Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Dogs And Puppies

TigerBlog was driving along this morning when he saw a man walking up the street with something around his neck.

At first glance TigerBlog couldn't make out what it was. Then, as the man got closer, TB figured out that it was ... a dog.

A real dog. A live one. Wrapped around his neck like a scarf, or a towel on a hot day.

The man held a leash in his hands, though TB couldn't figure out if the leash was attached the dog's collar. At first TB wondered if the dog was hurt, or possibly had been hit by a car. He figured, though, that the man would be cradling the dog in his arms, in front of him, rather than wearing him on his neck, had that been the case.

TB wanted to stop and ask what was up with this rather unique way of walking a dog. Was it a ritual?

TigerBlog used to have a neighbor who had a dog, and the ritual there was that the dog got its beloved glove to carry around after it, uh, did its business. Off the dog would go in the morning, without the glove in its mouth. Back the dog would come, 20 minutes later, happily chomping on its glove.

TB isn't sure how that ritual started. Maybe the dog-around-the-neck walk is something similar?

Speaking of dogs, TB's colleague Nancy Donigan appears to be quite a dog trainer. At least she is from the video she sent TB, which is pretty impressive. TB made Nancy swear that she didn't have to beat the dog or anything to get him to do all those tricks.

So a man with a dog around his neck was the last thing that TB expected to see as he drove along this morning. The only other time he can remember a sentence like that is from the movie "Stripes," when Bill Murray is driving a cab in the first scene and he picks up the snooty woman with the fur and says "I thought that was a dog around your neck."

It was a good line, though not in the top, say, 50 in that movie, which happens to be one of the funniest TB has ever seen. It also was responsible for one of the two times in TB's life that he has seen FatherBlog laugh the hardest.

The first was Buddy Hackett's HBO special from a long time ago. The second is when Harold Ramis looks at Murray as the drill instructor is teaching them how to march and, with a look of pure bewilderment as what the platoon has accomplished, says "Look John, we're walking."

Anyway, TigerBlog was driving to work after dropping off Miss TigerBlog at a field hockey camp. It's at the high school she will be attending, starting in a few weeks.

MTB plays field hockey and lacrosse. On the middle school level, field hockey is a much better sport to watch for girls than lacrosse.

Why? On that level, girls' lacrosse too often becomes the fastest girl on the team with the ball in her stick on an unstoppable path to the goal. That's why if you have a legitimate defender on that level, it's a huge bonus.

Field hockey isn't that type of game, especially on that level. The same girl who can take the ball behind one goal in lacrosse and run straight down the field and score can't get the ball more than five or 10 yards in field hockey. It requires teamwork, passing, spacing - all the things that come out in women's lacrosse as the players get older and the defensive athletes get better.

MTB has tryouts for the high school team beginning next week, stunningly enough. That's from the point of view of 1) that the summer has flown by to the point that tryouts are starting and 2) that MTB is actually going to high school.

You know what soon-to-be high school athletes think about, and what their parents desperately talk about?


TigerBlog is shocked by the conversations. Here are kids who have yet to take a high school class who are already thinking about whether or not coaches are watching them and if they're going to get recruited.

And the parents? They are obsessed about which club team or showcase event in the summer will put their kid in the best position to be recruited by the best - or biggest - school.

And these kids haven't started high school yet.

TigerBlog has spent hours talking to Princeton coaches across all sports basically about the trend towards earlier and earlier recruiting. It's frightening to them and they all universally hate it, even as they are forced to deal with it.

TB, for one, doesn't understand it. How can anyone possible project out a 14- or 15-year-old and figure what kind of contribution that kid will make to a college program six, seven, even eight years later? It's insane, almost as insane as making a choice about a college at that early age, as if a kid that age can process everything that should go into making a college decision.

Maybe the really, really best kids are going to be the best in a few years. But not definitely. It's why recruiting class sizes on the top levels of Division I have gotten bigger. Snap a kid up, keep that kid away from the competition, hope that kid develops. Hopefully get 25 percent correct.

TigerBlog laughs at the term "late bloomer." They're not late bloomers. They were better the whole time. It's just nobody noticed, because there are so many clubs, so many events - all of which are costing the parents money.

TB and some of the other parents joke that they should start something called an "elite showcase" and not even say what it is and watch the checks pour in.

And the kid? How does that kid know that the coach who is recruiting now will be there when it comes time to actually attend the school.

TigerBog saw it with TigerBlog Jr. and his friends and teammates and now he's starting to see it with Miss TigerBlog and her friends and teammates. Their dream is to play in college, and they think that the dream can get away from them before they ever finish their freshman year of high school.

The full effect of the early recruiting cycle hasn't been felt yet. The current college athletic classes feature almost no kids who made their commitments earlier than junior year. They're going to be filled with those kids in the next year, two years and so on.

What will this mean for tradition powers? What will this mean for the school that was more patient, either by design or by institutional control? Will they snap up the overlooked kids who were better all the time?

If nothing else, TB hopes that college coaches are aware that the rush to recruit early has taken quite a bit of the fun out of the games for kids who are in middle school or freshmen in high school, who are being forced to deal with this pressure way earlier than they need to or are able to.

TB laughs when he hears that the NCAA should do something about this. The NCAA doesn't make the rules. They start, usually, with the coaches, who have shown no inclination to want to end any of this.

Anyway, that's what TB's view from the sidelines of youth sports and from his chair here at Princeton affords. It's not pretty.

These kids are puppies, after all. Let them be puppies, at least for a little while longer.

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