By Sandra Coopersmith
Culver City's Turning Point School (pre-K through 8th grade) and Babytalk LA, two child-focused organizations, were a winning team on Feb. 4 when they partnered to present a dynamic 90-minute panel at the school: "Kids & Sports: Team, Esteem, & The Athletic Dream."
Zachary Hinkle, Turning Point's Director of Auxiliary Programs, explained that the two are philosophically aligned: "Understanding the heart of each learner is paramount to success, as is setting individualized goals for the learner so that hard work and personal growth will equal success."
Emphasizing that "there is no 'one way' to teach," he added that at the school "we seek to absorb all positive teaching techniques into our teaching toolbox, because if we are going to differentiate for each individual child we must be masters of many methods.
Babytalk LA also believes that there is no 'one way' to parent; the culture of every family plays a large role, and the strengths and weaknesses of each individual parent are important to understand. They respect the differences and bring in experts to offer information to parents, allowing parents to decide for themselves what makes the most sense for their parenting style and for their family culture."
Vanessa Karubian Saxe and Elsa Collins, owners of Babytalk LA, moderated the panel composed of athletes, coaches and a sports psychologist, most of whom were parents themselves: Jacob Snyder, Turning Point's Athletic Director; Kameron Spies, Turning Point's Physical Education Coordinator; Dr. Casey Cooper, sports psychology liaison to UC at Irvine's athletic department; Jamal Adams, Head Varsity Basketball Coach, Loyola High School; Bakari Bolden, a senior at Harvard-Westlake School where he is captain of the golf team and a four-year letterman; and twin celebrities Jarron and Jason Collins, highly regarded NBA veterans. Jason also made history last year as the first active male athlete on a major American sports team to come out as gay.
A sampling of the panel's suggestions follows.
"While many parents complain about communication, sports offer not only opportunities for delayed gratification but also for improved communication." "At 9 and 10 most children are ready for competitive sports. However, as all children are different, parents may wish to see a pediatrician regarding what is developmentally appropriate for their particular child."
Regarding year-round training in one sport, "cross-training is priceless. Try to avoid specialization as long as possible."
Got a beef to pick with the coach? "Parents can be emotional, angry and reactive and need to be careful about whether this is a problem for them or for their child." "The worst time for a parent to come up is immediately after a game."
Should everyone play on the team? "Some aren't good. Playing in a game under pressure is a skill." "Understand and accept your role. You can still have impact on a team through your work ethic, and you can mentor kids below your skill level." "If competition comes into the mix and you get a sense your child is shying away, wait." "You can lead by healthy example in a non-competitive way by going for a hike or bike ride with your kids." Among other ways to participate, "teens can coach younger ones."
Sports provide crisis management training. "There's 30 seconds to go, you need to keep your wits about you, and you're relying on others." "I learned an important lesson: Time will never wait for me. I learned about time management, to deal with stress and push through." "Sports help you develop the ability to consistently work outside your comfort zone, the ability to fail and continue."
And what about failure? "Everyone needs to lose; you need to have disappointment in your life and be able to soothe yourself." "You need to learn how to deal with adversity. Injuries are going to happen, but you battle back through rehab and can come out stronger than before."
"Allow the child to feel comfortable. If it was a difficult game, don't ask questions. Let the kid decompress." "Leave it to the coaches. When you pick children up from sports, be their parent, not their coach, and let them initiate the conversation." "If your children want to talk, they'll come to you." "Ask 'what' questions, not 'why' – don't give them the answer." "When parents allow excuses or make excuses for the kids, it retards their ability to self-assess and create a plan. Help them create a plan; don't allow them to make excuses."
Praise and criticism? "It depends on the age of the child and your relationship with the child. Part of sports is that someone will always do better." "Do you praise a child's talent? No! Praising effort is much more valuable." "Kids recognize false praise. If you're struggling to find something to praise, remember that the child knows you're there and that can be enough without providing praise." Participation trophies were censured for encouraging a false sense of entitlement.
At the program's conclusion, Richard Smith, President of Banc of California, presented a donation to benefit "Let's Give Them A Shot," which supports inner city youth sports.
"Both Babytalk LA and Turning Point are committed to giving back to the community," said Saxe. "We have decided, where possible, to use these events as a way to make an impact with regard to whatever the subject matter of our event is. In this case, we found Let's Give Them A Shot, an organization in Los Angeles that gives children who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity a chance to play team sports.
"We have earmarked the funds from the Banc of California to support an initiative to train and pay high school students to coach elementary school students. The program helps keep these high school students doing something constructive and something they feel good about, and the younger kids benefit from the chance to play with other kids."
Although only a tiny percentage of children develop into Olympians or professional athletes, all need physical activity, and valuable life lessons are learned through sports. Perhaps it's time to update those classic childhood basics to "reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic and romping."