Archive for November, 2011

The Continuing Strange Saga of the 9 Wayne Hills HS Football Players

The school board in Wayne NJ announced right after Thanksgiving that they were now going to enforce the ban on the 9 varsity football players who were arrested and charged with the aggravated assault which left two kids from Wayne Valley HS seriously hurt after a party some weeks ago.

The coach of the Wayne Hills football team, Chris Olsen, vigorously opposed that his 9 players be suspended. He insisted that the boys were ” innocent until proven guilty,” and that the only thing they were guilty of was being on the football team. Olsen, who also serves as the school’s athletic director, was adamant in his defense.

And for a few weeks, this defense worked. The 9 players in question were indeed allowed to play in not one but two NJ state playoff games until the school board finally announced that they were going to be banned from any extracurricular activities, which of course includes football. The team is slated to play Old Tappan HS on December 3rd in Metlife Stadium.

Eventually, the facts will all come out when this episode does find its way into court, or into a plea bargain. Who knows what the real facts are in this case? But again, that isn’t the point of the suspension. Even if the 9 football players felt they were threatened by the two victims, or somehow can make a case that they were doing the right thing in beating them unconscious and stomping on them, the truth is — these 9 players had to know that, at some point, they had crossed the line of what was appropriate.

It was at that point when these boys had to come to grips with the reality that this skirmish went far beyond the Code of Conduct for student-athletes, and that they had, in effect, needed to learn a difficult life lesson about doing the right thing.

But as you know, the 9 players and their parents (with the support of their coach) worked hard to fight back andto make a case that they were very much being wronged here. Some of them even hired lawyers to make their case. While that’s okay for their promised day in court, it sets an very ominous and dangerous precedent when it comes to schools and teachers trying to educate students on doing the right thing. And it sure doesn’t make it any easier when the parents of the accused students are opposing the school administration instead of supporting it.

Is missing a run at the state football championship a harsh lesson? Of course. Big time. And let’s just say hypothetically that the 2 kids who were beat up did something they shouldn’t have done – maybe they jumped one of the 9 players, or maybe they threw a bottle at one of the boys. Doesn’t that make the beating fully justifiable?

To that, I would suggest: when did two wrongs start to add up to one right? Yes, it’s a tough lesson for these 9 kids to absorb, but in the long run, school is much more about learning right from wrong – not necessarily about winning state championships in football.

Continuing Education for Youth League Coaches (Part IV): Written Disciplinary Rules

By Doug Abrams

My last few columns catalogued important issues that are likely to arise during a typical season. I urged youth league coaches and boards of directors to treat these issues during the preseason period, before disagreement or uncertainty threatens team harmony.

This column discusses the team’s written disciplinary rules, which coaches and boards of directors should approve and present to parents and players at an early meeting. Regardless of the players’ talent level or age, discipline is the backbone of team success. Breakdowns in discipline sometimes hurt diligent players the most by consigning them to a team that is unlikely ever to reach its potential.

Discipline on teams for five-year-olds means something different than discipline on teams for fifteen-year olds. As president of a youth hockey program for more than a decade, however, I convinced the board that a uniform set of rules would condition younger families to the program’s expectations as their children grew older. We acknowledged that some of the rules did not apply to the youngest teams. Like other organizations, however, youth sports programs develop a culture over time, and we wanted our youngest teams to grow accustomed to the desired culture.

Parents and players are entitled to receive advance notice about the disciplinary rules and the potential consequences for violation. In all walks of life, Americans have been conditioned to expect fair notice from people in authority. Consider, for example, the objection of a driver who receives a speeding ticket where the general area posts no speed limit. Players and their parents have a similar objection when the coach imposes a sanction for violating a rule that they have never seen.

To avoid later misunderstandings, disciplinary rules should be presented to each family in writing. Coaches and programs can decide for themselves whether simply to hand out the document, or else whether to have each parent and player sign at the bottom to indicate that they have read the rules and agree to abide by them. At the very least, the mere act of signing helps impress on parents and players the  importance of obedience to the rules. If the team or program intends to create a “contact,” the parent’s signature must appear because minors cannot make binding contracts.

