Archive for March, 2012

“All Safety is Local” (Part II)

By Doug Abrams

Last week’s column explained that national playing rules protect youth athletes most effectively when parents, coaches and officials actually enforce the rules.  The explanation may sound commonsensical, but enforcement can break down whenever parents and coaches intimidate referees, coaches skirt the rules, or parents incite the players.  The truth is that breakdown, and the safety risks it brings, can easily happen when adults lose their self-control.


Longtime high school hockey coach Hal Tearse, who serves as Minnesota Hockey’s coach-in-chief and chairs its safety committee, describes the reason for lax enforcement this way: “You can boil it all down to one word: winning.  Everyone wants to do everything they can to win. There is very little consequence for violating the rules, and kids get all these little messages that [breaking rules] is really OK.  Clearly we need to do a better job.”


A Toxic Atmosphere


Last week’s column recounted the story of 15-year-old Neal Goss, who broke his neck when an opponent raced across the ice and blind-sided him at the end of a JV hockey game that had spiraled out of control without effective intervention by any parent or coach.  We cannot prove that adult irresponsibility caused the cheap shot that left the sophomore a quadriplegic, but parents and coaches concerned about player safety should take a useful lesson from the game.  The lesson is that adult irresponsibility may not make injury inevitable, but adult irresponsibility makes injury more likely.


Parents protect their children every day based not on proof, but on the parents’ own intuition and common sense.  Intuition and common sense suggest that, particularly in contact and collision sports, adults create a toxic atmosphere that heightens the risk of injury whenever they tolerate or encourage dirty play and other violence outside the rules of the game. 


A “Hotbed of Chaos, Violence and Mean-Spiritedness”


Safety in youth sports begins with responsible adult supervision.  Parents are their children’s most influential role models; referees apply the rules and call fouls throughout the game; and coaches lead and control their team on the bench.  Before, during and after games, most players accept instruction from adults and respond to both the adults’ conduct and their misconduct.


The high rate of adult misconduct is underscored by a poll that Reuters News and the market research company Ipsos jointly conducted in 22 nations in 2010.  The poll reaffirms what many of us already sensed about the unfortunate – and indeed, the unnecessarily dangerous — state of organized youth sports in the United States.


The Reuters-Ipsos poll ranked parents in the United States as the world’s “worst behaved” parents at children’s sports events.  Sixty percent of U.S. adults who had attended youth sports contests reported that had seen parents become verbally or physically abusive toward coaches or officials; runners-up were parents in India (59%), Italy (55%), Argentina (54%), Canada (53%) and Australia (50%).


“It’s ironic that the United States, which prides itself in being the most civilized country in the world, has the largest group of adults having witnessed abusive behavior at children’s sporting events,” said an Ipsos senior vice president.


The poll confirmed earlier disturbing estimates of adult misbehavior in children’s games in the United States.  In a Survey USA poll in Indianapolis, Indiana, for example, 55% of parents said that they had seen other parents engaging in verbal abuse at youth sporting events, and 21% said that they had seen a physical altercation between other parents.  In a Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission survey of youth leaguers, 45.3% of the athletes said that adults had called them names, yelled at them, or insulted them while they were playing in a game; 21% said that they had been pressured to play with an injury; 17.5% said that an adult had hit, kicked or slapped them during a game; and 8.2% said that they had been pressured to harm others intentionally. 


The National Alliance for Youth Sports estimates that about 15% of youth league games feature a confrontation between parents or coaches and officials, and a national summit on Raising Community Standards in Children’s Sports concluded that youth sports is a “hotbed of chaos, violence and mean-spiritedness.”  In a survey conducted by Sports Illustrated For Kids magazine, 74% of youth athletes reported that they had watched out-of-control adults at their games; 37% of the athletes had watched parents yelling at children, 27% had watched parents yelling at coaches or officials, 25% had watched coaches yelling at officials or children, and 4% had watched violence by adults. 


Catastrophic injuries like Neal Goss’ are thankfully rare, but these consistently high poll and survey numbers nonetheless sound a national wake-up call for adults who want organized sports to play a positive role in their children’s upbringing.  The message is that when ill-tempered adults tolerate or incite rules violations, the adults neutralize national safety standards that seek to protect youth athletes from avoidable injury.


