So your little goal-scoring dynamo, your All-Star shortstop, your Pop Warner wunderkind wants to kick his soccer ball over the fence, throw his glove in the Dumpster and hand off the burden of playing football so he can spend his time grinding his skateboard on the curb and carving radical turns on waves at the nearest beach.
And all your calm, eloquent, reasoned oratory has failed to sway his resolve. You've talked about dedication and the power of teamwork, loyalty and duty, and maybe even, "Gee, I thought you always wanted to be a pro ballplayer."
But he no longer wants to be like Mike, he wants to be like Andy MacDonald or Andy Irons. And you don't even know who those guys ARE. (He doesn't want to be like pro skateboarder Tony Hawk or six-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater because you DO know who they are.)
He wants baggy pants, cool skate shoes and - even if he hasn't told you yet - tattoos.
As one promoter of action-sports shows described his target audience: "It's the in-between boy. He's not into girls yet. And he's not thrilled with cartoons. He's gone from playing with G.I. Joe to lighting him on fire."
The description elicits a nervous laugh from Huntington Beach's Laurie Bartlett, whose 11-year-old son, Eric, is taking a year off from his traveling baseball team to concentrate on skateboarding and surfing.
"We haven't had any fires yet, thank God, but that sort of sums up the 10-12-year-old boy," says Bartlett, whose 8-year-old son, Craig, is also taking at least a year-long hiatus from baseball to hang with his brother on the street and the beach.
"There's a certain cool image with all the extreme sports right now," she says. "So many of their friends are only into skating and surfing, that's it. All the birthday parties now are at skate parks. The boys on the street, that's all they want to do."
There is a clear analogy to the birth of rock 'n' roll. Early on, parents and critics alike scorned the new sound, but the kids "got" it, and, well, rock 'n' roll is here to stay.
Apparently, the kids "get" action sports. They are somehow relevant to the contemporary youth experience and, as a result, we're witnessing a seismic shift in youth sports participation patterns.
According to a study of sports participation by American Sports Data Inc., snowboarding, with a 51 percent increase, and skateboarding, up 49 percent, were the two fastest-growing sports during the first year of the new millennium. And estimates of worldwide participation in surfing and windsurfing are a combined 48 million.
Organized sports such as football, basketball and baseball - there were 11 million fewer baseball players in 2001 than the year before - all have shown dramatic drops in the number of participants. Only soccer has shown an increase.
In 2001, more people under the age of 18 rode skateboards (10.6 million) than played baseball (8.2 million).
The time-honored organized team sports still dominate youth programs, but ever-growing numbers of action sports - how about adding motocross, inline skating, BMX bicycling, wakeboarding, skimboarding, wall climbing, even paintball, to the list - are all carving their niches. Traditional team sports, such as football, basketball, baseball and soccer reflect traditional values such as teamwork, discipline, cooperation and sportsmanship. Unlike the organized sports, the new genre of extreme sports is based in diametrically opposed ideals characterized by individualism, rebellion, risk-taking...even defiance and aggressive behavior.
The board sports - surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding and the like - have gotten, even fostered, a reputation as a sport for bad boys over the years. Some parents don't see these alternative sports as legitimate athletic competition and don't respect the path their child has chosen. And even the most enlightened parents who have encouraged their kids to enjoy all that the Southland has to offer sometimes worry about the influence action sports have on their children.
"I love him to do anything outside, anything that reduces 'screen time,' time in front of a computer or video game or the television," says Stephanie Beck, who's 7-year-old son Ben plays Little League baseball, AYSO soccer and also skates, surfs and is learning to snowboard.
"And I think the balance and coordination those sports require are great for his overall growth as an athlete.
"But I also think the social environment of team sports is important for him. When he's skating or surfing, he's got one or two friends and they're pretty much doing their own thing. On a team, he's got 10 buddies and they're working together."
SPINNING THEIR WHEELS?
There's a skateboard ramp in the Bartlett's Huntington Beach back yard. Grandpa, Larry Schock, built it for the boys after studying a similar indoor ramp at a local skate and surf shop. Laurie Bartlett might have preferred a batting cage.
She still holds out hope that Eric, who was a Little League All-Star before joining the Huntington Beach Wave traveling team, returns to organized baseball. And she admits that some of her reasons are selfish.
