PLAYING TO WIN Turns 3 (and 4!)

It has been almost exactly three years since Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture was released. And people continue to read it, which is definitely an amazing feeling. In fact, sales are up this year! Mostly this is thanks to professors assigning the book/excerpts in classes, and I can tell you that few emails are better to read than those that come from undergrads assigned to read your book sending you emails/thoughts/complaints/suggestions. So, thank you! As I teach the book myself now, and still speak to parent/school/community groups about issues related to competitive afterschool activities, I do have some things I would do differently now, if I could.

  1. Technology- Back when I was doing fieldwork for Playing to Win technology was an issue that I could have highlighted more. By this I mean not only the rise of iPhones and iPads, but also the role of technology in the activities themselves (websites ranking young players nationally, eliminating small ponds almost entirely) and in the college application process (both IT like the rise of the Common App which makes it easier to apply to more schools at once, and transportation technology that makes it easier to get to farther flung locales). Since I concluded fieldwork technology has only increased, making long (soccer) road trips easier for some thanks to iPads, and continuing to increase teaching and training capabilities with chess. Moreover, traditional media, but especially social media, has made stars out of young competitive dancers in a way unimaginable a decade ago. So, in short, technology would be a much bigger part of the Playing to Win story today.
  2. Inequality/pathways- As I've previously blogged about, I should have *explicitly* addressed inequality more. This is particularly true when it comes to the role that competitive afterschool activities play in reproducing class inequality, especially as it relates to the unequal distribution of competitive kid capital. So I would have hit that over the head a bit more. Similarly, while I say it, I needed to emphasize even more that pursuing the pathway of competitive afterschool activities is not the only way, or even required, for elite college admissions (but now nearly all the Playing to Win kids are in fact college age, and I know where some ended up, so it would be interesting to follow-up and present where they go and how they and their families think the youth activities did or did not make a difference). That said, if you are applying to these schools from areas like Wellesley, MA or Marin County, CA or Winnetka, IL, then this is likely the path you will need/want to follow. In fact your childhood family will likely have made choices similar to many Playing to Win families during, or even before, you were in grade school. I make these statements without any value judgment. Instead I emphasize that, for better or for worse, this is how the world of upper-middle class American childhood is currently organized, and the book explains how and why it is organized in this way (without suggesting ways to change it, or even if it ought to be changed). The goal is to give the reader context to make their own decisions and create an informed opinion.
  3. Advice to parents- All that said, many readers/audiences *do* want more advice, and practical advice at that. For instance, how to decide on a particular competitive afterschool program, or coach? Or, when to know it is time to stop? I have not only informed opinions here, but also some answers drawing on research outcomes by both myself and others. So I likely would add more of that in an updated conclusion, even if it's not "traditional" in an academic book. It would build on my "buffet" approach. Or, you could just invite me to speak to your group to learn more. ;)

It has been interesting to see how all the Playing to Win issues are beginning to play out in my own life now that I am a parent (when the book came out I was expecting #2). My now 4.5-year-old has sampled all three of the Playing to Win case studies (and then some).

  • Chess- This is probably the most "us" activity in my family unit. When I posted that Carston had started chess on Instagram I wrote, sincerely, that, "For anyone who knows us, that this is happening is perhaps 0% surprising."

I would still not say that he is really playing chess, but he knows how the pieces move and he is making an attempt. Carston really likes games and puzzles, and has good spatial awareness, so this could be a good fit.

First ever #checkmate! #littlemaster #chess #rhodyboy #scholasticchess

A photo posted by Hilary Levey Friedman (@hleveyfriedman) on

That said, I know how much work you have to actually put in to be good at chess, even at young ages, and unclear if that will be in the works. At the moment he only plays with his instructor, never with a parent. Soon hopefully he can play with other kids and perhaps in kindergarten play in some non-rated tournaments and see how he likes it (especially given that he is the child who WAILED after losing Chutes & Ladders, a game which I explained is almost entirely due to chance).

