Archive for June, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Soccer Tales: Legend of the Shoelace Monster

This is a delightul soccer fable that is written with great passion and joy from Lew Freimark. Although aimed for children, it’s clearly written in a most unusual and fun manner – – and along the way, it introduces the ShoeLace Monster of the soccer pitch.

But this allegorical tale really is the story of Coach Stu and the wonderful time he has had coaching the Vipers through a number of seasons. Author Freimark is able to revisit the history of the game of soccer around the world, and in doing so, he provides a terrific  history lesson for all soccer fans, young and old. 

Best of all, the content is written in a light and clever approach – there’s no sense of heavy-handedness thaf often accompanies kids’ books. Bottom line? A fun and different kind of read.  PS- There’s a book signing by the author on July 14th at the Hillsborough Fitness, Racquet and Pool Center, 345 Amwell Road, Hillsborough NJ.


LEGAL CONCERNS: Law Professor Doug Abram’s Analysis of the Lawsuit against an 11-year-old Little Leaguer





By Doug Abrams


With perceptive insights from Rick Wolff and attorney Steve Kallas, The Sports Edge did an excellent show on Sunday morning concerning a troubling lawsuit filed recently in Manchester Township, New Jersey.  Elizabeth Lloyd and her husband seek thousands of dollars in damages from defendant Matthew Migliaccio, a catcher on their son’s Little League team. 

The claim is that while Ms. Lloyd was sitting nearby at a game two years ago, she was struck in the face by a ball overthrown by Matthew (who was then 11 years old) while he was warming up a pitcher in the fenced-in bullpen at the coach’s instruction and under the coach’s supervision.  The 45-year-old Ms. Lloyd claims more than $150,000 damages for medical expenses, plus unspecified damages for pain and suffering which reportedly could push the amount a few hundred thousand dollars higher.  Her husband claims damages for loss of her “services, society and consortium.”

Rick and Steve did an excellent job questioning whether, under the circumstances reported, an 11-year-old can be held liable for a toss made to a teammate in the ordinary course of a Little League game.  They also did an excellent job speculating about why the Lloyds may have chosen to sue Matthew rather than the more obvious defendants, Little League Baseball Inc. for conducting the game, or the Manchester Township for hosting the game on its field.  (An 11-year-old, with the family’s homeowners insurance policy, may seem an easier target than a major national corporation backed by a well-heeled law firm, or the township with resources to dig in their heels.)  I will not try to gild the lily by adding to what Rick and Steve contributed on these two threshold questions, except to say that I share their doubts and concerns.

Youth League Lawsuits

In recent years, many observers have grown disgusted with sports parents’ lawsuits that, quite frankly, cause most of us to hold our noses.  The defendants tend to be coaches who serve as volunteers or for modest stipends that help cover some expenses.  Some lawsuits charge that the coach negligently failed to teach the parents’ child a particular skill, such as how to catch a fly ball in baseball.  Other lawsuits charge that the coach caused the child severe emotional upset, for example by cutting the child from the team in competitive tryouts that involve three or more times the number of players than the roster can hold. 

Now we have a parent’s lawsuit brought not against an adult coach, but against an 11-year-old who, by media accounts, did nothing wrong but play baseball with his friends, including the plaintiffs’ son.  I have never heard of a lawsuit by a parent spectator against their pre-teen son’s teammate for ordinary game performance, and we can hope that this lawsuit is simply a blip on the radar screen that does not encourage copycat adults.

Lawyers as Gatekeepers

The rest of this column concerns one comment made by Matthew’s father, Bob Migliaccio, who appeared as a guest on the first segment of Sunday morning’s show.  Speaking about the Lloyds’ lawyer, Mr. Migliaccio asked “Is there any conscience there?”  Because I am a law professor, that commonsense comment by a non-lawyer resonated with me.  

This column is not about the Lloyds or their lawyer because I do not know them or their individual thought processes.  Indeed this column is not even solely about this particular case because its dynamics hold two nationwide implications beyond Manchester Township. 