"I love baseball, but I encourage the other stuff, too, because I want him to do what he wants to do," she says. "But with a traveling baseball team, you get to know all the parents really well and we've made a lot of very good friends through baseball, so it's really a social outing for you as a parent.
"I admit it. It was very hard to tell everybody on the team, '(Sob), we're not going to be back next year.' But we want the boys to be able to do what they want to do and we definitely don't want them to burn out, so if they don't want to play, we're not going to make them play."
Thirty years ago, kids played the traditional sports under very different circumstances. Sure, there were organized youth leagues, but they were low-key compared to today's standards, and featured short seasons and minimal practices. No youngster dreamed of making the commitment required of a young person competing for an elite sports club these days.
That wasn't the only factor driving Eric Bartlett's decision, however. You know all those "it doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game" speeches coaches like to give? Eleven-year-olds are way too savvy to buy into them.
"I kind of always really try to win when I'm in (team sports)," Eric Bartlett says. "When you surf or skate, there's no rules, you just go out and have fun."
And all those long practices? B-O-R-I-N-G. The importance of fundamentals can be lost on 8-year-olds. It's as if once you've learned how to field a ground ball, you've learned how to field a ground ball.
"If you already know something, in skating or surfing, you can just try another thing," Craig Bartlett says with a this-isn't-rocket-science matter-of-factness.
Clearly, an afternoon working on skateboard tricks in the cul-de-sac with friends has a very close connection to yesteryear's sandlot pickup baseball game. There are no parents, no coach to tell you to stop fooling around or acting silly and there's a refreshing freedom to act like a kid, which means you can even take your ball and go home if you feel like it.
"(In team sports] I get hurt a lot of times and still have to go to practices," Craig says. "Even when I'm sick, I have to go to games. (With skating and surfing) you just do it when you feel like it."
Ask any baseball/football/basketball/soccer player if he'd like to set up his own practice schedule...with the right to revise it at a moment's notice.
"Eric's a little burned out on baseball right now and he just wanted something a little more carefree, basically," his mother says. "Craig says he doesn't want to play this year, either, but I honestly think he's doing it because his older brother is doing it."
Both boys continue to play for National Junior Basketball league teams - Eric on the elite All-Net level. Laurie Bartlett knows first-hand that the time demands on an athlete who is still in elementary school can be overwhelming.
"You know, the practices just keep getting longer and longer and they have so much homework to do these days," she says. "It's hard to find two or three hours three nights a week to practice. Skating and surfing give them a chance to hang with their friends. They go out there and help each other work on their tricks and it's a time, you know, to just talk with their buddies."
When asked independently if they could be either the best baseball player or best surfer in school, both Bartlett boys picked "best surfer." At least they thought about it for a while.
KIDS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS
Ben Simich is 19, a student at Orange Coast College who works part time for the city of Costa Mesa Recreation Department at the city's Mobile Skate Park. The facility is set up at different locations to give as many kids as possible a chance to try the ramps.
He played soccer and basketball until the fifth grade, when he and a number of his buddies gave up team sports to skateboard on weekdays and surf on the weekends. He says they gravitated to board sports because they were more fun and less competitive than organized athletics.
"Coaches would yell at you or whatever," he says. "With skateboarding and surfing, you go out with your friends and you build off each other."
It's a common refrain from a generation that would rather risk skinned knees and bloody elbows to learn a skateboard trick than suffer the bruised egos and embarrassment sometimes associated with organized team sports.
Most parents - even those who complain about the lost time - look forward to those weekends sitting in a lawn chair or the bleachers, rooting on a child and his team. It's a family experience that bonds, they'll tell you. It's a valuable experience for children, they'll say, building discipline and teamwork skills and teaching sacrifice for the common good.
But those same parents - most of them loving and well-meaning - should check out some of the responses when Sports Illustrated for Kids asked youngsters what they liked least about the traditional team sports:
• "I hate it when my dad tells me how to do this or that. I'm not stupid. I know how to play the sport I play."
• "It bugs me when my mom asks annoying questions. And she tells me to do things when she doesn't know the first thing about sports."
• "Sometimes parents tell us to do the exact opposite of what the coaches tell us."
• "My mom always wants me to be a 'good sport,' but then when my team loses, she blames the loss on the refs."