When the board of directors asked me to draft the hockey program’s disciplinary rules, I responded with a set that reflected three basic ideals – simplicity, generality and discretion.

Simplicity

First, the hockey program wanted to keep the rules simple because so much of team discipline merely distinguishes between basic right and wrong. Disciplinary rules typically range from basic ones I discussed in the last two weeks (for example, players must attend practices and games regularly) to the more detailed (for example, players who must miss a practice or game must telephone the coach in advance).

Our program’s rules (which I reproduce below for other coaches and boards to consider) amounted to this: players must regularly attend practices and home and road games; must follow their coaches’ instructions; must respect their teammates, opponents and fans; and must avoid damaging the ice rinks in which we played at home and on the road. Disciplinary rules cannot get much simpler than that, and ours reflected standards that any sports program should expect from its members, and that members should expect from one another.

We opted for simplicity because our coaches volunteered to work with the players and their families, and not to spend the bulk of their time as disciplinarians. We also authorized coaches to add rules suitable to their own teams, though we requested that the coaches secure board approval of any additions before presenting them to the parents and players.

The rules generally worked as desired. Very few disciplinary issues arose once parents and players learned that the program expected them to assume basic responsibilities that come naturally in youth sports or other collective enterprises.

General or Specific?

Second, the hockey program’s disciplinary rules tried to be specific enough to provide fair notice to parents and players, yet general enough to cover unanticipated events. Because no board member was clairvoyant, we tweaked the rules from year to year to reflect what we learned from previously unforeseen circumstances in our program and others in our league.

Discretion

Third, the hockey program wanted the disciplinary rules to grant coaches discretion and flexibility that reflected the confidence that the board had vested in them when they were appointed. Team discipline works best when it begins, and ideally ends, with the coach, and not with the board of directors. Discussions among the coach, player and parents generally serve everyone better than discussions with board members.

Disciplinary rules typically outline the general range of sanctions for infraction (for example, from being benched for a portion of a game to sitting out an entire game or more), but coaching is not an exact science. We would tell parents frankly that coaches need latitude to distinguish between inadvertent and intentional violations, and between generally obedient players and players prone to trouble. The program’s bylaws recited grievance procedures for parents who believed that a coach abused discretion, but no parent ever filed a grievance.  

A Sample to Consider

Our hockey program’s disciplinary rules appear below, with only slight edits to conform to this blog’s broad readership. The rules may need to be adapted to conform to local conditions and expectations, and to distinctive issues that can arise in various sports: 

 

Central Missouri Eagles Youth Hockey Association

Player Disciplinary Rules

By joining the Central Missouri Youth Hockey Association Eagles, the player and the parent or guardian agree that they will abide by these Disciplinary Rules, and further agree that violation may be cause for suspension or removal from the Association. In addition to any sanctions that might be imposed by USA Hockey or league regulations, the coach will determine sanctions for conduct violating these rules on a case-by-case basis. 

1)         Players will conduct themselves responsibly and obey the Ice Arena’s Rules and Regulations whenever they are in or around the building, whether at hockey practice or games, at public skating sessions, or for any other reason. Players will also conduct themselves responsibly while traveling to and from road games and while participating in these games.

2)         Players will not engage in fighting, hazing, bullying, deliberate attempts to injure, abuse of officials, or other unsportsmanlike conduct detrimental to the mission of the Central Missouri Youth Hockey Association to teach respect and fair play.

3)         Unless excused by the coaching staff, players will be regular and punctual in their attendance at practice sessions and home and road games.

4)         Players will wear full equipment mandated by USA Hockey whenever they are on the ice during practice sessions and games. Players will not wear any jewelry during practices or games.

5)         After practice sessions and games at the Ice Arena and after road games, players will leave the locker room area in a clean condition, free of tape and other refuse.

6)         Players will not travel to or from road games except in vehicles driven by their parent or guardian, another player’s parent or guardian, or another adult approved by the coaching staff in advance. 

7)         Players will not use alcohol, tobacco products or unlawful drugs.

