John Coy has written a number of books about sports for young people. One recent book, Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game, blends history and basketball as it tells the story of the first integrated basketball game. His fiction has focused on football, basketball, and soccer. Extreme sports, however, are a different thing entirely. In this guest post, John Coy shares how the book For Extreme Sports Crazy Boys Only came to be.
One of the joys of doing research is being surprised. Discovering something is different than I believed is exciting, leading me to wonder what else that I believe is actually not true.
As a boy I spent hundreds of hours playing baseball, football, and basketball. When my editor Liz Szabla asked me to write a book about extreme sports, I knew I had a big learning curve. Movies, books, magazines, and web sites were all valuable, but what was most helpful was hearing directly from people who participated in extreme sports. It was from them that I learned about their passion and dedication.
I also discovered the one group who’d drastically changed the sports I’d grown up playing: adults. They had become heavily involved in practice, teams, camps, and scheduling. Playing these sports had become so much more structured and organized than it used to be, and it was revealing to hear some of the reasons kids had turned away from traditional sports.
“Coaches and parents care too much about winning. If we lose, it’s no fun.”
“Parents always think they know what you should be doing even if they don’t.”
“My mom and dad yell from the stands and it’s super embarrassing.”
“Practice is so boring. We do the same thing everyday.”
“My coach has favorites. I’m not one of them, so I don’t get to play.”
“My dad acts like winning is all that matters.”
“Adults put too much pressure on kids to be perfect.”
“My mom cares more if we win than I do.”
“Coaches think you’re not trying even when you are.”
“My dad is always tells me to have fun, but after the game he tells me what I should have done better no matter what I did.”
“It’s too much stress.”
“I don’t get to play enough.”
“I’m not going to play in the pros so why does my dad act like my whole future depends on how I do in the game?”
“We sit around waiting for something to happen.”
“Coaches don’t like players who are too independent.”
“I don’t need some coach yelling at me all the time.”
“It’s not fun.”
For those kids who love being with their friends and figuring out how to do things without adults telling them what to do, sports like skateboarding, mountain biking, snowboarding, parkour, slacklining, surfing, and others have a strong appeal. As I learned more, I wondered what sports I’d choose now in order to be with my friends and I paid attention to the reasons people gave for choosing to participate in extreme sports.
“It’s fun. You can do what you want.”
“I get to figure things out without anybody telling me how to do it.”
“I get to hang out with my friends.”
“I never wanted to be like everybody else.”
“Nobody bothers me here.”
“When I do something new, people are happy for me.”
“It’s the best feeling in the world.”
“I meet cool people.”
“I like practicing new things.”
“I want to be able to do something nobody else can do.”
“If you work on a trick for a day, you can do it.”
“I get away from the house and out with my friends.”
“It helps me to let go of my anger. It’s a good way to relieve stress.”
It’s challenging. I like working out the problems.
“I like the crashes.”
“You’re your own coach.”
“It’s the best, man.”
Another surprise of researching extreme sports was how thoughtful, many of the participants were about their sports and their reasons for participating. Rodney Mullen, for example, has an excellent TED talk on skateboarding, in which he shares his insights on creativity, freedom, and innovation. He’s talking about skateboarding, but one of the reasons the talk is so popular is that what he’s describing is applicable to so many other areas as well.
After all my research, I needed to push myself to do something bold. The opportunity came when I gave a presentation to fathers on the importance of their role in raising strong readers at the American School of Dubai. Afterwards, Principal Advento introduced me to one of the fathers, Junior Silva. He told me that Junior was a well-known skydiver.
“You have to do a tandem jump with him while you’re here in Dubai,” he said.
One of the joys of doing research is being surprised. So on a clear afternoon, I met Junior and his wife Joi, a middle school counselor, at Skydive Dubai. I was nervous as they helped me get ready, but I had research to do. We walked out to a small plane and climbed the stairs. I sat down, buckled my seat belt, and waited for the plane to take off. When it did, I realized the side of the plane was going to stay open as we climbed higher into the sky. I also realized that had I not been researching extreme sports, I wouldn’t be doing what I was about to do.
When I jumped out of the plane with Junior, I felt exhilarated. I looked out at the desert, the water, tall buildings and everything slowed down even as we were falling fast. The view was stunning and I enjoyed it knowing Junior knew what to do. Joi flew in near us on the free fall and she had a big smile as well. I knew now why so many people loved doing something I’d never expected to do.
When I landed, I was asked how it was.
Wonderful, just wonderful.”
“Would you do it again?”
“Yes, I’d do it again.”
I was so glad to do this, so grateful that the research pushed me to do something I wouldn’t have done otherwise.
Now, I’m excited to see what I’ll research next.
About the Author: John Coy is the author of many acclaimed books for young readers and teens, including Top of the Order, Eyes on the Goal, Love of the Game, and Take Your Best Shot. He lives in Minneapolis.
About the Book: From the rush of skateboarding to some of the most ultimate extreme sports like base jumping and ice climbing-there’s so much to know about the world of extreme sports. The Olympics and the X-Games have opened our eyes to so much, but there’s still so much to see. Do you want to learn more about aggressive inline skating? Do you want to read up on how to protect yourself next time you go sandboarding? If you feel the rush of adrenaline every time you think about riding that big wave, or taking that half-pipe by storm-this book is definitely for you!
Other Recent Books:
Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land (2016)
Hoop Genius (2013)