• "Parents yell advice you don't hear because you're into playing the game. Afterward, they say, 'Why didn't you listen to me?'"
• "I feel embarrassed when my parents yell so loud the whole town can hear. They yell and scream and look like dorks."
• "The thing that bugs me the most is the parents who take it too seriously. Parents take losses harder than we do. It's like, 'No big deal. Get over it.'"
A recent survey of almost 6,000 children who had recently stopped playing organized team sports included these reasons: "I wasn't having fun," "There was too much pressure," and "It took too much time." Asked what changes would get them involved again, the top answers were:
"If practices were more fun," and, "If I could play more."
"Look at half of the kids coming off the field after a baseball or football game, their heads are down because they lost," says Gale Webb, coach of the 13-member Vans Pee-Wee skateboarding team. "And another half of the winning team has their heads down because they sat on the bench or struck out or whatever. But you should see the face of one of these kids when they pull off a new trick. A lot of kids these days get a big kick out of the individual satisfaction of accomplishing their own dream.
"Some call that a bad attitude. I don't."
A FALL INTO GRACE
Webb knows all about extreme sports...she was nearly killed when her primary parachute failed to open while skydiving. She broke her neck, back and both legs. After months in the hospital - and days when she had every intention of giving up and years of excruciating rehabilitation, she reached a point where she could roll a few feet on a skateboard.
"I made a promise to do something with my life," she says. "I started talking to kids in hospitals, telling them to never give up. I hated lectures as a kid, so I figured if I had something going on, I could get my message across."
In 1976, she started the Gale Webb Extreme Sports and Air Show, selling the message that kids should get high off the skateboard ramp rather than high on drugs. Hawk, skateboard's biggest name and a millionaire mother of three who lives in Carlsbad, was a scrawny kid in her show decades ago.
The ramps got bigger and so did the sport. Now, she takes her team and her message nationwide with exhibitions and demonstrations.
Webb's newest team includes 13 members, diminutive dynamos such as 8-year-old Mason Clevenger of Fountain Valley, 10-year-old Hanna Zanzi of Garden Grove and 11-year-old Drew Weaver of Anaheim.
"These are awesome kids," she says. "Drew is an incredible skater, a straight-A student and one of the best mini-motocross riders in the country. And Hanna, what a pistol. She just puts her hands on her hips and says, 'I'm gonna be better than all these boys.' Now she's one of the most aggressive female riders I've ever seen.
"When I picked these kids almost three years ago, they couldn't even go up a ramp. It wasn't about their abilities, it was their attitude. I picked them because they were the ones jumping back up after every fall and trying again, the ones encouraging the other kids to do the same."
Skateboarders as role models a parent could love? Don't scoff; it's a transformation taking shape. After all, skateboarding's half-brother, snowboarding, was recognized as an Olympic event at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan, and what parent wouldn't want their son or daughter to stand on the highest level of the Olympic victory stand fingering a gold medal while Old Glory waves and the national anthem plays?
While we're basking in the ultimate American dream, how about this sign of the mainstreaming of the board/blade/bike set: Last year's replacement for Mr. Coffee pitchman and American icon Joe DiMaggio? Bronze-medal winning snowboarder Chris Klug.
Webb, for one, says action-sports athletes may present a rebellious persona to the public, but that doesn't reflect their true character, their relationships with their families or their peers.
"I've been in this from day one," Webb says, "going back to when we used to try to find drainage ditches to skate in. Skateboarding has had such a bad rap and it's unfair. Right now, my goal is to show adults that this is a sport just like football or baseball or any other mainstream sport."
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS...
Stephanie Beck was a bit mystified by a certain item listed on Ben's Christmas list last year. She called her husband, Martin, and said, "What the heck is an 'Element deck?'"
"Martin told me it was part of a skateboard," she says. "I had no idea."
It's the platform to which the trucks are attached. (The trucks hold the wheels).
"It rides better and my feet don't come off," he says. Ben, a second-grader at California Elementary School in Costa Mesa, is a couple of months shy of officially becoming a "tweener," an industry term for a youngster between the ages of 8 and 12.
"Action sports are proving to be a very valuable vehicle for corporations to hit these 'tweeners,'" says James Leitz, vice president for IMG X Sports. "They account for $10 billion in direct spending and influence another $74 billion. This purchasing power is of great interest and this generation will be around for a while. They will be more powerful than the Baby Boomers.
