Archive for January, 2012

At last! An online college recruiting service that makes sense!

If you have a youngster in HS who aspires someday to play sports in college, I do hope you had a chance to listen to the Sports Edge this AM. I had the opportunity to speak with Vish Prabhakara, the young CEO of BeRecruited.com, and I must admit that I came very impressed with how this service works.

In sum, any HS student-athlete can register on BeRecruited.com for free, and one can post their athletic achievements, their GPA, SAT and ACT scores, and much more. You can even post video of yourself in action for all coaches to see. And we’re talking coaches from Div I, II, and III, and NAIA.

And it’s not just for superstar basketball and football players. The best part of the service is that it works for boys and girls – kids who play volleyball to those who run cross-country to those who play lacrosse and everything else in between. A total of 31 sports are tracked.

As Vish explained, there are more than 27,000 college coaches who now routinely check on potential prospects on BeRecruited. Once they find an interesting candidate, they can contact them right away and set the recruiting process in motion.

Over the years, I have heard from all sorts of college recruiting services, all of them usually charging a fee upfront of $1000 or more. But of course, nothing in terms of a scholarship is guaranteed. But this service is different because it’s free. There’s no risk to the athlete. The only charge – which is optional – is $60 if you opt for BeRecruited’s special bonus feature which allows you to see which college coaches have actually checked on your profile.

Otherwise, that’s the only fee. Vish told me that thousands of HS athletes have used the service, and have been deighted with the results.  Seems to me that before you start writing out checks for big bucks, you ought to check out BeRecruited.com first.

Contact us for more advertising information.

Equal Playing Time Before Middle School (Part III): Protecting Players Emotional Safety

By Doug Abrams

For the past two weeks, I have discussed the importance of equal playing time in games below the middle school age.  Last week, Part II said that youngsters who participate fully in each game finish the season with permanent recollections of camaraderie and accomplishment.  This week’s column explains how equal playing time promotes player safety. 

In youth sports, safety precautions seek to assure each player a lifetime of memories free from the lasting effects of avoidable injury.  Physical safety – freedom from concussions, broken bones or other physical injury — is only half the story.  Emotional safety is the other half.  

Equal playing time promotes safety by helping to assure each youngster a lifetime of memories free from the lasting effects of avoidable emotional injury.  Win or lose, physical well-being and emotional well-being are joint legacies of youth sports at its best.

“The Shame and Humiliation Never Went Away”

Chronic benchwarming does not leave the sort of visible scars that sometimes follow physical injury, but chronic benchwarming can leave permanent emotional scars.  Rick Wolff is right that “too many youth league coaches just don’t understand the harmful psychological impact that sitting on the bench has on a young kid.” 

Benchwarming is a major reason why about 70% of youth leaguers stop playing by their early teen years, but the harmful psychological impact may continue long after a player quits.  In our society which places so much emphasis on success in sports, benchwarming is a badge of shame whose immediate assault on self-esteem can dog the player throughout adolescence and adulthood.

A few years ago, the Los Angeles Times published a letter-to-the-editor by a former Little Leaguer whose benching more than a generation earlier left permanent emotional scars long after scores grew meaningless.  “With tears pouring off my face and agony in my chest,” the letter writer responded to a recent Times article about the emotional hurt suffered by a local 8-year-old baseball player who went hitless for two years on teams led by coaches unconcerned about his fragile sensibilities. 

The letter writer described the one summer he had spent in Little League as a fourth-grader decades earlier.  “Despite hours spent at home trying to get wood to meet horsehide,” he wrote, “I was hopelessly inept.  Our coach played only the stars.  I remember nothing else of that summer . . . except the sole inning I played.  I struck out and screwed up a play in left field.  For the remainder of the season, I was invisible to the coach.” 

The letter writer confided that “[t]he shame and humiliation of that one night at age 9 never went away.  I’m 50 now.”

 

[Source:  Humiliation of Ineptness on the Field Never Left, L.A. Times, May 21, 2001, Part 5, p. 4 (letter-to-the-editor)]

Another Top HS Prospect Gets Burned by the Internet…When are these kids going to learn?

