In today's Chicago Tribune, Anne Stein highlights the exceptional talents of a very young and rising basketball star (can you be a rising star at 10?) in her article The Best 10-Year-Old Basketball Player in America. On the current online version of this story, they have a video demonstrating Jaylin's basketball prowess, along with comments from his father regarding how he is being raised and where Jaylin's and his family's priorities are.
What I find most interesting as I watched the video clip, and read through the commentary in the article, is how much of what Jaylin is doing and dedicating himself to resembles what I went through as an athlete my last year of high school, only, for me, at a much older age. His passion for mastering the skills of his sport, at least at this point, is very evident, and the solid foundational upbringing of placing family, school, and religion as important pieces in his life is also obvious.
Just check out the video and see for yourself
Yet, because of his age, and because of the increasing interest and rhetoric over our current youth sports culture, some will not be too pleased, placing judgment on whether this type of behavior is healthy for someone this young. An NBA assistant was quoted in Anne's article as stating, "He represents much of what is wrong with our athletic system," and Lindsey Hunter, a former guard for the Bulls, doesn't let his son travel to other states to play saying that he wants his son to experience "childhood."
I suppose a lot of the concern over what will happen to Jaylin lies more with the outside influences that will present themselves to him, something else the article brings to light, rather than the immense dedication, work ethic, and talent he demonstrates. Just like David Sills in my article College Recruits Getting Younger and Younger: Kindergarten the next great recruiting venue!!!, the recruiters are likely coming. Additionally, propositions from others will present themselves (especially as he reaches high school age) and the pressures that cause one to lose focus on what is really important will happen.
These are reasons why (no matter what level athlete) higher importance should be placed on intrinsic (internal) value development over the extrinsic (external) rewards that one can gain through sports participation. One should always encourage development more from the inside out, something that does need to include family, school, and other beliefs (depending on the family) that support a more grounded type of behavior (something certainly apparent in the article and video) than what we see from so many athletes today. This, to me, will be the ultimate issue or test as to whether Jaylin fulfills his potential as an athlete, and as a person.
Will he be able to stay grounded in a belief system that allows him to set priorities that are truly in his best interest or will he develop that sense of entitlement we see so often from gifted athletes? Will he continue to enjoy dedicating himself to the kind of time it takes to be a "great one" or will he grow tired of all the efforts as his classmates and friends develop other areas of interest? Will he look on his experiences as something positive that give him opportunities few get to realize or will he regret all the work and start to feel that he is losing his childhood - never to be regained? All are possibilities; only time will tell.
Me, I hope he brings to himself, and to his family, all that his potential as a person and as an athlete has to bring, that he is able to forge a path others seem unable to do - and really, truly, enjoy doing so, and most importantly, that he is happy with his choices, himself, and in setting a solid upstanding example for others.