 

When HS athletes are charge with serious crimes: Should they be allowed to continue to play?

The focus on the 9 Wayne Hills (NJ) HS football players brings up an age-old debate about whether athletes who are charged with serious crimes should be immediately suspended from all extracurricular activites (including state playoff games), or whether they should be allowed to continue with their affairs until they have their day in court.

(For those of you not familiar with this case, 9 players on the Wayne Hills’ football team were arrested and charged with aggravated assault on two students from a neighboring HS two weeks ago. The two victims were beaten savagely, with one being left unconscious and the other kicked and stomped. Wayne Hills’ team is a perennel powerhouse in football, and no one from the school administration or athletic office felt compelled to suspend the kids. They played two Friday nights ago, but then, this past week, the acting superintendent decided to suspend them. That decision was short-lived as the school board, after hearing from the attorneys representing the players, reversed the suspension, and the 9 were cleared to play this past Friday night.

At this point, the 9 players continue to play on the team, which is marching through the playoffs.

Today’s radio show had all sorts of arguments on either side of the debate, but as law professor Doug Abrams made clear, traditionally school districts usually step in and suspend HS athletes from playing until a preliminary investigation of the all the facts are reported. In short, the attitude is that even if the coach doesn’t do anything or the parents don’t step in, at least the superintendent or school board will intervene and stop the kids from playing.

And although I don’t know that a Code of Conduct exists at this high school, but if there isn’t one, then perhaps the time has come to have one.

Besides, even if these 9 players are innocent of all charges, or somehow they were provoked, didn’t any of them think that their actions in beating two kids might somehow come back to haunt them?

But just the opposite has happened here. As of this posting, the 9 players are cleared to keep playing, and of course, their court date may be months away.

So what’s the bottom line? Well, two HS kids are recuperating from serious injuries. Nine players have lawyered up and continue to play for a state championship.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Hard to say, but traditionally, when an incident this severe has caused police to make arrests and file charges, then those young athletes are put on the back burner for awhile. What almost never happens is that the kids are allowed to keep playing. Or at the very least, the head coach benches the kids for a good chunk of the game, if nothing else to show his disgust at what has happened.

But in truth none of that has occured here in Wayne Hills.  Hard to believe, but true. I can only imagine what kinds of life lessons are being taught to these kids.

 

Continuing Education for Youth League Coaches (Part III): More Issues that Youth Leagues Should Raise in the Pre-Season Parents Meeting

By Doug Abrams

Last week’s column presented four important issues that youth league coaches or boards of directors should address with parents during the pre-season period – attendance, playing time, winning and losing, and injuries.  This week’s column presents six more issues; next week’s column will discuss the team’s written disciplinary rules, which should be distributed as early as possible.

5)       The coach’s relations with parents

Despite the best efforts of sports programs and individual coaches, parents may have disagreements with the coach during the season. Programs and coaches should establish reasonable protocols for parents who want to discuss disagreements with the coach. When a disagreement arises, it is too late to create a protocol for the first time.

Because coaches are ill-equipped emotionally to handle disagreements immediately after the pressure of a game, some programs institute a “24-hour rule” that permits no discussions with the coach until the next day, at least in the absence of an emergency. Other programs require parents to speak first to the team manager or other designated intermediary, who then approaches the coach and sets up a meeting. Still other programs permit direct discussions with the coach without written restriction.

6)    The parents’ relations with one another

I have coached in youth hockey programs whose teams thrived with parents who respected and cooperated with one another, and who enjoyed socializing during practices and games. But I have also seen teams whose parents divide into cliques or factions, and soon begin arguing among themselves as they counted down the games, anxious for the season to end.

Whether parents remain united or hostile is their call, but I explain to parents that they shortchange themselves when they forego the very fun and fulfillment that they seek for their children. Youth sports should produce positive memories for the whole family, parents included. 

Quarreling parents also hurt the players because hostility wins no games, and indeed can drag down the team. Teamwork wins games, and parents are part of the team. By guaranteeing equal playing time for players who attend practice regularly, I try to encourage harmony by removing most reason for quarrels.

