Archive for December, 2011

My Top Ten Sports Parenting Predictions for 2012…

So much has happened in recent years in the ever-changing world of sports parenting, that I thought I’d finish out 2011 with my Top Ten Predictions for the coming year. Here we go:

10. LL Baseball will follow the NCAA and the Nat’l HS Baseball Federation and allow only BBCOR (and of course wood) bats. No more BESR aluminum bats with their huge sweet spots and dangerous trampoline effects.

Problem is, this new rule, I predict, won’t go into effect until 2013 as the bat manufacturers still want to sell off their large inventory of BESR aluminum bats. As such, LL Baseball mandatory use of BBCOR won’t kick in until 2013.

9. Wood bats will stay remain quite popular with serious young ballplayers.

Let’s face it – any young man who dreams of someday playing pro ball (where only wood is used) will continue to use wood bats during the summer leagues and use BBCOR during HS games.

8. More and more travel teams will try and block their players from playing on their local HS team.

It’s cruel to force HS kids to make a choice between playing for their HS varsity or playing for their travel team, but we’re already seeing this happen with US Soccer Academy forcing soccer players to choose. Sadly, this pattern is only going to continue into the new year.

7. More and more states will enact stronger legislation that will control the over-the-counter sale of high-energy and high-caffeine drinks to kids.

There have already been a number of serious health issues in the news, especially with HS athletes drinking these unregulated sports drinks. Parents need to know that just because these drinks are packaged brightly and sold in stores does not mean that they are safe, or have been scrutinized by the Federal Drug Administration.

In short, too many of these drinks contain seriously dangerous elements link arsenic and lead, and can lead to all sorts of health isssues.

6. Refs, umps, and officials will be given more latitude to end lopsided games and keep sportsmanship in play.

We keep hearing about lopsided scores, and that the coaches don’t mind running up the score. Here’s hoping that if the coaches can’t control themselves, the refs and umps will step in, and once they see a rout is in progress, they allow the clock to run, and if necessary, just stop the game.

Nobody benefits from a lopsided score, and you always run the risk of bitter feelings and fights. So, let’s allow the refs and umps to use their power and do the right thing.

5. In order to help defray the rising cost of HS sports, kids will be charged a fee for trying out.

Hard to believe, but this is already happening in Minnesota, where some public HS’s are already charging varsity hopefuls $50 to try out for the team. This idea may sound outrageous, but it’s the kind of idea that will spread like wildfire.

4. More clarification will be forthcoming regarding boys competing against girls in traditional HS female-oriented sports.

Title IX is a wonderful law, but it was never supposed to be used as a way for 18-year-old boys to compete on the HS girls’ field hockey team, nor allow boys to compete on the HS girls’ swim team. The time has come for the federal govt. to step in and clarify the purpose of the law.

3. More and more coaches will undergo background checks.

In light of the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal, more and more youth leagues will insist that all coaches undergo background checks. This is good news, but unfortunately, only those individuals who have ever been convicted of such a crime will be caught. Parents, always use common sense when it comes to your young athletes and their coaches!

2. HS Codes of Conduct need to be bolstered in terms of cyberbullying.

We have discussed this many times on the show, and in 2012, we really need HS administrators, ADs, coaches and school boards to step up and strengthen the Code of Conduct for athletes regarding online behavior.

Kids still don’t understand how powerful the internet can be, or for that matter, how dangerous. And once something that is alarming or libelous is posted, it’s very difficult to take down once it goes viral.

1. Amazingly in 2012….kids will still love playing sports!

After all the tremendous pressure we put on our kids regarding sports – and I’m talking about the pressure that comes from Moms, Dads, coaches, travel teams, try outs, etc – it’s still amazing that our children love playing sports. But they do!

As such, in 2012, make yourself a promise that you will take a deep breath, take a step back, and will just allow your son or daughter to enjoy the moment of playing sports. If we all did that, it would make for a very healthy and happy new year for us all!

HS Girls’ Basketball Chant: “One, Two, Three…N-Word”?

The media reports from Buffalo, NY, were hard to believe. For the last few years, the members of the Kenmore East HS girls’ varsity basketball team would meet for a private session in the lockeroom before taking the court. There were no coaches or adults present.

And then, the girls would say a little prayer, and then chant, “One, two, three…n-word!” Except that they would actually use the n-word.

