Saturday, March 2, 2019

GAT & Sports

Is it appropriate to pursue a sport, and if so, at what age? At your age, you need to be active, but what about a 6 year old? Since the release of test scores in Chicago is a few weeks away, and we're all totally stressed out, let's talk about sports.

Sports is a complicated question. At a macro level, the data aren't helpful at all. Macro data is rolled up statistics that cognitive and education researchers look at. Using macro data is why their research is so bad and should just be burned. Micro research is a single child, and generally clear. Macro-micro data is a sample size of about 1,000 data points, but behind each data point is an actual child with parents. Once education researchers get out of their office and meet actual children, we can finally fix all the problems in education, which they caused.

Macro-Micro data

There is no correlation between sports before middle school and academic success. In every program from a sub-par neighborhood elementary school to the top GAT program in the country, there are kids who do sports 30 hours a week and kids who don't do sports at all. In this range, the kids randomly fit different academic profiles and have test scores anywhere between 50% and 99%. I rarely work with kids below 50%, but it appears to be randomly distributed there as well.

For an individual child, academic success depends on art, reading, science projects, cognitive skills, and a home that values education. These are easy to correlate and make nice graphs. A 5 year old who is driven from one hockey game to the next who sits in the back seat reading Chaucer is going to do well in school. Data on sports participation is irrelevant to predicting academic success.

There are a few exceptions wherein Macro-Micro data is helpful. Parents who are totally into their children's sports, enjoy winning, send their child to sports clinics to develop 'technique', and sign up for traveling teams are going to produce a kid 2 years behind by high school with a probability of about 98%. In 2% of the cases, the child quits and hates their parents. When my children were young, the sports culture was rampant at nearby schools, so I made a concerted effort to avoid sports early on, and it was the correct decision. All I knew about GAT at the time was that it was rare, so I only did the opposite of what everyone else did until I figured it out.

It's heartbreaking to watch kids get to high school after a career of team sports. If I were in charge of public policy for the US, I would ban sports before middle school and remove all sports teams from schools at any level. Personally, I'm probably at the 97 or 98% in sports (effort and time, not skill or ability). Clubs, park districts, city sports would be great. But until schools actually succeed at academics, they have no business being distracted by sports.

Micro first principles

Let's run through the guide of parent decision making. The part of your child's brain dedicated to decision making will be completely formed at a age 25, so if you ponder letting your child make their own decisions, think again. The part of your child's brain in charge of knowing cause and effect outcomes over a 30 year period will be fully developed by the time they have grandchildren, so again, you're going to have to step up and do some life coaching.

  • Principle #1
    Academic success depends on reading, art, math, social skills, music, and being active.
    This sounds like the definition of 'well rounded', but it's really just the list of prerequisites of academic success. It's hard to concentrate for 6 straight hours on a boring science lab if you're not in fairly good shape.
  • Principle #2
    All of these activities are fun until the parent cares. Then it's just work.
    I've got a son with 2 or 3 good friends who love little league. They stink at baseball and sit on the bench a lot. They also enjoy a variety of other sports that they also stink at. But they're active, participate, win the good-attitude awards.
    In addition to making it known that I personally think baseball is a waste of time and sports are stupid, I make sure they sign up, go to the games, am totally overwhelmed with joy when my son doesn't drop the ball, and occasionally sneak into the race line to talk pre-game smack.
    If I applied my preferences, we'd train for Iron Man competition or full contact fighting. But for my child's development, I think the social skills of low calorie burning activities like baseball are more important.
  • Principle #3
    Sports is not limited to organized team sports at the park district or school. You can take 6 mile walks (which I like to announce as the day's death march) and 50 mile bike rides at an inappropriate age. This winter in Chicago, it was negative eleven degrees, so naturally we had to take a 3 mile walk on that day.
    Would you be happy if your child was at the 50% in academics? Of course not. That's the reason why your child doesn't do what everyone else does, like play video games all day. In the same way, you need to look beyond what other kids are doing in sports and think creatively.
  • Principle #4
    If your child has a slow metabolism and likes to eat your Doritos while you're trying to teach him advanced math, you need sports. This is why I invented Principle #3. Similarly, if you are falling behind on other areas of personal growth, like art, you need to step up your game there as well.
  • Principle #6
    If you overdo any activity by pushing the child too much, they will learn to hate it and likely not do it ever again once they are old enough. Don't ruin sports. Sports is something that can be important in high school, college, and especially after college so don't ruin it early.
  • Principle #7
    No, I don't see a contradiction at all between walking 4 miles a day every day and not over doing it, so stop thinking that. I'm not raising butter beans.
  • Principle #8
    Whatever activity that your child does, they are going to want to quit at some point. Wanting to quit is a characteristic of children under the age of 15. There is a brain lobe in charge of wanting to quit that is slowly replaced by the brain lobe in charge of decision making. Don't let them. But you don't need to do anything organized 12 months a year, and you don't need to do 3 sports when 1 will do, and you don't need to sign up for basketball camp in the summer just because your child plays basketball in the winter. Sign up for something else.

The final word

There is no strong correlation between sports and future academic success. But there is a strong correlation between reading or music and future academic success. There is an even stronger correlation between how many correct answers your child gets above the 99% on the MAP test and future academic success. And there are only so many hours in a week.

Put these things together and the decision is obvious. You need sports for basic health and social skills that round out the last check boxes on a college application, but you don't need it right away, and you don't need a lot of it.

Does your child like soccer? Then do it. Do you like to sit at a little league game with other parents? Then do it. Is your child chubby because they spend too much time programming? Demand it. Otherwise, don't worry about it.