7)    The parents’ general behavior

 

The pre-season meeting is the time for a candid discussion about how parents and coaches should behave during practices and games. Competition produces stresses and strains from time to time, but the need for self-control is greatest when the stresses are the greatest.

 

I tell parents that when they attend practice sessions and games, they represent themselves, their children, their families and their communities. Parents and coaches do themselves and their children no favor when they sully the family name. The team plays just as well, and perhaps even better, when the adults show the dignity and decorum that they expect from their own children as they try to win. 

 

At least on my teams each year, the parents would “get it” and cooperate with the coaching staff to create a positive team culture. Much of youth coaching resembles “follow the leader,” and players are not the only followers. I would like to believe that when coaches take the lead on citizenship, most parents fall into line. When a family strays, peer pressure from the others can help maintain the right tone.

I remind parents that children are influenced more by what adult role models do than by what they say. Parents watch their children, but the children also watch their parents.

8)    The parents’ behavior toward referees and other officials

Referees and other officials typically are prime targets of parents’ verbal abuse. Officials inevitably make mistakes because they (like the parents, coaches and children) are not professionals in the sport. But for every mistake, officials also make dozens of correct calls that only appear wrong to parents and coaches who do not understand the rules or do not see the action as well as they think they do. 

I would tell the parents that mistake or no, the team will be entitled to perfect referees when the players become perfect players, the coaches become perfect coaches, and the parents become perfect parents. Until that day of universal perfection dawns, fallible officials are part of youth sports.  

I also remind parents that referees can hear profanity and other verbal abuse only when parents shout so loudly from the stands or sidelines that the players on the field can also hear it. Adults should not shout anything that they would be embarrassed to say in front of their youngsters in the backyard. The adults’ conduct should not sink below the level they would find acceptable from their own children.

9)    Supervising the players

Adult supervision in and around the locker room is particularly important at the younger age levels. The coaches cannot be everywhere at once, so they need the parents’ help. If the coaches expect the parents’ help with supervision in practice sessions and games, they should ask for this help at the pre-season meeting.

Our 9-10-year-old squirt hockey players were good kids who got along with one another and did not look for trouble, but even good kids sometimes horse around. Unnecessary accidents can happen when supervision falters.

Until the last five minutes or so before pregame warmup, the squirt team’s parents would typically be in the locker room to help their players dress and lace up their skates. As the coaches tended to obligations elsewhere in the rink, the parents would help keep an eye on things. In the last few minutes before the team hit the ice, the parents would leave the locker room to the players and coaches.

Because parents tend not to come in the locker room at the older age levels, coaches must pay closer attention, and sometimes must rely on the team’s captains to keep a watchful eye.

10)   Cell phones

Cell phones frequently come with cameras today. When the coaching staff believes that any possibility of abuse exists, the staff should ban use of these devices in locker rooms and on the field. The ban should extend to practice sessions and games alike. If players bring cell phones, the players can leave them with their street clothes. Otherwise the players can ask a parent, coach or team manager to hold these devices during practices or games and return them afterwards. One way or the other, players do not need their cell phones once they enter the locker room or go out onto the field.

Many public school districts ban student use of cell phones and camera phones during the school day because the potential for distraction or cyber harassment is so great. Similar potential can exist in youth sports.

A few years ago, one of my high school hockey players phoned his girlfriend between line shifts while he was on the bench and she was in the stands. (No kidding!) I told the player to hang up because the game required his full attention and their relationship would survive even if they waited an hour or so until after the game for their next conversation.

Even more dangerous these days, however, is the potential for online distribution of compromising photographs. The media has reported incidents of players surreptitiously photographing teammates fooling around or undressed in the locker room or showers, and then sending the photos electronically to others. The photographer might even be friendly with the subject and mean no harm, but many teens consider camera phones to be toys and do not appreciate that photos transmitted electronically create permanent records subject to uncontrollable distribution.

Many parents now warn their children to watch for teammates who brandish camera phones in the locker room, but the more proactive approach is for the coach to ban their use entirely. Parents should understand when the coach explains the reason for the ban and enlists their support and cooperation.