Amazingly, one of the girls on the team this year is black, and when she heard this racist mantra, she spoke right up and protested to her teammates. She was told by one of the older girls on the team that it was simply a tradition, and not to think they were racist.

Huh?

In any event, once the school superintendent got wind of all this, he immediately clamped down and drew up a laundry list of punishments, including serious suspensions, reprimands, and so on. He made it abundantly clear that such nonsense would not be allowed in any form.

Bottom line? Hard to believe – and quite frankly, very sad – that girls who are juniors and seniors in HS could somehow come away thinking this pre-game chant was harmless or no big deal. What a shame.

Mike Milbury Allegedly Assaults a 12-year-old Hockey Player: What Sports Parent need to know…

According to several eyewitnesses, former NHL player and head coach and GM of the Islanders did something that lots of sports parents do – -when Milbury saw his 12-year-old son getting into an altercation with another 12-year-old on the ice, Milbury went onto the ice and separated the two boys by grabbing the other boy and pulling him off his son.

As we all know the parental instinct to protect one’s son or daughter from being harmed is very, very strong. So we all understand why Milbury instinctively went out to protect his son.

But here’s the problem. Once you grab somebody else’s kid, well, that’s usually seen as crossing the line. Yes, you can reprimand your own child…but once you reprimand another child, that’s when other parents start to call the cops.

Only a more formal investigation will determine what all the facts are here. And the good news is that the other 12-year-old wasn’t harmed. But Coach Milbury should have known better. Take care of your own kid….just be very, very cautious when it comes to putting one’s hands on somebody else’s child.

Memorializing a Coach or Player

By Doug Abrams

From 1969 to 1985, Wally Livingstone led the Nassau County youth hockey program at the Cantiague Park Ice Rink in Hicksville, New York.  His presence extended everywhere — as director of the County’s hockey program, coach of the midget travel team, and coach of an advanced summer conditioning clinic. When Wally died at age 48 on August 13, 1985, he left behind hundreds of friends and former players whose lives he had reached out and touched.

Among the hundreds was Doug Abrams, who played on Wally’s junior team in 1969 and became his midget team’s goaltending coach a decade later. As a player and then as a colleague, I watched Wally combine his knowledge of the game with energy, enthusiasm and a knack for teaching players of all ages.   

Almost immediately after Wally’s passing, several of his friends and former players began to consider how to perpetuate his memory at the Rink. Many of us remembered losing a coach or teammate at some time in our lives. We also remembered how the emotions of the moment sometimes produced well-intentioned memorials that were destined not to achieve their purposes — memorials that seemed meaningful at the time but ultimately fell short, or memorials that seemed like they would last but ultimately did not.

Wally’s friends and former players were committed to doing it right. “Doing it right” — creating a meaningful or lasting memorial to a coach or player — is the subject of this column.

Creating a Meaningful Memorial

The most immediate way to create a meaningful memorial is to channel donations to a charity or cause that the coach or player held dear. The family frequently makes suggestions in the obituary or at the funeral home, and initial giving sometimes continues. The family might select a recipient that will dedicate a fund in the name of the coach or player.

The family might select a foundation or other organization connected with a school, it might select a scholarship fund, or it might select a youth sports program or other special cause.  Sometimes families select a hospital or other provider that provided care and support during a final illness. The coach or player might have spoken about a particular charity, or family members might sense what the coach or player would want.

Big or small, individual gifts can make a perpetual difference, particularly where the recipient spends only a donation’s interest, and not the principal, each year. The intent behind a gift matters more than its amount because Aesop was right in his fable, The Lion and the Mouse: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”  At any age, adds billionaire New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, “every dollar makes a difference, and that’s true whether it’s Warren Buffett’s remarkable $31 billion pledge to the [Bill and Melinda] Gates Foundation, or my late father’s $25 check to the NAACP.”  

Imagination might influence the family’s selection. When Boston Bruins fan Ron Shepherd died at 63 in Ontario, Canada this past April, for example, his family wanted to share his love of hockey with the next generation of youth leaguers. The family requested that instead of flowers that would last only a few days, each visitor to the funeral home bring a new hockey stick.

