Archive for March, 2012

Play Ball! (and ball and ball)

The first-time tee ball mother really didn’t know. “Is it normal for a tee ball team to practice twice a week? I mean, he’s only five.”

“They won’t have any practices once the season begins,” I consoled. I didn’t have the heart to tell her why: They’ll be playing two games a week.

Fifty years ago, organized youth sports consisted of a pickup truck rumbling around town picking players up to take on a similarly aggregated group in the next town over.

No parents watched. No grandparents came. Uniforms were like-colored t-shirts. Hats were a luxury, as were gloves that fit. My left-handed father played catcher with a right-hander’s mitt.

There were no all-stars or state tournaments. Heck, there weren’t even fences. Only kids competing presumably for the love of America’s game.

We’ve progressed since then. We have dugouts and pitching machines. Parents do the signing up. Grandparents do the cheering on. I am thankful for the advancements and the people who made them happen.

Yet youth sports clearly reflect the kid-centric quality of contemporary American life. Parents tend to view their progeny as extensions of, even judgments on, themselves. A relentlessly comparative culture exacerbates the tendency.

So we travel two hours for a 9-year-old football game. We revolve the family’s weekend around a 10-year-old’s tournament. We pay thousands of dollars for personal coaching and select squad participation.

My preacher begins most sermons with this prayer, “Forgive the one who speaks for his sins are many.” Likewise, please pardon him who writes because he gets more of a surge than he should out of watching his 6-year-old shoot a ball.

As baseball and softball seasons open, a paradox should help keep things in perspective: the most impactful moments of life are unplanned, unorganized.

It won’t be the hit or the catch that a kid will remember, but the snack after the game. Not the game under the lights on Friday night, but the campout under the stars on Saturday.

My fiercely competitive 8-year-old saw a Cub Scout flyer last week. “I want to do that next year,” he told his mother.

“You won’t be able to play any sports then,” she replied.

“That’s fine.”

That’s fine?!? But what about your place on the depth chart? Your chances of making the high school team? Your plans to play in the NFL?

I hope he’s thought through the implications.

Which brings me to these questions: How do you know if a kid really wants to play the sport she’s in? If her parents enrolled her at an early age and it’s all she’s ever known or done, is it really her choice? Or is she simply falling in line with what she thinks is expected or required?

I thought of these recently as a successful businessman told me about his teenage daughter’s ascendant golf career. She plays in tournaments all over the country.

“Golf is the easiest sport for girls to get a scholarship in,” said the man who likely needs no assistance paying for his daughter’s education.

On Sunday, Tiger Woods won his first PGA tournament since his life melted down two years ago. His father pushed him from a very young age to be the world’s best. Is it sport sacrilege to wonder if he was meant to be an accountant?

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. Subscribe to his articles at www.kwt.info.

Steps to stronger candidates

Ever wondered why we don’t have stronger candidates running for office?A recent case in point: Disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s posing gleefully at a hamburger stand en route to a Colorado federal penitentiary. Others: Anthony Weiner and Herman Cain. Before then? Well, we’ve all forgotten more defunct leaders than we care to remember.

So, why can’t we get better people to run? And by “better” I mean intelligent, experienced, balanced, solutions-oriented, intellectually honest, integrity-filled.

Here’s my list of what holds better people back:

Money – It takes big dollars to communicate campaign messages in a noisy and distracted world. Politicians must perpetually fund raise and most people don’t consider fundraising fun.

It also generally takes independent wealth to have the flexibility to campaign. And if a position is unpaid or laughably compensated (Texas Legislators get $20 a day while they’re in their districts), it often takes independent wealth to serve, as well.

Perpetual campaigns – U.S. and Texas Constitutional writers surely envisioned distinct periods for campaigning and for representing. But today’s instant and incessant news coverage forces politicians to be always on, always managing messages. What right-thinking individual wants a job with no time off?

