21 January 2011

Amy Chua book signing and Q&A session

My first introduction to Amy Chua was not the infamous "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior" Wall Street Journal excerpt. A few weeks before, a friend had posted a link on Facebook to a YouTube video where Prof. Chua was interviewed about her book World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability. She seemed like a thoughtful, balanced academic, so I was shocked to read the WSJ article. I searched for some other Internet sources and began to suspect that the excerpt was not representative of the book (which turned out to be correct.) Out of curiosity, I emailed Prof. Chua to introduce myself as a fellow Chinese-American and asked her if she was doing a book signing near me. She responded a few hours later and told me that she was in fact doing a signing the next day!

I went to the book signing after work and found myself in a sea of Caucasians, mostly 50 and older. I definitely stuck out as the "Asian baby." Unfortunately, I had to buy a $35 ticket to attend, but at least it included a book and wine. About fifteen minutes after the scheduled start time, Amy Chua appeared.

She started the talk by saying that she would reserve most of the time for questions. Then she talked about how a family crisis (the rebellion of her 13 year old daughter) compelled her to write the book. She started two days after the incident and wrote like a mad woman. After that, she read four pages from the last chapters of her book, describing the rebellion incident and how to her the violin symbolized strength, beauty, and discipline etc but how it became a symbol of oppression to her daughter and even to herself.

Most of the audience were friends from the Yale and New Haven community, so everyone was very nice. Her husband was there. Chua admitted that she was a very overconfident mother and that she had made mistakes but she thinks she pulled back at the right time. In fact, she allowed her daughter to drop the violin. She said that her last five days had been harrowing due to the WSJ article and that she needed all the friends she could get.

An interesting comment she made was that her Chinese parenting style was less effective on her daughters compared to her own parents because she lacked "authenticity." Her family and everyone around her lived nice, comfortable life styles. Not like her parents who had to work insane hours and save every penny.

Many people have wondered why Chinese kids can only play piano and violin. Prof. Chua addressed that in the questions. Looking back, she said that for some reason, she was fixated on the violin. She says that now, if her kids wanted to do something else, she would probably say yes, as long as they took it seriously and strived to be the best. She mentioned theatre as an example. She said that now, she would have no problem with her daughter doing theatre, but she wouldn't want to drive her daughter back and forth if she was just going to try the drama club as a whim. After dropping the violin, her rebellious daughter is currently playing on the tennis team.

Another reason for the violin, stated in Chua's book, is that in the hierarchy of musical instruments, violin is the most prestigious. It's the hardest to play, in the sense, that it is very hard to stay in tune. A beginner sounds really bad on the violin, whereas a person with no experience can play guitar or drums and sound okay to the untrained ear.

I spent the entire hour long Q&A session trying to think of a good question. After coming up with a few, I realized that they were all of the variety: 'I want to have a personal dialogue with the author that happens to be public. I want to say "me too" and hear the sound of my own voice.' Finally I came up with a good idea and asked the last question: "In your book, you remark that it is difficult to raise a child with Chinese values in America's Western society. Have you thought about what it would be like to raise your child in an Asian country? For instance, in Korea, kids study until midnight every day. It seems like an educational arms race where your status depends on getting into Seoul National University." (Apologies to any Koreans I may have offended, especially those who went to Yonsei University.) Prof. Chua thought I had a "great question" but she hadn't thought much about it. She did say that she probably wouldn't like living in such a society.

A bearded, middle-aged man came up to me after the session was over and praised me for my good question. He thought it would be easier to raise children with Chinese values in a Western society because they had a higher chance of being the best where only 10% of parents push their kids, compared to Asian society where 100% of parents push their kids. I asked him if he was a friend of Amy's and he said that he was a fellow Yale law school professor.

I'm not crazy about autographs but I did pay $35 for my ticket, so I went to the book signing afterwards. I chatted a bit with a woman in line. She asked me if I was a parent, which was quite amusing. When I finally got to the head of the line, I introduce myself by name and told Prof. Chua that I was the same student who emailed her the day before. Chua started signing the book out to me (and misspelled my name), but I told her I wanted to have the autograph made out to my sister. She was very classy about the mistake and simply "bought" me another book, though I didn't tell her about the misspelling. So I got two books that day. My autograph read: "Thank you for your support & kind words. Best Wishes, Amy Chua"