 

Next week: The team’s written disciplinary rules

Continuing Education for Youth League Coaches (Part II): Issues that Youth Leagues Should Raise in the Pre-Season Parents Meeting

By Doug Abrams

Last week’s column discussed the value of state and local training sessions for youth league coaches. Sports programs from coast to coast depend on these public servants who, like the players themselves, are not professionals in the game.

Training sessions typically cover skills, strategy, values and safety. As I mentioned last week, these sessions should also present a list of disagreements, disputes and other important issues that are likely to arise during a typical season. With this advance knowledge, coaches and boards of directors can decide how to address these issues in pre-season parents meetings, before the predictable happens. Surprises are inevitable in any season, but seasons run most smoothly when surprises remain at a minimum.

When I coached youth hockey for more than 40 years (including 10 years as founder and president of a youth hockey association), I learned plenty from my own reactions to events, and from comparing notes with other coaches and administrators. From these experiences, this week’s column begins discussing issues that warrant early attention and resolution. Part III will continue this discussion next week, and Part IV the following week will turn to the team’s disciplinary rules.

The coach or board can present some of these issues orally, but should commit others to writing so that core team policies will remain clear to parents and players alike.  Local circumstances may help determine which issues invite uniform policies established by the board of directors for all teams, and which ones individual coaches may establish for their own teams. One way or the other, clear and early presentation of these issues can help guide the team and prevent misunderstandings that might otherwise arise during the season, when everyone should be focusing on the team’s performance.

1)    Attendance

At any age level, learning and peak performance depend on full attendance at practice sessions and games. Before the coach imposes sanctions for unexcused absences, however, parents deserve to know the attendance rules from the pre-season parents meeting.

Attendance is inherent in team membership. A team cannot work effectively on skills, formations and strategy with players missing from practice sessions. And organized sports teams do not play pickup games where attendance would be optional. When children learn the importance of loyalty to the team in practices and games alike, the lesson transcends sports.

On the other hand, children are not paid professionals and some unavoidable absences happen. Players may face sickness, family emergencies, extracurricular school activities, and other unavoidable commitments. Coaches usually earn the loyalty of most parents by explaining the need for full attendance, by insisting that absences remain the isolated exception rather than the rule, but also by following a “rule of reason” that tolerates occasional special needs of parents and their players. 

2)    Playing time

In the typical youth sports program, a bulk of disputes between coaches and parents concern the playing time that the children receive during games. When these disputes are reduced or removed, the season generally proceeds with less rancor for everyone. Personally I believe in equal time for all youth leaguers who attend practice regularly (except perhaps on older select teams whose playing time policies are clearly stated at the outset), but that is the subject for a later column.

Because parents pay the bills and because players are their children, parents are entitled to full disclosure about the playing-time policy of the program and its coaches as soon as possible. If the policy is not discussed before parents enroll and assume the financial and emotional commitments of team membership, playing time should be a prime agenda item for the pre-season parents meeting.

Even when the team opts for equal playing time, the coach’s early statement about team policy may not settle the issue as the season progresses. Parents of more experienced players might begin to see inequality as a surer road to victory, and parents of less experienced players might see equality as a way for their children to develop and improve.

Without full disclosure from a pre-season statement, the coach can be whipsawed by factions. When coaches provide playing time as promised, however, they deflect much dispute because families enrolled with knowledge of the team policy. Parents have a more difficult time claiming frustrated expectations or challenging the staff’s candor.

3)    Winning and losing

Discussion of playing time leads to discussion of the policy of the coach or board of directors about winning and losing. Particularly if equal playing time are the bywords, some parents may immediately imagine that the team is willing to sacrifice a victory here or there. 

At the pre-season meeting, I would tell the parents that I am as competitive and anyone else in the room. I acknowledge what every youth sports parent, player and coach already knows – that winning is preferable to losing. Indeed, I believe that wanting to win defines the essence of sports at any age and at any level of amateur or professional play. The integrity of sports depends on competitors who each care about the scoreboard. Athletes unconcerned about the score should not play because they deny their opponents the spice that comes from physically and emotionally invigorating competition.

