Monday, April 07, 2008
My husband told me yesterday that Sally Fields is going to address the Scientific Assembly of the American Academy of Family Physicians this coming September. Her topic will be osteoporosis. My husband was second author on a three year cognitive psychology study of infant and toddler development. He and the primary author submitted their paper on their findings which weren't monumental but definitely questioned some of the leading authorities on how children develop their cognitive skills such as speech. The idea was to create a kit that pediatricians and family doctors could use to administer tests to better assess a child's developmental growth. Their paper was rejected – twice. But now Sally Fields of "you like me . . . you really, really like me!" fame and star of those Boniva bone strengthening pill commercials apparently has gained enough expertise on osteoporosis and its prevention to be able to address a Scientific Assembly on the topic.
Who do we trust to guide us through our tangled lives? Rather than go through months, even years of detailed psychological counseling we look to Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura to give us a sound-bite band-aids. CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is a neurosurgeon and NBC's medical correspondent, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, is an otolaryngologist, yet they give advice on the entire spectrum of medical issues. This would be like going to an OB-GYN to have your prostate checked! The influx of media supported "experts" receives instant validation just because they are on the TV or the radio. Even Lynn Spears, the mother of Britney and Jamie, wrote a parenting book which blessedly has been put in hibernation by the publisher. But I really felt we achieved a new low with an actor giving a medical speech. ""I'm not a doctor, but I play one at medical conventions.""
The same concerns come with sports and who we can trust to give us good advice about our kids. What about the parents who are told by coaches that their nine year old child has the ability to make the national team, so they should hand him or her over to a particular club for training? Who can give them an honest assessment? If a player is good, every coach will attest that his or her club offers the best chance for development. How can parents tell if the assessment is sincere or is made because the team is missing a defender for next year and as soon as a stronger defender shows up, their child will be unceremoniously dumped? It happens every year to thousands of players across the country. Not exactly the type of self-esteem boost families seek for their children.
How do parents know which position their child should play? A coach needing a goal keeper will seek out and convince the most likely candidate on the team even if the player has great potential as a field player. On Robbie's club team half the players are former midfielders and still play midfield on their high school teams. But with a surplus of excellent players who also happen to be midfielders, they got shuttled around to other positions. Robbie never played forward until he got to his present club team where he got told he was a great forward. Now college coaches are talking about him as a midfielder. Who knows? I certainly don't have the expertise to figure it out, and if you ask Robbie, he says he'd rather play midfield.
Clubs have turned to a fairly rigorous training schedule. Who can really offer the best expertise on a training regimen and how it affects various age levels? Fitness, team tactics, skills, nutrition, and quantity, regularity and intensity of sessions share importance. What's the best mix? Add to this the on-going argument about specialization vs. playing a wide range of sports. The former is blamed for repetition injuries and body stresses while the latter is blamed for players becoming jacks of all trades and masters of none. When is the right time to shift to a concentration on one or two sports? Experts disagree and lay people manage to weigh in with even more opinions. Ask a coach and an orthopedist what the best training regimen is and you'll get some differing opinions. Then ask a sports trainer who'll confuse the issue even further. Finally ask a child psychologist and hear another approach. Each one has important authority on the topic, but each one also has a differing point of view based on what each sees as the benefits and the detriments of particular choices.
I'm facing a quandary right now without an expert in sight. Robbie is receiving emails, letters, and brochures about dozens of college camps across the country. Every letter touts how players are selected from the camps to be on D1 college teams and coaches exert anywhere from moderate to strong pressure to attend their camps. These cost $450 to $650 not including transportation to and from the events. There is also the veiled message that should you forgo a camp you are risking not being recruited for that school. What's a parent to do? First off the letters are sent to a significant group of players because the schools need to fill the camps to make them financially viable. Therefore you can't assume because you got a letter that you are one of the top picks for that school. You can definitely assume that the coaches either saw you play somewhere or heard of you from someone credible or you were on a list such as Olympic Development Program state team or on a competitive team or your name was on a mailing list they purchased. Elite camps for most schools are listed right on their athletic websites, so even if you didn't get an invite, you can still sign up. That takes some of the bloom off the rose. But I have to admit to feeling the same pressure to figure out which camps if any Robbie should attend. And the only experts are the same college coaches who are soliciting his attendance.
What I have finally decided in all this mess is to depend upon my own children to let me know what's best. Kids usually have a better finger on the pulse of their coach's intentions or their team's dynamics, so I trust them to figure out where they want to be and why. If they want to play three or four sports, so long as they aren't sacrificing one team's schedule and cohesiveness to serve another team's needs – in other words he or she is meeting all team commitments – then let the kids decide when they want to or if they want to specialize. The rule in our house was only one sport per season, but that was a mom rule because of scheduling and car-pooling. If a child is grunting when sitting down, he or she is either seventy years old or is training too hard or incorrectly. No child should need an ice bag every night and be popping ibuprofen regularly. Robbie picked his camps on the basis of location, school, and how much they would eat into his summer fun time. If he misses a camp that costs him recruitment, then so be it. There was no perfect answer anyway.
However, if you really need some answers, I suggest writing to Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. He played the coach in "Bend it Like Beckham." If Sally Fields can lecture on osteoporosis on the basis of acting in Boniva commercials, then it logically follows that Jonathan seems the right resource for questions on soccer development. After all he was actually in the movie – Beckham was played by a stand-in so what would Beckham know?