What’s RIGHT in Youth Sports.

Over the last few years, our family has witnessed some pretty poor behavior in the youth sports our kids are involved with. Coaches yelling at their kids, punching walls, trying to intimidate young referees, and engaging in shouting matches with other coaches. Kids mouthing off to coaches and parents, and treating less skilled players poorly.

And over what? A game, where kids should be having fun, getting some exercise, and learning to work with their peers by playing on a team.

But this year, it’s been an entirely different story for us.

Michael is in 4th grade; he began a love affair with basketball when he was about 3 years old. Started playing in the YMCA Kindergarten league when he was in Pre-K.  Joined our in-town basketball program when it started in 2nd grade, and began talking that year about when he’d be able to try out for the town’s travel basketball program, which begins in 4th grade.

So at the end of this past summer, he started getting ready for the late September travel tryouts. On a Tuesday night, I brought him to the high school gym, where the kids participated in drills for hours. Michael loved it, and was thinking about the second tryout night the following week.

That Saturday, pitching in baseball game, Michael hurt his knee. He could still walk, but after an appointment with an orthopedist, he was told he couldn’t participate in any sports for 3 weeks, which included the second tryout. He went anyway, sat on the bench, and we hoped for the best.

By the time teams were announced a few weeks later, we learned that Michael’s knee injury was much worse than originally diagnosed; he’d torn his meniscus and ACL, had already had one outpatient surgery for his meniscus, and was going to require a second surgery to repair his ACL. Sports would be out for 9-12 months until he could fully recover.

We also learned that Michael had made the travel A team. So now what?

I checked in with the league director and Michael’s assigned coach, hoping that somehow, Michael could be a part of the team, knowing that he’d be completely laid up for a few weeks after surgery, and wouldn’t be able to play for the season. I was anxiously awaiting a reply the day of the uniform fitting; I heard back from his coach Don, who said he “didn’t think it would be a problem,” but I hadn’t heard from the league director, so I brought him to the uniform fitting, with fingers crossed.

The league director, Nick, made the connection when he saw a kid hobbling in on crutches, came over to introduce himself, and asked if we could speak privately. My stomach dropped. With some less than positive experiences we’d had in youth sports, I instinctively figured we’d be asked to leave, and I’d be left to console Michael on the way home.

Not even close. Nick had pulled me aside to let me know that if Michael wanted to be a part of the team to the extent that he could, that the league would only be able to provide a partial refund for the fee we’d paid for travel basketball. Really? With everything else we had on our plate with Michael’s injury, this was the least of our concerns. He shook Michael’s hand, and told him that he couldn’t wait to see him back on the court next year.

Elated, we returned to the team for the uniform fitting. Coach Don told Michael that he’d “earned his spot on this team,” and was as much a part of it as the rest of the boys. Don explained to the rest of the team what had happened to Michael, and even though he couldn’t play, this was his team too.


And it only got better.

When Michael went in for his ACL surgery, just after the season had started, the team sent a get-well card. Once he was able to get out a few weeks later, Michael went to as many home games and practices as he could fit in, between catching up with schoolwork, keeping up with physical therapy, and just recovering. Coach Don would have Michael lead the cheer for the team before games. Michael would keep stats on a white board. He’d learn the plays. He was as much a part of the team as he could be.

I should mention that things weren’t all great. Michael would look forward to the games, but sometimes, just before walking out the door to a game, he’d be inconsolable – because really, what 9-year-old wants to sit and watch other kids play the game that they love to play? But we’d get him into the car, and things would be okay, even if it was just while he was distracted by the game.  And thank goodness for Dave. I went to one game, and had to leave after a few minutes. It was just too sad for me, watching these kids play basketball, and seeing Michael sitting on the bench, knowing this was what he’d wanted so badly.

Once Michael could stand, balanced, without his crutches, Dave would take him to team practices, and Michael would stand and shoot baskets at the other end of the court, while Dave rebounded the ball to him. One night, a teammate saw Michael hitting every shot, and the whole team came down and counted, as he sank 10 in a row. These kids got it. This was a big deal to Michael, and they were right there with him.

Fast forward to last night. The last regular season game. Michael is off crutches, in a smaller knee brace, and walking well. The team is up by 12 points, with less than a minute left. Bill, the assistant coach, asks Dave if they can put Michael in. Don calls a time out, they explain the situation to the other team and their coach – they can’t guard Michael, because he could get hurt. They start the clock again, roll the ball down the court to Michael, who makes a shot from the corner. It goes in. The team and the parents cheer. They get it. THIS is what youth sports is about.

The story won’t end here. Michael still has months of rehab, check-ins with the surgeons, and a “return to sport” physical therapy program that will hopefully get him ready for basketball next year. But in the meantime, he’s learned so much from this experience. And so have we. There’s hope, and there are great people in this world.

Go team.



You’ve got that right. Or wrong.

A few days ago, I heard a radio report that talked about how people like to give advice to new parents. Reportedly, these people enjoy giving this advice because as parents themselves, they believe they’ve done this parenting thing so well, they think everyone should do things the same way.

Which leaves me with the thought that I must be in the minority here, because often, the advice I can offer new parents is to do something differently than I’ve done, because I’ve screwed so many things up.


This really started in my first few days of parenting, when we brought Matthew home from the hospital and could not for anything figure out how to get this kid to stop crying and sleep. We were so desperate that we called the newborn nursery at the hospital where he was born. The nurses there must have had some idea of how stupid we were, because the first question they asked was whether or not he was warm enough. As first-time parents, we were following all of the rules we’d been told about, which included not covering him with a blanket in the crib. I guess we didn’t realize that we had to find some other way to keep him warm.

We’ve been parents now for almost 14 years, and don’t get me wrong – I think we’ve got some pretty great kids. But I sometimes question how much we’ve actually had to do with that.

Just a few months ago, for example, our younger son suffered a pretty serious knee injury. Thinking he was overreacting to get a little extra attention, I made him go to Hebrew school the morning after it happened. As he limped into the building, the rabbi asked, “Michael, what happened?” My response? “Nothing as serious as he’s making it look.” Really??! I said that to our rabbi, one of the people in our community who we consider to be the arbiter of all things right and good. So after Michael’s second knee surgery, the rabbi stopped by to see how he was doing. Or maybe just to check and see if my parenting was actually as irresponsible as it seemed to be that day.

I’ve made plenty of other dumb parenting moves. When Matthew was in preschool, I invited a girl in his class to come over for a playdate. I was impressed when she came in and said, “Matthew, I’m your guest; will you please show me around?” So I thought it would be okay to leave the two of them unsupervised in our backyard for a few minutes. Again, I was wrong. This delightful little girl then came to the back door to get me, telling me that she’d tied Matthew up in our yard.

It’s not just me – sometimes Dave makes the same stupid parenting mistakes I do. When Michael was about four years old, he had a friend over to play. I had to take Matthew out somewhere, so I left the little boys at home with Dave. When I returned, he took me aside to tell me I needed to have a talk with the other boy’s mother, because when Dave went to check on them in the basement, they were sitting nicely, playing video games. Naked. And apparently it was Michael’s idea.

So, you see, I’m happy to help you out. But if you’re looking for parenting advice from someone who’s done it all right, I’m probably not your guy.