For the past several years, we’ve been preaching on WFAN’s The Sports Edge that kids have to be EXTRA diligent when it comes to using social media.

Whether they’re posting comments or photos on their Facebook account, or sending text messages, or posting comments on Twitter, they have to be aware that once something is sent out — well, it’s sent out!

Law professor Doug Abrams has been at the forefront of this, warning many times on the radio show that kids just don’t seem to understand how radioactive their tweets and postings can be. And that these postings can quickly come back to burn them.

Here’s the latext example. By all accounts, senior defensive back Yuri Wright is one of the nation’s premier football prospects. He’s 6-2, 180, fast, and comes out of a top program at powerhouse Bergen Catholic HS in northern NJ. Yet stupidly, Wright recently sent out a series of tweets that contained both inappropriate sexual and racist comments.

Bergen Catholic moved quickly: they immediately expelled Wright from school. They just kicked him out. A senior, he now has to find a new HS in order to graduate. And right behind that, the Univ of Michigan, which had offered the kid a full scholarship, immediately rescinded their offer. Other colleges, such as Notre Dame and Rutgers, are waiting to decide what they want to do.

In any event, apparently the message is still not getting through. In short, it’s this: KIDS, UNDERSTAND THAT ANYTHING YOU POST ONLINE OR IN A TWEET OR AS A TEXT MESSAGE CAN BE READ BY ANYONE IN CYBERSPACE. Yes, you may intend something as a joke, but unfortunately humor doesn’t travel well in cyberspace.

In addition, if you’re lucky enough to be a recruited athlete, you HAVE TO KNOW that college coaches are constantly following your social media postings. Colleges these days DO NOT want to bring aboard a kid with a questionable personality. It exposes the college to all sorts of potential lawsuits if that athlete does something dumb in college, so coaches are extra vigilant these days in scouring the internet for incidents like thie one by Wright.

What’s the bottom line? When in doubt, don’t send it out. Think twice before anything is sent out. All that being said, these cases just seem to be multiplying. What a shame.

 

Equal Playing Time Before Middle School (Part II): Why Youth League Coaches Should Think Years Ahead

By Doug Abrams

Last week I added my voice to others who have advocated equal playing time on youth league teams below the middle school age.  I said that chronic benchwarming is an unacceptable price to pay for a chance at victory in elementary schoolers’ games whose scores will soon be forgotten anyway.  At this age, playing a short bench smacks of emotional child abuse because benchwarming hurts players not only in the short run, but also in the long run. 

Safeguarding the emotions of other people’s children is serious business for adults who lead youth organizations, and coaches abuse their authority when they inflict such lasting hurt.  A personal anecdote helps explain why.

Remembering the Old Days

After appearing on The Sports Edge with Rick Wolff one Sunday morning a few years ago, I received a thoughtful “Remember me?” email from a player I had coached at a New England summer hockey camp when he was a young teen in the late 1970s.  We had not seen each other in about 25 years, and he wanted to renew the friendship after he heard the show.  So did I.

When we talked by phone the next day, my former player reminded me that he was now in his early 40s.  He and his wife had a special-needs child, and he expressed some concern about his own his job security.  “Weren’t the old days great!,” he joked, “In summer camp, all I needed to worry about was whether I would score goals and whether we would win games in the winter.  My wife and I have a lot more on our plates right now.”  We both knew that their plates would remain full for the rest of their lives.

He was not the first of my former players to contrast childhood fun with adult responsibilities.  Many of my former youth leaguers are now in their forties, and I had heard the story before.   

The Youth League Coach’s Crystal Ball

The responsibilities of adulthood help explain why equal playing time is so important in leagues below the middle school age.  The next time you coach a game, look up and down your bench.  Through no fault of their own, as many as a quarter of your 8- to 10-year-olds are destined to lead the sort of challenging adult lives that my former summer camper leads.  They or a family member will experience medical setbacks, accidents, layoffs, raising a special needs child, coping with divorce and single parenthood, or perhaps some other circumstances that require constant attention.  Even when the years proceed more smoothly, juggling mortgages, budgets and other family obligations remain facts of contemporary life.