"You could say action sports are the new ballgame."
Leitz, who became a member of a company known primarily for its athlete representation business - see Tiger Woods - when International Management Group bought his company, EventSource, in 1998, says his division has been "growing through the whole recession." And while the business climate has been very tough on most companies, Quiksilver was recently named one of the 40 top stock picks for 2003 by Standard and Poor's.
"I've been involved in action sports since I put on my first snowboard event in 1988," Leitz says. "It's a vibrant place to be. It's a creative challenge because you have to differentiate yourself and you have to put yourself in a credible position. These kids can see you coming."
Ben, the Bartlett boys, and many thousands like them know exactly what kind of skateboard shoes they want but can't afford, and which ones they will settle for. They want the name of a couple of certain surf/skate apparel brands on their T-shirts. And that's only the beginning.
The registration form for SportsBusiness Journal's 2002 Action Sports Summit this summer in Marina del Rey claimed that action sports "has captured the attention of a free-spending marketing demographic - a primarily male audience ages 12-34 - that spends more than $200 billion annually and influences another $300-$400 billion in expenditures."
"The youth population boom is here," says Mike Gerard, president of Gerard Sports Marketing. "There are more than 61 million Americans between the ages of 5 and 19 and this swell will continue. Like no generation before them, today's kids and teens are having a profound influence on social trends and family purchasing habits."
And Orange County is to action-sports lifestyle what Liverpool was to British rock. It's the epicenter of the cross-pollination of sport, music and fashion.
WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KIDS THESE DAYS?
According to one report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under the age of 10 should not be using skateboards. But what does the group know of Mitchie Brusco?
Brusco still rides in a car seat, drinks out of a no-spill cup and shares a bedroom with his 3-year-old sister in their Kirkland, Washington home.
But Little Tricky, as he's known, can careen up and down ramps and slide down rails with such skill, he competed in last year's Gravity Games in Cleveland, finishing 13th in a field of 14 amateurs. Of course, they were all at least seven years older.
Mitchie is 5. Forty-three inches tall, 43 pounds. Starts kindergarten next fall. He already has a sneaker contract. Yep, gets his skate shoes for free...but his mom has to tie them.
A California law now in effect means Mitchie will have to don protective headgear for more than a decade when he mounts his board. Skateboarders under the age of 18 must wear a helmet. Enforcement may not be much of a problem with the younger set.
"With Ben," Stephanie Beck says, "it's always, 'Which helmet should I bring?' The gear is a very big part of the whole deal."
Safety, of course, is an issue for parents. And the stupid-stunt fad created by MTV's "Jackass" television show certainly hasn't eased their fears, even if the numbers prove otherwise.
Nobody wants to see their child's knee look as if it had been rigorously rubbed with a cheese grater, but most board sport injuries aren't life-threatening.
Skateboard injuries account for approximately 50,000 emergency room visits a year, according to the AAP. More than 775,000 children under the age of 15 are treated in hospital emergency departments for sports-related injuries each year and about 80 percent of those are from football, basketball, baseball or soccer.
In all cases, only 5% involve a broken bone.
Most young people today are taught to believe they are special and can accomplish whatever they desire. And many of today's preteens and teenagers have been raised to be self-reliant. They are confident in their own abilities. For many kids, action sports mean less pressure to win, more fun hanging with their friends and a chance to express themselves, show their individuality and personality. These sports are challenging and there is always something new to learn. Missing is the yelling coach or parent.
And let's face it, these sports are cool; kids want to be cool.
But there's no need to panic. Be honest. Didn't your style of dress, choice of music, attitudes and behavior drive your parents nuts?
And look how you turned out.
John Weyler of Costa Mesa is a regular contributor to Churm Publishing, Inc.
Growth Spurts, Young Athletes
Physical changes affect performance
By Kimberly A. Porrazzo
What happened to Johnny? Last season he was fielding balls at shortstop like a natural and stealing bases left and right. Today, balls are tipping off his glove and he's overthrowing first base by a mile. Some would say he doesn't even look like the same kid.
What happened? The same thing that happens to every child, sooner or later. He grew.