The first nationwide implication is that youth sports programs need to consider requiring the most comprehensive waivers possible and offering the most comprehensive insurance protection possible.  We live in a litigious society. The odds of an adult or child being charged as a defendant in a lawsuit arising from ordinary youth sports play might resemble the odds of being hit with lightning, but precautions are important.  Lightning does strike, and lawsuits do happen because a would-be a plaintiff can usually find a lawyer who is willing to file.  Rick is right that a lawsuit such as the one the Migliaccios face could happen to anyone’s child in any youth sport.

The second national implication flows from the first.  Precautions against litigation assume added importance because many lawyers no longer seek to restrain would-be clients, if they once did.  I recall a thoughtful book written by Sol M. Linowitz in 1999, near the end of his distinguished career as a lawyer, diplomat, former Xerox Corp. chief executive, and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.  In a chapter entitled “Living the Law,” Linowitz quoted Elihu Root, himself a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who combined private law practice with service as Secretary of State and as longtime President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  “About half the practice of a decent lawyer,” said Root, “consists of telling would-be clients that they are . . . fools and should stop.” 

“Nobody ever lost a client by doing exactly what the fellow wanted,” Linowitz explained, “but much lucrative legal work has been sacrificed by lawyers who regretfully told prospective clients that this was something they were not willing to do.”  When a lawyer fails to say “no” at the right time, Linowitz added, “[t]he public pays, because the rule of law is diminished.” 


In a discussion about a lawyer’s professional obligations to decline a case, it is no answer to say that “everybody is entitled to a lawyer.”  Week in and week out, lawyers reject plenty of prospective clients who walk through the door.  The most common reason for turning down a would-be client is that he or she cannot pay.  In a recent New York Times op-ed article, the chief justices of the New Hampshire and California supreme courts report that throughout the nation, “[a]n increasing number of civil cases go forward without lawyers.  Litigants who cannot afford a lawyer, and either do not qualify for legal aid or are unable to have a lawyer assigned to them because of dwindling budgets, are on their own.”

            Because I teach family law and juvenile law at the state university law school, I routinely get frantic telephone calls from desperate men and women who seek help from law students or Legal Aid because they cannot afford to retain any of the several lawyers they have approached to represent them in divorce or child custody cases.  The outcomes of these heart-wrenching cases will likely affect the callers and their families for the rest of their lives, but most of the callers end up walking into court alone when no lawyer will take the case.  Nobody suggests that any of the callers is “entitled” to a lawyer.

Lawyers also often turn down cases when the initial interview indicates that the would-be client seems difficult to manage or overly emotional; when the client seems to lack a sense of personal chemistry with the lawyer; or when, as Root and Linowitz suggest, the proposed lawsuit does not have merit in the lawyer’s professional opinion.

Serious Consequences

Meritless lawsuits carry serious personal consequences.  For enrolling their 11-year-old in a community baseball program, the Migliaccios now find themselves as national (and indeed, international) public figures who must dig into their own pockets to retain a lawyer to protect the boy against court proceedings.  With Little League’s national office and their homeowners insurer taking hands-off attitudes, the Migliaccios face thousands of dollars in legal fees, not to mention perhaps thousands more in a settlement with the Lloyds to avoid trial and even higher legal bills. 

But money is not all.  Because litigation papers are public information easily available by an Internet word search of a party’s name, Matthew stands to be permanently stained by a record of alleged negligence and recklessness and intentional conduct, even if settlement papers ultimately disclaim liability.  Colleges and the boy’s future employers might roll their eyes at the lawsuit years from now, but they might not. 

Rick and Steve also pointed out that if the case proceeds further, sworn depositions and adversary questioning at trial might await Matthew and his pitcher, other adolescent eyewitness teammates, and his coaches.  Depositions and trials are distasteful, emotionally draining, and potentially intimidating processes for most people, particularly children. 

One Lawyer’s Hopes

Ms. Lloyd allegedly suffered serious injury, and she deserved (and evidently received) every indulgence from her family and other team members.  Some injuries, however, are simply unavoidable non-compensable accidents, even after a sustained search for the deepest pockets seeks to deflect blame and legal liability onto someone else.

