PAINTER: Kids should be allowed to enjoy sports

Do parents push their children to excel in athletics? Some do.
May 15, 2013


One of the best cases for this was the relationship between father Marv Marinovich and his son, Todd Marinovich.

Last week, I watched an ESPN documentary called “The Marinovich Project.” It was an enlightening program.

Marv Marinovich, a lineman and captain for the 1962 University of Southern California national championship football team, groomed his son to be a “superstar” football player at a very early age. He had his son doing exercises before he could walk. The boy wasn’t allowed to eat fast food. Marv had advisors working with Todd in helping develop his skills.

Marv wanted his son to be the “perfect” quarterback. His program almost succeeded.

Todd Marinovich was a sensational high school quarterback. In 1987, he was named national high school scholar-athlete of the year. He broke numerous California high school passing records.

His exploits earned him a scholarship to the University of Southern California, his father's alma mater. He also had numerous offers from colleges throughout the country.

Todd, his father thought, was destined to be an All-American football player.

But there were some obstacles that Marv hadn’t considered. His son was using drugs — marijuana, LSD, you name it.

While Todd had a very good freshman year — he led the Trojans to a 9-2-1 record and a Rose Bowl win over the University of Michigan in 1990 — his career went into a tailspin the following year.

He eventually dropped out of USC and applied for the National Football League draft. In 1991, Todd Marinovich was the No. 1 pick of the then-Los Angeles Raiders. He was picked ahead of Brett Favre.

Todd lasted just two seasons in the NFL. Substance abuse took control of his life. Over the next decade, he was arrested numerous times, and was in and out of rehabilitation centers.

He now is labeled as a recovering addict and operates an online art gallery.

An ESPN columnist once called Marv Marinovich one of history’s worst sports fathers.

While the Marinovich case is an extreme one, there are too many cases in which parents take the fun out of youth sports for their kids.

I’ve seen this from my own experiences. My two boys played hockey for the Muskegon Chiefs organization. I witnessed coaches yelling at the kids. I saw parents berating their own kids for making a mistake. I saw coaches and parents yelling at game officials.

There were even some parents who mistakenly thought their kids were good enough to earn a college athletic scholarship or even a professional contract.

There are very few who make it to the next level. Dan Bylsma, now coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Justin Abdelkader of the Detroit Red Wings, are both products of the Muskegon Chiefs program. Their successes are rare.

I have to admit that I lived vicariously through my sons’ hockey experiences.

I played hockey as a kid. I was terrible. I didn’t skate very well and I couldn’t shoot the puck very hard.

My sons, Lee and Casey, were good skaters and they developed pretty good shots. They were everything that I wasn’t.

But I was realistic. They didn’t inherit very good athletic skills from their father. They were good, but not good enough to go to the next level.

I’m sure there are a lot of parents who have had similar experiences.

The most important thing is that the kids are enjoying their experiences.

Youth sports obviously have changed a great deal since I was a kid. When I was growing up, there were organized sports such as Little League baseball and football, but there were no “travel” teams.

We used to round up many of the kids in the neighborhood and play pickup baseball and football games. We were having fun.

Now, there are travel teams for baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer. There is nothing wrong with allowing your kids to participate in travel sports. The main thing is to not get caught up in thinking your child is the next Wayne Gretzky or Miguel Cabrera.

Let the kids enjoy themselves. Encourage them. Don’t berate them for failing.

We’ve all been there. We should let kids be kids. Youth sports should be fun.


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