Just about the same time young athletes begin to show real promise in a given sport, to exhibit long-term potential as a contender, and to have mastered the basic skills, they approach puberty - that period where hormones surges and growth spurts affect just about every aspect of their lives, including sports. The lithe soccer star who wins the MVP award one year may return the next year several inches taller and up to 20 pounds heavier. These proportions may hinder her star performance and affect her attitude toward the game.
Dr. Bradley Greenbaum, an Irvine-based orthopedic surgeon with fellowship training in sports medicine, says athletic performance is affected by sudden growth spurts. "When a child grows, their bones are growing faster than their muscles and tendons." Eventually, athletes grow into their longer frame, but until then, "it throws you out of whack."
Oftentimes the young athlete, as a result of rapid growth, develops into a gangly individual without enough muscular structure to support and aid coordination. A total structural misalignment of the skeleton is not uncommon, causing more stress and reduced performance. Perhaps that's why NBA star Michael Jordan didn't make the cut for the freshman basketball team.
Recall famed gymnast Nadia Comaneci, the first gymnast to score a perfect 10.0. During the 1976 Olympics, she had the look of a pixie, light and bouncy with a childlike build and virtually no body fat. Four years later at the 1980 games, she emerged as a young woman complete with curves, at least 4 inches taller and an estimated 20 pounds heavier.
Denise Porrazzo, YMCA gymnastics program director and an 18-year head coach, says, "Big growth spurts can affect timing in gymnastics." Also an internationally rated judge, Porrazzo has watched young gymnasts develop from little girls into women while continuing to compete. "Most girls seem to grow at a steady rate and handle it, plus a number of gymnasts are small anyway," she notes. But timing is critical. "They may have to go back and review the fundamentals leading up to the skill."
While growth in a sport like women's gymnastics can be a detriment, in many other sports it helps an athlete's performance. Remember Danny Almante, the Little League pitcher who lied about his age in the 2001 Little League World Series? His domineering size and strength as a pitcher won him worldwide acclaim, until it was found that he falsified his birth certificate.
But it's that sticky in-between period when the kids and coaches can become discouraged. Somewhere between the ages of 11 and 14 (early adolescence), kids shoot up and pack on the pounds. Differences of 15 to 50 pounds and up to 6 inches in height are possible when comparing kids of the same age. This can result in a natural clumsiness and loss of skills.
According to Greenbaum, during this period of growth, "the muscles and tendons aren't stretching out at the same pace (as the bones). The muscles tighten up, especially around the knee joint." The child simply isn't as flexible as he once was. The good news is that between 15 and 18, growth stabilizes and skill levels begin to once again improve.
Greenbaum also suggests that the timing of growth spurts often determines the sport in which a child will be successful. "When it comes to growth spurts, those that mature earlier tend to be track and field stars, taller and somewhat stronger, perhaps better sprinters. While those that mature later might excel at gymnastics or diving because they are smaller."
A more important issue than performance is safety. "Every other child athlete who comes to my office complains of pain behind the kneecap. A lot of times it has to do with the fact that hamstrings have tightened so dramatically because of bone growth that there's this large pull backwards. It develops where the kneecap is under constant pressure to be pulled into the knee."
Denise Porrazzo says this is a major complaint among her gymnasts. "It's a big problem for prepubescent gymnasts - the knee pain associated with the pulling on the patella tendon that occurs with growth spurts in the leg."
Greenbaum stresses the importance of stretching the muscles during the adolescent years. "We worry about bone growth when muscles aren't stretched on a continual basis. If they're higher-level athletes, they should be on a program at home where part of their routine is getting down on the ground and stretching."
Overuse is another problem that is exacerbated by sudden physical changes. This occurs most often in the ankle, knee, and elbow. Many a Little Leaguer has complained of elbow pain. This is primarily due to the fact that the soft tissue (tendons and muscles) simply can't keep pace with the rapid bone growth. Coaches should be careful not to overwork young athletes.
Greenbaum notes that if athletes can be patient during the several years that their bodies are adjusting, it will pay off in the long run. "The child develops neuromuscular pathways as they're growing that connect point A to point B. Knowing how to throw a baseball - that's pretty much hashed out by ages 10 to 12 and it's always going to be like that."
All too soon, you're older. But at least you've stopped growing. "At age 40 he should throw a baseball and look like he knows what he's doing."
Kimberly A. Porrazzo of Lake Forest is a regular contributor to Churm Publishing, Inc.