The Lloyds and their lawyer are adults who have chosen to seek their day in court, as they are entitled to do.  I cast no aspersions, but I hope that I would make a different choice if I were a practicing lawyer and the Lloyds approached me to file a lawsuit seeking damages in the high six figures against an 11-year-old for playing baseball.

Even the merit of a lawsuit against Little League or the Manchester Township might seem questionable because baseball parents like the Lloyds, attending a game, should know that youth leaguers do not always control their throws because they are learning.  Whether to sue one or both of these corporate entities is a judgment call, but I would draw the line at suing an 11-year-old and slapping him with legal papers served by the sheriff.

With visions of Elihu Root and Sol Linowitz in my head, I hope I would tell the Lloyds politely but firmly:  “You are entitled to hire a lawyer, but you are not entitled to me.  You may approach another lawyer if you wish, but I will not do it.”        


[I had planned to continue last week’s column with “Being an Assistant Coach — Part II” this week, but the New Jersey lawsuit calls for timely discussion.  Unless something else develops, I will present “Part II” next week.]

[Sources:  Sol M. Linowitz, The Betrayed Profession:  Lawyering at the End of the Twentieth Century (1999); John T. Broderick, Jr. & Ronald M. George, A Nation of Do-It-Yourself Lawyers, N.Y. Times, Jan. 2, 2010, p. A21 (op-ed);, N.J. Woman Files Lawsuit After Being Hit By Errant Throw From 11-Year-Old at Little League Game, June 23, 2012; Pedro Oliveira, Jr., NJ Woman Sues After Being Hit in Face With Baseball Overthrown by Little League Kid, N.Y. Post, June 23, 2012; Woman Struck in Face With a Baseball at a Little League Game is SUING 11-Year-Old Catcher Who Threw It for $150,000,

DANGERS OF LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL: 11-Year-old Ballplayer Makes Bad Throw, Gets Sued

The headlines made you do a double-take:

Mom sues 11-year-old Little Leaguer for Errant Throw!”

But it’s true. Two years ago, when then 11-year-old Matt Migliaccio was warming up a pitcher in the bullpen at a LL game in Manchester, NJ, he accidentally overthrew the ball back to his teammate. The ball sailed out of the bullpen and struck a spectator, 45-year-old Elizabeth Lloyd, who was watching the game.

Matt immediately raced over to the woman and offered sincere apologies. She was gracious enough to say she was okay, but a little while later, she did go to get medical help. A day later, Matt’s Dad, Bob Migliaccio sent a most apologetic email to the woman, and her husband wrote back, saying thank you for the note, and don’t worry, she’ll be okay.

But it turns out that she needed reconstructive facial surgery, and by the time everything was done, the medical bills were more than $150,000. Ms. Lloyd wanted somebody to pay for the bills, and eventually it all turned back to the errant throw. Little League Baseball in Williamsport, PA, didn’t return Bob Migliaccio’s calls for help; LL’s stance was that their insurance policy didn’t cover spectator insurance.

And once Bob’s insurance company refused to cover the woman’s bills, her attorney decided to sue the 11-year-old. It’s not quite sure why the boy was sued, but clearly this was an attempt to draw his family’s homeowner insurance policy into the fray.

Bob Migliaccio was a guest on my show this AM, and he presented all of the frustration that this case involves. Then I had attorney Steve Kallas come on to present his legal insights, and Steve felt that this would be an uphill battle for Ms. Lloyd to win in court, but she seemed determined to move ahead.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens next, but in the court of public opinion, most people who called in or who have emailed me have said this was an unfortunate accident…but that 11-year-old kids DO make aberrant throws, and while it’s definitely a shame that Ms Lloyd was hurt, most people felt it’s just not right to sue a kid for making a  bad throw at a LL game. What’s your sense? Was this justified?

COACHING TIPS: The Benefits of Being an Assistant Coach


By Doug Abrams


In the autumn of 1978, I returned to Long Island as a newly minted lawyer, and I looked forward to volunteering as a youth hockey coach, which had already become my hobby.  My choice was the Nassau County program at Cantiague Park in Hicksville, where I played high school hockey, and where I coached in summer house leagues during my college days a few years earlier.  Cantiague had been my “hockey home” for years, but now I was in for an unexpected surprise (a pleasant one, as it turned out).

