In 2000 a father in Reading, Massachusetts beat another father to death, after an argument over rough play at their 9-year-old sons’ hockey practice.
That could never happen in Westport — after all, we don’t have a hockey rink — but it forms the centerpiece of Dr. Richard Ginsburg’s work.
A sports psychologist and faculty member at Harvard Medical School, he’s spent his career studying youth sports — the good, the bad and the very, very ugly.
This Thursday, October 20 (7 p.m., Bedford Middle School), he’ll lead a “community conversation” and Q-and-A about youth sports. It’s called “Whose Game Is It, Anyway?”
The answer, Ginsburg says, is clear: the kids’.
But — in Westport and communities like ours across the nation — parents are intimately involved in youth sports. They want to do the right thing for their children — even if they don’t always know how.
Ginsburg is not some beer-swilling couch potato jock wannabe.
He coached at Williston Northampton, then got involved in the psychological aspect of athletics. His dissertation explored the therapeutic benefits of coach/player relationships.
After the fatal Massachusetts hockey fight, he co-wrote a book to help parents navigate their children’s sports experiences.
Ginsburg is a nationally known speaker on youth sports issues. He knows the challenges of communities like Westport, because he sees similar situations across the country.
“Sports is such an integral part of a child’s life,” he says. “There are so many benefits.”
But there are plenty of risks too: overuse injuries. Burnout. Stress. Over-scheduling. Exhausted parents. Debates about specialization.
“I started organized soccer when I was 9,” Ginsburg — who graduated from college in 1989 — says. “In this day and age, that’s seen as too late.”
Ginsburg has “a lot of problems with that.” But, he acknowledges, “it’s where our culture is going.”
In towns like Westport, families struggle with these and other issues. Parents wonder: How can I help my child succeed in sports? Do we put all our eggs in one basket? Am I helping or hurting my kid’s development?
“So few children become Division I athletes,” Ginsburg says. “But so many parents think their kid has that chance.”
In his talk Ginsburg will try to dispel certain myths, around subjects like healthy development and college acceptance.
“I’m not trying to make parents into scapegoats,” he says. “There are lots of cultural factors at work. I just want to strike a balance between being a youth sports parent, and letting kids develop on their own.”
Ginsburg adds: “There is no clear answer about what’s best. Every kid and every family is different.”
He will, however, provide tips on how parents can speak to children about youth sports; how parents can help youngsters perform well, and what to think about as they get oldder.
“It’s a complicated culture,” he says. “There’s a lot of different messages out there. And they move fast.”
(Parents, coaches and all adults involved in youth sports are invited to the free presentation. Registration is requested; click here. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 203-226-8981.)