Too often, however, adults today seem to be moving in the wrong direction as they supervise their children’s organized games.  Hal Tearse is right that we need to do a better job.



[Sources:  Douglas E. Abrams, Player Safety in Youth Sports: Sportsmanship and Respect as an Injury-Prevention Strategy, Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, vol. 22, pp. 1-27 (2012); Doug Abrams, A Winning Equation: Sportsmanship Plus Respect Equals a Safer Game, USA Hockey Magazine, p. 20 (Aug. 2011); Rachel Blount, Despite Tragedies, Hockey Reformer Finds Resistance to Change, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jan. 10, 2012, p. 1C; ABC News, U.S., India Parents Seen as Worst Behaved at Kids’ Sports (Apr. 10, 2010)]

Should New HS Varsity Coaches Be Allowed to “Build” with Younger Players?

This happens more and more, and it’s worrisome.

Let’s say your kid plays basketball. He’s paid his dues right up the ladder: sat on the bench pretty much all of his sophomore year, played more in his junior year but didn’t start, and now as a senior he’s expecting to finally get a real shot to be a bona fide starter.

Problem is, over the last few years, the team’s record has been around .500, and the long-time coach decides to step down. The new hired coach is in his early 30s, and he decides that the best way to reinvigorate the program is to focus on the freshmen and sophomores, let them become the starters, and while they take their lumps the first year, all that extra playing time will pay off down the road.

Problem is, such an approach doesn’t do much for the seniors and the juniors on the team. The coach tells them they can linger on the bench, or if they want, they can quit.

Imagine if this happened to your son or daughter? What would you do? What would you tell your kid?

But as noted, this pattern  has become very commonplace, and amazingly, seems to getting the blessing of HS athletic directors.

Look, I understand how college coaches  — who are strictly judged by their won or loss record – might use this kind of appraoch. But I find it very disturbing when it’s put into place by a HS coach. Because that signifies to me that the new coach is all about putting his or her career at the top priority – that if I can build a winnning program in a few years, maybe I can advance to a better job, no matter what happens to the feelings or dreams of some of my kids.

In short, the coach is trampling on the dreams of the veteran players. That doesn’t sit well with me, and quite frankly, this is one of those rare times in which I do think that a parent and their kid have a right to ask for an appointment with the school’s AD to determine if this new approach is going to be the way the school’s sports program is going to be run. Communication, as always, is the key in such situations, and it’s essential that the new coach truly understand what the school’s true priorities are.


All Safety is Local (Part I)

By Doug Abrams

Former U.S. House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill famously said that “all politics is local.”  Decisionmaking in Washington surely influences voters, but the Speaker explained that local happenings can influence voters even more by affecting their daily lives most directly.

O’Neill’s explanation has relevance in youth sports, where “all player safety is local.”  A sport’s national playing rules can promote safe contests, but national rules are only words on paper, and words do not enforce themselves.  National rules promote safety best when local officials, coaches and parents actually enforce them, but enforcement sometimes takes a back seat in the heat of the game.

 “That’s What You Get for Messing”

A tragic suburban Chicago high school hockey story demonstrates how quickly local parents and coaches behaving irresponsibly can neutralize national rules and endanger the players.  On November 3, 1999, New Trier High School’s junior varsity team faced off against bitter rival Glenbrook North High School. With only a few seconds remaining in the game, New Trier was comfortably ahead, 7-4, in the teams’ first meeting since Glenbrook North had edged them, 3-2, for the Illinois state junior varsity title a season earlier. 

The November rematch was out of control from the opening faceoff.  Each team’s parents and students taunted rival fans and players from the stands, and the players themselves traded taunts and squared off in confrontations unrestrained by their coaches. One coach reportedly even left the bench and walked onto the ice to confront a referee.  The referees called sixteen penalties, a high number for a junior varsity hockey game.