The Shepherd family donated the 75 new sticks to the local youth hockey program for free distribution to the youngsters, who ranged in age from five to high school. “My dad would be so happy to see the kids playing with the sticks,” said Shepherd’s daughter. “If we all just gave according to our ability,” concludes President Bill Clinton in Giving, his recent book on philanthropy, “the positive impact would be staggering. . . . If everyone did it, we would change the world.”

Creating a Lasting Memorial

Wally Livingstone’s friends and former players wanted a lasting memorial. First we requested that the County rename the Cantiague Park Ice Rink in his honor. It was worth a try, but we began seeking permanence in other ways when the County explained that renaming would be impossible.

Within a few weeks, we took the first step toward permanence when I wrote a remembrance of Wally for a national hockey magazine and several local Long Island newspapers. With so many articles chronicling excesses in youth leagues and high school sports these days, local media may welcome stories that cast a coach or teammate in a positive light.

Sometimes a staff writer can do the story about the coach or teammate, or else a simple phone call to the sports editor can reveal the newspaper’s specifications for letters-to-the editor or other opinion pieces that readers submit for publication. With today’s technology, the story and any accompanying photograph would be a permanent remembrance on the Internet.

After the article, we specifically chose not to dedicate an annual “Wally Livingstone Memorial Award” in the Nassau County youth hockey program. An annual award can last if it is endowed with an organization that will actually present it each year. And if its plaque or display is bolted into a wall in a prominent place, because bolting creates permanence. Annual awards often come with a risk, however, when the plaque can easily be removed from the wall, or when the plaque passes from one annual winner to the next. Too often, an award is forgotten within three or four years when memories of the honoree begin to fade and the plaque reciting winners’ names begins collecting dust in a winner’s basement.

We could have planted a tree in Wally’s honor in Cantiague Park, together with a memorial plaque, but we chose instead to remember Wally with a bronze plaque, featuring his likeness and suitable inscription, that would be bolted into the wall in the Cantiague Park Ice Rink’s lobby. After getting the County’s permission, we raised more than a thousand dollars and commissioned a stunning plaque that resembles what visitors see in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Planning took nearly two years, but the wait was worth it. Wally’s bronze plaque, dedicated in October of 1987, recites that he “will forever be a part of Cantiague Park.” We were right too because, more than 24 years later, the plaque still greets everyone who walks into the rink.                

 

[Sources:  Aesop, The Lion and the Mouse, Aesop’s Fables: A Classic Illustrated Edition, p. 38 (1990); Bill Clinton, Giving, pp. 55, 206 (2007); Barbara Simpson, Gift in Memory of Ron, Simcoe Reformer (Ontario, Canada), Apr. 18, 2011, p. 8.]

Can You Legislate Good Sportsmanship? The Bizarre and Sad Case of the Massachusetts HS Super Bowl

With every intention of trying to eliminate show-boating and taunting in HS sports, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Assn. enacted a zero-tolerance law this past fall that made it very clear that any kind of unsportsmanlike behavior would not be tolerated in any way. And the MIAA especially instructed its football refs and coaches to be aware.

So what happens? In the Eastern Mass Division 4 “Super Bowl” game between Cathedral HS and Blue Hills Regional, the QB for Cathedral scampers for a TD on a 56-yard-run with only six minutes remaining. That TD gives him and his school the lead in the game.

But en route to the game-winning score, the 18-year-0ld QB raises his arm for 2 seconds as he realizes he’s going to cross into the end zone untouched. Was this a moment of pure instinctive joy? Or was he trying to taunt his opponents?

The video is crystal clear. The kid was just happy. There was no intent to slight or embarrass his opponents. And when he reached the endzone and his teammates joined him, the celebration was very quiet and polite.

No matter. The ref watching the kid raise his arm threw a flag, and the game-winning TD was nullified.

On the radio show this AM, the vast majority of the callers were outraged by this (by the way, you can make your own decision by simply googling “Massachusetts Super Bowl controversy” and watch the video). But there were some callers who felt that the teams had been warned and clearly this kid violated the rule. Hence, it was a good call by the ref.

To me, the intent of the HS sportsmanship rule was to make sure kids don’t point their fingers at the opposing team, or do any of the ridiculous stunts we see every Sunday in the NFL games when a player scores a TD, makes a first down, or sacks an opposing QB. 

But you have to draw a common sense line between the joy of sports, because it’s great fun to celebrate a TD or a home run or a scored goal…and the unnecessary taunting that sometimes occurs. That’s the stuff we want to get rid of. And that’s where the flags should be thrown.