For adults in youth sports, however, wanting to win is not the ultimate question. The ultimate question is what prices the adults are willing to pay in the quest to win, and what prices they are unwilling to pay. The answer summons basic values.

I tell the parents that I too will watch the scoreboard, and that I will often put the most experienced players on the ice in the last few minutes of a tight game and rectify any imbalance in the next game. But I also tell the parents that chronic benchwarming is a badge of shame for children – a price that I am unwilling to pay, and that parents themselves should be unwilling to pay.    

4)    Injuries

The first responsibility of parents, coaches and league administrators is to assure the safest possible conditions for the boys and girls who play. Because sports carries risk of injury despite the most careful safety measures, however, coaches and parents need to be ready before injury strikes. As Benjamin Franklin said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Restaurants typically have “First Aid for Choking” posters on their walls, but a life is more likely to be saved when diners understand what to do before the unspeakable happens. Reading the poster for the first time does little to help a patron who is choking while seconds count. A youth sports program’s safety protocols are similarly most likely to work when they are firmly in place before an emergency tests them.

The board of directors should begin by appointing a Medical Committee, chaired by a parent or other volunteer adult who is a physician, nurse, emergency medical technician or other medical professional. At pre-season registration or at pre-season parents meetings, the committee and individual coaches should assemble a list of volunteer medically-trained parents and assure that at least one attends each practice session and game, prepared to assist players who suffer injury and seek further treatment where necessary.

Conclusion

Part III next week will continue this list of issues that coaches and boards of directors should address during the pre-season period. Part IV the following week will discuss the team’s written disciplinary rules, which the coach should also discuss at the outset.

Coaches and boards of directors can add to the list of “must address” issues to meet local circumstances. These circumstances may vary from place to place, but the bottom line remains the same everywhere: “Forewarned, forearmed; to be prepared is half the victory,” said Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes, author of “Don Quixote.”

A Parent’s Worst Nightmare: Protecting your kid from a sexual predator

Of all the sports parenting shows I’ve done over the years, today’s show was by far the most sobering.

I had recalled reading a terrifying cover story in Sports Illustrated that ran way back in Sept, 1999, about how pedophiles from all over the country had become fully engaged in coaching young kids in youth sports. The case studies from that lengthy article were just staggering. As such, in light of the Penn State tragedy, I did my best to track down Don Yaeger, who was one of the co-authors of the SI cover story, and Don was gracious enough to come on my show this AM.

Let me start with some of the basics that each and every sports parent needs to know about protecting their youngster from sexual predators.

According to Yaeger, here’s how it often starts: Understand that these individuals often present themselves as wonderful, caring people who only want the best for your child. That’s how they begin to build your trust. Over the course of a season, they gradually flatter you about your son and about how talented he is, and that maybe he could use a little extra special private instruction from the coach.

In fact, why don’t you just drop your son off after school for a couple of hours each week – no need for you to hang around — just make sure to come back and pick him up later. From there, the coach might lavish your son with some gifts and toys, maybe even give him a few shots of alcohol. And then maybe the coach starts to horse with the boy, roughhousing until they need to shower…well, you get the idea.

Sometimes, parents are so trusting of the coach that they allow their son to accompany the coach on an overnight road trip for an away game. They even allow their son to stay in the same motel room because, after all, the coach is such a “nice man” and he’ll “take care of our son.”

And that’s when the nightmare really sinks in.

As Don Yaeger pointed out this morning, a little parental common sense goes a long, long way:

Never allow your son to go anywhere with any coach – especially for a road trip, overnight team get-together, or celebratory party.

Understand that even though leagues and states often have mandatory background checks on coaches, the only coaches who are in the system are those who have actually been caught. Maybe your kid’s coach hasn’t been caught…yet.

Yaeger said that most kids, once abused, rarely will reveal their condition to their parents. Only about 1 in 10 abused kids will say anything. The rest won’t come forward because they are ashamed or humiliated.

