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A Lesson in Heart: Why the Relative Age Effect is Wrong

Contrary to what some writers and sports analyst think being the smallest and youngest does not guarantee failure in a persons athletic career. Lessons are learned by team sports which go far beyond physicality, follow a child through their entire life and set them up for success.

My son is super active and in constant motion. We figured sports would help put that energy to use. We really didn’t give that much thought to the myriad of lessons learned through team sports. As we approach the end of the season I am reflecting on the amazing change and growth that team sports has brought in my child.

My son actually began with T-Ball and had an instant love for the sport. He took to it easy and made friends quickly. However, he is literally the youngest…I mean the absolute youngest player in the entire league. Due to when the division cut offs fall and when his birthday is. Much like school, in sports he is the youngest one out there.

Age is nothing but a number

If you have ready Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers, ” then you might have thought, much like myself, that having the youngest smallest child in sports would be to set him up for failure in life.  According to NY Magazine, one of Mr. Gladwell’s points is “…an initial advantage attributable to age gets turned into a more profound advantage over time.” This theory has become known as the Relative Age Effect and in my view is  bull.

Me and my husband initially considered theory for a long time and actually thought about holding my son back in school to ensure he was bigger, stronger and more mature when he began. However, intellectually he was ready and decided we would be doing his a disservice by holding him back.

When we signed him up for T-Ball, this idea came back to haunt me. Would he be the smallest? What if he is picked on? What if he struggle? How it effect his emotionally and scar him for life? Ok I probably was a bit over dramatic. But aside from the scarring him for life part all of that has happened and it is not a bad thing.

Season one and two

My son was the smallest. In being smaller and younger he did not have the motor coordination, at first, that the other players did. I watched in agony as he would miss ball after ball. However, my agony was not his. He was having a blast. He loved his coaches and they loved him as well. My son was learning what it was like to be part of a team and how to support your teammates.

More importantly he was learning resiliency. How to keep trying even if you might not get the results you want the first time. Each practice he tried his best. Never gave up and enjoyed every minute. By the end of the first year he was actually hitting the ball!

Season three

The second year brought new challenges. The size different between my son and the other kids were much more apparent. Likewise the skill level difference between him and other kids varied greatly. He fell somewhere in the middle, with older, bigger kids having more skill and motor control then he had. To my surprise there were older kids that were similar in stature to him struggled throughout the season.

Also, due to the cut off he was no longer in T-Ball. He was moved up (too soon in my opinion) to Coach Pitch. My son was scared he wouldn’t be able to do it and almost choose not the play. However, after meeting the coaches and other kids he wanted to try.

Sometimes he went game after game without a hit. Without a play or so much as touching the ball. There were a few times I turned to mush as he cried that he wanted to give up. The difference is he didn’t. He asked me and his Dad to practice with him more. (which we did.) He started to pay better attention during practice. With hands on his knees he was “baseball ready,” instead of throwing his mitt around the outfield.

While it was heartbreaking to see him leave the batter’s box dejected and sad, there was a lesson in this as well. It was a lesson about playing with Heart. Heart, Will, Determination, Fortitude, Resilience, call it what you will. It is what winning teams are made from.

You can see it time and time again when the underdog, underestimated teams blowing away their opponents. The 1980 US Hockey team, the 2004 Red Sox, and most recently the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.  In most cases it is not purely, skill, strength or physical prowess that does the job. It is Heart and that is what my son was learning.

His abilities to field, hit and pay attention long enough to get through an inning were finally starting to come on line. By the end of the season he was hitting pretty regularly and had a good grasp of the game. Plus, he understood what it felt like to overcome a struggle.

Season Four

This past season was yet another lesson. Most of his teammate were almost a full 2 years older then he is. Many were now in travel ball league. This meant they had skills far beyond my son. I mean these kids were turning double plays! He had just learned how to hit. However, what surprised me was the social struggle. It seemed like none of the kids knew where they fit with each other. The age and skills varied so greatly. The older kids were not very nice. With the idea they were better players they acted like jerks to the younger kids.

My son, who pretty much gets along with everyone,  had a really hard time with this. It was the first time he was encountering bigger kids who were being bullies. He doesn’t really find them in school because of the anti-bullying efforts, but here on the ball field they still exist. I had a big issue with this and was ready to pull him out of the league.

However my husband stopped me. He reminded me that he NEEDS to learn how to deal with them. IF he doesn’t learn these lessons now he will have a harder time in life when he encounters bullies in the real world.  Boy was it tough to watch these kids but I knew he was right. he had to learn to stick up for himself. If things got bad I could step in. But as painfully hard as it was I had to let him fight his own battle. Uggg!