At the final buzzer or within a second or two afterwards, a 15-year-old Glenbrook North player sped across the ice, blind-sided New Trier sophomore co-captain Neil Goss, and body-checked him head-first into the boards.  “That’s what you get for messing,” the player said as Goss lay prone on the ice, permanently paralyzed from the neck down.     

National Rules; Local Breakdowns

USA Hockey’s national rules did not fail Neal Goss.  He wore a helmet, face cage and other protective equipment that met safety specifications.  No report indicated that any coach or referee had evaded or failed USA Hockey’s nationally-mandated criminal or child abuse background checks, or lacked the classroom training certification required of coaches and officials. The Glenbrook North attacker received a penalty for cross-checking and a 30-day suspension pending a hearing before state amateur hockey officials. 

Players on both teams were left vulnerable not by national rules, but by rabid local adults who let their emotions get the better of them.  As the bitter rivals’ game day approached, no parent or coach sought to cool tempers. All that the adults needed to do was to listen to their children at home and during practice sessions because trash talking and threats of violence do not arise by spontaneous combustion when players arrive at the game. 

As the grudge match spiraled out of control for an hour or more, no adult in the rink had the common sense to stop the game, deliver a public address announcement requesting calm, or take any other steps to move the teams back from the brink before it was too late. By the end of the game, national playing rules had lost their protective force.

“We Have Met the Enemy. . . .”

Safety remains the local responsibility of every parent and coach, even ones whose children play clean and cause no trouble.  The player lying prone on the ice at the end of the Chicago JV hockey game could have been any parent’s child.  Neal Goss happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the victim of impulsive violence outside the rules of the game after adults had abandoned self-restraint an hour or more earlier.  If the adults had maintained control of the game, Neal Goss would likely have walked out of the rink because players trained and supervised by responsible adults do not race several yards to drive opponents’ faces into the ground at the end of a game.     

Parents and coaches learning about the Chicago hockey tragedy for the first time might feel tempted to dismiss Goss’ quadriplegia as extraordinary, and thus not a reason to reevaluate their own local behavior.  Catastrophic injuries are indeed thankfully rare but, according to a 2010 poll conducted in twenty-two nations by Reuters News and the market research company Ipsos, parents in the United States rank as the world’s “worst behaved” parents at children’s sports events.  

One observer reports “innumerable cases . . . throughout the country every month . . . of games turning tragic at the hands of enraged parents” during brawls and similar encounters, and in post-game handshake lines.  ABC News has reported “waves of head-butting, elbowing and fighting . . . at youth sporting events across the country.”  It is not unreasonable to think that for every reported avoidable injury from such breakdowns, other such injuries never reach the media.

When Neal Goss left the ice on a stretcher, the score of the otherwise forgettable JV hockey game suddenly seemed unimportant.  Perspective and common sense may have returned, but they returned too late.  “Where did our children learn disrespect for the games and opponents they play?,” a Chicago Tribune writer challenged his readers as Goss lay paralyzed in a rehabilitation center a month later.  Paraphrasing cartoonist Walt Kelly, the writer pointed directly at the adults: “We have met the enemy and it is us.” 

“Us” means every parent and coach who loses self-control locally at kids’ games, even before something bad happens.     



[Sources:  Douglas E. Abrams, Player Safety in Youth Sports: Sportsmanship and Respect as an Injury-Prevention Strategy, Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, vol. 22, pp. 1-27 (2012); Doug Abrams, A Winning Equation: Sportsmanship Plus Respect Equals a Safer Game, USA Hockey Magazine, p. 20 (Aug. 2011); Gwen Morrison, Parent Rage in Youth Sports: Giving the Game Back to Our Children; Michael S. James & Tracy Ziemer, Are Youth Athletes Becoming Bad Sports: With Cues From Adults, Are Kid Athletes Becoming More Aggressive?, Aug. 8, 2000; ABC News, U.S., India Parents Seen as Worst Behaved at Kids’ Sports (Apr. 10, 2010); Bob Verdi, Adults Guilty of Cross-Checking Morality, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 12, 1999, p. 10]


The Temptation of Specializing in One Sport

It’s a very natural assumption.

