If anyone can write about youth sports, it’s Tommy Greenwald.
The Westport native captained Staples High School’s 1978 state championship soccer team. His son Joe followed in his footsteps, as a Wrecker soccer captain. Another son, Jack, captained the lacrosse squad and played football. A third son, Charlie, also played youth sports.
Plus, Greenwald is a writer.
He’s authored several young readers’ series: the “Charlie Joe Jackson” books (named for his kids), Crimebiters (think dogs), and sports stories aimed at 10-12-year-olds like “Game Changer” and “Dinged” (football) and “Rivals” (basketball).
Some of those books took on serious subjects, like injuries.
Now, with “The Ultimate Goal” — the first in a series called “The Good Sports League,” and published officially tomorrow — Greenwald aims at younger (7- to 10-year-old) readers.
He does it with a theme that should not be necessary for kids that age, but sadly is: Sports should be fun.
The quick synopsis: Ben loves soccer. He’s got a great team, with cool pre-game chants and halftime jokes. He and his friends invent dances after they score.
Ben is so good, he’s recruited away from his rec team by a more prestigious travel club. His new team plays well, but they take soccer super-seriously. No chants, no juice-box breaks, no dancing!
They win a lot. But, Ben wonders: Is that all that matters?
“This is very personal,” Greenwald says.
“Growing up, my team was a canary in a coal mine. We were one of the first to travel.” (Full disclosure: I coached that team for a couple of years, right after college.)
But, Greenwald adds, “I never remember pressure like kids feel today. They’re thinking about college from Day 1. A game turns into a job. There are premier teams, academy teams, showcase tournaments, identification camps …
“The ‘next prize’ is always in mind. And it starts at younger and younger ages.
“I just had a blast. That was enough.”
Greenwald saw the beginning stages with his own kids (now all out of college).
Now, he says, “the only way to have a carefree attitude is to play at the lowest level.”
“The Ultimate Goal” — a great title, working on several levels — is the first in a series of books about the joy of playing.
This fall, Greenwald will publish one about a softball player who loves to sing and dance. She’s just 10 years old, but already her coach is pressuring her to concentrate on her sport. And wouldn’t you know it: Opening night of the school play and the championship game are the same night! What will she do?
He hears stories all the time, most recently from a friend’s son who felt pressure to give up lacrosse to concentrate on football.
“People used to look up to 3-sport athletes,” he says. (His wife Cathy Utz’s brother was a 3-sport captain at Staples.) “Then it happened in high school. Now the demand to focus on only one thing happens at a comically young age.”
The lack of fun and pressure to specialize are not the only youth sports issues Greenwald addresses. The third book in his “Good Sports League” series will appear next spring.
It’s about a young baseball player, whose father attacks umpires.
“Sadly, there’s an endless trove of story ideas,” Greenwald notes.
Is there a solution?
“I don’t know,” the author and self-described “lapsed athlete” says.
“It starts with awareness. I fully admit, I was a parent who lost perspective. I got wound up. I was upset if my kid’s team lost.
“Now I’m embarrassed. That was ridiculous. Why was I so wrapped up in what my kid’s team did?
“It’s almost like an addiction, or a cult. That was me?”
However, he adds, “I don’t envy parents. In a town full of A-listers, if your kid has talent, you feel like you owe it to him or her to maximize it — even if they don’t want to do it, or do it on your timetable.”
His job, he concludes, “is not to tell readers (or their parents) what to think. It’s just to encourage them to think, have conversations, ask questions.”
Game on! Play ball!
(For more information, and to order “The Good Sports League: The Ultimate Goal,” click here.)
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