  • Dance- This has been a much more textured experience thus far. He actually did a dance class and recital last year, before we moved to Rhode Island. The recital wasn't a very positive experience because he didn't feel very prepared (they started the routine about a month before the recital, which doesn't work great with 3-year-olds!). Also, even at the recital, the littles didn't perform until after intermission, which meant sitting through a lot before their turn. But when we moved to Rhode Island I knew that there were several great dance studios in the area. I did quite a bit of online research watching videos (for technique), reading teaching philosophies, and looking at schedules/curriculum. I was very happy with the studio I settled upon and he generally had a great experience in a tap/ballet combo class. I especially loved that the dance studio doesn't have observation windows and only allows parents to observe twice per year (this is part of that practical advice I mentioned above that I give- I tell parents do your research BEFORE you sign up, and then step back and let the teacher/coach/program handle the instructing because chances are very slim you actually know more about instructing/teaching little people in a particular activity). Here he is at the second observation in the spring.

Someone was super excited I came to observe his combo class this week! #boysdancetoo #littletapperswag #beourguest #rhodyboy #zulily

A photo posted by Hilary Levey Friedman (@hleveyfriedman) on

I noticed one particular mom at the observation week. She had brought in a high quality camera and sat off a bit by herself (a few seats down from where most of the other moms had clustered in the chairs in the center of the room). When it came time for the kids to "perform" what they had learned already of their recital routine, this mom got very agitated. I saw her go up to her daughter and say something, and then (keyed to her at this point with my fieldworker hat on and not my mom hat) heard her hiss from her seat, "You know this! Why aren't you doing it right?!" Nothing so out of the ordinary unfortunately in a lot of kids' activities, but not someone I'd want to hang with as a mom.

When it came time for the dress rehearsal I noticed both she and her daughter weren't there, but thought maybe they had left the class/studio. But lo and behold on recital day they were there. Oh, yes, they were there.

Again, the camera was around her neck (I was a backstage mom mainly because Carston was the only boy-- more on that in a few) and she was backstage to try to get good snaps, not to help the kids (in fact I took her daughter to the restroom before the performance as she was positioned in the wings already). In any case, when they went out to perform of course the kids were a tad overwhelmed by the stage lights and audience. They had a helper who tried to get them into their line-up spots as quickly as possible. This little girl-- I'm sure partly because she missed dress rehearsal-- was late to her spot and confused at the beginning. Her mom, beside me in the wings, starts saying, "Someone has upset her! Oh, GREAT, now she's not going to do the routine the right way!" She kept going on and on and I finally said, "They are adorable, and they are only 4-6 years old, it's no big deal!" Needless to say she walked away from me to a wing further upstage where she proceeded to stage whisper at her daughter! By the time they finished the routine (which they ALL did admirably for their age) the little girl came offstage in TEARS.

Now, I have been to about 20 child beauty pageants. I have been to more dance competitions than I can count. I have been to double-digit chess tournaments where tears happen all the time. But I never saw something like this. Instead of comforting her crying daughter this mother stalked off with other kids from the class. It was deliberate and it was cruel. I tried to comfort the little girl, while telling all the kids (including mine!) that they did a great job. The mom finally took the girl off on her own. Poor thing.

Note I say all the other little girls, because my guy was the only guy in this class. He's started to notice things like this a bit more, but it still doesn't really bother him. About halfway through the year he told me he didn't want to keep doing dance though. We talked about it and he mentioned the "girls" weren't friendly to him (which I am guessing was some combination of being a boy, being a touch younger, and not going to school with any of them), which I didn't quite believe. Note every time he actually went to class he was happy. But on his own he came up with a compromise, "I will do the recital, but after that, no more dance." I agreed that made sense.

Then the dress rehearsal happened. Now first of all, you can't tell me this isn't a little guy who wanted to be there:

img_7405At the dress rehearsal they had some trophies out. Those gold, somewhat cheap and tacky, trophies I write about in Playing to Win. And my child was SEDUCED by them. "Mommy, how do I get that?!" We asked the studio owner and she explained that after you do five years of recitals you can earn one of those trophies. To which he immediately declared, "Ok! I am going to do five!" I said we would talk after the recital. And sure enough he said he did want to keep dancing this year. So he'll be back in a combo class and we will see what happens... But it blew my mind to see the trophy culture up close and personal and see how effective it can be with little kids.

  • Soccer- Of the three Playing to Win case studies this has been the least successful by far, especially for my older son. Again, before we moved to Rhode Island, he had tried soccer. But the soccer he did was a class in a gym, not outside on a field trying to work with teammates. He started off the "season" super psyched.

93a(If you read this blog regularly you may remember my post last year about what to do about those pink shin guards...)