Your youngster shows some real sign of athletic talent at a very early age, and a coach or perhaps a neighbor suggests that your son or daughter would be well-served to forego playing a variety of sports, as most kids do, and instead, just focus on soccer, or ice hockey, or whatever the sport may be.

After all, the logic goes, if your kid plays that one singular sport pretty much all year round, that extra practice and game time is only going to accelerate your child’s growth in that sport – and will give him or her a real extra leg up on their peers.

In other words, specialize.

But the question still remains – and mind you, in my discussion today with my sports parenting colleague Bob Bigelow, there are no definitive studies on this topic that I’m aware of –of whether specializing makes sense.  Among the unanswered (but real) questions:

> If my kid plays a solitary sport all year round, won’t that lead to burn-out in that sport? That is, won’t he or she begin to regard having to go to practice or play road games as something of an obligation, or chore, than being fun?

As one of my callers on the show suggested this AM, if your kid eats chocolate ice cream every for seven years, won’t the thrill of eating that dessert wear off after awhile?

> What about the concerns of repetitive use injuries? Lots of studies DO suggest that too much practice can cause serious wear-and-tear on a youngster’s joints and growth plates.

Does specialization really make a difference in the long run? Invariably, no matter how much your youngster practices and plays on travel teams, eventually they will go only as far as their God-given talent will take them. And if there is one truth in this discussion, that’s the one that is universally accepted as true.

So, what do you do? Well, above all, start by listening to your child and asking them what sport or sports THEY want to play. That’s the key. Too many parents tend to drive the train on this issue. Instead, have the courage to listen to your son or daughter, and see what THEY want to do. That’s the way to insure that they stay motivated, fresh, and — oh yeah – actually have fun in their sporting endeavors.  




Why Parks and Recreation Departments Deserve Public Funding

By Doug Abrams

During the recession that has beset the nation for the last five years or so, many municipalities have slashed budgets for a range of new and existing public services.  Setting annual budgetary priorities deserves careful attention in any town or city whose laws require a balanced budget, but a beleaguered parks director once told me that “parks and recreation programs are usually the first to go.”

Parks and recreation departments should not remain immune from across-the-board cuts that hit public agencies generally, but they should not bear the brunt either.  When they set priorities, however, budget cutters sometimes overlook public recreation’s potential value to the community’s economy and its quality of life. 

When parks and recreation departments help attract youth sports tournaments and special events for adults, for example, visitors’ spending pumps thousands of welcome dollars into the local economy. Indeed, many communities actively promote themselves as “tournament friendly” to compete for these events that are sponsored by the department, conducted at facilities maintained by the department, or both.  

I suspect that despite their potential economic value, parks and recreation departments sometimes get short shrift because too many people misunderstand their role.  When municipal budgets appear tight, the word “parks” and “recreation” may conjure images of mere fun and games, a luxury that the community can live without.  After more than 40 years as a volunteer youth hockey coach in parks and recreation department programs, however, I see different images.  Quite apart from value that is measurable immediately in dollars and cents, the parks and recreation department enhances community vitality.

Public recreation provides athletic, cultural and social opportunities for senior citizens who might otherwise lack ready avenues for daily fulfillment in their retirement years. Public recreation also provides activities that help integrate physically and mentally disabled citizens into the community’s mainstream.  Public recreation enables any adult to enjoy the sheer pleasure of play as a respite from the stresses of the workaday world.

Perhaps most important to youth sports parents, however, public recreation can serve youth athletes of all ages and economic backgrounds, including athletes who may find themselves shut out by public and private school teams and “select” squads.  If a high schooler manages to make the varsity or junior varsity or a select team, he or she may compete.  Even many of these youngsters warm the bench while the more talented few get the lion’s share of the playing time.  A student who is not rostered watches from the stands or turns to other activities.  Amid the pediatric obesity epidemic and the frequent trimming of physical education curriculums in the schools, athletic programs that exclude most children leave a void that threatens adverse public health consequences, both in the short term and the long term.