Bob Bigelow is right that children have only “one chance at childhood.”  For many youth leaguers, sports teams may offer the most lasting memories of childhood fun outside the home – pure fun unburdened by the challenges that can accompany adulthood.  Let the kids be kids while they can. 

It is no excuse to rationalize chronic benchwarming by telling parent and child that the team should do its best to win, that some players appear most talented, and that the others need to work harder at self-improvement.  (After years of coaching, I see no necessary correlation between hard work and athletic talent before high school, but I have already discussed that in an earlier column.)  Life will teach kids the competitive ladder’s hard realities soon enough.  The kids will not learn any faster if benchwarming deprives them of the playtime that has characterized the best of childhood in America for decades.

 

[Source: Bob Bigelow, Just Let the Kids Play, p. 6 (2001)]

Why Force Talented HS Soccer Players to Choose Between their School team and Travel Program?

We all know that life is full of choices – many of them quite difficult — so why put talented soccer players in an awkward spot where they have to choose between two passions? Playing for their HS team or their US Soccer Academy travel team?

But that’s what’s happening with increasing frequency around the country. It’s already happening in Texas, Calfornia, Florida, and now it’s coming to the NY-NJ-CT-PA area. And in talking with Matt Allen, the highly-successful boys’ soccer head coach at Byram Hill HS (Armonk, NY) this AM, I – for one – am not convinced that US Soccer Academy is being smart about telling its players that they have to give up playing with their HS varsity program and devote another 10-weeks of the fall semester to train with USSA.

True, there’s no question that kids who play on select travel teams will be seen by more college coaches during tournaments and showcases. And the level of play is better overall than HS games. But these come with a price: in general, USSA costs money to be on the team (usually between $3,000 to $4,000 a year, not including travel and hotel costs to different tournaments), there’s no guarantee of the amount of playing time a kid will receive, there’s no guarantee of ever getting a college scholarship, and of course, you have to walk away from your local HS team and buddies. That is, during the fall, when they’re going to practice and playing games, you’re getting in your car and driving off to practice on a travel team perhaps an hour away to play with kids from other towns and communities.

As Coach Allen related on my show this AM, it’s a very difficult choice for most young kids to have to make. And from my perspective, there’s no reason to put them and their parents through this. While I understand the travel team coaches and their desire to have the kids practice for another 10 weeks in the fall, I just don’t understand the necessity to force them to quit their HS team. Look, the travel team kids already work out for 10 full months of the year with USSA, so what’s the harm with letting them play for 2 1/2 months on their HS squad? Personally, I think it would give these kids a break from their travel schedule, let them enjoy playing with their home-town friends, and best of all, it would refresh them psychologically. It’s all good.

But to mandate them to quit playing for their HS team? Sorry. It doesn’t work for me. And by the way, hasn’t the time finally come for national travel team programs to finally sit down with state HS athletic associations and work out compromises? That just seems logical, and would help solve a lot of these issues early on.

Equal Playing Time Before Middle School (Part I)

By Doug Abrams

For years now, leading voices have urged youth league coaches to assure each team member equal playing time in every game, particularly in age levels below middle school.  Rick Wolff, for example, says that equality serves the needs and expectations of both parents and their children.  “When parents come to watch their kids’ games, they do so specifically to watch their child play.  The parents really don’t care whether the team wins or loses –- they merely want to see their youngster compete and, ideally, have a good time being in the game.  Children come to the games fully anticipating that they’re going to play, and play a lot. That’s where the fun of being a young athlete comes from.”

Former NBA player Bob Bigelow gets it right too:  “Few things violate a child’s basic wants and needs – and his or her basic rights – more than sitting on a bench.” 