And the first practice was a success:

101But things quickly unraveled for two reasons. 1) My child (much like his mother) doesn't love being cold. And when the weather turned his attitude turned as well. Not much to do about that with a 3-year-old... 2) More significantly, the "coach" of his team was not very engaged. He never once referred to the kids by their first names-- in fact, I'm not even sure he ever knew them. That just doesn't fly with 3-year-olds. He knew about soccer, but not how to instruct such young kids. The "head" coach for the little ones did have great energy and activities, and when Carston had him he liked soccer much better.

But this reminded me of advice I give to others: Always ask *who* will be working with your child. A program might be great, but if you don't know who will actually work with your child, no guarantees. Many think it will be "easy" to work with the youngest kids, but it's actually quite a different skill set to do it well.

Following advice I also give others-- to stick with the commitment you made but not recommit if your child hates something-- we aren't doing soccer again this year. Until very recently whenever I asked he adamantly said he didn't want to do soccer. His interest is (only slightly) piqued again post-Olympics, but I decided that better to take a year or two off and then try again so he doesn't completely sour on it. Because honestly this "official team photo" pretty much sums up how it ended:

161aIf anything my challenge with my eldest son is that in general he likes/wants to explore and try most everything. I have to resist overscheduling him for sure. He also does swim lessons (mainly for safety purposes, NOT because we have dreams of Phelps-ian glory), gymnastics and karate for a "sport" (and I would think in the next year or two we'll have to choose between these two as they are similar in terms of being a solo physical activity-- though not surprisingly he's super into the different colored belts/stripes he can earn), and music lessons. I've surprised myself by how Tiger Mom-ish I am when it comes to the music. He did a Suzuki sampler class last fall and himself chose (unexpectedly!) the cello after trying violin, flute, guitar, and piano. I need to read some of the Suzuki texts more closely (more to come!) but it is *significantly* more expensive than other activities so I feel like we need to really do it "right." I have mixed feelings about the parent needing to be in the room, which is part of the reason I need to read up more on this. Here he is trying out a new, larger cello for this upcoming year's lessons:

No need to start referring to me as Hilary Chua quite yet though... In the meantime, I get to start all over with my youngest son, Quenton, as he starts exploring the Playing to Win activities, and more!

Watching the Brie Train: Douglas Family Gold

It's an established fact that I like gymnastics, and I love reality TV. So you can bet when there is overlap I'll be watching. Enter Douglas Family Gold. douglas-family-goldOxygen aired the six episode (30 minutes each) series beginning in May 2016, though the action all takes place in 2015 as Gabrielle Douglas (aka Gabby/Brie), reigning Olympic All-Around Gold Medalist, begins her comeback to make the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

There isn't a lot of gymnastics in the show, but there is a lot of [manufactured] drama. Save for one instance, the real drama remained behind the scenes.

When the show starts there is nary a mention/discussion of why Gabby is in Ohio and her family is in Los Angeles. Anyone who casually followed the London Games knows that Gabby, a Virginia native, moved to Iowa to train-- a move away from her natal family into the home of another family, but which ultimately helped her secure Olympic gold. So why Ohio and not Iowa? Why a coach in Ohio then and not California? The silence is deafening. (In fact in 2013 and 2014 she did return to Iowa, but lawyers/agents/family got involved, which is what led her to Ohio...)

Another drama that didn't make the show was injury (though some might question if it is even a "real" drama). According to Douglas' momager, Natalie Hawkins, in a statement this month after the Olympic team was named, Gabby actually competed with a knee injury in the World Championships shown in the penultimate episode of Douglas Family Gold. It is an odd omission and in an article right after the revelation was made, Gabby's reaction is telling: "'Mom, really?' Douglas burst out when asked about a previously undisclosed right knee injury the gymnast suffered just before the 2015 World Championships....Hawkins, wearing her daughter's diamond-studded Team USA necklace, added that Karolyi also knew the issues surrounding the coaching changes since a comeback 21/2 years ago."

These lines reveal the real underlying drama in the Douglas family: that the family of six (four children and Hawkins, plus Hawkins' mother) appear to be fully supported by Gabrielle's gymnastics career and the promotional opportunities surrounding it. Again, telling lines from a recent article, this one from The New York Times: "But the turmoil in the gym was soon matched by new distractions outside it. Finally training in one spot at Buckeye, Douglas chipped at her focus anew last year when she was featured on a reality program called 'Douglas Family Gold,' taping the six episodes at a time when most of her United States Olympic rivals were focused solely on training. Douglas’s mother and business manager, Natalie Hawkins, who is in charge of what can loosely be described as Gabby Inc., said that the show fit seamlessly into Douglas’s days, and that it actually helped Douglas relax. Hawkins said last week that she was hoping the show would be awarded a second season."