Directly or indirectly, well conducted parks and recreation departments can help fill the void.  Department personnel may conduct instructional and more advanced youth leagues that, rather than skim the best talent off the top, enroll all children regardless of ability.  Or the department may acquire, build and maintain fields, gymnasiums and other facilities that private youth sports associations use under annual agreements that can expand the community’s athletic offerings.

One way or the other, children otherwise excluded from organized sports can learn that play, like work, is essential to a full life.  Children can develop the self-respect that comes from performing to the best of their ability, whatever their ability level happens to be. They can learn how to socialize with their peers, and how to arrange a busy schedule to make time for leisure activity.  Most of all, children can experience the exhilaration of physical exercise and athletic participation, the foundations of good health as they approach adulthood.

When public recreation loses a budget battle, the community loses.  Some of the losses can be measured directly in dollars and cents, and other losses can be measured in diminished quality of community life. Whatever the measure, the parks and recreation department is not an expendable frill, less worthy of public funding than libraries, concert series, cultural programs and similar initiatives that also invigorate everyday life.  The parks and recreation department does not displace a family’s own initiatives, but nicely complements them.  Bolstered by reasonable user fees and assured access to disadvantaged families, public funding for parks and recreation is an investment in the community and its citizenry of all ages.


[Source: Douglas E. Abrams, Public Recreation: Not Just Fun and Games, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 28, 1996, p. 3B (op-ed article)]

Little League Baseball Still Not Stepping Up on Kids Throwing Curve Balls

The New York Times ran a big feature piece this AM about the “so-called” ongoing controversy involving kids under 13 throwing curveballs.

I write “so-called” controversy because for more than 50 years, top surgeons everywhere have insisted that throwing curves at an early age can only damage a kid’s elbow and growth plates in their arm. Yet Little League Baseball (led by its key researcher, Dr. Glenn Fleisig, Phd) claims that, in effect,  it can’t prove that throwing curves will hurt young arms. Therefore, letting kids throw deuces is okay.


What’s particularly interesting in this article is that Dr. James Andrews, the legendary orthopedic specialist, doesn’t agree with Dr. Fleisig’s studies. Even Dr. Andrews points out that he’s never been so busy in doing Tommy John arm operations on middle schoolers.

Then there’s Dr. Timothy Kremchek, the orthopedic surgeon for the Cincinnati Reds, who said on my radio show last year that letting young pitchers throw curves is tantamount to “child abuse.” Pretty strong language, but Kremchek feels that this is out of control. Like Dr. Andrews, Kremchek has never been busier operating on young arms ruined by throwing curve balls.

Some years ago, when I interviewed Steve Keener, the CEO of LL Baseball, on my show, he told me that he didn’t know how to stop kids from throwing deuces. I explained to him that all he had to do was empower the home plate umpire to give a warning to any pitcher who tossed a breaking ball, and then on the second offense, to remove the kid from the mound.

Keener didn’t think umpires could enforce this rule.  I thought that was a huge cop-out. Turns out that Dr. Kremchek also advocates this approach. So, if LL Baseball is all about safety first, why not at least give this a try?

Bottom line? C’mon LL Baseball. Fess up. Why not just admit that you enjoy seeing kids in Williamsport throw curves and sliders on TV (referred to by ESPN commentators as “breaking balls,” as though that term makes these pitches less dangerous). All you have to do, Mr. Keener, is just banish all curves from all LL games. And tell the umps and coaches to enforce the rule. It’s just as simple as that.

Meanwhile, I’m glad to see the august New York Times is beginning to catch up with The Sports Edge. My colleague Steve Kallas and I have been hammering this point home about the dangers of LL Baseball for years.



The Battle Between Helicopter Sports Parents and Their Kids’ Coaches

“Coach, I don’t think you understand….my son was the star on his travel soccer team last spring and summer. Maybe I ought to have his travel team coach you directly….”

“Coach, my son spent all winter working out with a pitching coach. According to that coach, my kid should be one of top players on the HS team this spring….”

“Coach, I don’t understand your game strategy. If you want to win some games, you might want to consider giving my kid more playing time….”

You get the idea. Lots of sports parents feel that the only way they can insure that their youngster doesn’t get bypassed or overlooked by their HS coach is for the parent to speak up and intervene, i.e. hover around the coach like a traditional helicopter parent.