Finally, the most important piece of advice is to be proactive. That is, when your son is as young as 8 or 9, you definitely need to have a serious heart-to-heart with them about what to look out for with pedophiles. Above all, get your son to talk to you if they’ve seen anything or are nervous.

For more information, I urge you to go to Don Yaeger’s website (www.donyaeger.com where Don has posted that original SI article. Or you can go to WFAN.com and click on the Podcasts link, then find my show and listen to what Don had to say.

 

Colleges Recruiting is One Thing…But HS Coaches Recruiting Other HS Players?

The story out of upstate New York was both bizarre and stunning. It would seem to be yet another case of coaches who want to win at any cost.

As my guest John O’Brien of the Syracuse Post-Standard related the details this AM on my show, as a result of some ongoing investigation by the governing bodies in Section III of New York State, it was found that several unnamed coaches from Skaneateles HS (pronounced “Skinny Atlas”) had been trying to lure top football players from neighboring HS to move into the Skaneateles school district so that they could enroll in school there and play football.

The Skaneateles football team, coached by former Syracuse All-American and former NFLer Tim Green, ran out to a 9-0 record this year.

But O’Brien said there was substantial evidence from a number of football players who said they had been personally approached by coaches from Skaneateles HS — that these players were told they would be provided with an apartment with large screen TV’s and Xbox games if they transferred.

Green adamantly denied all the charges, but ultimately decided to resign last week in the hope that his team would be allowed to continue on in the state playoffs. But Section III officials ruled unanimously that there were indeed violations going on at Skaneateles, and said that even though they would not have to forfeit their wins this season, the Skaneateles’ team would not be allowed to play in the Class C championship game.

According to O’Brien, this is the first time in NYS history that this kind of incident had been investigated. That being said, as a number of callers pointed out, recruiting of talented HS athletes happens all the time – except that it’s done on the sly, with a wink and a nod.

In other words, a coach from a HS CAN NOT approach a kid from a different HS to come and play ball for him. But if a kid wants to transfer from his home district to another district on his or her own, then that’s allowed. There are, of course, other restrictions. But the bottom line is that coaches can’t actively reach out and try to induce other kids to transfer to their school.

Bottom line? A very embarassing situation for everyone at Skaneateles HS. Even worse, the real victims here at the players who actually live in the Skaneateles’ district. They had a real shot to win a state championship, but now that dream has been totally derailed.

Continuing Education for Youth League Coaches (Part I)

By Doug Abrams

A century ago, museum director John Cotton Dana said that “those who dare to teach must never cease to learn.” The challenge applies to youth-league coaches, who are teachers in every sense of the word, even when they volunteer their time and energy without receiving a stipend or other compensation. The players are their students, and locker rooms and fields are their classrooms.

Whether they serve for only a few years or for a longer term, the best youth-league coaches view their tenure as an ongoing learning experience. Assuming a position of authority can sometimes discourage personal humility, but President Harry S Truman was right that “the only things worth learning are the things you learn after you know it all.”

Some state and national youth sports governing bodies (USA Hockey, among others) now require prospective coaches to attend a certification seminar before serving in local youth leagues. The seminar – which typically teaches skills, strategy, values and safety — normally lasts a day or two. It may be a one-time event, or the coach may have to renew certification every couple of years.

Local Associations’ Coaches Meetings

Certification seminars help enhance coaches’ knowledge of the game, help reinforce their respect for sportsmanship, and help sharpen their sensitivity to the physical and emotional needs of the boys and girls they mentor. These seminars, however, are a floor and not a ceiling, the bare minimum that equips coaches to continue learning in their local associations and leagues.

A local youth sports association can foster continued learning by appointing a Coaching Committee headed by the Coaching Director, typically one of the more experienced staff members. In a variety of ways, the committee and director supervise and assist the association’s other coaches throughout the season. The director should conduct one or more pre-season meetings where all coaches hear from their most experienced colleagues, freely exchange ideas, and learn the association’s tradition, approach and philosophy.