On the one hand it's not surprising that "Gabby Inc" exists, or that her sisters in particular are on what I would call the "Brie Train." This is common enough in the sports and entertainment industries (think Entourage). This is also quite common with child performers of all stripes (think Britney Spears and Alana Thompson, aka Honey Boo Boo). And at least her sisters appear to be working, helping design leotards in the hopes of parlaying that into other design opportunities, even if that work is based on their sister's individual success.

What is different in Douglas Family Gold is the age of the athlete; though she is now of age, when all this began Douglas was a minor. It is also important to note that this sort of scenario impacts young females much more than young males, partly because of differences in onset of puberty. Of course, this is an old story in gymnastics (read Little Girls in Pretty Boxes for more on commercialism and cashing in on young athletes), but worth noting. This reality show reveals that this scenario crosses racial boundaries as well.

Another difference is that with young performers there are multiple opportunities to "make it"/excel. For Olympic cycle athletes there is basically one big shot to make it. A lot of pressure on small shoulders, however muscled they may be. Minor performers' earnings are partially protected by Coogan laws (check out some of my previous writings on this here), but no such protection is in effect for young athletes.

To get a better handle on the family dynamics I turned to two different books Douglas "wrote" in 2013, both published by a Christian house. The first, more complete version is Grace, Gold & Glory, and the second, Raising the Bar, contains most the same material, but it is abridged with a lot of photos, primarily for kids. Both books notably focus on the positive relationship with the Parton family in Iowa, and Douglas' then gymnastics coaches. Again, a notable disconnect from the reality series.

But I was shocked by how Douglas portrayed her childhood and family. The former book, Grace, God & Glory describes what was likely parental neglect when Douglas was an infant, living in the back of a van at 2.5 months with an untreated medical condition (Branched Chain Ketoaciduria, or maple syrup urine disease). A particularly revelatory line Douglas "writes" on page 11 of the same book hints at the reason her sisters might expect to be on the Brie train: “I thought of my two sisters: Arielle, who gave up ballroom dancing, and Joyelle, who stopped ice skating so that our single mom could afford to keep me in gymnastics.”

I am sure it is uncomfortable to feel indebted. And the moment of cringeworthy drama in Douglas Family Gold is when eldest sister Arie tells Brie that her own life isn't where it should be because she has spent so much time supporting her sister. This is again mentioned in the Elle article linked to above. And most news stories from the last cycle identified this sister as the one who got her sister started with gymnastics. So, yeah, some interesting dynamics there.

The latter book, Raising the Bar, hints at the Douglas family's interest in a TV show, way back in 2012-3. On page 17 in social media image grabs two family members comment that the family is a comedy show and that they need their own show.

They have that show now, but I'm not sure how funny it actually is. You'll likely just be uncomfortable,and wondering what is actually going on in this family behind the doors of their now 7000+ square foot California compound.

Background Checks in Youth Sports: Not Just for Sexual Abuse

I've long been a strong proponent of background checks for all who work with kids-- not just for sexual abuse (though, sadly, this still remains a very real issue as just this week Marvin Sharp, an Olympics-level gymnastics coach who had been arrested last month for sexual abuse of young girls was found dead in his jail cell after apparently committing suicide) but also for educational credentials and certifications. Now I'm beginning to think we need to ensure another type of check as well: a financial check. At the beginning of the summer I wrote a feature for The Boston Globe Magazine of which I am very proud because it offers such concrete advice advice for preventing fraud in youth sports organizations, or really any nonprofit. The piece, "Youth soccer's case of the missing $195,o00," appeared in print the weekend we moved to Rhode Island so I wasn't able to feature it as much as I would have liked. Since it appeared, Scott Vermilya has been arraigned on embezzlement charges.

