Archive for July, 2010

What Happened From The Last Generation of Sports Parents to Today?

I spent some time reflecting on how today’s generation of sports parents are so much different in their approach to their kids in sports than parents were 20-25 years ago. And I think I’ve pinpointed some of the more compelling forces:

1. Today’s pro athletes make mega-fortunes. A generation ago, pro athletes were wealthy, but today’s athletes are more like corporate entities with the millions they rake in. As such, parents today feel that it’s very much worth the time and expense to push their kids ahead in sports since the payoff is potentially worth millions.

2. And besides, even if the kid doesn’t go pro, he/she should at least get a college scholarship for sports. Parents today see that as almost a birth-right for their kids. What they don’t know is that most athletic scholarships are worth only a few thousand dollars, as most college sports programs don’t generate any revenue.

3. Parents today also assume that if their kid is the team MVP or makes All-League  in HS, that will give them a major step-up in terms of being recruited for a top college. Again, that’s a myth. The college coaches recruit only those kids who have major, major athletic credentials – and being HS MVP or All-League is no longer viewed as a major accomplishment by the recruiters.

4. Travel teams – which of course didn’t exist 30 years ago – are seen as giving a kid a major advantage over their peers. But here again, there’s no guarantee that your son/daughter will even be good enough to make a travel team (making them into a “has been” at an early age). And even if they make a travel squad, then there’s always the squabbles about playing time and playing the right position. Again, these issues didn’t exist a generation ago. Plus, very few travel team kids will tell you they play for fun – that’s not a top priority.

So, what does all this mean? Hard to say, except that it does seem that when we were kids, playing sports in the backyard, or on the sandlot, was a lot more enjoyable, less pressured, and overall a better experience. The real question, then, is how come we don’t want the same kind of experience in sports for our kids?

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HS swimmer loses athletic scholarship: sues her guidance counselor

In one of the strangest cases I’ve read about in some time, a champion HS swimmer from Missouri was offered an athletic scholarship to Colorado State University – -only to find that it was rescinded when the college admissions office read the less-than-flattering report from the girl’s HS guidance counselor.

In short, Shannon McKoy, who had won all sorts of awards as a swimmer and who carried a 3.0 GPA, was thrilled to receive the scholarship. But the college took it back when it read the recommendation letter from her HS guidance counselor. The counselor rated the girl as being “below average” in several key areas including integrity and leadership.

Outraged, the girl and her parents sued the guidance counselor and the HS. Colorado State, sensing bad publicity, reversed its position and gave the girl her scholarship back. But the lawsuit against the school and counselor continue. Among other claims is that the counselor didn’t even know the swimmer.

In any event, the case has gone national, and the parents are demanding $75,000 to take care of the psychological damages incurred by Shannon, their daughter.

In truth, there are lots of missing pieces in this case. Did the guidance counselor really know the girl? Why didn’t Colorado State simply call the school when it got the report and ask, in confidence, whether there was a problem with this kid’s make-up? And why did the parents make this into a lawsuit – that is, why embarass your kid even more?

All in all, a most bizarre case. But like the case last week where parents sued the hockey league because their kids got cut, this is just another example of sports parents going nuts.

“If you cut my kid from the team, I’ll sue you!”

Holy smokes! A couple of teenager hockey players get cut after trying out for a travel team in Toronto, and their parents filed a lawsuit against the league, coaches, and evaluators for “causing emotional distress” to the kids. The parents want $25,000 on behalf of their kids.

Now, I happen to see this lawsuit as nothing more as a legal way of annoying the league. These hockey parents must realize they have very little chance of winning this case, but their “reward”  is by forcing the league to hire lawyers, go to court, and deal with embarrassing publicity.

But – on the off chance that this case does move forward – can you imagine the precedent this would set? Coaches everywhere would demand to be covered with insurance that protects from these kinds of lawsuits. League administrators would insist that all kids (and their parents) sign waivers before they try out, in which they give up their right to sue in case things don’t work out for the youngster.

Even worse, kids who get cut from a team would no longer use adversity to bounce back from not making the team. Rather, they would simply ask Mom or Dad to hire a lawyer for them. And of course, what happens if the kids do win their case? Are they reinstated on the team? How does a coach handle a situation like that? It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this can just spiral out of control in a hurry.

All in all, this case is now in the Canadian legal system. While I am sympathetic with the kids getting cut from the team, I sure hope this doesn’t become the standard way of dealing with adversity. It slashes at the very heart of sports.

The Growing Battle for Fields

Law professor Doug Abrams covered several important topics on my show last week – including cyberpace issues and the safety concerns of having pee-wee hockey players start body-checking – but he also touched on the problem of local towns and communities and school districts dealing with the lack of enough playing fields to serve all the youth league teams.

We all acknowledge that there are usually too many kids but too few fields. But what Doug suggested is that schools and parks and rec personnel get together and truly map out which teams get the fields and at what times. Invariably, says Doug, the elite travel teams barge in and demand more practice and game times than the other regular teams, which is not only unfair but only leads to increased friction.

Too many towns and villages allow this practice to continue. As a result, only the top athletes in a town get the choice fields and hours to practice, and the other kids are given the leftovers. It seems to me that if your town is trying to keep ALL of its kids in shape and you want to build ALL your teams to become highly successful at the HS varsity level, then it’s essential that ALL the kids (not just travel players) are allowed to use the fields in a equal and democratic fashion.

Every town is different, of course. But this planning process does take time and effort, and real cooperation from all parties involved. You really need to keep all the athletes accommodated, regardless of their level of athletic ability. Yes, it does involve compromise. The other alternative is, of course, to simply build more fields.