Parents Should Coach Academics as Seriously as They Do Sports

The New York Times, Motherlode Blog

By JENNIFER ARROW

 APRIL 9, 2014

Monica Almeida/The New York Times

It sometimes seems that the American success ethic stops at the schoolhouse door. We encourage ambition in youth sports and entrepreneurial enterprise, but our families are often suspicious of the value of scholastic competition.

If you told your neighbors you had little Seymour in gymnastics with an eye to the 2028 Summer Olympics, they’d likely laugh but agree it was important to start early with a lofty goal like that. Were you to tell the neighbors that Sofia was doing abacus training as preparation for the 2028 International Math Olympiad, conversation might simply stop, because, well, who does that?

We should. Quanyu Huang, a professor at Miami University of Ohio and the author of the new book “The Hybrid Tiger: Secrets of the Extraordinary Success of Asian-American Kids,” argues that a subtle shift in mind-set transforms the study hall from a demoralizing workhouse to sweaty training gym, where hours of toil pay off during the big fight. If to be a student is to be a warrior (not a prisoner or a victim), suddenly a million familiar sports metaphors apply: free throws and math problems become interchangeable signifiers of a rigorous and inherently worthy training regimen. And a great coach, either at home or at school, is a beloved ally rather than an suspect adversary.

Dr. Huang’s book asserts that Asian families begin with the end in mind, that the progression from preschool to graduate school is perceived as not dissimilar to the hero’s journey of monomyth, and that culturewide certainty of purpose is fundamental: “Education is a life-or-death struggle,” he writes. “Education is a battle of elimination won through selection and competition. … For Chinese and Chinese-American children, their introduction to education is the beginning of a lifelong battle that they must win at any and all costs.”

“Can you think of the last time someone told you a story that made studying long and hard seem heroic?”

Practically, “Hybrid Tiger” suggests that Chinese-American families are structured so that the children are considered star academic competitors and the parents have a significant but clearly secondary role as their devoted trainers.

Dr. Huang describes touring colleges with his son and observing unencumbered Chinese kids trailed by parents “loaded up like pack mules … allowing [the kids] to wander about entirely unburdened.” (One is reminded of Rocky Balboa in the ring, shrugging off his robe and handing it back to Mickey.)

Amanda Ripley’s book “The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way” had a similar observation about the role of parents in promoting academic success:

Coach parents … spent less time attending school events and more time training their children at home: reading to them, quizzing them on their multiplication tables while they were cooking dinner, and pushing them to try harder. They saw education as one of their jobs. This kind of parenting was typical in much of Asia — and among Asian immigrant parents living in the United States. Contrary to the stereotype, it did not necessarily make children miserable. In fact, children raised in this way in the United States tended not only to do better in school but to actually enjoy reading and school more than their Caucasian peers enrolled in the same schools.

Khan Academy’s founder, Salman Khan, writing in One World Schoolhouse, also found power in the idea of coaches:

Have you ever noticed that some kids tend to loathe and detest their teachers but worship and adore their coaches? … I believe that a big part of the reason kids revere and obey their coaches is that the coaches are specifically and explicitly on the student’s side. Coaches are helping them be the best they can be, so that they can experience the thrill of winning. In team sports, coaches inculcate the atavistic spirit and focus of a hunting clan. In individual sports, the coach stands tall as the main if not the only ally. When kids win, coaches celebrate along with them; when they lose, the coach is there to comfort and find a lesson in defeat.

“Hybrid Tiger” itself is shot through with the kind of inspirational aphorism familiar to anyone who follows Dwayne Johnson, better known as the Rock, on Facebook: “Happiness is always connected to competition,” and “In order to win, one must be able to withstand suffering.” Dr. Huang also lays this on us: “Here are two ancient stories all Chinese children know: A man, whose name was Sun Jing, tied his hair on the beam that ran through his house when he studied, so that he would wake painfully if he began to fall asleep while studying. Another man, whose name was Su Qin, jabbed his hip with a needle to keep himself awake while he studied.”

Can you think of the last time someone told you a story that made studying long and hard seem heroic?

Dr. Huang’s thoughtful book makes a persuasive argument that, in light of the demands of our current cutthroat global economy, American parents may do well to think of themselves as cognitive coaches for their kids. We should look at the homework spread across the dining room table playing field and say with all appropriate gusto: “Game on.”

