I have a bone to pick with academic types who are oblivious to the benefits of sports. Not all of us grew up in the prestigious surroundings of parents who went to college, much less graduated from it. Unless these educationally lacking parents have some superior knowledge, coaching and or coaxing their kids academically may be lacking at best and counterproductive at worst.
There are other options for those at-risk kids to gain success in normal society.
Extracurricular school activities will acclimate a child to team effort. He will get to know other kids from different backgrounds, exposing him to children of the educated. If the team is successful, he will feel a part of that success. After all, the most important lesson you can learn from winning is that you can.
Since my history was one of academic surrender and low self-esteem, I did the only thing that my misinformed but well-intended parents and I knew to do. I went out for high school football. I will never forget the day I waited in the football sign-up line as a 108-pound freshman. I was so small my parents joked about putting me on steroids! Two large, fierce-looking boys took turns telling me that I was an idiot for going out for football because I would be killed, maimed and otherwise disabled by large beasts like them. Having only played pick-up football with friends in my back yard, I had no reason to doubt them. It was as obvious as Hillary's running for President in 2008. But in my mind I had nowhere else to go.
Today I wonder how many other kids are in my position. I stayed in football. My freshman year, I would have been cut. Instead, my school had the wherewithal to have a "B" team. I found out that while I was often knocked down, it didn't hurt as much as I thought it would. I was quicker off the snap than most of the bigger boys and I could position myself under their strength to make blocks or locate myself to tackle, while fending off their hits. I was having fun. Most importantly, I gained grudging respect from my peers and coaches.
I stuck with it.
My senior year, I came into two-a-days weighing 154 pounds and listed at fifth (last string). My chances of starting were small. The line I was trying to break into averaged 230 pounds and all four linemen ahead of me were swifter.
Again, the demons and doubts came in. I considered quitting. Any other school would have cut me by now.
I held on.
Toward the beginning of the season, the coaches held challenges, a one-on-one test of offense and defense, strength and technique. Miraculously, I beat every one in my offensive guard position. I was prouder than Bud Selig was of Jose Canseco for bringing all that needed PR to baseball.
The next day, expecting to be first string, I saw my name posted as third stringer. I garnered the chutzpah to ask the coach about this discrepancy only to be told that I hadn't weight trained religiously enough. I cried all the way home on the back of a friend's Honda scooter. I went to bed depressed and quitting and woke up ready for war.
In my haste to quit, I forgot that the third string got to scrimmage full contact with the first- and second-stringers, in my case, people I had beat one-on-one at least for a day. Every practice and every play became a bloody war right up to the whistle, and sometimes beyond. It became obvious to the coach that he needed to give me what I had already earned, a promotion to first string offensive guard. I played there the rest of the year and I was effective. I was offered a football scholarship.
And those two buffoons that were "worried" about my well-being my freshman year? They both quit after two weeks of freshman football practice. Maybe they listened to their own advice.
This sport experience was a life-altering event. Had my school cut me, or had I quit, who knows what would have become of me? I don't think it would have been anything good.
Not to say that my life is perfect. I still get knocked on my rear end on occasion, and I still fight the tendency to quit when I'm behind. However, most times I'm guided by my high school football experience to make the right decision, especially in advising my own brood.
I learned that victories often occur when you see no way to succeed, but refuse to give up anyway.
I also learned that cutting a child is a sure way to forsake him.