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How middle school environments can impact young athletes

'While three years of middle school, and four years of high school may not seem like a lot of time in the grand scheme of life, the truth is the time frame can push a student athlete in the right direction, and it can send them on a downward spiral as well.'
How does middle school environment impact long-term athlete performance?

Having worked as a middle school campus safety monitor for almost seven years now, there is plenty I see from kids that are heading to high school the next year, as well as the youngsters that are going from elementary school to what seems like the big world of middle school.

You see the anxious signs from students moving to high school, as well as cautious approach from the brand-new middle school students.

As a campus safety monitor, I also see the real side of students. Most of the students can sit for 35-40 minutes of class before getting released to passing period, or for the granddaddy, lunch.

It's at lunch where the students get 30 minutes to cut loose, working out their energy on the blacktop. There are others that choose to just hang out with their friends.

This is when the real personalities and behavioral aspects are unearthed and on display, allowing our small, but invested staff of campus supervisors, and administration to see their real side.

I have always thought I can learn more about a person during one round of golf than I can working with them in an office for a month.

I feel the same being around the students for a 30-minute lunch break.

Amongst these students, there are athletes, some that are extremely talented, and will be strong high school athletes.

It is an interesting dynamic, as I have a chance to watch many of these kids go through their middle school years and indeed go on to be successful on the athletic fields during their high school years.

Some have gone on to find varying levels in college athletics, and while there has not been someone who has made it to the professional level recently, it can always happen.

Of course, there are always the cases where a child just matures faster than their classmates and given time, everyone eventually catches up.

When I grew up in Pleasanton in the 1970s (I graduated from Amador in 1979), there was a kid when we were in Little League that was dominant.

To all of us it seemed like not if, but when he would make it to the professional ranks. Then, a funny thing happened -- by the time we were seniors in high school, we all had grown up, while he stayed the same. He didn't even play on his high school's baseball team when he was a senior.

By now you must be thinking, where is he headed with this story? Well, that's a valid point!

Where I am going with this all is that kids don't understand that there can be defining moments for future athletes as early as middle school and the kids don't realize how something that happens from 12-14 years old can affect their future.

Last year, I wrote a Big Picture on how social media can influence the younger generation as they move towards college, with most colleges having social media people that will deep dive into a prospective athlete's social media posts/activity.

I say it all the time, that while it stinks getting old, I was grateful for having no social media as I was raised.

With all the technology of today, there are a lot of things that can go south for kids during that three year stretch of middle school, and certainly the next four years of high school.

While three years of middle school, and four years of high school may not seem like a lot of time in the grand scheme of life, the truth is the time frame can push a student athlete in the right direction, and it can send them on a downward spiral as well.

In my time working with the schools, I have seen both sides. I have seen kids that came in as 6th graders with the world seemingly at their disposal, head the wrong way, and by the time they approach their senior year of high school, life doesn't appear all too rosy.

I have also seen some that leave middle school maybe not hanging out with the right people, but they find the right path in high school, and excel.

Every day when I show up at work, I try to convey to the students how you can shape your future starting right now, be it through your work ethic or behavioral aspects.

I want them to enjoy their school years, but also think about shaping their life moving forward.

I was fortunate to grow up in Pleasanton when everyone worked together for what was in the best interests of the youth in the community. It felt like the community of Pleasanton was an extended family.

I saw this in the surrounding communities as well, be it Livermore, Dublin, San Ramon or Danville. We were lucky, even if we didn't realize it at the time.

I had college roommates that played sports at San Ramon Valley, and it was during those years I made some good friends from Danville.

Some had strong families and in turn many of those fun-loving kids have become successful adults, now raising their children, and in some, grandkids with the same values they were taught.

There were also several athletes who would go on to the professional ranks in their respective sports. Pleasanton was not a big city when we grew up, but you just felt the community played a role in our development.

I am not sure the same sense of community still exists. Granted a lot of that has to do with the growth of Pleasanton and the surrounding communities.

But I am seeing a change in attitudes, a more of a me-first type of outlook on life. Some may be blind to this, incapable of seeing the forest through the trees, but believe me, it's there.

Believe it or not, the middle school years can be a major formative time in their lives. Head into high school without a strong sense of values and south may be the only direction they head.

I have a goal each year at school, if I can help one student -- put them in a positive direction going forward -- then it's been a good year.

I feel each year I have accomplished that. Some have gone backwards when they reach high school, but others have kept going in the right direction and have influenced classmates to do the same, both on the field and outside of athletics.

It gets frustrating at times, when you feel no matter how hard you try with certain students, they just don't get it. But then I go home, reenergize, and head to school the next day with renewed vigor.

When they walk on to their high school for the first time, I want them to have confidence in their lives instead of being worried or nervous.

The message I am hopefully putting out here is that as a community we can make that difference in the life of a school-aged kid.

When you see a student take to heart what you tell them, it's the most rewarding experience I have felt.

If as a community -- I still look at the Tri-Valley as a small community -- we can share with all the kids the positive directions they can move towards, as well as being accountable for their actions, it will allow us to provide for future generations, the wonderful environment we were raised in.

Editor's note: Dennis Miller is a contributing sports writer for the Pleasanton Weekly. This column originally appeared in Tri-Valley Preps Playbook, a weekly sports e-newsletter published by Embarcadero Media. To sign up for free, visit

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