He was right, my son did learn how to stand up for himself. The effort in overcoming his fear also brought with it a new confidence in his abilities. I watched in amazement as he no only became a solid hitter he actually began to hit it into the outfield. Along with this his fielding also improved. With the encouragement and knowledge of incredible coaches he has grown into a strong player and a respected teammate.

Lessons for life

Being part of a team sport has brought along its challenges but the lessons learned and triumphs have been so worth it. These lessons learned through sports are what will make him a success, not the month he was born and when his birthday falls.  So Mr. Gladwell you are dead wrong that the smaller, younger kids are set up to fail due to age disadvantages that follow them through life.

You didn’t take into account all of the people like coaches, players, friends and family who help to mold them. Mr. Gladwell you also did not consider the many athlete’s who were not the ideal physical specimen, who might not have natural talent but still achieve greatness through hard work, will and determination.

Yes, my son is still the youngest and his is still one of the smallest but like many underestimated people he has Heart and that is what you need to win in the game of life.

 

 

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5 Things for Parents to Remember on the Sidelines of Youth Sports

5 things for parents to remember on the sidelines of youth sportsPlaying youth sports has so many benefits. It teaches teamwork, leadership, and perseverance among other things. These are skills a child will refer back to their entire life. Becoming involved in sports helps to shape children into amazing adults, productive human beings and incredible role models. Having my children involved in sports teams it is fascinating to watch as they learn new skills, develop leadership and overcome interpersonal challenges.

Once of the most heart warming of sights is seeing my son light up when his coach takes special time with him to congratulate or teach him a new skill. Coaches have such an important role in the life of these beginning athletes. They teach them valuable skills and connect with them in a different way then a parent. [ctt title=”Coaches are role models. They are an important influence in teaching kids how to become good, well-rounded human beings.” tweet=”Coaches are role models. They are an important influence in teaching kids how to become good, well-rounded human beings.” coverup=”EK09j”]

For this reason I have always felt an immediate respect for these types of coaches, especially those who are unpaid volunteers. They give so much of themselves and their time to help make children into a better people. While coaches and the team setting are important, there is one piece of this puzzle than I am leaving out. This is the person who can make or break the childhood sports experience. That is the parent.

I look back on fond memories shared with my dad as he yelled from the sidelines of my soccer game. It was one of the few occasions in our relationship where I felt he truly believed in me and will always be something I cherish . Unfortunately, this is not always be the behavior of parents on the sidelines or youth sports coaches.

Since the inception of youth teams there have always been “those ” parents. You know the one. The one with a secret dream of become an NFL star, or Major Leaguer but never got a chance. These are the ones that do not just believe their 5 year old can be the next Johnny Bench or Magic  Johnson. They are determined to make is happen.

They get a bit overzealous and turn the game from being light-hearted fun into pressure filled warfare. We can all have be this parent from time to time but most of us can pull ourselves back from the edge and leave the coaching to the coach. However, their are some adults who forget these are kids and this is just a game.

It has gotten so bad that most youth leagues now require parents sign a Code of Ethics pledge. The code of ethics is intended to remind parents to well…act like adults. Apparently, it has happened enough times and in enough instances that a signed document is necessary to keep parents in check.

I can say from personal experience I became totally disgusted when a parent coach in my sons little league violated this pledge. He was a coach/player parent/league administrator and for years has used his position to cherry pick his teams. Selecting only the best, most experienced and oldest players to dominate over all others grade schoolers and win the championship each season. He had to secure the coveted plastic, baseball batter atop a metallic blue stand. The underwhelming trophy telling everyone he is a “T-ball Championship Winner.”

These are 6 and 7- year-olds! The dejected look on my son’s face knowing this team was unbeatable, broke my heart. To hear his team members sadly state they were going to loss before the game ever started, was awful. All for what? What skills did this teach any of them. What challenge did it present to the other team? All so a pathetic, broken man could fulfill his dream of little league domination.

In another instance there are the parents who cart there kid all over creation because the have to be part of a “travel” team. They must attend completions and tournaments. Don’t get me wrong if the kid wants to do this it could be a genuine special memory between parent and child. The problem comes in when the need of the parent to relive their glory days outweigh the logic of the situation. Like having your 7-year-old spend summer weekend in another state competing when all they really want to do is be home playing with their friends.

