Mike, chase me around the house with my racket, but something in my gut, some deep unseen muscle, won't let me. I hate tennis, hate it with all my heart, and still I keep playing, keep hitting all morning, and all afternoon, because I have no choice. No matter how much I want to stop, I don't. I keep begging myself to stop, and still I keep playing, and this gap, this contradiction between what I want to do and what I actually do, feels like the core of my life."

Other than shame, what does a parent feel reading that?

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