Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How Early is too Early?

Sports are getting younger. This is news to a small amount of those reading this, but sports are getting younger than ever before. The proof is in the hype coming out of Canada for 2 young hockey players, that have sent scouts wild. Connor McDavid, a center who plays for the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, has drawn comparisons to players like Sidney Crosby and... (deep breath)... Wayne Gretzky. Reebok clearly buys those comparisons, as they have now sponsored McDavid, who is only 15. Over in Michigan, defenseman Sean Day plays minor midget at age 14, and scouts have raved about him being one of the best young defenseman they have ever seen. Canada has gone crazy over their new hockey phenoms. This hype brings up questions for me, and the biggest one is: How early is too early to start going gaga over a young player in any sport?

McDavid and Day are 15 and 14 respectively, meaning they are in 9th and 8th grade. I don't know how many of my readers had the hype machine churning at full tilt about them at such a young age, and I doubt that if you did, you'd really know how to deal with it. These kids are more apt to deal with the hype than at any other point in sports history, but at 15, you have to wonder if these adults have anything else better to do. Not to say that McDavid and Day won't be amazing players in Junior, or even the NHL when they get drafted in a few years time, but it seems way too early to start gushing over players who are 2-3 years away from NHL draft eligibility. And Reebok sponsoring McDavid at just 15? That opens up a brand new can of worms that is very, very scary to think about. Even if the players can deal with the hype, if the people around them can't, then it is going to end badly.

Hockey in Canada is not the only sport that churns the hype machine to extreme levels. Every single sports media outlet did that with Lebron back in 2002, and he was only 16. He lived up to the hype, but there are many others that could have had the hype, but fail to live up to it. And don't even start with soccer, when sometimes players have the scouts, and the papers, eyes zeroed in on them at incredibly young ages. There's even a Barcelona player in the "La Masia" academy that has been nicknamed "The Japanese Messi" at age 11. Usually, the hype machine waits until a player is 16 or 17 to start really churning up, but soccer sometimes picks their new goldenboys at much too young ages. So, it's not just hockey, but it's indicative of a problem.

Even if these kids can deal with all the hype that surrounds their talents, they are still just teenagers, and there is no way of knowing if they can handle it for the long amounts of time that the spotlight will be on them. The younger the "stars" are, the more hype they get, and the longer they have to deal with the inflated expectations and the spotlight. Older players have crumbled underneath the bright lights before, and while that might have been a different time in sports history, those players were at least in their young 20's, or even 18. They were not freshman in High School. I don't want to see the hype get to these players, and their play suffers because of it, but sometimes it's hard to get the media to back off when the future star bells are ringing. It's not fair, but it's the truth.

On current trends, younger and younger athletes will get the same hype as today's Connor McDavid's or Alen Halilovic's. That's why the hype machine needs to cool off on today's 14, 15, and 16 year old stars in any sport, because if they can deal with it, the media will then assume even younger players can deal with the limelight. And I'm not quite sure that they can, and maybe when one of them sadly flames out will the media learn to back off. Until then, we just get to hear the exploits of McDavid in Erie or hear about the Japanese Messi in training all the time, until they finally hit the big time. They might deserve the accolades, but they don't deserve the spotlight on them all the time. They have lives to lead, and I wonder when the media will ever let them have one.

How early is too early? Based on today's hype, 14 isn't. What will be?

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