As parents we only want the best for our children. That being said, we all have the potential to be those parents. We just lose sight of why our kids are playing sports in the first place. To have fun. Here are five ways to keep yourself in check as a parent of a young athlete.

Model good sportsmanship

Recognize your child will take their cues from your behavior. If you bad-mouth another team or player they will think this is acceptable behavior and follow suit.

Recognize the team in addition to your child

It is important to not fixate only on the actions of just our child. Recognizing the accomplishments other players in front of your child helps demonstrates leadership and teamwork. Encouraging your child to cheer on and congratulate others will also foster these skills.

Demonstrate Respect

Always speak to other parents, coaches, umpires and referees with respect even when you disagree. Little eyes are watching and little ears are listening. If you are feeling to emotional to restrain yourself. Walk away.

Make sure you are not pressuring your kids to live out your dreams

This is a tough one and it is easy to fall into without noticing. Everyone harbors secret dreams that their 7-year-old child will be the phenome player heading to the big leagues. But sometimes these secret hopes don’t remain secret. Some of the warning signs are being overly critical if you child misses a play or expecting them to play at a level well beyond their age and physicality. If you are buying your kid expensive equipment they never asked for it might be a good idea to examine what emotions you have invested in their sport.

Remember you are the parent, not the player

Be attentive to the needs and emotions as they grow in their sport. Also know when to step back, let them learn and find their own way. Allow them to be a kid who loves to play without the pressure of being the best. Look for chances to encourage and build self esteem. When they make a misstep help them learn to deal with losses and mistakes with grace and dignity. If parents can accept their supporting role, instead of coach or former player, then a lifetime of teachable moments, beautiful memories and valuable skills await.

 

hint with a kick of natural caffeine

St. Patrick’s Day: It’s more than just green beer!

green beer

Photo from livescience.com

Wearing shamrocks, drinking green beer, and marching in a parade have become yearly activities associated with St. Patrick’s Day. Although the holiday began in Irish religious tradition, it has taken root globally. Making leprechaun traps are a regular grade school assignment in the US. Every year McDonald’s pumps out its, now infamous, Shamrock Shake and we all believe we are a little Irish on St. Paddy’s Day.

But beyond the festivities and merry making what do we really know about this holiday? Well for starters St. Patrick was a real guy. The day is to honor St. Patrick bringing Christianity to Ireland.

St. Patrick was actually from Britain. At sixteen he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as a slave. During his time there he discovered his calling. When he escaped and returned home, he became a priest. After sometime he felt another calling. This was to return to the place he spent 6 years as a slave, and spread his faith.  He traveled back to Ireland and set about converting the Irish people to Christianity.

So how did a feast day devoted to a Christian Saint go mainstream?

In the early 1900’s, St. Patrick’s Feast Day became a national Catholic holiday and the Saint’s association with Ireland grew. From there it became a national holiday in Ireland. Parades honoring Irish heritage and culture began to take place in conjunction with the feast day. When the Great Potato Famine occurred many Irish emigrated to America. They brought the St. Patrick’s Day traditions with them to cities like New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Today, although it is not a recognized national holiday in the US, St. Paddy’s Day has become a national way to recognize Irish heritage throughout America. Likewise, it has spread in an international phenomenon and is  celebrated worldwide in countries like Russia, Japan and Argentina.

What is the meaning behind Shamrocks, leprechauns and Green beer?

The Shamrock is more then just a green clover. It was the symbol used by St. Patrick to explain the holy trinity. The idea of a four leaf clover being good luck actually pre-dates St. Patrick according to thespruce.com.

Celtic dominance once extended across Ireland and much of Western Europe. It was the Druids (Celtic priests) who elevated four leaf clovers to the status of good-luck charms, allegedly potent against malevolent spirits. Their status as Celtic charms is the origin of the modern belief in their power to bestow good luck.”

Leprechauns were part of early Irish folklore. They are mischievous fairy like folk tasked with mending the shoes of other magical beings. According to livescience.com, in the leprechaun legend, these little being can use their magic for good or evil purposes. Should you capture a one of these wee 0nes, they will share their pot of gold with you.

According to Irish legends, people lucky enough to find a leprechaun and capture him (or, in some stories, steal his magical ring, coin or amulet) can barter his freedom for his treasure. Leprechauns are usually said to be able to grant the person three wishes. But dealing with leprechauns can be a tricky proposition.”

And then there was the beer..