Otherwise, you’re going to take the fun and joy out of playing HS sports. If a kid is afraid to raise his arm for two seconds en route to scoring the biggest TD of his life, well, that’s wrong. And sure enough, this youngster did just that — giving in to the exultation of the moment – and the ref threw a flag.

C’mon. We all wants sportsmanship in our kids’ games…but isn’t this going a bit too far? 

 

The Serious Social Costs of Closing The Door On Teen Athletes

By Doug Abrams

A few years ago, a friend from a nearby town stopped by my office to say that his 14-year-old son wanted to join our ice hockey program that autumn. The boy had lost interest in soccer because he saw the handwriting on the wall after warming the bench the prior two seasons.

The nearby town maintains a variety of private and public sports programs for elementary school students, but most teens have only “select” teams or the high school varsity or junior varsity. Select teams send everyone but the most talented athletes home emptyhanded, and high school teams roster only a fraction of the top athletes while cutting everyone else or allowing them to hang around in practice sessions with no realistic chance of seeing much game action.

For a boy or girl who still wants to play organized sports, being washed up at 14 is tough. My friend questioned me about our hockey program’s open-enrollment policy. “You mean, you let everybody play?” “Nobody gets cut, and nobody warms the bench?”

In the 1960s, my parents would have been astonished if local sports programs turned us away. Today, many parents are astonished when local programs let their kids play.  

Equal Opportunity

Year in and year out, sports programs leave behind thousands of disillusioned teens who are cut from the squad or left to warm the bench. These excluded boys and girls – the majority of teen athletes in many towns – would be much better off if the adults took “equal opportunity” more seriously. “Equal opportunity” means enrolling every child who wants to play. It means letting children compete against opponents of roughly the same ability level, with select teams for the more experienced players, and intermediate and house-league teams for the others. It also means guaranteeing meaningful playing time because adult-induced benchwarming cheats and humiliates children.    

The harmful impact on the teens left behind, however, is not the end of the story because excluding them from organized sports can also impose hidden social costs on the community itself. In my friend’s nearly town, city council members routinely complain about high rates of teen drug and alcohol use. At the same time, the town’s public fields and gymnasiums are reserved for sports programs that routinely close the door on most boys and girls by their early teen years, precisely when participation in sports could help counter these unsavory temptations.

Adults regularly tell pollsters that sports enhances children’s physical fitness while teaching valuable character lessons, but the chasm between polls and actual practice can be great. Despite adults’ abiding belief in the value of youth sports, many communities tolerate bumper crops of athletic dropouts year after year because too many people in positions of influence do not bother to connect the dots.

The Downward Trajectory

In the 21st century, sports can enrich the lives of all teens who wish to play, and not only the relatively few who are rated by adults as the “best.” Decades ago, journalist Heywood Broun said that, “Sports do not build character; they reveal it.” To people working with children, Broun’s axiom meant that sports programs were not expected to take bad kids and somehow make them good. Nor were these programs necessarily expected to keep good kids from going bad. The conventional wisdom was that most youngsters who played sports were already on the right track; athletic competition merely revealed their predisposition to solid citizenship.

The impact of organized sports on teens today is far more complicated than Broun may have envisioned. Because teens need to “belong,” they seek out peer groups; at least some teens may begin running with the wrong crowd after coaches cut them or they grow tired of warming the bench. And my players’ parents knew that at least some teens denied the chance to “turn on” to sports may turn on to something else, often drugs or alcohol. In communities that systematically exclude most interested teens from sports, no one should be surprised when peer pressure leads many excluded teens to travel down the wrong path. The downward trajectory is unfortunate, often avoidable, yet predictable.

Until adults stop taking children’s sports away from children, we will all be the losers.

Has Title IX Gone Too Far In Terms of Guaranteeing Equal Play for both Sexes?

Every sports parent agrees that Title IX, which was passed in 1972, has had only positive results in terms of making sure females have a right to compete in sports, just as their male counterparts have. Numerous studies have shown that girls who play competitive sports come away with higher self-esteem, better physical fitness, better study habits, and so on. Plus, of course, they have a chance to enjoy what we guys have always known about playing sports, e.g. it’s great fun to chase one’s dreams in the world of athletics.