20 January 2011

The Amy Chua controversy and Chinese culture

The book and the excerpt

Amy Chua, a Yale law school professor and Chinese-American, recently published a book called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The subtitle on the cover summarizes the work:
This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs. This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead, it's about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.
Ordinarily, this kind of book would only appeal to Asian Americans and parents interested in raising prodigies. However, the Wall Street Journal chose to publish an "excerpt" titled "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior" -- depicting Prof. Chua as a megalomaniac mom who relentlessly criticizes and pushes her children. It describes how she forces her children to practice music three hours a day and refuses to allow them to have playdates. One vivid incident recounts how Chua denied her daughter food, water, and toilet facilities until she mastered a piano piece. The Wall Street Journal excerpt currently has 7000+ comments and 301K Facebook likes. Supposedly the author has received death threats. Why the attention? The book is a memoir written by a law school professor with no expertise in child psychology, not a manifesto on burning Korans or a literary masterpiece like The Woman Warrior.

I was born to a Taiwanese father and a Cantonese mother who immigrated to America at the age of ten. My sister and I were high achieving children and attended Ivy League caliber universities. I went to Friday night Chinese school for twelve years. I played piano for eight years. When I was 8, my dad told me that I hadn't played a very good soccer game. During my childhood summers, my mom drilled me in speed-Chinese-dictionary-lookup competitions until I won first place in the state (it took three tries) and had me translate classical Chinese stories about Mencius.

The similarities I share with Prof. Chua and her family inspire me to share some thoughts.

Why the book is controversial

Anyone who reads the book quickly realizes that the Wall Street Journal excerpt is mostly taken from the first chapter, which Prof. Chua has publicly stated is a version of herself 18 years ago when she was "overconfident." The purpose of the first chapter is to provide a humorous, entertaining introduction to Chinese stereotypes.

The comments on the WSJ article roughly fell into the following categories:
  1. "Amy Chua is a child abuser. She might be gloating about her daughters' accomplishments now, but wait until ten years from now when her kids spend the rest of their lives in therapy."
  2. "Thank you, Amy Chua. Americans have become lazy. Let's return to strict, traditional parenting."
  3. "What have the Chinese done? They don't have any Nobel Laureates. The great American innovators like Steve Jobs are creative and independent thinkers, unlike those Asian robots."
  4. "I am Chinese and I hated my strict parents. I'm stuck in therapy."
  5. "I am Chinese and I did not raise my children like this at all. Amy Chua is stereotyping us."
The memoir is starter fuel for many touchy issues in contemporary American society. Let me address those WSJ comments in the same order:
  1. Parenting is a naturally controversial topic. Everyone has an opinion. You don't have to raise your children like Amy Chua.

    There are a couple more reasons to hate her. People probably aren't happy about being "lectured" about parenting by some "arrogant" Yale law school professor. Despite growing up in a liberal American society, Chua chose to use Draconian methods on her children.

  2. People are disgusted with the decline of America since World War II. Last month, following the cancellation of a professional football game in Philadelphia, the governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell said,
    We've become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything. If this was in China, do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down.
  3. There is clearly a lot of jealousy toward China's economic success and resentment about American jobs moving overseas. Throwing barbs at China doesn't help international relations. There are plenty of Mainland Chinese who dislike America already. In fact, there are still Chinese (even Chinese in America) who resent the West for starting the Opium Wars.

    Some Americans need to brush up on their history. China is considered one of the greatest civilizations, up there with the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians. The Chinese had gunpowder and printing presses long before any European civilization. Their society was culturally and technologically ahead of Europe for hundreds of years. Due to complicated economic reasons (which I won't discuss since I have no expertise) and cultural isolation, China fell behind between the 16th and 19th century. Then World War II, civil war, and the cultural revolution happened. The country has only had roughly 50 years to catch up.

    More seriously, are Asian-Americans trained to chase economic success at the cost of ignoring creative pursuits? Anecdotally, I think this has some truth to it. Part of it has to due with the fact that most Asian-Americans are only a few generations removed from immigrants. Consequently, their families are extremely risk-averse and push their children to obtain safe, white-collar jobs like doctor and engineer. Professor and classical musician are extremely difficult careers and don't pay that well, but they seem exempt. Chinese culture has always revered scholarship and music as great art forms. A "robot" can't possibly be a great scholar or musician. It is a shame that many Asian parents are resistant to their children trying other types of art.

  4. My response to Chinese and Chinese-American readers who don't like the WSJ excerpt is that over the course of the book, Chua realizes her methods are too extreme and pulls back. Regardless of what other people think, the most important thing is that she admitted her mistakes and admitted them directly to her children when they are still young and able to truly appreciate it (her daughters were 13 and 16 when Chua stopped being so strict).