“Coaching” had always meant being the head coach.  It had never occurred to me that I might be satisfied as an assistant coach, but the County’s hockey program had only assistant positions after I had been away for a few years.  I signed on as the assistant on the midget team coached by Wally Livingstone, who had coached me years earlier. Wally was widely regarded as Long Island’s best youth hockey coach, and serving as his goalie coach turned out to be a seven-year treat until he passed away in 1985.

Fast-forwarding to 2012, I have spent more than 40 years coaching youth hockey at all age levels, both in New York and here in Missouri.  I spent about half these years as an assistant coach working with the goalies, and I quickly grew to appreciate the position and the opportunities. 

This two-part column discusses the most common benefits and the most common challenges that face both the assistant coaches and the head coach as they work together on a youth sports team.  The benefits arise because assistant coaching can be more suitable to a particular adult’s background in the game, temperament, and obligations to family and career.  The challenges arise from the way youth coaching staffs are typically assembled.  Together the dynamics that shape the coaching staff matter to almost every youth sports team.  

The Benefits of Assistant Coaching

When I returned to Long Island in 1978, I realized quickly that head coaching would have been a mistake because my new career did not leave me enough volunteer time to direct a competitive youth hockey team the right way.  As I mentioned two weeks ago, time — a person’s most valuable commodity — is limited for many adults who also have obligations to family and employment.  Despite their best intentions, many adults simply cannot make the considerable time commitment needed to be a head coach, at least unless their own child plays on the team so that team time comes to resemble family time if parent and player can manage the situation. 

Assistant coaches may not have the deep knowledge of the game expected of head coaches. Assistants also normally do not shoulder the heavy burdens of planning practices, arranging road trips, and maintaining direct relations with parents.  For adults who want to remain in the game despite time constraints, being an assistant coach can be ideal if they work with the right head coach, as I did once I joined Wally.

The Challenges of Assistant Coaching

The challenges of youth league assistant coaching often begin with the process that selects the staff.  In the pros, the head coach generally hires the assistants based on prior relationships, common experiences, and personal chemistry designed to encourage known harmony.  In the best circumstances, each assistant brings a known strength to the table. 

The arrangement can be quite different in youth sports because the association’s board of directors, and not the head coach, may name the assistants from willing applicants.  Sometimes the board consults the head coach, and sometimes not.  Depending on the particular association and the particular year, a team’s assistants may be men or women with years of experience in the game, but they may also be random volunteers, players’ parents, or even applicants who wanted to be the head coach but remain disappointed because they were not selected.  Without a reservoir of prior personal loyalties, the coaching staff may face immediate challenges, including the seven that I will discuss in the rest of this column. I discuss the first challenge here and the remaining six next week: 

1)                 Developing mutual respect.  Coaching, like sports itself, is a team effort.  A prospective assistant coach’s most immediate challenge may be to make every effort to sign on with a head coach whose values and knowledge of the game the assistant can respect.  The prospective assistant might not have control over the matter except to decline appointment, but the fact remains that youth teams tend to be reflections of the head coach, and head coaches are not all alike.

When the head coach holds the respect of players and parents for values and knowledge of the game, assistants tend to share in that respect.  But when the head coach proves to be an embarrassment, parents and parents inevitably deflect some of the embarrassment onto the assistants’ shoulders.  The old adage, after all, is that “you can tell a lot about a person by the company he keeps.”  That’s human nature.

I have seen plenty of assistant coaches who shared in the gratitude and respect that came the head coach’s way.  But I have also seen assistant coaches who were tarred by the head coach’s habit of unsavory behavior such as cussing at players, berating them, or sharing off-color humor that would have been better left unsaid.  I was fortunate that Wally Livingstone, and later head coaches I joined as goalie coach in New York and then in Missouri, made me look good because they knew hockey and treated players the right way.      

