Chris Herren has some advice for obsessive sports parents: Refocus. Forget the video camera, forget about your kid’s footwork for just one game, and focus on her face.
“Sports are great, but it has to be fun, but parents need to make sure their kids are doing it with a smile,” said Herren, a former NBA player and motivational speaker.
“When sports become too stressful, you need to find an outlet,” Herren said.
“And it’s usually smoking or alcohol.”
On Thursday at 7, the eve of Hoopfest, Herren will take the Nike Center Court at Riverfront Park to tell a story of his athletic success followed by drug and alcohol abuse and the long road back.
Herren expects some shrugs and eye-rolling, but has a reputation for making an impression on youth from all sports and all backgrounds.
“Normally, their reaction is, ‘That’s crazy,’” Herren said. “A long time ago, that was me. I thought I was above that.”
The event is sponsored by the Healing Lodge of Seven Nations, which hopes to bring 1,500 Native Americans from three states to hear a message about the tragedies of substance abuse, but the event is free and open to anyone.
“So many young people love basketball, and all the teaching through sports, but even with that, there is still the danger of alcoholism,” said Martina Whelshula, executive director of the Healing Lodge. “In reality it takes you down a dark road.”
Whelshula said that the public is misinformed about addiction. What most believe can be conquered by choice is instead neurological and biological.
“The structure of the brain actually changes,” Whelshula said. “It’s a daunting challenge and a lot of hard work.”
Herren’s work is “to prevent kid from going down that road.”
And while sports are often a vehicle for getting kids off the streets, parents still need to “back off,” Herren said, because there’s plenty of pressure already. Young athletes face instant judgment from millions of experts, most of them on Twitter. Instant experts with instant judgment, 24/7.
“Now we’ve got 14-year-old basketball players who get tweeted at halftime of a game that they’re too slow or just not good enough,” Herren said.
Friday morning at 7, the Healing Lodge will hold a charity breakfast at Northern Quest Resort and Casino in Airway Heights, with Herren giving the keynote address. The cost is $75 per person, with proceeds earmarked to “bring more awareness about addiction, especially in Native American communities,” Whelshula said.
The Healing Lodge is primarily an in-patient treatment facility, but Whelshula also hopes to develop a prevention program, including tribal basketball clinics, to perform screens for substance abuse.