    I find this act incredibly courageous.

    Most parents don't want to tell their children they were wrong. The idea of a Chinese parent doing so seems as likely as an emperor bowing to his subjects. I thought the way in which Chua pushed her daughter to become a concert violinist was extreme, misguided, and sometimes disturbing, but in the end, I could forgive these actions because she admitted her mistakes. There's still plenty of time for the children to enjoy some freedom and grow as individuals. 

  5. I'm still a bit shocked that Prof. Chua wrote such a brutally honest account of Chinese parenting. Not all Chinese parents follow the strict, traditional model, but it is very un-Chinese to publicly air our parenting methods in Western society. I hope the book encourages insightful discussions about East vs West, informs people about Asian culture, and raises the profile of the Chinese in America. I hope people don't hate us.
What I find controversial: Chinese-Americans... aren't American?

I personally find most of the WSJ comments either meaningless or baseless in their accusations. Yet I personally find the book controversial in one way: Chinese-Americans are still outsiders and some even like it that way. Prof. Chua clearly thinks she is culturally different than mainstream Americans. In the book, she constantly refers to herself as Chinese -- not Chinese-American. She tells her daughters they are "Chinese" and not like all those other American kids. This is a common sentiment among immigrant families. The parents want to keep their culture and children close to them. But constantly talking about "Chinese" versus "Western" ways makes Prof. Chua appear un-American. Her writing sounds like the sort of conversations Asian-American kids have at school when they facetiously compare how "tyrannical" their parents behave. Asian-Americans like myself will get the inside joke, but non-Asians will not find it funny.

I don't see anything wrong with upholding cultural traditions. America was founded on the principles of religious freedom, so I would think that cultural freedom should be included. Still, I don't believe Chinese-American parents should tell their children to be more "Chinese" and less like their "lazy American" friends. There are much better ways to teach discipline, and it is possible to instill traditions in children, while keeping them open to other cultures. First, calling American children "lazy" or "rebellious" is racist and encourages the kind of divisiveness that blocks political progress. Second, the truth is that any Chinese person who spends 20+ years in America will be culturally different from the Chinese who spent their entire lives in the PRC, Taiwan, or Hong Kong. We all have a bi-cultural identity and it would be foolish to deny our American part. Finally, children who are constantly berated to be more "Chinese" will grow up to become adults who feel like outsiders in their own country. Amy Chua likes it, but I don't think everyone does. Asians are still a tiny minority in America, unless you move to an Asian enclave like the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, or Rockville.

There is a very good reason why Chinese-Americans are not well-integrated into American society. Because of risk-aversion, because of cultural boundaries, Chinese-Americans discouraged from entering fields like art, theatre, and most significantly, politics. African-Americans have the NAACP; the Jewish have great influence over Israeli relations despite their being a small minority. I have a distant cousin who is a journalist, but other than that, I don't personally know any Chinese-Americans who are in the public eye. Recently, I was asked to support a petition protesting the lack of Asian actors in the film "The Last Airbender," based on the successful animated series. This is our own doing. Asian-Americans are taught to be frugal. If they went to the movie theater in droves instead of borrowing DVDs from the library or downloading films from the internet, Hollywood would make films for Asians. A family friend, who is Chinese-American, told me that she has gone to countless talks by Asian-American authors and there are no Asians in the audience. The sad truth is that famous writers like Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston are only able to achieve fame and success with the support of their Caucasian fan base. I attended Amy Chua's book signing for Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother last week, and I was one of 5 Asians in the audience.

This post is becoming rather lengthy, but I want to continue my examination of Chinese culture after using Amy Chua's book as a starting point. I will discuss the pros and cons of growing up with Chinese values.

What I like about Chinese culture

I'm one of those Asian kids whose parents were very strict but I ended up really liking Chinese values. In that sense, Prof. Chua and I have a lot in common. I would like to make a small clarification. The Koreans and Japanese share many values with the Chinese due to the influence of Confucianism. (I'm a little disappointed that Chua doesn't discuss Confucianism in her book. Non-Asians readers don't know much about Chinese history; knowing a little about Confucianism would help them understand where these "crazy" Chinese values come from.) Nowadays, I like to call myself a Confucianist, but for the sake of consistentency, I'll just stick with "Chinese culture" and "Chinese values."