Privacy invasions – Yahoos with Yahoo! are everywhere. Forget skeletons in the closet. All they need is a little clutter to embarrass a candidate. Advertising-dependent, journalistic integrity-challenged news sources will help them do it. Which fallible human doesn’t have some clutter in the proverbial closet?

Unrealistic expectations – When is the last time you heard a politician say, “I don’t know.”? An increasingly dependent populace expects politicians to have perfect knowledge of and final answers for every issue. Only demigods can meet such a standard.

With these factors in place, who then runs for office? In short, the super-wealthy, the ego-maniacs, the ideologically extreme, and those with little at stake (e.g., families, companies, etc.). Gratefully, there are exceptions, many of which are in our local governments.

What can be done?

Longer terms – Life happens faster and people live longer than they did when our constitutions were written. For congressmen, state representatives, even city council members, two-year terms fly by. Plus, they keep the focus on elections and not on good governance. Those terms should be lengthened to at least four years.

Money – I like the idea of citizen legislators, lawmakers who must live and work under the laws they pass. But most officials today spend more time at their official duties than their counterparts did 100-plus years ago. Their compensation should increase commensurately and be adjusted for inflation. Independent commissions can help define “commensurately”.

Privacy laws – We need to reasonably protect candidates’ families and interests. The witness protection program could serve as a guide. Volunteering to lead shouldn’t invalidate a person’s right to privacy.

And a couple for the candidates themselves:

Take a break. If you haven’t communicated your message in six days, you probably won’t on the seventh either. Besides, we get tired just watching you.

Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something and that it’s unrealistic to be expected to. Quiz the questioners. Hotbox the reporters. Give them a taste of their own medicine.

After all, the best leaders don’t necessarily know the right answers. They just know the right questions.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. Follow him at www.kwt.info.

What happens when health care entitlements grow

The health care article I recently penned prompted an inordinate amount of fan and hate mail.

Most respondents agreed that health care prices seem to be based on many factors other than the actual cost of services. Most agreed that navigating the provider / payer web is time-consuming and frustrating.

Some concurred that we cannot stay on the same spending trajectories and maintain solvency and quality. Others believe socialized European models offer the best example of societal care.

For the record, I want to care for people in need. Most of us do. For many of us, religious beliefs drive our desire to help.

Saying that government should have limits on what it spends on health care for adult citizens is not a betrayal of my religion. It’s a belief in it.

For decades, religious orders have established and serviced health care centers. As proof, think of the names of the hospitals in your area.

But when government expands its health care entitlements, religious institutions subconsciously step back. “That’s the government’s job.” Conversely, if government limits its involvement, I believe believers will step up to meet critical needs.

The reality is there won’t ever be enough funding – government, charitable or otherwise – to keep up with demand for services. Some rationing must occur.

How should we ration? Who should do the rationing?

With regards to the former, I prefer to ration by ability or willingness to pay rather than ability or willingness to wait. I may want to forego other expenses or sell certain assets in order to afford insurance coverage or a particular treatment. Someone else may not.

But under a socialist system, it matters not how badly someone wants to sacrifice for  something, he or she must wait in line with others who may or may not want the thing as badly.

As for who does the rationing, I don’t care which party is in power, I don’t want a bureaucrat overseeing the dissemination of health care.

With a single government payer of the likes Obamacare will lead us to, providers have minimal financial incentive to give outstanding care. Care quality will inevitably diminish, as will interest in the medical field.

Bright minds will pursue more promising careers in less regulated industries, or they will move to places where profit motive remains.

The United States will no longer be a net importer of people seeking the best treatment in the world. We will no longer be a leading exporter of efficacious research and technology.

One friend said it is tempting to think that “millions will literally die in the streets” without a nationalized health care system. I agree that the temptation is real because the needs seem great.

We need faith:

to let the free market expose and reduce costs;

to encourage charitable organizations to do what they do best;

to keep the onus on individual citizens to live healthy lives;

and to take back one-sixth of our economy from the grip of Obamacare.

Otherwise, our future political battles will not decide between a conservative or liberal form of government. They will decide whether conservatives or liberals can better run our social liberal government.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

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