But what too few parents understand is that coaches are much more focused on the entire team, not on individual players. Parents understandably see their kid’s progress through their own tunnel vision. But coaches see the big picture, or at least try to.

Besides, what coach in the world wants to hear from a parent who insists that the coach talk with the kid’s travel team coach or personal instructor? That’s both insulting and demeaning to the HS coach.

Parents…at some point in your son’s or daughter’s career, you’re going to have to learn how to stand back and let them fly on their own. I recognize that can be very difficult. And yes, some coaches are better than others.

But if your youngster works hard and has real talent, every coach will eventually pick up on those two qualities. Interfering or hovering will only end up making the coach dislike you, and even worse, dislike your kid. Don’t make that mistake – it ends up being a lose-lose for everyone involved.

Why Youth Sports Programs Should Seek Input from Pediatricians and How Programs Can Do It

By Doug Abrams

In June of 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reaffirmed its 2001 policy statement on “Organized Sports for Children and Preadolescents.”  The policy statement demonstrates the valuable contributions that a pediatrician can make in a local youth sports program that wants to do a better job of serving the emotional and physical needs of the players, particularly the youngest players. 

The newly reaffirmed policy statement owes its influence not only to the AAP’s stature itself, but also to the central role that organized sports plays in children’s health and well-being.  With a membership of 60,000 pediatricians in primary care and sub-specialties, the AAP holds a reputation for thoughtful policy statements, careful analyses, and solid research on important medical and public health issues.    

The AAP’s attention to youth sports comes naturally because between 25 and 30 million children — nearly half of all American boys and girls — join at least one organized sports program in any given year.  At some time during their childhood and adolescence, nearly all children have some experience with organized sports.  Outside the home and schools, no other activity can enrich so many children – but no other activity also poses such potential risks to physical and emotional safety.  The AAP policy statement reminds us that much of this risk can be avoided when sports programs commit themselves to placing the players’ needs ahead of the adults’ needs.  We call the enterprise “youth sports” for a reason: The youth come first. 

Age-Appropriate Instruction

The AAP policy statement takes a balanced approach. “Participation in organized sports can have physical and social benefits for children,” but “the younger the participant, the greater the concern about safety and benefits.”

In particular, the AAP warns that organized sports programs for elementary and pre-school children sometimes impose “demands [that] exceed a child’s cognitive and physical development,” such as the ability to throw, catch or kick.  “Basic motor skills . . . do not develop sooner simply as a result of introducing them to children at an earlier age.  Teaching or expecting these skills to develop before children are developmentally ready is more likely to cause frustration than long-term success in the sport.”  The AAP cites both coaches who “try to teach what often cannot be learned,” and overzealous parents who “may bring goals or outcome measures that are not oriented toward young participants.” 

The AAP’s call for age-appropriate goals and expectations is well taken.  Burnout, high dropout rates, overuse injuries, parental misbehavior, and similar dysfunction often stem from misguided practices that begin in the youngest age groups, when some parents and coaches expect more from children than the children can accomplish. As the AAP intimates, too many parents and coaches with unreasonable expectations hurt many of the youngest child athletes emotionally and physically, often without recognizing the hurt until it is too late.   

Tempering Passion with Reason

The AAP’s sound advice deserves a prominent place at the table when parents, coaches, and league administrators conduct organized sports programs and make important decisions for their own families.

When I say “at the table,” I mean “at the table.” The AAP policy statement concludes by recommending that pediatricians consider assuming decisionmaking roles at the local level. “Pediatricians can take an active role in youth sports organizations by educating coaches about developmental and safety issues, monitoring the health and safety of children involved in organized sports, and advising committees on rules and safety.”

The AAP recommendation makes eminently good sense.  National and state youth sports governing bodies typically maintain written age-appropriate instructional guidelines for local programs, and the governing bodies promote these guidelines at pre-season coaching seminars.  The guidelines typically stress that five-year-olds have different capacities and needs than 12-year-olds, and that child athletes of any age are not simply miniature adults, but rather boys and girls with cognitive abilities that distinguish childhood from adulthood.  