Green Beer? This strange beverage is America’s contribution to the St. Patrick’s Day feast. According to thedailymeal.com, green beer was first served in 1914 by a New York coroner during a St. Patrick’s Day dinner.

A newspaper article from 1914 describes a New York social club serving green beer at a celebratory St. Patrick’s Day dinner. In it, the invention is attributed to one Dr. Curtin, a coroner’s physician who achieved the effect by putting a drop of “wash blue” dye in a certain quantity of beer.”

Apparently, green beer is so remarkable it can not be contained to St. Patrick’s Day alone. It now has it’s very own day called Green Beer Day and even celebrated yearly by Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

If you want to brew up your own green beer, here is a recipe from thespruce.com.

However, you celebrate St. Paddy’s Day remember Be safe, Be merry and wear the green.

(Sources: Wikipedia, celebratingholidays.com and History.com

 

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Moderating Family Vacations

 

cruiseIf you are like me, you love the idea of family vacations. Then you realize all the work you have to do as the mom and primary planner/packer/ organizer of said vacation. As I am writing this, I’m getting ready to head off on vacation and have a mountain of laundry, packing and cleaning to do before we leave. However, I take comfort in knowing  this time,  I can actually get to relax and be on vacation!

The only vacation where Mom’s get pampered

This vacation we are going on a cruise!  I have found cruises to be truly restful and restorative. Unlike other vacations where meal planning, itinerary and accommodations are still mom’s domain. With a cruise, once you set foot on the ship, you are received of your typical mom duties. There is an entire staff of people who will cook, clean, and do your laundry. For a few days you are relieved of meal planning, activity itinerary, and chauffeur responsibilities. All you have to do is step out of your room and well…nothing, you are already there. Go get dinner, see a show or sit in the sun.

I you are like me and have difficulty getting a babysitter. The child care services for most cruises are available for no additional fee. Trust me, the kids don’t want to leave their “Kid’s Club.” Everything in these areas are designed to cater to and occupy your children, giving you some needed free time. Not in a guilty stealing five minutes to run to the store without the kids sort of way. You are free to do absolutely nothing.

Once this concept hits, you it is life changing. Yes, some cruises, like Disney, can be pricy. However, you are almost guaranteed a great, restful experience and some quality family time with limited distractions. To me these days are worth their weight in gold.wp-1451440231899.jpg

There are a few things to keep in mind when cruising to make your trip as enjoyable as possible.

Don’t be bothered by the motion of the ocean

If you are prone to motion sickness, (like I am when my husband drives) you will want to pack some medication like Dramamine or Bonine. I like Bonine, you only need a half or a quarter of a pill to work effectively and it doesn’t make you as drowsy as Dramamine. Most large ships have powerful stabilizers that will prevent severe rocking. Also your body adjusts after about a day, so you might only need medication for day 1 of your cruise.

Research shore excursions

Depending on your itinerary, there are several shore exclusions to choose from. In some travel destinations going it alone can leave you victim to locals looking to pray on tourists. The cruise approved trips might cost more but they are backed by the cruise line. This also relieves you from the responsibility of having to find a way to get back to the ship after the excursion, which may be a problem if you go it alone.

That being said there are some good options for non-cruise shore excursions. Based of reviews some of these are offered at a lower price and can offer more than those from a cruise line. However, I would caution you to thoroughly research these offerings before booking anything. Likewise, keep in mind the political and economic state of the location where the excursion is offered.

Participate in theme or formal night

I know this adds a lot of extra items to pack but how often do you get the opportunity to dress like a pirate?  If your cruise has a formal night this is a great opportunity to get professional formal pictures. Let’s be honest, who has time to get this done at home? Not only are you creating  a special memory but you get a chance to get all dolled up and maybe even visit the ship spa in preparation!

Disney cruises have a pirate-themed night, and other lines offer Black & White nights or Tropical theme nights. These will vary depending on length, itinerary and cruise line.  If your cruise has a theme night have fun with it. It might seem strange at first to dress up as an adult, but it is a great way to make memories and have some awesome pictures to boot. Take the chance to channel your inner pirate and have fun with it. You won’t be sorry.

Don’t have to stay stuck in your cabin

There are plenty of activities throughout the ship. Plus, you can use it as a learning opportunity for your children. Ask about scheduling a ship tour. Some cruises will offer “a meet the captain” or “tour the bridge” event. It is amazing experience to see what a coordinated effort it takes to make the ship run efficiently.