This three-part column adds my voice to the ones that have preceded me.  Today I discuss the importance of equal playing time in youth leagues below middle school.  Next week, Part II (“Looking Ahead”) will link equal playing time to the memories that youth leaguers will carry for the rest of their lives.  Part III (“Emotional Safety”) will urge coaches to safeguard these lifelong memories as carefully as they safeguard their players’ physical well-being in practice sessions and games.

Emotional Child Abuse

Playing time remains a tender topic for parents, coaches and players because the lineup may affect the score.  In the youngest age groups (T-Ball for 6-year-olds, for example), it makes good sense not to keep score at all.  State championship tournaments for T-Ballers are not unknown, but the very concept strikes me as a ludicrous effort to stroke adult egos by using kids who can barely grasp what a state championship means and might not be able to find their own state on a map.

As the years pass, however, every youth leaguer, parent and coach knows that winning in sports is preferable to losing.  When scores do become more meaningful, there is nothing wrong with wanting to win within the rules because sportsmanship and robust competition depend on competitors who each care about the outcome.

The ultimate question for youth league coaches is not whether they want to win, but rather what prices they are willing to pay to try to win, and what prices they are unwilling to pay.  The answer is different in youth sports than in professional sports because youth leagues are different from the pros.  The pros are elite adult athletes who are paid handsomely by nationally prominent business corporations to provide mass public entertainment; millions of dollars can ride on the difference between winning and losing.  Youth leaguers are not unpaid entertainers, but rather children who deserve the fun that comes from playing with friends and learning the game as they grow into adulthood. 

            Benching a professional athlete goes with the territory because a pro team depends on the balance sheet.  But demoralizing an impressionable youth leaguer with chronic benchwarming remains an unacceptable price to pay for the chance at winning.  When a youth leaguer attends practice regularly, follows team disciplinary rules and gives full effort, Brooke de Lench is right that “[e]very child deserves an equal chance to play and learn new skills.”  To me, warming the bench with someone else’s deserving 10-year-old resembles emotional child abuse. 

Achieving Equal Playing Time

Guaranteeing each youngster fair participation in competitive games does not make life easy for youth league coaches because our national sports culture values winning.  Polls indicate that many Americans even consider winners to be good people and losers to be bad people.  Professional and collegiate champions visit the White House for photo ops, but Presidents do not host second-place finishers.  We should not be surprised when America’s winner-take-all sports culture imposes pressures on adults who conduct teams for the youngest kids. 

I know the feeling.  Advocating equal playing time from a speaker’s podium, a pre-season parents meeting or (as I am doing now) from the relative security of a keyboard takes only words, which come easily because they carry no immediate consequences.  In more than 40 years behind youth hockey benches, I learned that maintaining personal values about equal playing time can be a lot tougher in close games, when the coach’s strongest child-centered impulses clash with strong desire to eke out a victory. 

In the end, equal playing time should set the standard below the middle school level. Depending on the sport’s substitution rules, modest disparities in playing time throughout the game may be unavoidable and can largely be made up in the next game.  So too can over-playing the more experienced players in the last few minutes of a tight game.  Reliance on benchwarming, however, is unacceptable.    

Coaches know the difference between modest, unavoidable disparities and chronic benchwarming, and no coach assigns chronic benchwarmers by accident.  Rules assuring only minimal participation (such as ones guaranteeing each youngster only two innings and one at-bat in a seven-inning baseball game) are shams when the coach can get away with giving the same players the short end of the stick game after game.  

Youth league coaches can discipline themselves to maintain an equal-time policy by asking themselves a simple question: “How well do I treat my least talented player?”  Most coaches of young children know what the answer should be, but some coaches also know what the honest answer is.  Too frequently, the answers are not the same.

The American Academy of Pediatrics wisely instructs that a youth leaguer’s fulfillment in sports depends on adults who “clearly show that the child’s worth is unrelated to the outcome of the game.”  Coaches reassure children about their worth when they allocate playing time with an eye toward the future.  This long-term perspective is the subject of Parts II and III, which will appear in the next two weeks.