The guidelines normally rely on direct input from medical and behavioral specialists, but these guidelines do not implement themselves.  Implementation depends instead on parents, coaches and league administrators who conduct local programs, typically without hearing the sort of direct professional input that produced the guidelines in the first place. 

Even at the youngest age levels, local passions about wins, losses and individual achievement may trump national or state guidelines once parents and coaches see the scoreboard. To help restrain passion with reason, local youth league boards of directors should try each year to enlist the volunteer services of a pediatrician, whose presence at the table would enrich board deliberations with viewpoints that deserve careful attention.  Face-to-face, local sports programs would then hear perspectives similar to the ones that national and state governing bodies hear.  

The volunteer pediatrician may be a player’s parent, or may be a pediatrician who agrees to serve in the public interest.  The board may reserve an elected position for a pediatrician in years when one can be recruited to run, or the board may appoint the pediatrician to serve as a non-voting consultant who attends board meetings that discuss issues relating to the players’ safety and emotional health.  One way or another, the board should weigh the pediatrician’s input when the board structures the program, establishes expectations for parents and coaches, conducts local clinics or seminars, and otherwise sets the program’s tone and tenor.  The players will be the ultimate winners.


[Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, Organized Sports for Children and Preadolescents, Pediatrics, vol. 107, p. 1259 (2001); reaffirmed, Pediatrics, vol. 128, p. e748 (June 2011)]

Another Case of Religious Accomodation: In this case, a happy ending…

The boys’ basketball team at Beren Academy, a Jewish Orthodox school near Houston, had a terrific season, and the players were eagerly looking to the post-season playoffs. But then, the Texas Assn of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS), ruled that the playoff games were slated to start on Friday evening and that they couldn’t be changed.

That meant that the Beren boys wouldn’t be able to compete, since the game would be played on their Sabbath which starts at sundown on Friday. TAPPS basically shrugged its shoulders and said, in effect, too bad. They couldn’t change the schedule at this late date.

But then somebody pointed out that under TAPPS rules, if the opposing team is willing to accomodate their opponent, then TAPPS is obliged to let the game be played. Sure enough, the opposing team — Dallas Covenant — said, sure, no problem – let’s play the game at 2 pm on Friday. And that’s when the game was played, with Beren prevailing over Dallas.

Beren went onto the championship game (played Saturday evening at 8 pm) and lost by 4. But hats off to Dallas Covenant for being good sports and doing the right thing….and a strong boo of disapproval to TAPPS for being so short-sighted.


Some of you may recall that a couple of years ago, we discussed the issue of religious discrimination when the BYU womens’ rugby program advanced to the NCAA semi-finals, only to find out that the game would be played on a Sunday. All the members of the BYU team are Mormon, which prevents them from playing sports in Sundays. The NCAA apologized profusely for their oversight, but in the end, wouldn’t change the schedule. BYU was forced to forfeit their playoff game.

Finally, one last update regaring religious discrimination. For years, Muslim women’s soccer players were not allowed to weaar headscarves known as hijabs in games. That ban now seems to be on the verge of being lifted. The International Football Assn, the sport’s ruling board, is now poised to allow women to wear  their hijabs during games.

When it comes to religious accomodation, it just seems the best approach is just to think ahead…and then apply some common sense.


By Steve Kallas

Another baseball season is upon us and, while the rules for baseball bat usage are clear in college and
high school, they become a little murky (or even difficult to understand) in Little League and travel
league baseball.


The NCAA went to only approved BBCOR (Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution) bats starting with
the 2011 college baseball season and the results were as expected; that is, a decrease in offense and
a return to baseball as it was known for most of the 20th Century. Indeed, according to an article at (and thanks to reader/listener Doug Newman for the heads-up), NCAA offense
returned to levels of 30-40 years ago. In this writer’s opinion, there is little doubt that safety returned
to “olden” day levels as well.

Specifically, according to NCAA stats, the combined batting average of NCAA teams in 2011 was .282,
the lowest since 1976. The earner run average for pitchers across the board was reduced to 4.70, the
lowest ERA since 1980. Home runs per NCAA game were reduced from .94 per game in 2010 to .52 per
game in 2011, almost a 50% reduction.