Having been a Framingham resident, and now living in Rhode Island it appears that non-profit financial fraud is following more... In all seriousness though it is a reminder of how widespread these sorts of problems often are. Steven Zina has been charged with stealing about $12,000 from a softball club. What is most disturbing about this story is that in 2014 he was arrested for stealing $19,000 from a high school booster club! How in the world could he take on a treasurer position in the same state? In this case running a background check may not have fully solved the problem because being arrested and being arraigned/convicted/sentenced are all different. But even a Google search turns up the arrest in 2014! Anyone who will be handling money in a voluntary capacity for youth sports and similar activities needs to be vetted. And as a reminder that this *doesn't* happen just in youth activities, Kimberly Moore was just arrested and charged with stealing about $125,000 from the Junior League of Rhode Island.

Chris Cole, Senior Technical Manager of Not-For-Profits of the American Institute of CPAs, was a great resource for the Globe Story I did. Not all of his advice made it to print so I want to offer some more of his insight that bears repeating and sharing. If a nonprofit is the victim of fraud, Cole emphasizes, it is tremendously important to report the crime to the proper authorities. While there may be some reluctance to report it out of embarrassment or fear of negative publicity, “If you don’t press charges the fraudster is going to go somewhere else and do it again. It hurts to take one for the team, but nonetheless you have to help the next organization this person could end up in.”

So remember the names Scott Vermilya, Steven Zina, and Kimberly Moore, whether you live in Rhode Island, New England, or anywhere else. While their crimes are different than those of Jerry Sandusky or Marvin Sharp, they nevertheless cause pain and deny opportunities to millions of others. So don't forget all types of background checks this fall!

Jump! Bigger than the ropes

I can now say that thanks to a Lifetime reality show something I wrote is a little bit less true. The four-episode Jump! about a double dutch team in New Jersey showed me that jump-roping has more to do with teamwork than I previously thought. Jump-350x228

In Chapter 1 of Playing to Win I detail the historical evolution of competitive children's activities. I write, "By the 1960s more adults had become involved in these organizations, especially parents. Parents and kids spent time together at practices for sports that were part of a national structure: Biddy basketball, Pee Wee hockey, and Pop Warner football. Even nonteam sports were growing and developing their own formal, national-level organizations run by adults. For example, Double Dutch jump-roping started on playgrounds in the 1930s; in 1975 the American Double Dutch League was formed to set formal rules and sponsor competitions."

While the facts are true (many of which I took from Howard Chudacoff's 2007 book Children at Play: An American History, in Chapter 5), I learned by watching the Floyd Little team compete that double dutch is actually an "extreme sport for teamwork." That's because the turners and jumpers have to work together and communicate in order to succeed. That communication occurs not just in terms of their bodies, but often their language as they call out commands and counts to one another.

I learned a bit about double dutch by watching Jump!, but I was also left with many questions.

In many ways Jump! is similar to Bring It! (though I still have love for the show, it got very stale and formulaic this past season). Beyond the obvious-- that both activities are portrayed as being primarily made up of African-American girls who sport t-shirts with unique nicknames on them-- the series showcase a style of athletic dance that many outside of the subcultures don't know much about. As I wrote that I wasn't sure about "technique" in majorette dance, I don't know much about double dutch technique beyond the obvious "Don't step on the rope!" Because double dutch is difficult I would have loved to learn how both speed and tricks are taught, especially the timing. How much cardio do the jumpers do to prepare for two minutes of speed rounds? We primarily saw two categories of competition on the show, but are there others? And what about team sizes? Much more to mine here beyond the four episodes and the inherent drama of moms, daughters, coaches, and competition.

Some other observations:

*Teams wear uniforms for competitions, but no sparkles, which seems deliberate. Avoiding a non-athletic label? (Note that in NYC double dutch is considered a varsity sport) Given that I was surprised there isn't an accepted "double dutch" shoe or sneaker. How do competitors decide what shoes they like best? Learn to tie knots in their shoes that they are sure won't come out while jumping?

*Loved that they showed a girl (and her mom) wearing hijabs. Unlike many other girls' activities the lack of uniformity in dress and appearance may make this a more welcoming option? On a similar note, how much thought goes into hair styles when considering jumping; are braids heavier, no big hair, etc.?!

*As populations have migrated out of urban settings, has double dutch (originally a street game so strongly associated with cities) also migrated? We only saw urban teams on the show; do they dominate or is there an inequality we weren't shown?

*If Lifetime picks up this series for a second season they will have lots of drama to mine with Coach Quaniee daughter being on the team, and being one of the best. The old rivalries angle was also interesting. I assume the majority of coaches were themselves competitive jumpers in the day? If so, how many turners go on to coach?