Don’t feel guilty about the Kids Club

On our first cruise we felt guilty about putting our daughter in the nursery so we can have one dinner as a couple. Don’t. You need a vacation too and on board their babysitter at your disposable. They are specifically trained to care for your children and even if you are at dinner or the spa you are never more then a few decks away. If you have older kids they are in for a treat. There are fun activities and events every hour to keep your kids have a blast. Just don’t be hurt when they ask to go back to the Kids Club the next night.

Remember you don’t have to do anything

This is the only vacation that I know of where you don’t have to do anything if you choose and no one will be disappointed in you. No driving to visit remote relatives, trying to work around other peoples schedule and getting the guilty phone call when you didn’t visit your cousin Jim your last visit.

Take the pressure off yourself, don’t worry about pleasing everyone or seeing everything and just chill. On one of our cruises after having our son I was in such a mommy mode that I kept doing everything for everyone. That was until the wait staff stepped in and cut food up FOR ME! That was my cue to relax and let them handle it.

 

 

 

You are a gift

giftSince tomorrow is Christmas Eve, I wanted to take a moment to stop and express my sincere gratitude to each and everyone of you who read this blog. This year you have been my sounding board, my therapist, my conscience and my creative outlet. I feel I am blessed that someone is sympathizing with the plight of a working mom, understanding the up’s and downs of family finance, and enjoying some of the recipes created here.  You, readers are a gift to me.

In the spirit of holiday fun and merriment, I wanted to bring some video clips to get us all in the mood for a visit from Santa, or to light the Menorah . Have a wonderful, safe and happy holiday!


Why simple is better when shopping for toys

simple toy shoppingThis year Christmas shopping for my children was one of the hardest year’s yet. When they made their lists, I let them flip through the toy store catalogues and to get ideas. To my surprise, most of what they put on their lists were electronic. I figured maybe these are just the items that are more heavily advertised. As I examined further I realized a lot of the catalogues were comprised of electronic toys. Even traditional games seemed to now include and electronic component.

Toys that play themselves

For example Monopoly now features an electronic banking version. The players can actually use a credit card! No silly counting and learning the basics of finance for these kids. They can just charge it and have an in game calculator add and subtract for them. I remember the banking and playing with fake money as being one of the funnest parts of Monopoly.

This year there was a whole section of mechanized robots, electric powered scooters and toys that required a smart phone to play. This would be expected if I were talking about older kids maybe middle schooler or early high school since they tend to gravitate more towards electronics by that age anyway. These gifts were geared towards elementary age children. Ages where learning social and developmental skills found in play are still vitally important.

photo from Walmart.com

I am not against technology mind you. Some video games are fun, can be a great time to bond with your child and can promote strategic and creative thinking. However, as I perused these catalogues it seemed a lot of these toys would basically play themselves. No building, pretending, or imagination required.

Toys that last generations

A few years ago, I remember listening to a podcaster who stated she sticks to traditional toys for her kids. She found they would play with the new toy for about a day, get board of it and return to their block, Legos, or dolls. She believed the new toys don’t engage a child’s imagination. They basically do everything while the kids watch. Because of this, the interest in these types of toys is lost after the novelty wears off. They are left in the toy box while the old favorites are brought back out.

I never really thought about this idea until my children became school age. However, I can attest that it is true. All to often (mostly at my husbands insistence) we have shelled out big bucks for an electronic item only to see them go back to playing Legos or Barbie’s after a few weeks.

That being said, this year, I was to late to the electronics party and most of these items were sold out.  Such a bad thing. When I look at the items my children play with most and always return to they are as simple as you can get, a notebook, pencil and crayons for drawing and writing stories.

These simple tools take them on new adventures, engage their creativity and give them endless hours of fun. Maybe my children won’t have the newest fad toy out there this year but they will have toys that have been fun for generations. They will have toys geared towards active play. Items to help them grow, imagine and create a world that is their very own. When holiday shopping this year, remember simple is better.

 

This Halloween be a Grandma

PA250726It’s Halloween!!!!!

Today is a day were anyone can become anything. You can dress-up like a pirate, a witch or even a taco and no one will think your crazy. You can unleash your creativity, and weirdness and just have fun.

The year my family went as Telli Tubbies.

The year my family went as Telli Tubbies.

I am reminded of my grandmother, Mary Barile. Even at 95, she would still dress-up for Halloween. Not only would she dress up, she would also go to Halloween Horror nights. Yes…at 95! She was so much fun. So today, in the spirit of “Grandma Mary,” tap into your inner child, unleash your creativity, dress-up and have a great Halloween!

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