So what do I like about being Chinese? The work ethic and the belief that perseverance trumps talent in Chinese culture is fantastic. I hope it is never lost.

I also like the idea of tight families and respecting one's elders. Contemporary global culture seems to be moving towards young people, probably because from a marketing perspective, they are demographically the best consumers. Age-discrimination in employment, the rise in cosmetic surgery, all lead me to conclude that life isn't worth living after 50. Okay, I exaggerated, but I feel that American society is extremely unkind to the old. Even in modern Asian societies (e.g. South Korea), family ties are loosening. The elderly used to live with their children and grandchildren. Now everyone disperses across the country or even the globe to advance their careers.

I'm not saying that people shouldn't move to New York to pursue their dreams of becoming a world-renowned artist, but the I don't think everyone should do that. There has to be someone to hold the family together in an age where there are fewer and fewer common social institutions. I don't consider day care or nursing homes to be real social institutions. American society should be more grateful for stay-at-home parents, instead of making them feel socially inferior. There should be more legal protections to help parents resume their careers if they choose to stay at home.

The emphasis on family and elders ties into a larger strength of Chinese culture: stability and continuity.

Beating Confucianism into kids is harsh sometimes, even to me, but the result is a society where people share the same philosophy and values. I am continually amazed at how Chinese people can immigrate to the far corners of the globe, succeed, and maintain their culture. There are Chinese all over Southeast Asia, South America, you name it. When I was in Paris, I met an Algerian immigrant. He asked me if I was Chinese and told me that he was extremely impressed by the Chinese people. They had come to Paris with nothing, and in just a few decades (?), they had carved out an entire section of Paris with their own bakeries and shops. I am proud to be part of the world's longest unbroken civilization (5000 years!!) Individuality is sometimes overhyped, particularly in America. I think most people yearn to be part of something greater than themselves.

Non-Asians can behave like Chinese parents -- be strict, emphasize family ties, stress the importance of education -- but it's not the same. In Chinese culture, these values are not local to a single family; they are woven into the fabric of society. Confucianism is a self-reinforcing philosophy. In Asian society, even if you don't believe in Confucianism, it affects your life, just like Americans who live in Southern church-going communities.

How Chinese/Chinese-American parenting can be improved

I would, however, like to point out some problems with Chinese parenting and culture in America, based partly on personal experience.

Chinese culture trains their people to be hardy in a way that is almost like surving in the woods. It works great for getting from having nothing to become a respectable member of society. But you have to be careful when applying the "survivalist" Chinese parenting technique in relatively affluent, democratic countries like America. Parents who deny their children choice are doing their family a huge disservice. America is a forgiving society; the risk of making a few mistakes is worth the benefit of becoming a whole, healthy individual.

Another problem with insisting on Chinese values in a Western society is that the values are completely out of context. I would take my children to visit China/Taiwan/Japan/Korea and have them study Confucianism so they could understand where their culture comes from; I don't want them to grow up thinking that Chinese values are simply "study, study, obey parents, study." My parents never took me to Asia until I was long graduated from college, and I regret that very much.

A glaring weakness of Chinese parenting is that it doesn't teach people how to be happy or how to deal with failure. Perhaps Western culture can provide some insight on how to deal with these issues.

To this day, I'm not very good at enjoying anything. I've been doing some photography, but sometimes I worry too much about getting becoming a better artist, rather than having fun. I tend to eat for nutritional value, not pleasure. When I go on vacations, I try to cram in as many sights as possible because every good Chinese tries to get their money's worth. The only relaxing thing I ever do is watch television. If I wanted to teach my children about happiness, I would have to rely on others.

The biggest obstacle in my life is failure. I don't mean small things like getting a B in a class; I mean failures that are so significant that your life stops. The old adage of "don't be so hard on yourself" doesn't work. I don't have all the answers, but my personal experience has taught me that you need unconditional support from close friends and family and that you should learn to embrace failure as a normal part of life. Those intrepid people who found startups have great self-confidence. They know that if they fail, they have the skills and discipline to try again. Do things way outside your comfort zone. If you are shy, join an improv class.

Chinese parents need to let their children know that failure, for the right reasons, is okay. Sometimes the reason is that the objective was risky or difficult. Sometimes the reason is unavoidable life circumstances out of one's control. Chinese culture can falsely give the impression that anything is achievable with discipline. Therefore one is personally responsible for failure.

I agree with people who say that a hybrid approach taking elements of "Chinese" and "Western" parenting is best. Either extreme is bad. Overly strict Chinese parenting creates adults who might suffer from low self-esteem, become unhappy perfectionists, and/or hate their parents. Extremely permissive parenting is equivalent to not caring at all.