For the prospective assistant coach who sizes up the situation, perfection is not the test. I have never seen a coaching staff where every coach held equal knowledge of the game, or displayed precisely the same temperament and outlook.  Like members of any other group, each coach has strengths and weaknesses, so the assistant’s core challenge is to achieve a reasonable comfort level based on mutual give-and-take.  If serious discomfort is predictable or reasonably likely, the best time to recognize the problem is before joining the staff. 

The coaches’ comfort level can pay off on the scoreboard because players learn from example.  During a long season, for example, players often point fingers and criticize one another when the team hits hard times and perhaps endures a losing streak.  The coaches will have a much easier time snuffing out the finger-pointing and bickering when they can remind players that the staff itself adjusts and works together despite individual differences that sometimes arise but must be overcome for the team’s sake.  And when the players believe the coaches’ statements about harmony because the players have seen it.


Next week: Six more challenges.



CONCUSSION CONCERNS: Pop Warner Steps Up Its Rules about Kids and Hits to the Head

In what amounts to a move that really shouldn’t surprise anyone, Pop Warner Football has announced a number of measures to help protect its young players to try and prevent concussions.

This comes, of course, after more than 2,000 lawsuits have been filed by former NFL players against the NFL regarding concussions. Colleges and high schools are also stepping up their rules to prevent concussions. And now, faced with studies that suggest kids under the age of 10 might be subjected to concussions that resemble the force of a college hit, Pop Warner is now telling youth coaches to limit practice blocking and tackling drills to no more than a third of their weekly practice time. Just like the Ivy League which now limits full-on tackling in practice to no more than two days a week during the season, Pop Warner is also radically changing thier approach.

In additon to limited practice time for contact, Pop Warner is also recommending that kids be taught how to tackle opposing ball carriers from the side as opposed to head-on. Traditional drills like the “bull in the ring” where one player is surrounded by teammates in practice and then has to tackle or block a kid from any direction is also being discouraged.

Of course, Pop Warner has to be concerned about legal liability when it comes to kids getting their bell rung. And on a larger scale, one has to wonder if this will seriously cut back on youth football in the years to come. Top neurosurgeons are suggesting that the necks of young players are not strong enough to protect one from a serious concussion, and as such, are recommending that kids not start playing tackle football until they are at least 14.

Friends, as noted before, I really worry if we’re rapidly approaching a time where sports parents are going to actively encourage their kids to play other sports that don’t involve serious contact.

SPECIALIZATION CONCERNS: Maybe We’re Doing it Wrong here in the US…

For years in this country, active sports parents have instinctively bought into the concept that the sooner your youngster specializes in just one sport, the more accelerated their sports career will become.

As a result, we have kids as young as 5 or 6 in this country who are only playing soccer all year round…or just baseball…or ice hockey…or whatever.  All other sports are seen as simply distracting and get in the way of the larger goal.

But now comes news from Canada that their athletic governing body is re-thinking about early specialization, and they’ve decided that this kind of approach just isn’t working well – especially as the kids grow into their later teenage years. The Canadians are now shifting toward “long-term athletic development” in the hopes that this new kind of approach will take them to greater success in the Olympic games and other international competition.

Now, this is a topic that I’ve written about before. But maybe the time has really come to re-evaluate just how important it is to push our kids into specialization. Example: on my show yesterday, I talked about a Rutgers University football player named Patrick Kivlehan. Patrick had been a stand-out football and baseball player in HS, but once he was recruited for Rutgers’ football, he never picked up a bat and glove again.

He played four years of football for the Scarlet Knights, but then, during the middle of his senior year, the baseball bug bit him, and he asked if he could try out for the Rutgers’ baseball team.

Most of the time, big-time baseball programs like Rutgers say no to tryouts. Remember, this was a kid who hadn’t played baseball in four years. But it’s to the baseball coaching staff’s credit to let Patrick try it, because he ended up not only being Rutgers’ best player this spring, but he led the Big East in HR’s, RBI’s and batting average.

Sure enough, he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 4th round and now he’s off to pursue a career in pro ball.

Bottom line? Just another case of where specializing in one sport really wasn’t necessary. If you’re truly that good as an athlete, don’t worry – your abilities will surface in one sport or another.