But while certainly Title IX has worked wonders for the most part, we do have some of these anomalies where, for example, boys are allowed to compete on girls’ swim teams…or boys are allowed to compete on girls’ field hockey teams. Now, there have plenty of examples of girls playing on boys’ teams, such as girls competing against boys in wrestling, or girls playing on a HS football team.

But in Massachusetts, there have been episodes of boys playing on the field hockey squads, claiming that since there are no boys’ field hockey teams offered by their schools, they have every right to play with the girls. And they do. And along those same lines, in those schools where there’s a girls’ swim team, but no boys’ squad, the boys can compete on the girls’ team.

The ultimate irony happened a few weeks ago when a boy at Norwood HS broke a long-standing girls’ swim record in the 50-meter freestyle.

Now, you gotta ask yourself…is that right? Was that the intent of Title IX?

Seems to me that there is no easy answer here, but some of the callers this AM made some good suggestions. For example, just have 3 or 4 local high schools band together to form a boys’ swim squad if there aren’t enough male swimmers from one HS. Or, perhaps make it clear that any finishes that the boys put up in the swim meets are considered to be “exhibitions” as opposed to being legitimate.

There’s no reason easy solution here. But as one caller said, “If my daughter has worked her tail off over the years to swim endless hours, and become good enough to compete for a state championship when she’s 17 or 18, it sure isn’t fair to her to see a boy come in and beat her. Let’s face it – – there ARE physical differences in terms of size and strength when boys and girls are in their late teens, and it’s just not fair for the girls to be penalized.”

I think that Dad has a real good point. I’d be curious as to your suggestions or solutions.

Winning, Losing and Learning

By Doug Abrams

My past four columns listed nearly a dozen important issues that youth league coaches and boards of directors should confront early in the pre-season period. I discussed each issue only briefly, but I promised that future columns would provide more in-depth discussion from time to time. This is the first of these “future columns.” Here I expand on what I would say at the pre-season parents meeting about winning and losing, a subject listed in my November 14 column.

I would begin by acknowledging what every athlete and parent already knows – winning is preferable to losing. Like the professional game, youth sports depends on competitors who each want to win within the rules because teams unconcerned about the score do not give an honest performance. Youth sports also depends on parents and coaches who want their children to win within the rules, and who support the players from week to week. Adults serve the children best, however, by also teaching lessons that emerge from losing, an outcome that is destined to happen every season because few teams finish undefeated.

Too many youth league parents and coaches fear defeat, which the adults mistakenly liken to failure. Youth leaguers need no shield from defeat, however, because losing games is a natural, inevitable and ultimately healthy part of growing up. Every day of every season, half of all children competing in America lose.  Each one returns to play another day.

A colleague once told me that children must learn how to lose with grace before they can win with dignity. He would say that most great professional athletes learned how to lose when they were children, and that the lessons helped make them great.

My colleague hit the target because, with guidance from their coaches and parents, athletes can learn plenty from losing. In the short term, players on a winning streak can lapse into complacency and begin to take success for granted.  But when the team drops a few games, players may begin asking themselves, “What are we doing wrong, and how can we do better next game?” Questions like these are the foundations of skills development.

In the longer term, losing provides parents and coaches a valuable opportunity to teach resilience in the face of the adversity.  Youth leaguers benefit from learning how to rebound from setbacks because, like it or not, frustration and thwarted ambition will occur throughout adulthood.  Indeed, losses in life are more frequent than victories for most adults. As youth leaguers strive to win, sports also provides early exposure to setbacks, when the stakes are not nearly as high as they sometimes will be later on.

Several child psychologists have warned that by persistently shielding their children from occasional adversity, so-called “helicopter parents” leave the children ill-prepared for the challenges of adulthood. Parents naturally want their children to succeed more often than they fail — to win more often than they lose — but children also benefit when parents and coaches teach them how to react when things do not go their way.

In my 30-year career as a law professor, I have seen students struggle to master their coursework, maintain their grades, and prepare for their chosen career. Law school is tough sledding. The curriculum is demanding, most students do not finish at the top of the class, and some students occasionally stumble along the way. When I see law students hit barriers, I sense that the ex-athletes are often better equipped than their classmates to persevere because ex-athletes have learned how to lose, get up off the floor, and bounce back.

Resilience in the face of adversity is a lasting dividend of youth league competition, and parents do their children no favor when they routinely deny that dividend.