As a scientist, I prefer structure. If I were to combine Chinese and Western approaches, it makes sense for me to start from the Chinese end and moderate it. Personally, I think it's easier to be strict earlier and permissive later.

One point is clear: Western culture can definitely teach Chinese parents the importance of developing a good relationship with their children based on openness and mutual respect.

Children must respect their parents, but at the same time, parents must respect their children.

This is especially true when they are older. Children should not be abused as status symbols or financial investments. One of the worst aspects of Chinese (Japanese/Korean) culture is this obsession with rankings and "losing face." If a kid is admitted to both Harvard and Yale, all the Chinese elders will tell him/her to go to Harvard because it's ranked higher. And that kid's parents will brag about the child to everyone in their social circle, but never tell the kid to his/her face that they are proud of him/her. When I was named a Westinghouse semi-finalist for excellent science research in high school, I was interviewed by the local Chinese newspaper. The reporter actually asked me if my parents were going to buy me a car to reward me for my accomplishment.

On the flip side, if a child develops depression and has to take time off in college, the parent is embarrassed to talk about the child with other parents. If a child goes to a second-tier university, other Chinese parents will think the child is stupid and lazy. Even worse, a child gets "bad" grades in school, is ashamed to tell the parents, and commits suicide. Of course, I am giving the worst case examples, but these kinds of events happen far more regularly in Asian than Western societies.

The situation is made worse by a cultural preference for suppressing feelings. Asians frequently don't discuss uncomfortable feelings because they are supposed to promote a "harmonious" society and because they are forbidden from questioning their elders.

Chinese and Chinese-American parents, I implore you to hug your children for no reason, to tell them you love them for being your child not because they became a surgeon, to criticize less and listen more, to be sympathetic. Be relentless, in the same way Amy Chua pushed her daughters to practice piano and violin.

If I could only utter one criticism of Chinese culture, it would be:

The Chinese people should never lose sight of the fact that success is not everything.

If so-called Chinese culture produces selfish, ambitious jerks, I want no part of it. We want to raise children to become adults who are both high-achieving and good people. In the end, this is what good parenting, whether Chinese or Western, is all about.

13 January 2011

What I learned from Korean drama (or rather, "Coffee Prince")

I recently watched my first Korean drama, "Coffee Prince", after discovering a slew of Korean dramas on Hulu. I've never watched any Asian TV shows before, so this was a new experience for me. I noticed some interesting trends:
  • Love triangles. "Coffee Prince" actually has a love quadrangle.
  • Korean men seem to be saints. In "Coffee Prince," all the male characters (except for the one "player") are madly in love with a single woman and absolutely loyal to her. Examples: the butcher chasing after a widowed mom, a man who goes into debt for his girlfriend, a rather stupid young man who chases after a girl and calls her "angel", a young man who has had a crush on his cousin's ex-girlfriend for nine years.
  • Stalking is romantic. One of the men followed a woman from Japan to Korea and tries to get her address from a friend of hers. In America, we would call this stalking, but apparently, it's considered romantic in Korean television.
  • Japanese guys are hot? I'm not sure about this one. School-age girls are depicted going wild over a Japanese-looking guy who works at the cafe.
  • There is a character who scolds their children and disapproves of them. In the case of "Coffee Prince," it was the grandma who yells at your grandson. I don't know why but I can't help cracking up when I watch these yelling sequences. I find it endearing for some reason.
  • Insistence on happy endings. At the start of the TV show, we find out the grandma has late stage stomach cancer. Yet, in the epilogue, we see a flash forward to two years from now and grandma is still alive and looks fine. "Grandma, don't you have cancer?"
  • Sexual innocence. It appears that none of the young characters have any sexual experience except for a sophisticated 30-something couple. And most of these characters are in their early 20s. I had a hard time believing that one of the main characters, a smart, confident, sophisticated 29-year old guy, would act like a virgin in the bedroom. There was a scene where he tries to chase his girlfriend out of his apartment because he desperately wants to sleep with her. ???
  • Close families. This seems like a given to me. Most Asian families are close and it's completely normal for a father to take baths with very young daughters.
  • Fantasy sequences. The first episode used a lot of cuts to fantasy sequences. This reminds me a lot of "Scrubs" (though I hear "Ally McBeal" pioneered this style of storytelling in American television).
  • Calling someone by their full Asian name (last name followed by first name) conveys seniority or intimacy. People of the same age and rank don't typically call each other by their full names, so if they do, they're probably dating. Of course, parents, teachers, etc. can call their children, students, etc. by their full name and there is nothing unusual about that.
  • Differences in social manners from Western culture. Koreans appear to bow a lot. They bow when the boss arrives at work; they bow to their elders. They sit on the floor during family dinners. In a very formal situation, they sit on their knees, which I'm told is extremely uncomfortable. Chinese people don't really do any of these things regularly.
Despite many obvious cliches, "Coffee Prince" won me over with its charm and enthusiasm, an interesting twist (the main male character worries that he's gay even though the "man" he likes is a cross-dressing girl), and excellent production, writing, and direction.

