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Why do American parents push their kids so hard when it comes to sports, but not so much when it comes to academics? – Publications – AEI

Summary:
AEI Why do American parents push their kids so hard when it comes to sports, but not so much when it comes to academics? There’s a dichotomy/inconsistency among many of today’s American parents. Many parents aren’t afraid to push their children really hard when it comes to athletics, and emphasize the connection between hard work and athletic achievement. Strict standards, scores, times and rankings are accepted as necessary and accurate measures of athletic success. Any type of cheating in sports is unacceptable to parents and coaches and would be met with strict consequences. Hard work, effort, and athletic success are more important to most parents than athletic self-esteem. On the other hand, many of today’s parents in the US don’t push their children very hard when it comes to

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Why do American parents push their kids so hard when it comes to sports, but not so much when it comes to academics?

Why do American parents push their kids so hard when it comes to sports, but not so much when it comes to academics? - Publications – AEI

There’s a dichotomy/inconsistency among many of today’s American parents. Many parents aren’t afraid to push their children really hard when it comes to athletics, and emphasize the connection between hard work and athletic achievement. Strict standards, scores, times and rankings are accepted as necessary and accurate measures of athletic success. Any type of cheating in sports is unacceptable to parents and coaches and would be met with strict consequences. Hard work, effort, and athletic success are more important to most parents than athletic self-esteem.

On the other hand, many of today’s parents in the US don’t push their children very hard when it comes to academics, they don’t necessarily believe in the connection between effort and academic achievement, and don’t believe that academic success is within the reach of any student willing to work hard for it. Establishing and enforcing strict academic standards has given way to less challenging curricula that emphasize self-esteem and vague concepts like “social justice” over academic excellence. Parents now complain to teachers and administrators if their children are disciplined for cheating and expect inflated grades and report-card mercy. Many high schools no longer have a valedictorian or have multiple dozens of them, rendering the valedictorian distinction meaningless, all in the name of greater self-esteem. That diffusion and degradation of academic excellence would never be tolerated in sports, where there are still state champions, state rankings for sports teams, and state records for sports like track and swimming.

Here are excerpts from two articles that illustrate that parental dichotomy.

1. From the Wall Street Journal article (September 8, 2017), “Why American Students Need Chinese Schools” by Lenora Chu, an Asian-American mother whose two sons (ages 5 and 8) have been attending schools in Shanghai (bold added): 

Another bracing Chinese belief is that hard work trumps innate talent when it comes to academics. Equipped with flashcards and ready to practice, my son’s Chinese language teacher knows that he is capable of learning the 3,500 characters required for literacy. His primary school math teacher gives no child a free pass on triple-digit arithmetic and, in fact, stays after school to help laggards. China’s school system breeds a Chinese-style grit, which delivers the daily message that perseverance—not intelligence or ability—is key to success.

Studies show that this attitude gets kids farther in the classroom. Ethnic Asian youth are higher academic achievers in part because they believe in the connection between effort and achievement … and they believe that success is within reach of anyone willing to work for it. This attitude gives policy makers in China great latitude when it comes to setting out and enforcing higher standards.

In the U.S., parents have often revolted as policy makers try to push through similar measures. In part, we are afraid that Johnny will feel bad about himself if he can’t make the grade. What if, instead, Johnny’s parents—and his teacher, too—believed that the boy could learn challenging math with enough dedicated effort?

Americans aren’t afraid to push their children when it comes to athletics (see below). Here we believe that hard work and practice pay off, so we accept scores and rankings. Eyes glued to scoreboards at a meet, we embrace numbers as a way to measure progress. A ninth-place finish in the 100-meter dash suggests to us that a plodding Johnny needs to train harder. It doesn’t mean that he’s inferior, nor do we worry much about his self-esteem.

Educational progress in the U.S. is hobbled by parental entitlement and by attitudes that detract from learning: We demand privileges for our children that have little to do with education and ask for report-card mercy when they can’t make the grade. As a society, we’re expecting more from our teachers while shouldering less responsibility at home.