At the meeting itself and throughout the season, the committee should encourage all the association’s coaches to freely raise questions and concerns, without fear of criticism for seeking help and advice from one another. Every coach’s door must always be open to a colleague because when an association’s coaches assume the responsibility of leading youngsters in team sports, the coaching staff itself becomes a team.

A few years ago, a friend of mine was coaching in a nearby youth basketball program. For a few weeks, he remained silent as his team risked forfeiting out-of-town games because some families were depleting his roster by routinely skipping these games without suitable excuse. These families attended every home game, which did not involve the time and expense of travel. I urged my friend to talk with his coaching committee or board of directors before the attendance crisis grew even worse, but he hesitated because he was a new appointee who feared that “they may think I’m not a good coach.”

My friend’s insecurity resulted from a breakdown of communication and cooperation that did no one any good. Even if his fellow coaches’ doors were open to him, he did not sense that they were. When he finally approached the coaching committee, the board quickly assembled the team’s parents and sternly reminded them the association required attendance at home games and road games alike. Road attendance picked up, and the players had a better season for it.

Meetings With League Competitors

An individual association’s meeting need not be the last word. Depending on local conditions, the league (usually acting through the various associations’ boards, coaching directors or their designees) may also summon a meeting for coaches whose teams will play against one another throughout the season. These meetings do not diminish competition; indeed by encouraging the league’s coaches to meet one another and share common values, these gatherings may enhance competition and make the season more worthwhile for all teams.

When coaches drawn from several associations meet, they may understandably resist sharing their playbooks with the league’s other coaches because competition involves, well, competitors. But these league meetings, like state certification seminars, depend on presenters willing to teach fundamentals, skills and strategies while some competitors might be in the audience.    

League meetings also enable coaches to share ideas about such matters as how best to teach sportsmanship and other values to players and their parents, and how best to help assure player safety. Some coaches may have techniques, pep talks, slogans or other materials that work particularly well for them.

Coaches compete on the scoreboard, but they play on the same team when it comes to values and safety. When coaches freely share ideas about these important matters, their influence extends beyond their own teams to the entire league, a genuine opportunity to leave the widest possible impact on local youth.

 

Moderation and Excess

“Everything in moderation,” the old saying goes, “nothing in excess.” Most youth-league coaches volunteer their time, and some may even serve because no other parent steps forward. Time is at a premium for these public servants, who also assume obligations to their families and careers.

On top of preparation time and attendance at practices and games, multiple coaches meetings can become a considerable burden. When associations and leagues hold meetings in moderation, however, the gatherings can pay rich dividends for the coaches themselves and for the ultimate beneficiaries of their efforts – the players, who will soon hear new thoughts and lessons. 

Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. once said that “politics is essentially a learning profession.” So too, at all levels, is coaching. At the coaching seminars and meetings I have attended as a speaker or listener, everyone benefitted from the give-and-take, including speakers who learned new ideas from audience members. “When one teaches,” says writer Robert Heinlein, “two learn.”

Next Week: Anticipation

State and local training sessions are particularly effective ways to alert coaches to challenges that are almost certain to arise during the season. At a pre-season seminar a few years ago, I participated on a panel with men and women who, like me, had spent more than 30 years coaching youth-league sports. We had already seen most disputes, disagreements and other issues that are likely to occur in a typical season, so we spent the hour cataloguing them, soliciting our listeners’ input, and urging coaches (and, where appropriate, members of boards of directors) to raise these issues in their pre-season meetings with parents.

By anticipating and dealing with predictable issues before something happens, the coach or the board can avoid many problems and embarrassments during the season. When a coach or board grapples with an issue only after the predicable happens, they can sometimes do little more than react with damage control. Effective reaction might even have to wait until the following season, lest coaches and board members appear to be changing course in midstream and concocting rules and standards as they go along.

Next week Part II will begin presenting this catalog of recurrent, and often avoidable, issues. Each issue belongs on the agenda of the pre-season parents meeting because the best coaches are proactive, not reactive. Some of these issues also belong on the pre-season agenda of the board of directors, who may establish proactive association-wide policies rather than leave individual coaches to fend for themselves.