09 January 2011

Sports photography tips

  1. You need to know the sport you're shooting. That means you want to be standing in the right location. For example, hockey is very different from baseball. In baseball, the athletes are mostly in fixed positions. So you point your camera at the pitcher/batter/baseman. In hockey, the players are constantly moving so you point the camera at either the attacking zone (stand at the end boards) or the defending zone (stand at the blue line). It helps to do research on the sport (reading the rules, watching footage), or even better: play the sport yourself.
  2. Put autofocus and shutter release on separate buttons, if your camera has this function. For Canon users, this is known as AF-on back button focusing. The idea is that you spend most of your time following a particular player or action and trying to maintain focus. So you should have a separate button for AF and only release the shutter when you have a good shot.
  3. People frequently recommend that you use the center AF point because it's usually the most sensitive. But sports are too fast. You'll have to keep the subject on the center AF point all the time, because you don't have time to focus and recompose. If the subject is always in the center, the composition will be off and you'll have to crop the photos. A friend of mine, who did professional sports photography, says that he recommends uses the AF-on back button focusing to establish a focus on the right ballpark (for instance, focus on a faceoff dot on the hockey rink). Then as the play happens, make minor adjustments in focus with the manual focus ring on the lens. If your lens has this option, you can manually focus while the AF is on.
  4. Practice right before the game starts. I learned this from listening to a pro sports photographer (Ron Wyatt) speak at B&H Eventspace. He said that he practices shooting before the event. Doing sports photography is a sport in itself. You should warmup first.
  5. Like any kind of event photography, you should have a shot list. When I shoot hockey, my list is something like this: wide angle shot of rink, skater shooting puck, goalie making save, closeup of puck on faceoff, players pushing each other in front of the net, referee escorting player to penalty box, closeup of player's face, players celebrating after a goal, crowd shots, players lining up for post-game handshake, etc. You would like to have a variety of shots planned. This is also helpful if you're having trouble getting a particular kind of shot, then you can move on to the next item on your list and come back to it later. In sports, people tend to take the same kind of shot over and over again. To avoid this problem, you want to think ahead of time and think creatively.
  6. Try to get the white balance right while you're shooting. It will be a nightmare to fix afterwards. For indoor sports, the lighting is usually fixed, so you can do a rough white balance (I like the Expodisc) and then set that as your custom white balance for the rest of the game.
  7. Use photo-processing software. After you come back from the sporting event, you will have hundreds of photos. Your life will be much easier if you use something like Lightroom to process them. The software will allow you to batch operations like adjusting white balance and quickly sort the good photos from the bad.
  8. Use a camera with a fast frame rate (at least 5 fps or higher) and a good auto-focusing system. That means don't try to take sports photos with a point-and-shoot camera. These types of cameras use contrast detection AF which is very slow. You need something like an SLR, which uses phase detection AF. Semi-pro and pro-level SLR cameras will have much better AF systems than entry-level ones.
  9. Use fast (large aperture) telephoto lenses. You want as fast a shutter speed as possible. It is pretty much impossible to shoot dark indoor sports without such a lens.
  10. Bring lots of memory cards and storage space (photo viewer or laptop). I recommend bringing an Epson P-3000/P-5000/P-7000 Multimedia Storage Viewer. It's possible to open the P-3000 case and upgrade the hard drive yourself. Between cards, you put a filled card into a slot on the viewer and dump all photos from the card into the viewer's hard drive. This is a good way to backup photos and also view them on a small screen. The Epson device is much smaller and easier to use than a laptop.
  11. Try using a monopod. Sometimes it can be useful if you know exactly where the shot is going to be. For example, photographing an Olympic archer from a fixed position. Other times, it can get in the way. I don't use a monopod for shooting hockey.