Jennifer Arrow is a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer who blogs about preschooling, afterschooling and children’s literature at Post-Apocalyptic
Homeschool
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In the Midst of a Warzone there’s an Afghani Skateboarding School for Girls

Gallery

In “don’t be a tourist” “Featured” “have you met” on November 27, 2012 at 1:21 pm Today I learned there’s a skateboarding school in Afghanistan where 40% of its students are female. In a part of the world where little girls are … Continue reading

Why Ex Athletes Are More Successful

Why Ex-Athletes Are More Successful

Your high school football glory days could pay off at the office.
By Cassie Shortsleeve, Men’s Health

altlete(Photo: Getty Images)

In a new study at Washington University in St. Louis, researchers found that playing team sports was a greater predictor of success in a residency program for doctors-in-training than test scores or a good interview.

“Not all of the outstanding students end up being the best doctors,” says lead author Richard Chole, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the American Board of Otolaryngology. When researchers noticed that a lot of the doctors-in-training were former athletes, they sent questionnaires to successful residents and indeed found that many good docs shared varsity letters in common.
 
Dr. Chole says the leadership lessons and social skills you learn from playing team sports can help you become a better worker. “Very good students are usually in the library studying madly to get wonderful scores on tests, but social interaction and maturity are lost on that sometimes,” he says. Sure, your ability to throw a deep spiral or seal a last-minute layup matters little when it comes to prepping sales reports–but that doesn’t mean your time on the field won’t come in handy at your 9-to-5. Here are three ways your sports experience can help you in the workplace.
 
When You’re Forced to Work in a Group
Different people with different roles must work together in order for an office–no matter the size–to succeed, says Steve Edwards, Ph.D., a sports psychologist at Oklahoma State University. It’s the same lesson you learned in your high school huddle: Make the right passes for the point. Or, even more broadly, you can’t score unless someone passes to you, Edwards adds.
 
When You Need to Form a Team for a Project
Individual sports require a certain self-examination that can be difficult, says Edwards. (Think: beating yourself up for every last mistake.) But in team sports, you learn to assess people’s strengths and weaknesses in addition to your own, he says. The same is important in a work scenario. Building the best possible team starts with being able to figure out who’s good at what (writing, analyzing, or speaking in public).
 
When Someone Screws Up, Big Time
“The kind of people who are successful in team sports are generally the people who have great determination, and are able to concentrate and learn from mistakes,” Edwards says. Here’s the thing: You may not realize it, but a high school playoff run that ended all too fast showed you how to push through the ups and downs of working with others. (Yes, your kicker missed the game-winning field goal, but you’ve got to move forward). Being able to handle setbacks that are out of your control while completing a tough task is a skill you can hone in your pickup league.

Preventing Sports Concussions Among Children

Preventing Sports Concussions Among Children

The New York Times

By ROBERT C. CANTU
Published: October 6, 2012

This fall, about three million children younger than 14 are playing organized tackle football in the United States. Is that a good thing?

For many parents and coaches, that means three million children are getting some pretty serious exercise, hanging out with old friends and making new ones, and unplugging from technology, for a few hours at least.

I see those positives. Yet if it were my call, those millions would be playing touch football instead. Many would be learning the fundamentals of tackling and other football skills. But they would not be playing tackle football until they turned 14.

The reason is simple. Tackle football is too dangerous for youngsters. Exposure to head trauma is too risky. What we know about football and the vulnerabilities of children’s brains leads me to this conclusion. More worrisome is what we don’t know. How will the hits absorbed by a 9-year-old today be felt at 30, or 50?

I’ve been treating young athletes for concussions and other head trauma for four decades. In an average year, I’ll meet with patients to discuss their concussion symptoms 1,500 times or more. I’ve treated children for concussions in any sport you can name, and a few you wouldn’t think of. I’ve seen pole-vaulters, BMX riders and tennis players. Not that long ago, I treated a young man injured playing Ultimate Frisbee.

I’m not in favor of abolishing any sport for children, football included. Sports have too much to offer young people. There is nothing like being part of a Little League team or competing as a swimmer, tennis player or golfer to promote perseverance, sportsmanship, fair play, to keep fighting until the last point in the match or the last out. These are traits that carry us through life’s challenges.

In light of what we now know about concussions and the brains of children, though, many sports should be fine-tuned. But many parents and coaches are satisfied with the rules as they are. They like seeing youngsters in helmets and pads, and watching them slide headfirst into second base. The closer the peewee games resemble those of the professionals, the happier we are. It’s natural for a parent or a coach. Even a neurosurgeon.

But children are not adults. Their bodies are still maturing. Their vulnerabilities to head trauma are far greater.

A child’s brain and head are disproportionately large for the rest of the body, especially through the first five to eight years of life. And a child’s weak neck cannot brace for a hit the way an adult’s can. (Think of a bobblehead doll.) A child’s cranium at 4 is about 90 percent the size an adult’s. That’s important to a discussion of concussions and concussion risk.

