Miami Heat

Remembering When Youth Sports Were Child's Play

Raising Your Game.jpg

Today's guest post is by Ethan J. Skolnick. Ethan is a sports columnist, a host on The Ticket Miami (104.3FM and 790AM), and the co-author of "Raising Your Game: Over 100 Accomplished Athletes Help You Guide Your Girls and Boys Through Sports." (a book I highly recommend!). As one of the most prominent voices in South Florida sports, I am truly humbled that he would guest post for me. Take it away Ethan! 


Over the course of 18 years as a sportswriter in South Florida, I have had the opportunity to interview countless prominent athletes, and in my current capacity as a columnist covering the Miami Heat, I have had the chance to interview two in particular--LeBron James and Dwyane Wade--countless interviews.

One interview was more enjoyable than all of the others, even if it didn’t last all that long.

It was enjoyable because it was so relatable, and it made me realize how every adult, if just for a moment, should take time to remember what it was like to be a child.

The interview occurred inside the Amway Center in Orlando, following a shootaround early the Miami Heat’s 2011-12 season. I was in the closing stages of my research for a book project, and I had been waiting for an opening to chat with James alone, in a relaxed setting. I stuck around through his 5-minute general media availability, briefed James about my project and asked when he would have a few minutes to talk about youth sports. Then, not to overstay my welcome, I started to walk away.

“We can do it now,” he said, tapping me on the leg.

So I started, speeding through the list of questions in my head, since I knew our time was limited by the Heat’s schedule, with the buses waiting to take players back to the hotel. I got through just three before he had to stand, because Wade had finished his own media session, and had come over to grab his friend and stroll out of the arena.

A couple of James’ answers – focusing on the importance of mentors – would make the final cut of “Raising Your Game: Over 100 Accomplished Athletes Help You Guide Your Girls and Boys Through Sports,” which was co-authored by Dr. Andrea Corn and is now available at and on Amazon.

The informal interaction between James and Wade, during their 100-foot walk, would take a more prominent place. It would become the book’s introduction.

That interaction came in response to a question I posed in the presence of both:

What did they play as children?

The two international icons suddenly dropped their guards, ditched their adult worries, and transported back to a much more innocent time. As kids of broken homes, they had escaped their challenging environments on their playgrounds. And, now as scrutinized superstars, they escaped the pressures of that status by returning to those playgrounds.

James started, by speaking of free-frog and kickball.

“That was the best game, because you didn’t need much,” James said, eyes beaming. “All you need is a dirt field, and you can find anything to make as bases, and you just go for it. Because for us underprivileged kids, we didn’t have basketballs all the time; we didn’t have courts; we didn’t have footballs all the time. So you find a little kickball. You can make a kickball anything.”

Wade broke in, to recall one of his Chicago favorites, VBB, which described as a combination of volleyball, baseball and basketball that was “so much fun!”

They appeared as interested in the other’s childhood memories as the reporter with the recorder, still sharing stories about the subject until they boarded the bus.

After I’d gotten them talking, it got me thinking:

Wade and James were describing what sports should be, for today’s kids. They should be free. They should be fun or, as Wade put it, “so much fun!” That fit perfectly with one of the major premises of our book--that, too often, too many parents and coaches were forgetting that fact. It’s not an accident that 70 percent of children quit youth sports by age 13. It’s often because the adults in their lives don’t act like adults. Too many of those would-be mentors do too much pushing, and too little listening. Too many of them are living vicariously through children, while limiting their horizons. Too many of them are limiting children to one sport or activity, because they incorrectly assume that such single-minded dedication will result in long-term success--not realizing that it’s more likely to turn off a young athlete than to turn him into the next James or Wade or Peyton Manning or Derek Jeter.

In the third section of our book (“Why Limits Matter”) we focus on those parents and coaches, to illustrate the pitfalls of youth sports when priorities are out of order. We focus on them through the eyes of elite athletes who are now parents--and, in some cases, youth coaches--themselves.

Many expressed alarm by what they have witnessed, and encountered, in youth sports settings: adults yelling at kids, umpires, coaches; forcing their kids to specialize at a tender age; focusing on outcomes over process, winning over development. There isn’t time or space to share all of their anecdotes and advice, but former Miami Dolphins defensive standout Jason Taylor – who has two school-aged sons and recently served as a flag football coach – had a message that bore repeating in the book, and bears repeating here.

“I think the same thing goes for parents and coaches—to an extent,” Taylor said. “Shut up and clap. Just shut up and clap. Let them have fun. They are not going to be pros. They are not going to make every play. Heck, we are paid to do it and we don’t do it.”

As a major league pitcher, most notably with the Atlanta Braves in the 1990s and 2000s, John Smoltz did it as well as just about anyone. Still, when he attended his four children's sporting events, he kept quiet. Other parents would ask why. “Because everybody else is doing things that are so embarrassing,” Smoltz said. “And I know the kids are trying their best. But you’re yelling encouragements that are just discouragements to kids. You go to a Little League game, and you hear, ‘Keep your eye on the ball! Get the ball down!’ You know if the kid could do it, the kid would do it.’”

But that’s the problem.

Too many adults don’t seem to know, any longer, what it was like to be a kid.

From time to time, they should think back to those days.

