Raising a Thoroughbred

March 2011

If you spend enough time around kids and organized sports, or play sports yourself, you’ve probably noticed that, no, we’re definitely not all created equal.

Some people are simply stronger, faster, taller, more blessed with fast-twitch muscle fiber, or just more determined. My legs, for example, have always been too short for my athletic ambitions, and so I’ve made peace with the idea that, more times than not, I’ll be the pylon around which the Kobe Bryants of the world leave their vapor trails.

Sadly, this is genetic. My kids began their sports careers on Los Alamitos’ fields of dreams, but it was clear, even as they stood among the other cleated 5- and 6-year-olds in ill-fitting soccer uniforms, that they were not thoroughbreds.

Still, dreams die hard—and here I’m talking about mine, not theirs. Despite my resolute urgings to simply do their best and enjoy the sports they played, I always fantasized my earnest little athletes into college scholarships and lucrative pro contracts. So when Trabuco Canyon writer Catherine Keefe told me she was actually living that dream—one that spools out countless times a day among Orange County parents—I asked her to write about it for Orange Coast.

Keefe watched her son, James, grow—and grow and grow—into a star basketball player on the courts of Mission Viejo and later at Santa Margarita Catholic High School. She experienced the delirium of reviewing stacks of college recruitment letters, and survived the peculiar sensation of watching her “6-foot-9 man-child” swept up in the storied basketball program at UCLA and beyond. Having known Catherine for years as an extraordinary writer, I was expecting a compelling story that would allow me to live out my dreams vicariously through her.

What I didn’t expect was a cautionary tale.

One Mother’s Playbook,” makes clear that the parents of the world’s elite athletes lead lives far more complicated than is apparent from the joyful grandstand reactions the rest of us see on TV. Theirs is a world of unbridled ambition and inevitable disappointment, of exhilarating thrills and incredible pressure. And the plain truth is, not one of them has the luxury of a coach.

Martin J. Smith

Illustration by John Ueland

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