2. From the Star Tribune article (first in a three-part series) “Year-round sports push kids to limit: Families are pouring in more time and money — and more athletes are burning out“:

The sport Kali O’Keeffe loved at age 12 had turned into a chore, devouring her free time, leaving her out of touch with friends. She was the starting second baseman for the [Minneapolis suburb] Chanhassen High School’s softball team by eighth grade and a major college recruit by 15. But O’Keeffe reached a breaking point before her junior year, on the way back from Tennessee, where her club team had played in a national tournament.

Three hectic years traveling to tournaments across the country and spending countless nights inside a batting cage had taken a toll. She sat down next to her father on a curb outside their roadside hotel. Crying, she told him the pressure of playing year-round softball was just too much. “When I told my parents, I felt so bad,” she said. “They had spent so much money on softball, and I just didn’t want to do it anymore.”

O’Keeffe is among a generation of Minnesota athletes who have pushed themselves to extremes, developing highly polished skills through year-round dedication to their sport, while their families make major investments of money and time. Her father, Bryan, said the family spent a minimum of $7,500 per year on softball, adding, “That could be on the conservative side.”

After seeking input from coaches, the Star Tribune spent the summer examining some of the most profound changes affecting high school sports in the metro area. What we found reflects the growing influence of year-round youth sports, where seasons and training never seem to let up. Youth sports are an estimated $15 billion industry, and the increasing specialization of these budding athletes is irrevocably changing Minnesota’s high school landscape in softball, baseball, soccer, hockey, basketball, volleyball and lacrosse — basically, every team sport except football.

The offseason is disappearing, fueled by an explosion of pay-to-play club sports that have scores of young athletes training year-round. While a select few, such as O’Keeffe, become good enough to attract college scholarships, others devote countless extra hours in the quest to make varsity teams.

In the never-ending blur of year-round practices and games, the importance of the high school season itself is shrinking, to the chagrin of many coaches. Teen athletes and their families spend thousands to play for club teams, attend skill-instruction camps and hire personal trainers and college recruiting advisers. A local baseball recruiting service offers a $2,400 guarantee that the teen will play college baseball — or their money back. “You see families that can’t afford to buy groceries, but they’ll somehow find a way to get a thousand-dollar pair of skates and get to New York,” Hill-Murray boys’ hockey coach Bill Lechner said. “It scares me; our priorities are out of whack.”

The Minnesota State High School League didn’t allow coaches to work with players during the summer until 1998. The league had faced pressure from parents who felt their sons and daughters couldn’t maximize their potential under the old system. “Our kids were running off and spending thousands of dollars for training in the offseason,” Bloomington Jefferson boys’ hockey coach Jeff Lindquist said. “We just felt it was a time to let them train in our community.”

For families seeking extra help attracting college recruiters, there’s help available — at a price. The Baseball Advising Team is one example, assuring clients they’ll play college baseball for $2,400. It works with the Hit Dawg Academy in Chaska, creating a training regimen to follow while the company networks with college coaches on players’ behalf.

I believe that anybody who wants to play college baseball can,” said Matt Paulsen, the company’s founder. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to be playing for Florida State.”

While some athletes and their families can approach these pursuits with open checkbooks, others can’t. In 2016, children from families making $25,000 or less were only half as likely to take part in a team sport as families making at least $100,000, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry.

MP: Venn diagram version above.

Q: What gives? Why the dichotomy/inconsistency? Comments welcome. 

Why do American parents push their kids so hard when it comes to sports, but not so much when it comes to academics?
Mark Perry

Mark Perry

Mark J. Perry is concurrently a scholar at AEI and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus. He is best known as the creator and editor of the popular economics blog Carpe Diem. At AEI, Perry writes about economic and financial issues for American.com and the AEIdeas blog.

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