Thursday, September 3, 2015

Helicopter Studies Muddy the Youth Hockey Waters

Ugh. I hope you can bear with me here for awhile, as I deal with a perpetual pet peeve. Ya, while youth sports, youth parents and youth coaches are constantly taking a beating in social media circles, I'm here to suggest that helicopter studies muddy the youth hockey waters more than those who live in the trenches.
-- Dennis Chighisola
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Helicopter Studies Muddy the Youth Hockey Waters

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If this doesn't help me start making my case, I guess nothing will. For, an article written by Julie Lythcott-Haims and entitled "Helicoptered kids are sputtering out" left the Dallas News on August 5, 2015, and seemingly selected parts of it ended up on a sports related site only three days later as "Helicopter Parents are Churning Out Ill-Prepared Young Adults".
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If you haven't heard that "helicopter" expression before, well... In an online article named "What is helicopter parenting?", it's explained that, "The term 'helicopter parent' was first used in Dr. Haim Ginott's 1969 book Parents & Teenagers by teens who said their parents would hover over them like a helicopter..."
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The article then continues with, "Helicopter parenting refers to 'a style of parents who are over focused on their children,' says Carolyn Daitch, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders near Detroit and author of Anxiety Disorders: The Go-To Guide. 'They typically take too much responsibility for their children's experiences and, specifically, their successes or failures,' Dr. Daitch says."
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From yet another ivory tower, Ann Dunnewold, Ph. D., a licensed psychologist and author of Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box, chimes in to call it "overparenting." Dunnewold adds, "It means being involved in a child's life in a way that is overcontrolling, overprotecting, and overperfecting, in a way that is in excess of responsible parenting."
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Now, I'll get back to all that momentarily, but first let's see if you notice anything awry when you compare the two supposed original articles...

The one that seemingly started it all, the Dallas News article, began with... "'Academically overbearing parents are doing great harm.' So says Bill Deresiewicz in his groundbreaking 2014 manifesto..."
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The one seemingly doctored for sports folks to read? It begins with a (unethical?) twist... "'Overbearing parents are doing great harm.' So says Bill Deresiewicz in his groundbreaking 2014 manifesto..."
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Now, just what was it Deresiewicz said? I mean, he was supposedly quoted in both articles.
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Both did ultimately get on to a study about college students, though, but I found it more than a little interesting how the article aimed at sports folks just happened to leave out a reference to "Academically overbearing parents" in its introduction. Ya, pretty interesting, huh? As for that study involving college students, both articles did eventually get around to citing the following...

"In 2013, the American College Health Association surveyed close to 100,000 college students from 153 campuses about their health. When asked about their experiences, at some point over the past 12 months:
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84.3 percent felt overwhelmed by all they had to do.
60.5 percent felt very sad.
57 percent felt very lonely.
51.3 percent felt overwhelming anxiety.
8 percent seriously considered suicide."
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Now, I have to ask you... How might you answer that questionnaire on a given day? How about your spouse? Or, your children? Oh, none of you might be considering suicide, but in a given year's span, have you ever felt overwhelmed, very sad, a little on the lonely side, loaded with anxiety? I know I have. For God's sake, those are normal human emotions, that don't seem to spell doom to me. In fact, consider someone you know who is pretty well adjusted, and tell me he or she doesn't experience those feelings at one time or another.

This aside, as I seethe here, thinking that helicopter studies muddy the youth hockey waters -- grrrrrrrr...
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I have been coaching for over 40-years, I've authored several books, I wrote a hockey advice column for two different hardcopy magazines for over a decade, I've produced more instructional videos than I can count, and I've written online going back over a dozen years. In all that work, I've received lots of comments about being rather clever in my writing.
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I mention all that to suggest that I still don't recall ever coining a term or phrase meant to grab my readers' attention, or to impress anyone. Said yet another way, I never felt the need to do that. Oh, I notice hockey seminar speakers get their kicks coming up with meaningless terms that seem to capture (and buffalo) their audiences. And so do the folks who create stupid studies, so it seems. Ya, "helicopter whatevers"
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So, how to leave off with all this? I guess I'll begin by saying that there are plenty of over the top youth parents out there, and as many out of control coaches. Still, are they the norm, or even close? Not where I've worked for all my years in the game. Have I ever seen some hockey players who seemed overwhelmed by all they were doing? Have I seen any who were feeling very sad? How about kids who felt very lonely? Or, what about players who felt overwhelming anxiety? Well, I don't think a one of them would have ever told me they were feeling those things -- except if I had them complete a secret questionnaire.

Ya, as the above study suggests, we could get a bunch of young people to say to themselves, "Sure, I've felt overwhelmed at different times, sure I've felt sad..." As a matter of fact, I can see them answering pretty close to the percentages shown about, with not very many of them feeling like they've ever considered suicide.

If you get what I'm suggesting here, it's that a study can be rigged to get just about what the author hopes for. So can the author make himself or herself look pretty important to an unsuspecting public, as in, "Oh, man, does my kid need a shrink!"

One point I want to make perfectly clear -- despite what the sports aimed article above tried to suggest, in that those studies were conducted with possibly stressed out college students (ever been there and done that?). They didn't measure youth hockey kids, young baseball players or youth footballers. That's why I'm suggesting further that these stupid helicopter studies muddy the youth hockey and other youth sports waters, maybe just as they hope. Grrrrrrrrrrrr...