Chat: Growing Up Next
He went on to become a lawyer, sports agent, corporate executive, commissioner of the Indoor Football League, television analyst and advocate for minority hiring in the NFL. He is now director of planning for Disney Sports Attractions in Orlando, where he brings new youth and other events to the company's Wide World of Sports complex and related venues.
Winslow also raised a son, Kellen Jr., who came up through the current youth sports system. A tight end, too, he is now part of that next generation of elite athlete-entertainers; as a rookie last year with the Cleveland Browns after a stellar run with the Miami Hurricanes. His exposure to the game was surely much different than that of his father, who did not play football until his senior year of high school.
Could today's kids wait as long as Kellen Sr. did to take up -- and succeed -- at a given game? How much early sport specialization is necessary these days? How important is it to find the right sport for a kid? And what's the role of good genes in the making of a champion?
Put these questions, and any others on the series topic, to Kellen Winslow Sr. on Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET.
Tom Farrey, ESPN.com senior writer (11:14 AM)
Hello everyone. I'll be the moderator of this chat session today at 2 p.m. ET. Go on ahead and send your questions. A little background here ... my youngest son, Kellen, 1, who I wrote about in the first installment of "Growing Up Next," was not specifically named after Kellen Winslow. But it is safe to say we would be calling him something else if, when my wife Christine offered up the name shortly after his birth, the soaring image of the former Charger tight end had not come to my mind. He was an original, and made the game more fun. My Kellen could do worse than adopt the same spirit of innovation, in whatever life he chooses to lead. I also invited Winslow to join us because I suspect he has something to say about the changing landscape of youth sports. Not only does he work with youth events in his job with Disney Sports, he has a son, Kellen Jr., who came up through the system in recent years. Surely, it was a much different experience than that of his father, who didn't play football until his senior year of high school. Could kids today wait as long as Kellen Sr. did to take up -- and succeed -- at a given game? How much early sport specialization is necessary these days? How important is it to find the right sport for a kid? And what is the role of good genes in the making of a champion? Put these questions, and any others on the series topic, to Kellen Winslow Sr.
Kellen Winslow (1:59 PM)
Hello, I'm here. Questions?
How many sports did Kellen Jr play when he was a child? and at what age did he choose to focus on football?
Kellen Winslow (2:01 PM)
Let's see ... he played soccer, roller hockey, basketball, baseball, chess and really didn't decide to focus on football until he got to the University of Miami. In high school, he played football and basketball. I tried to get him to play volleyball, but didn't do so.
New York, NY
Do you believe that sports can play a role in the developmental/maturation process for all kids or only those with professional aspirations? As parents, how do we communicate to our kids that life success is not relegated to the athletic fields?
Kellen Winslow (2:03 PM)
Good question. Yes, sports has value in a person's life and the development of their character, no matter what level it's played at. That's what sports is supposed to be in our society. What some coaches and parents forget to teach is the values that go along with playing a particular sport, which are the same values that we need to be successful in life. Teamwork, commitment, dedication, focus are all needed. And to be successful does not mean you always win. Because if winning is the standard is to be successful, then nobody is successful.
Michael (Philadelphia, PA)
Kellen Sr, What method of training did you use for your son Kellen Jr. for him to become the athletic success he is today? Thanks, Michael
Kellen Winslow (2:06 PM)
Flexibility. I discouraged the free weight training at a very early age. Pushups, situps, I prefered. One of the best pieces of equipment out there for young people to use is the one promoted by Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley, called Total Gym. I was introduced to Total Gym during my playing days, and over the years have had several in my home. That's the only thing I would let Kellen use at an early age. He started using that at 10, 11, 12, because you're only using your own weight. The best thing about the machine is that it promotes a full range of motion.
Being a former pro athlete did you find yourself pushing your son more or were you more laid back with him when it came to sports?
Kellen Winslow (2:08 PM)
I think mine was good perspective to have, as a former pro. I wasn't a pusher. If anything, I was a barrier. I didn't let him play tackle football until age 14. My position was you're an athlete who needs to go out and play different types of sports. There's plenty of time to put a helmet and shoulder pads on. The best games to develop quickness, hand-eye coordination and overall coordination are soccer, basketball and baseball.