 

[Sources: Rick Wolff,  Coaching Kids . . . . for Dummies (IDG Books, 2000); Bob Bigelow et al., Just Let the Kids Play (2001), p. 6; Brooke de Lench, Equal Playing Time: Should It Be the Rule, Not the Exception? (2009), http://www.momsteam.com/team-experts/brooke-de-lench/editorials/equal-playing-time-should-it-be-rule-not-exception?page=0%2C3; Am. Acad. of Pediatrics, Organized Athletics for Preadolescent Children, 84 Pediatrics (Sept. 1989)].

Are You Okay with Public Schools Charging for Team Tryouts?

In an effort to defray the soaring costs of HS sports, I had read where some scbools in the Midwest were now charging kids a fee of $50 if they wanted to try out for a school team.

As was pointed out on my radio show this AM, parents routinely fork over anywhere from $30 to $100 for their youngster to try out to make a travel team. That travel team fee is, of course, non-refundable. And while no one enjoys having to spend money like this, paying for travel team try outs is pretty much accepted everywhere, whether we like it or not.

But having to pay to try out for a school team is a little different. After all, a public school is funded by local taxes, so having to spend even more money for a school might strike some as too  much. And as one caller mentioned, if you’re going to charge a try out fee for sports, you have to do that for ALL extracurricular activities, such as kids trying out for the school play, or the band, or the cheerleading team. That seems fair – if the school is going to levy a try out fee, you have to make it across the board.

And what do you do with a kid who plays not one but two or three sports? Does he or she have to pay every time they try out for a different sport? And what about those families where there are several kids playing sports in school? Having to pay for try outs can get pricey in a hurry. In effect, you’re making it financially difficult for these kids to play on the teams.

So, what’s the bottom line? Well, while I understand that money is tight these days for public schools, it sure would be better if try out fees were not established. It just seems like this practice is going to open a real can of worms. And by the way, it would be nice if travel teams didn’t charge either. Anyhow, I’m curious as to your thoughts…what do you think?

The Five Most Inspiring Youth Sports Stories of 2011

By Doug Abrams

As the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics prepared for game four of the 2008 National Basketball Association finals, the coaches – the Lakers’ Phil Jackson and the Celtics’ Doc Rivers – wrote an editorial in the San Jose Mercury News.

The joint editorial offered no insights into the NBA playoffs.  Indeed the two coaches did not talk about the pro game at all.  While they held the limelight, they instead called a time-out to stress “the invaluable life lessons that sports can teach youth and high school athletes, such as resilience, empathy, teamwork, determination, confidence and the ability to overcome adversity.”

Week after week, the nation’s sports pages carry embarrassing stories about violence, confrontation and cheating by parents and coaches in kids’ games.  The scandals involving “over the edge” adults sometimes overshadow stories that report extraordinary acts of sportsmanship and respect by the youngsters.  Sports can be noble or ignoble, depending on who is playing and how they play.

This year’s youth sports headlines told inspiring stories of empathy, one of the six life lessons that Jackson and Rivers pinpointed.  As President Obama said recently, empathy means “the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.”  In To Kill a Mockingbird, lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) taught his young daughter that “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”  Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep has said that “the power of empathy” is “the great gift of human beings.”  

This power and gift is what the two basketball coaches wrote about.

This Year’s Best

Here are 2011’s “Top Five” news stories about empathy in youth sports, with players themselves cast as the superstars in each one.

5.    Three high school varsity athletes in Pompano Beach, Florida — Michael Anderson, Robert Diaz and Richard Lang — created Youth to Youth Sports Locker, which collects and reconditions used sports equipment for free distribution to needy youngsters.

“We realized how fortunate we have been our whole lives to have all we want,” Lang told the Florida Sun-Sentinel, “and it’s nice to be able to give back to others in need.”  

4.     Senior Trent Glaze, a captain on the Fairfield Union (Ohio) High School football team, never missed a Falcons practice or game.  He has also been in a wheelchair for the past ten years from muscular dystrophy.