We cannot eliminate head trauma from youth sports. What we can change is our mind-set so protecting the head and the brain is always a top consideration.

The guiding principle should be that no head trauma is good head trauma. Let’s re-examine youth sports and take steps to keep young athletes safe. I would like to see these changes written into the rules across the country.

SOCCER Many parents and coaches are surprised to learn that soccer is not among the safer sports for head trauma. It is actually one of the riskiest. In 2010, more high school soccer players sustained concussions than did athletes in basketball, baseball, wrestling and softball combined, according to the Center for Injury Research and Policy in Columbus, Ohio.

Most of that risk comes from one play: heading the ball. When two or more leap to direct the ball with their heads, a number of collisions can occur with heads, shoulders and elbows. From a neurological standpoint, nearly all are bad. About 90 percent of the patients I see with soccer head trauma and concussion are related to heading accidents.

It’s an easy call for me: take heading out of soccer until the players are 14.

ICE HOCKEY The progressive leadership of USA Hockey and Hockey Canada have done most of the heavy lifting in this sport. Hockey Canada outlawed checking to the head throughout amateur hockey. In 2011, USA Hockey approved a ban on body checking before the age of 13. I would extend the ban on body checking to 14. (The previous rule permitted body checking for players as young as 11.)

BASEBALL AND SOFTBALL Batting helmets are mandatory at every level of baseball, yet it’s surprising how little we do to ensure that they stay on. Some youth leagues around the country have mandated chin straps for years. All youth and high school leagues should require them.

In addition, headfirst slides should be eliminated. When a child’s head plows into an ankle or a shin, the leg always wins. Worse are home-plate collisions in which the head of the base runner can crash into the catcher’s hard shinguards.

FIELD HOCKEY AND GIRLS’ LACROSSE

I have heard that girls would be emboldened to play more aggressively if helmets were required in these sports, and that the net effect would be more injuries, not fewer. I say hold officials accountable for enforcing the rules, and that will not happen.

In lacrosse, some officials now favor something like a bike helmet to protect the top of the head. That is not good enough. When helmets that cover the entire head are required, fewer young women will sustain concussions.

Field hockey rules state that players should not raise their sticks above the knee. But that rule is broken in every game, often resulting in concussions, eye injuries, cuts, broken noses and more. Helmets are needed, although they do not have to be as robust as football helmets.

]I would expect resistance to these recommendations from parents of the 16,000 players in Pop Warner football’s tackle division for 5- to 7-year-olds, for example. But let’s begin the debate.

Robert C. Cantu, a clinical professor in the department of neurosurgery and a co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at the Boston University School of Medicine, is a co-author with Mark Hyman of the new book “Concussions and Our Kids.”

“In The Water, They Can’t See You Cry”

Interesting thoughts from Amanda Beard, a 7 time Olympic swimming medalist.  The article, an excerpt from her book, chronicles Amanda’s successes and failures as a world-class child athlete.

A year after the 1996 Olympics, I ranked twenty-third in the world in the 100-meter breaststroke and twenty-sixth in the 200-meter.

My parents did their best to shelter me from the unanimous criticism of public opinion. I didn’t need anyone to tell me how bad I stunk; I knew that already. The harsh numbers of my ranking told the whole story. At least that’s what I thought until I got acquainted with a whole new kind of low.

I had come into the living room of our house to find the newspaper because I wanted the movie listings; I needed to find a flick I could lose myself in. After looking on the couches and coffee table, I sat on the recliner chair where my dad read the newspaper and all of his books. I saw a piece of newsprint sticking out from in between a stack of books. Thinking it might be the paper, I lifted up the four or five volumes on top. Instead I found a hidden stash of clippings and knew immediately they were about me.

Since the start of my career, my dad was my own personal archivist, clipping any and all articles about me so that I could have them later on in life. But after carefully cutting them out, he always put them into the big red scrapbook he kept in his room.

Reading the dozen or so articles in my lap, I saw clearly why these hadn’t made it into the book. Sportswriters called me fat, washed-up, and finished. I’d never do anything good in swimming again, they wrote. There it was in black and white, a complete validation of the negative voice playing on a loop in my head. It was true, I was a fat loser. The words I attacked myself with stared out at me from the page, causing a kind of sweet dread. I had suspected that everyone was talking about me, and they were. The shame — this wasn’t just a couple of mean girls at school but the whole world — hurt so much it almost veered 180 degrees into pleasure. I wrapped myself up in sadness like a martyr, then tucked the clips back in their hiding spot so my dad wouldn’t know I had found them.

For the rest of the article, go to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amanda-beard/amanda-beard-in-the-water-they-cant-see-you-cry-memoir_b_1397581.html?page=1