*I wonder if Coaches Quaniee and Layla got their public school teaching jobs back?

This is the most I have seen since Disney made a 2007 movie called Jump In! starring Keke Palmer and Corbin Bleu. I'm wondering if it will spark a revival, especially given the potential health benefits. The combination of rhythm, dance, athleticism, artistic expression, teamwork yet individual distinction, and competition make it an appealing activity for both kids and adults interested in childhood well-being, including doctors, teachers and parents.

I for one would jump at the opportunity (yes, pun intended) to learn more about this world and hope someone can answer some of my questions!

The Privilege of Passion

Last week the always reflective Motherlode ran a very thoughtful and insightful essay by Lisa Heffernan, "Our Push for 'Passion,' and Why It Harms Kids." by Abigail Swartz for NYTHeffernan actually makes the case that some forms of manufactured passion hurt not just the kids, but the whole family. Part of the reason why her essay is compelling (besides her clear, wise voice) is that she writes with self-reflection, admitting she herself has fallen victim to the "parental obsession with passion... encouraged by the college admissions process and fed by our own fears."

The essay rightly hones in on the role college admissions (though, in actuality it is more precise to say *elite* college admissions) in creating this push for passion: "At some point in the last 20 years the notion of passion, as applied to children and teenagers, took hold. By the time a child rounds the corner into high school and certainly before he sets up an account with the Common App, the conventional wisdom is that he needs to have a passion that is deep, easy to articulate, well documented and makes him stand out from the crowd." Heffernan also lasers in on one of the many reasons why this can be harmful to kids, "Pseudo passions can eat up our days and lay waste to any chance of finding real ones."

That said I need to make two important additions to this piece based on my research (much of it captured in Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture).

1) The ability to pursue a "passion" and invest familial/individual time and resources to do so is an enormously classed activity. When many families struggle for survival each month the notion that a child needs to find "their" thing is laughable not just in other parts of the world, but certainly in the US as well.

That said, some activities have been seen as worthwhile of passion in low-income communities as they can seem like a "way out"-- the traditional ones are basketball and football. In this case the endgame is usually not college (elite or otherwise) but professional levels of play. Talent and perseverance trump passion, and passion isn't seen as essential to the mix when there is almost a desperation.

The same can be said for other activities. One of my favorite passages from Joan Ryan's inside look at gymnastics and figure skating, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes, captures this notion: "Bragg himself had been a swimming coach, but swimming held no magic. It couldn’t turn milkmaids into princesses. To him, skating was more than a sport. To succeed in skating was to succeed in life. It was a road to riches and recognition, and perhaps more important, it was a road to respectability. Skating offered a life of restaurants with cloth napkins, hotels with marble lobbies, a life where a girl from the wrong side of the tracks could be somebody." [Bragg actually gave up custody of his daughter to her skating coach]

Even the language of "passion" is a terribly upper/middle class one in the contemporary US. It is akin to helping each child "find their voice." Sociologists and anthropologists have written about this language and worldview elsewhere, but it's worthwhile to note again. The Bragg example has more to do with clawing your way up than surviving or just thriving. Passion is far too generous a word for the striving associated with activities, achievement, and class success.

2) During my fieldwork studying kids involved with competitive chess, dance, and soccer I came across a phenomenon in all three activities I hadn't anticipated. I named it "the problem of the high-achieving child." When one child at an activity site was high-achieving it decreased participation of kids in that age group as parents wanted their children to find his/her "passion." In this case, "passion" equals being the best (and honestly that is the subtext of the Heffernan piece).

But what is a child is truly passionate about an activity and they aren't number 1, or even number 2 or 10? I find it such a loss when a child who *loves* an activity is redirected away from it by a parent. Who knows when that child will grow, or have a breakthrough, or whether those shooting stars will fizzle out and the child who stuck with something because s/he loved it may eventually be "the best?" But even if "the best" moniker never applies, if a child loves something they should be able to pursue it. Maybe the NBA will never come calling, or a Division III school, or even the varsity high school team, but perhaps that child becomes Belicheck, or Coach Taylor, or someone who makes a difference in the life of a child someday as a coach or teacher because they still have that same passion?

Passion is a privilege in both senses (class and achievement) and we should recognize this as such to help all children, not just those faced with elite choices.