After the Falcons lost to Teays Valley High late in the season, both teams lined up for one last play.  Glaze took a handoff from the quarterback, tucked the ball under his arm, and guided his motorized wheelchair into the end zone to fulfill his lifelong dream of scoring a touchdown.  Trent “may not be on the field,” Falcons coach Tom McCurdy told the Lancaster Eagle Gazette afterwards, “but . . . high school athletics is about him.”      

3.     Doctors amputated Heriberto Avila’s left leg above the thigh after the Belvidere North (Illinois) High School senior suffered broken bones and a severed artery from a legal takedown during a varsity wrestling match.  When Avila awoke in the hospital, he quickly thought about his distraught opponent, Sean McIntrye.  “There is no one to blame here,” Avila said in the New York Times.  “This was an accident. I’m just really worried about Sean.”

2.        Senior Allan Guei, a basketball point guard for Compton (Calif.) High School, won $40,000 in college expenses in a free-throw contest sponsored by an advertising firm that planned to film a documentary about the city, which Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Benedict has called “one of the most gang-infested areas in America.”  The contest was open to all Compton seniors with at least a 3.0 grade-point average.

Soon afterwards, Guei won a full basketball scholarship to Cal State Northridge.  NCAA rules would have permitted him to keep nearly all his prize money, but he decided instead to distribute his winnings among the seven runners-up so that they too could attend college.  “They were all smart and wanted to pursue their dreams, but were having financial difficulties,” Guei told the Los Angeles Times.  “I felt it was the right move to help the others, especially when everything else was taking off for me.”

1.     Mark Mannarn, a 13-year-old hockey player in Ontario, Canada, faced personal challenges when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after his grandmother died of pancreatic cancer.  He and his father created Minor Hockey Fights Cancer, with Mark’s motto, “I love hockey. And I hate cancer.”  Mark’s ambitious goal was to raise $100,000 to support the Canadian Cancer Society.  Scotia Bank and several former National Hockey League stars soon joined his effort, which has already raised more than $200,000.  “My dream,” Mark says, is to “eventually raise one million dollars every year until a cure for cancer is found.” 

Winning Every Game

Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers are not the only prominent coaches who find a place for empathy in sports.  A few years ago, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski criticized the NCAA for suspending players who accept benefits worth a few dollars while their coaches make millions and the NCAA and its conferences make billions.   Many players’ families remain underprivileged, even with basketball scholarships.  “I think a lot of people who govern our sport do not have empathy for the socioeconomic backgrounds of the youngsters who play our sport,” said Coach K, “The word ‘empathy’ is not there.”

The “Top Five” youth sports stories of 2011 underscore what Jackson, Rivers and Krzyzewski mean by empathy.  Like the three coaches, the youth leaguers in each story want to win every game.  The desire to win helps explain why they joined the team in the first place.  But this year’s youth leaguers also showed how sports can provide athletes special opportunities for doing others a good turn.

 

 

[Sources: Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers, Winning Should Not Be the Coaches’ Only Goal, San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, June 12, 2008; Emmett Hall, Teenagers’ Baseball Collection Aids Underprivileged Children, Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Apr. 14, 2011, p. 11;  Fairfield Union Senior in Wheelchair Scores Touchdown, Lancaster (Ohio Eagle Gazette), Nov. 2, 2011;  Dirk Johnson, After Amputation, Wrestler Tries to Ease Rival’s Pain, N.Y. Times, Mar. 5, 2011;  Carla Rivera, From a Standout Player, a Different Sort of Care Basket, Los Angeles Times, July 3, 2011;  Jeff Benedict, Straight Outta Compton: SI Writer Shares Story Behind the Story, Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City, Utah),  Dec. 1, 2007;  Farah Mohamed,  Taking a (Slap)shot at Cancer Cure, Globe & Mail (Canada), Nov. 29, 2011, p. L4;  Todd Graff, Krzyzewski:  NCAA Lacks “Empathy” for its Athletes, News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.), Feb. 9, 2000, p. C2]