Manson (Tucson, AZ)
do you think that the issues facing kids and teens these days are distracting them from sports activities?
Kellen Winslow (2:10 PM)
I think it's hard for kids to focus these days, there are so many distractions. So many of those distractions are there for every generation. It really depends on the structure around that child's life that helps them stay focused and away from trouble. During my generation, it was neighborhood games -- the neighborhoods were so large you had no trouble finding sports activities to play. Then in my son's generation it was more of parents or groups getting together to organize sports for them to play. If you want to keep kids out of trouble, keep them busy.
Jeremy (Ashland KY)
What advice would you give parents of younger (Elementary age) students about the level of competition? Seeing how organizations are being made that introduce children to sports but they do not keep score... Do you consider it a positive or negative when regarding competition?
Kellen Winslow (2:12 PM)
There's plenty of time in life for competition. At a young age, the activity is more important than the results. Besides, most kids don't remember the next day who won or lost. As children get older, they learn about competition and how to deal with wins and losses. But at a young age, they need to learn about the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle.
Chris (Richmond, VA)
To your point from a few questions earlier, do you find it saddening to hear that parents are having their children 'specialize' in one sport at a young age? That really seems to be missing the point of sport to me...
Kellen Winslow (2:14 PM)
In many ways, it is saddening. I don't want to sit back and criticize how somebody raises their children. I can only speak to my experiences growing up and how I raised my children, and I thought that having them play a variety of sports helped them learn about themselves and about other people. To me, that's the true benefit of it. And playing different sports helps you understand that there are some basic concepts that apply to every sport -- balance, firm foundation, quickness. All those things apply whether it's golf, tennis, basketball or soccer.
JL (Seattle, WA)
What are your thoughts on the idea that children who are raised into the world of athletics become so competitive at such a young age that it disrupts their physcological development and their desire to "win" ultimately becomes an unhealthy obession?
Kellen Winslow (2:18 PM)
Well, I think there's nothing wrong with winning. When you don't know how to deal with disappointments in your life, I think that can be unhealthy. I believe that's why we see kids who are so successful at an early age burn out. And again, with me and Kellen, I worked very hard to guard against too much early success. So in basketball I played him up a division. In baseball, I put him in an older age group, so he was always striving to get better rather than dominating and not working hard, no matter what the sport was. Even when he went to the University of Miami, I was fearful of him going to a school where he would start as a freshman. So Miami was a good fit for him because he didn't have that pressure of starting as a freshman. He had a chance to make that transition from high school to college, and to learn along the way. But in Kellen's mind, he wanted to start on day one. I didn't think that was a good thing to have that much success that early, because where do you go from there? I thought it would be better to go and sit on the bench for a while and learn.
Tom (St. Paul, MN)
Did you coach your son growing up and what is your view on parents being their childs coach?
Kellen Winslow (2:23 PM)
No, I was not officially his coach in any of his athletic endeavors. I was his father, who when I needed to interject some lessons, I would, whether it was football, basketball, whatever. I always taught him that there are fundamentals that apply to every sport, and that he needs to learn the fundamentals. When he pitched in baseball, I told him that if I ever saw him throw a curveball, he would never pitch again. That was at age 11. I think parents getting involved in their team is a good thing, as long as the parents remember why they are there -- for the benefit of the team and not just for their child. And that's a hard thing to do. It really comes down at times to a big conflict of interest. I'll give you an example. We lived in Chicago and Kellen went to try out for an all-star traveling basketball team at age 11 or 12. After leaving the tryouts, he felt pretty good about his effort, and so did I. But I had to prepare him for the diappointment that I saw coming, that he was not going to make this team. And of course he didn't understand. But the reality is, I did not coach a team in the league. And the final results were that every father who coached in that league had a kid who made the team, or vice versa. So I did the hard thing and prepared him for that on the way home. And sure enough, three days later, we got the results.
Jeremy, Atlanta GA
How can you get the youth of America to see that you can transfer skills learned in sports to the business world???
