THERE ARE at least a dozen books available on the subject of youth sports and the problems and dangers of adult overindulgence in kids' games. I often wonder how many of them are read, let alone heeded.
Having been a youth sports parent/coach myself for the better part of a decade, I'll be frank: I don't see them having enough impact. More kids than ever are being pushed harder in sports at earlier ages. They're specializing in particular sports before puberty with fathers and mothers meticulously monitoring their development. They are competing year-round on club and travel teams, with parents investing absurd amounts of money in personal coaching and training. Along the way, there's more work and pressure to succeed and a whole lot less fun.
Disturbing, but there's always the hope a book will come along that might sound a more resonant alarm bell, and perhaps it finally has been written. It's called "Until It Hurts: America's Obsession With Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids." Its author, Mark Hyman, will appear Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at the Oakland Coliseum to talk about it — on Little League Day — along with A's pitcher Dallas Braden and trainer Steve Sayles.
The mere title of the book may put off many parents and coaches who believe they are overseeing their kids' sports regimens in a proper way. But as a unique approach to a compendium of personal stories and professional observations about adult abuses in youth sports, Hyman interweaves his own guilt. He confesses to abusing his own son's baseball life.
Hyman's son Ben was a good young pitcher whose promise tweaked his father just enough that visions of grandeur clouded common sense. As a parent and coach, Hyman overtaxed his son's arm. The result was that Ben developed shoulder problems at age 14 and ultimately required reconstructive Tommy John elbow surgery at 18.
Hyman ultimately learned the hard way that his son probably wouldn't have been good enough to earn a college athletic scholarship — the carrot that entices and deludes so many families — and wanted to write a book that reached out to otherwise educated, rational and loving parents who might be smitten by the same skewed fantasies.
"I think you're particularly vulnerable when your kids are in that 9-13 age, when you're uncertain what their future in sports might be," Hyman said. "You're particularly ambitious, because you really don't know what the limits are for them. I was in that very vulnerable ambitious period when my son was striking everybody out, and I thought he would always be striking everybody out. It disarmed me."
Hyman, who writes regularly for BusinessWeek and numerous other publications, said he wasn't interested in crafting a book that amounted to a 160-page harangue (actually, it's only 146 pages and can be read in a few hours). He wanted to tell his own story, Ben's story, and stories of other ordinary families blindsided by the subtle but real temptations in today's increasingly micro-managed youth sports.
"I think we all (as parents) have these voices that are speaking to us, and with some of us, the voices speak more loudly," he said. "I don't think I'm an over-the-top parent, even though I've had my moments. Unfortunately, I had a few of these moments that my son paid a price for."
Hyman touches on several youth sports in which adult abuses are all too common — baseball, softball, soccer, basketball, gymnastics, swimming. Even fencing, he noted. He reveals sobering statistics and professional opinions about skyrocketing youth sports injuries and much more.
In short, "Until It Hurts" is a compact, compelling read that has received much praise in just its first two weeks of release. Despite that, Hyman is realistic.
"I'm not expecting to change the world," he said. "My thought was to write a book that speaks from a parent's perspective to other parents, but also do it as a journalist. I don't believe there are bad parents. Every parent I spoke with loved their children. We're not debating that. We're talking about changing attitudes about what's appropriate for kids, what their physical limits might be and how we can respect that."
Hyman's book offers thought-provoking answers, but it's the personal ones that really hit home.
Contact Carl Steward at firstname.lastname@example.org.