As LeBron James and Dwyane Wade demonstrated back on that 2011 day, during a casual and lively conversation, doing so can be fun. So much fun.                                                 


For more stories like this don't forget to check out Ethan's book on  or Amazon and be sure to follow him on Twitter

Don't forget to subscribe below

Become an Effective Cross-Cultural Communicator & Connector

The Road to Redemption For LeBron James and How it Applies to Everyone

It has been two days since LeBron James got his first ring and to say I am over the moon is putting it lightly. Not only is LeBron James my favorite athlete of all time but never have I been more emotionally involved in someone other than God, my family and close friends. But this is not about me. This is about LeBron James and what I have learned from him. Keep in mind I am not a journalist or anything. Just a fan sharing his opinion. It was in 2003 as a 13 year old eighth grader that I started paying attention to this 18 year old phenom that was about to graduate high school and declare himself eligible for the NBA draft. Here was a guy that had already graced the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 16 and had been deemed as the second coming of Michael Jordan before he was officially an adult-Think about it for a second BEFORE HE WAS 18!- But I digress.

Everything seemed to come easy to him. Upon graduating from high school, he was given a 90-plus- million dollar contract by Nike before playing his first NBA game and he was the darling of the media. Everybody loved him and how could you not? Here was a guy that had put up a 25 point, nine assist, six rebound and four steal effort on 12-of-20 shooting in his first NBA game against the Sacramento Kings. Here was a guy that had a triple double in his first ever playoff game. And who can forget his memorable game against the Detroit Pistons where he scored 29 of his team’s last 30 points.

Then there’s the fact that he reached his first NBA Finals at the tender age of 22. Albeit he ended up getting swept by the Spurs, LeBron was universally recognized as a man that had arrived and certainly deserving of all his monikers. He was the face of the NBA. Not many had anything negative to say about him. The MVP trophies came, the scoring title came, the All-Star MVP trophies came. All that was left to do was to win that NBA trophy but 3 point shooting Orlando Magic and the veteran savvy Boston Celtics would prove to be roadblocks along the way. At this point, some people had begun to doubt his ability to win an NBA finals trophy but he still wasn’t seen as a villain.

So after 7 years of constantly trying to win an NBA trophy and constantly falling short, he was a free agent and had to make a big “decision”. Little did he know that the decision he would make would forever change his reputation and the way he would come to be viewed. Ah that word, decision- such a simple word that means -a conclusion or resolution reached after consideration- would end up taking a life of its own.

On July 8, 2010, LeBron James announced that he was taking his “talents to South Beach” in a television special called "THE DECISION" and all hell broke loose! LeBron became a villain. His Jersey was being burned in his hometown, his former owner wrote a letter that absolutely vilified him and essentially called him a quitter and as if that wasn't enough he was being ridiculed by sports pundits and former players as a coward for supposedly taking the easy way out.

All of a sudden, he found himself in a position that he had never been in before. He seemingly had more “haters” than fans. A darling of the media had become a lightning rod and the most polarizing figure ever in sports. He was the brunt of so many jokes and his home state that usually rallied around him had deserted him.

So a guy that was forced to grow up quickly as a teenager and had been thrust into the national spotlight when most people were struggling with Algebra. A guy that had to take care his family since he was 13. A guy that had literally grown up before our eyes and anointed so many things was now the most hated player in the NBA and arguably the most hated athlete in the world because he decided to do what he thought best for himself.

Ask yourself how would you feel if you were suddenly hated and couldn’t go home and feel loved anymore? It cannot be easy right? But he had to shake all that off and move to a new city because he felt he was doing the best thing he thought would bring him a trophy- the one thing many thought would cement his legacy- and labor through a season where he would be booed in virtually every arena not named the American Airlines Arena.

He would eventually get his wish and reach the NBA finals in his first year but as we all know he and his teammates came up short.

The former face of the NBA now a villain had reached the top and now had reached rock bottom. He was in really unfamiliar territory now and what he decided to to do would pave the way for his redemption and ultimately his coronation. He would introspectively look at himself and figure out what he needed to do in his personal and professional life to improve as a person and work on those things.

He would work on his post game with Hakeem Olajuwon, rediscover the joy he found in playing basketball, propose to his longtime girlfriend and move his family to Miami. So throughout the course of the 2011-2012 season he would improve his game, surround himself with his family and friends and just play the game of basketball the way only he knows how to play. With joy.

This change was rewarded with his third MVP trophy, his first Finals MVP trophy, and his first Finals trophy.

It was not easy though. Take away the New York series, LeBron James and the Heat faced adversity every step of the way. Down 2-1 against the Pacers, Bosh out for most of that series, Down 3-2 against Boston, Bosh out for most of that series as well, Down 1-0 against Oklahoma and according to ESPN, Miami were the overwhelming underdogs.

Despite all that, LeBron James and the Heat prevailed and the road to redemption for LeBron was complete on Thursday June 21st 2012. The former media darling/ridiculed villain had vindicated himself and even his “haters” were forced to WITNESS greatness and hail King James.

I write all this not only to celebrate Lebron James but to show the world that even when one seemingly has everything, hard work, perseverance, and fortitude always wins out. It took 9 long years but it all panned out for leBron James and the rest of the world can learn from this. If you have a dream, go pursue it and be willing to do the work. In addition to that, make sure you have the right foundation of good friends and family around you.

-A Long Time LeBron James Fan Tayo Rockson

Become an Effective Cross-Cultural Communicator & Connector