Thursday, May 24, 2012

On Athletic Success

Recently I was inducted into my high school's (Los Gatos) athletic hall of fame, and I was asked to speak for 3-5 minutes, so I reflected upon why I excelled at sports ("Cast of 10 Former Cats Joins LG Athletic HoF"). One factor was that I was (and am) extremely driven. I played with a lot of athletes who had far more raw talent than I did, and except for a handful, I don’t think any of them worked any harder than I did. I spent literally hours in the batting cage (if I would have spent more time fielding ground balls, I would have been able to "pick" like Mike Denevi, another member of the LGHS HoF, who also played at Santa Clara U), and this drivenness continued past my playing days when I turned my attention to academics.

However, drivenness can be a bad thing and needs to be offset by something else, and that something else is "fun." I think back to my days playing in Los Gatos Little League, Pony League, Colt, Thoroughbred, and High School, and while we almost always played to win, we also played because it was fun, and the coaches I played for (e.g., my Dad, Bill and Randy Frey, Scotty Downs, Phil Couchee' and Joe Zanardi, Pete Denevi, Joe Winstead, Wayne Senini, Charlie Wedemeyer), coached because sports were fun (granted, it's a lot more fun to win than lose).

Now contrast that with today. I think many coaches have forgotten that in the end sports are just a game. For example, three of my son’s friends will play baseball for a local junior college baseball team next year, and so this summer they’re playing for the college's summer travel team. Now, I understand the logic behind this—the team's coaches want next year’s team to be the best it can be, and the sooner the players start playing together the better—but can’t they just play on a team with their friends one last time? That’s what we did. The summer after I graduated from Los Gatos, almost all of us played for the Los Gatos Thoroughbred team, regardless of whether we planned to play ball in college or not (in fact, most of us didn't).

I suspect that a lack of fun is leading good athletes to quit playing before their time. I know of a local girl who turned down a soccer scholarship at a major east coast powerhouse because it wanted to control everything she did, from her class schedule, where she lived, and probably who she hung out with. But she wanted her freedom, and so she chose to not play at all in college. And I know of another girl, a top volleyball player in Florida, who turned down a scholarship to a premiere program because she burned herself out playing club ball for several years. And those of us who’ve been around for a while, will remember what happened to Todd Marinovich, whose father started his training regimen when Todd was still in the crib (I’m not kidding).

I guess if there’s a takeaway it’s that in order for our young athletes to succeed, they do have to be driven. They have to want to best that they can be. But they also need to have fun. So, I think it’s up to the rest of us, those of us whose playing days are in the past, to do all we can so that in their drive to succeed, they'll always have fun.


  1. Nicely stated
    The amount of fear that drives coaches, parents, people I suspect is a major player in the micro managing of young athletes.

  2. Thanks. And congrats on getting this posted!