Or, if you are scoring at home, baseball in college returned to being baseball as it was known for about a
century. Once upon a time, the bunt was important, defense meant something, pitchers could actually
pitch inside and the hit-and-run and manufacturing runs were meaningful parts of the game.

That all returned to college baseball in 2011 and will continue as such in 2012 as only BBCOR-approved
bats can be used in NCAA college baseball (see Kallas Remarks, 3/25/11, for appropriate definitions of
important terms).


Beginning this season, the National Federation of State High School Associations (“NFHS”) will also
mandate only the use of BBCOR bats across the country in high school baseball games. This will
change high school baseball the way these bats changed college baseball in 2011; that is, a return
to defense and run-manufacturing as important parts of the game. Hitters will have their problems
adjusting (except for those who have played in wood bat leagues or used BBCOR bats in the last year
understanding the change was coming in 2012).

You will probably hear a lot of complaints but the reality is that baseball was, is and always will be the
hardest sport to coach, to play and, frankly, to excel at. The new BBCOR bats simply attempt to bring
the bats back in line with what they once were: safer for all (yes, injuries can and will still occur with
BBCOR or wood bats but not to the extent that we’ve seen in the last decade or so).

While this writer and others, like WFAN’s Rick Wolff, would prefer simply a return to wooden bats and

nothing else, at least the BBCOR bats (as opposed to, for example, the BESR bats of the past) are safer
and lessen the threat of injury while returning the game to the way it was meant to be played.


Little League International, while introducing BBCOR bats (although not exclusively depending on age
division) to the older kids (14 and above), has not made BBCOR bats mandatory for the younger kids (13
and below). Hopefully, this will change sooner rather than later. With the mistake of a few years ago
which allowed older kids to continue to play in the Little League Majors Division (they actually changed
the eligibility age to allow older kids to stay in the Little League 9-12, now 9-13 division), kids today
who are bigger and stronger pose a threat to pitchers who throw from only 46 feet away (and closer, of
course, on the follow-through).

The best advice for Little League parents is to go to and make sure your child’s bat (or
the bat you are about to buy for your child) is approved. There are lists and exceptions and waivers and
composite bat issues and on and on and on.

To say it’s confusing would be an understatement, in this writer’s opinion.


Unfortunately, the same caveats apply when buying a bat which you hope will comply from league to
league or even tournament to tournament. Specifically, you must review the bat eligibility rules for
each tournament or each league that your child will participate in.

The best advice for bat-buying in a non-high school or NCAA college situation is to seek out an expert
(maybe the head of umpires in a particular league, for example, as they must enforce these rules) who
knows what your particular league/tournament requires. If you are playing on a high-level travel team,
your coach should be well-aware of what is or is not allowed in the leagues/tournaments that you will
be playing in.

It’s hard to give concrete answers to the question as to whether a particular bat is allowed other than
to say a BBCOR metal bat, while reducing offensive production, is generally acceptable (although,
obviously, not in a wood bat league or tournament), if not mandatory (high school, NCAA), in most


Tread carefully and keep your receipts when you pay (possibly a small fortune still) for one of these bats.
2011’s high school BESR bat cannot be used in high school in 2012. Maybe they can be used in some
travel team leagues or tournaments. Maybe not. Try and educate yourself as to what bats are legal in
whatever league/tournament your child is expected to play in this season.

Coaches have to be aware as well. Maybe some other team will try to get an “edge” by hoping an
umpire and/or opposing coach is not up on the rules for a particular league or tournament. Yes, this

happens, and more often than you might think. Sneak an illegal BESR (or even a composite in some
situations) bat past an umpire or opposing coach and that team has a huge advantage (and be prepared
for the innocent “I had no idea” excuse when such a coach/player is caught).

It would be great if everything just returned to wood. It would be very good if everything was changed
to BBCOR. But outside of high school and NCAA baseball (where everything is now BBCOR), one has to
be aware and diligent when deciding what bat to buy for one’s child.