Kellen Winslow (2:27 PM)
How can you get the business world to see the same thing? I think it's an easier task to get kids to understand that those skills are transferable by getting them to understand the value of what they do. When I look back at the coaches I had in high school, the great thing they did was teach life lessons. They didn't just teach football. The best communicators teach about life. Sports is just the tool. Getting society to understand the value of sports and the life lessons that come with it is a bigger task. You take a 22-year-old young man or woman who had done four years of college sports, and you put them next to a 22-year-old who did not play sports and graduated, I'm going to take the one who played sports. Because they know about teamwork; you don't have to teach them that. They know about competition.
Mr. Winslow, did you have very athletic parents? And when did you know that you were as good as you were?
Kellen Winslow (2:32 PM)
I did not have very athletic parents. My father played in the high school band before joining the Army. My mother was a woman growing up in the South, and had no involvement in sports. I didn't play organized football until I was a senior in high school. If not for my high school coach who saw me in gym class, getting me to come out for football, right now you guys are talking to somebody else! You know, in respect to the genetics question, you can do genetic tests. The question is what do you do with the information. Don't let it guide you down the road of 'this is the path I must take because I have fast-twitch muscle.' I mean, it's the totality of our experiences that make us who we are. So we need to have a variety of experiences rather than being so focused at a young age on one particular sport. Those who are successful at the highest level of sports are not always the most athletic. They're the ones with the most passion, the most heart. And I'm not sure you can scan for that yet.
bryan (fulda minnesota)
how can you tell if little kids are great at sports at a young age?
Kellen Winslow (2:33 PM)
You can only tell based on the level of competition that they're involved in. You can infer that some have the potential to play at a higher level. But you can never ben sure.
Billy Bob (Atl/GA)
Hello Mr. Winslow---I want to thank you for one of the seminal contributions in my youth to me becoming an avid football fan: that fantastic effort in '81 v. the Dolphins.
Kellen Winslow (2:34 PM)
Thanks .. but you just gave away your age!
Alan, Dallas TX
Do you think it is important to teach your son or daughter about the game at an early age rather than teaching them how to just participate in a sport? I ask because it seems that most kids dont learn the purpose of alot of things until they reach high school. For instance the purpose of a hit and run or the purpose of a pick route.
Kellen Winslow (2:37 PM)
Yes, I think it's important to teach them why. And for them to understand the concepts behind a game. You really create deeper thinkers than just people out there running around. Again, that's the value of sports. People think that a lot of athletes and coaches are not that bright. You cannot be mentally slow and be successful at the levels that college and professional sports are played at. When you hear commentators say 'This is a smart player,' what they're talking about is the player understands the concepts of the game, how it all ties together. In the business world, those individuals who understand the bigger picture are leaders in the business community. They have that vision.
Suriya, Grand Rapids Michigan
Mr. Winslow, what was your reaction when your son was at Miami and he was cheap shotted, his post game interview made me realize that his edge was very necessary for survival in the game of football. The media went crazy. i personally played with the same passion and heart but in basketball. I would like to know how i can instill this soldier in my kids during sports b/c i beleive as a black man in this world you have to have that in you to survive and prosper in America society.
Kellen Winslow (2:42 PM)
Passion is so important. It's vital to the area of competition, whether it's competing in the world of academics, sports or business. When Kellen got wrapped up into the media circus after the loss to Tennessee, I was disappointed in the fact that setting reminded me of a professional locker room. Shirt off, lights in your face, jammed up against the locker before he had the ability to take a shower. I discussed that setting with the Unviersity of Miami. Then I took that moment and turned it into a teachable moment with Kellen. It's OK to say no, and walk away. And that's what he should have done with the press, even when they pressed him even moreso. That's one thing that athletes have to learn -- that it's OK to say no to people. There's a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it, but it's OK to say no. Thank you for participating. I apologize but I have gotten called into another meeting, and must go. But I enjoyed your questions and would have like to stay here and talk all day. Have a good afternoon. Goodbye.
Tom Farrey, ESPN.com senior writer (2:45 PM)
Kellen has left the room. Thanks for your questions and interest in the subject. For more, read the rest of ESPN.com's "Growing Up Next" package, which launched today and can be found off the front page of the service right now. There are polls gauging your thoughts on some of topics discussed with Winslow; stories include comments by Bill Walton; and a message board for everyone to kick around these topics. Have a good day -- and I hope you enjoyed the chat with Winslow.