Crucial Coaching Conversations

By Doug Abrams

Normally I do not use this column to reinforce what Rick Wolff discusses on Sunday mornings because his thoughtful commentary about youth sports needs no reinforcement from me.  I make an exception here, however, because last Sunday’s show – about what Rick calls “Crucial Coaching Conversations” – recalls a story that has stayed with me ever since I played Babe Ruth League baseball as a teenager nearly fifty years ago.  It is a particularly positive story, one worth telling here for its useful message.

Words That Last a Lifetime

“Lots of us in our 40s, 50s or 60s,” Rick said at the top of Sunday’s show, “can still vividly recall what a coach said to us back when we were playing in high school or junior high school, even at the Little League level. All these years later, we still recall those words and how they cut to the quick because . . . we had somehow made a mistake or disappointed the coach.”  The words “probably meant nothing to the coach at the time — but for us, the recipients, those words stung big-time, and they lasted a lifetime.”

A coach’s words can indeed hurt but, as Rick also said on Sunday, words can  reassure if the coach remains compassionate in the face of adversity by delivering support that helps “make sure that the kid . . . bounces back to play even harder next time.”  The key is knowing “what the kid needs to hear,” particularly when something has just gone wrong. 

In the spring of 1966, I was a 15-year-old freshman at Clarke High School in Westbury, Long Island, and my parents signed me up to play in the Babe Ruth program sponsored by the Central Nassau Little League.  My team was the “Pan Am Jets,” and the manager was Nick Economopoulos, a star catcher on Clarke’s varsity baseball team who had just finished his junior year. After years of playing for talented adult managers, now I played for a talented manager who was almost a peer.

On Sunday morning’s show, Rick’s second hypothetical situation concerned a Little League shortstop who booted a routine ground ball in the last inning as the winning run scored.  The hypothetical hit home because my Little League story is almost a carbon copy.  Late in the season 46 years ago, the Jets lost in the last inning when I, playing first base, let a slow roller dribble through my legs as the winning run scampered across the plate.

A few minutes later, I needed a ride home, and Nick offered.  He had never showed anger at the team before, but I was feeling mighty guilty and wondered whether he was angry at me for costing the team the game.  It turned out that our conversation in his car was thoroughly pleasant, with no hint at all about our loss or my part in it.  He was already talking about our next game, when he said I would still be playing first base.  

On the way home, the car radio played a new hit song, “Summer In the City,” by the Lovin’ Spoonful. (One of the 1960s best tunes!).  For the next 46 years, I have thought of Nick whenever I hear that oldie because the ride home that day – our “crucial coaching conversation” — was such a pleasant experience after my last-inning error.  Even as a teenage coach, he knew what to say and how to say it.

When Nick and I reconnected for the first time in decades about four years ago, I had great fun telling him that story.  By that time, he sat on the Wallingford (Conn.) Town Council after retiring from a successful career as a teacher and girls’ varsity basketball coach with more than 600 wins and five state championships.  Much indeed had happened since the Pan Am Jets, the first team he ever coached.

Nick probably did not remember our conversation in his car on the ride home that day in 1966 – but I remember.

The Serious Business of Youth Coaching

What is the message of this story about my late-inning error?  Rick is right that the coach’s individual praise and harsh criticism each carries lasting force.  Kids are perceptive and sensitive, and they want to please their coaches because sports is such a big part of a young athlete’s life.  


Coaches may initially be unaccustomed to having other people’s children hang on their every word, but coaches hold both the power to praise and the power to devastate.  That awesome power comes with the territory, and the best coaches exercise it prudently because they understand that influencing children is serious business.


Youth coaches are on stage whenever they are within earshot of any of their audience, the players.  Coaches risk losing the players’ affection and respect whenever they forget that, as stage and screen actress Shirley Booth said soon after winning an Academy Award in 1952, “the audience is 50 percent of the performance.”


And to paraphrase Art Linkletter and Bill Cosby, “Kids remember the darndest things” years later.  Even music on the car radio.

Book Review: How to Coach Youth Baseball So Every Kid Wins

Jeff Ourvan is an attorney and literary agent by day, but in his off-hours, he’s clearly a very involved and passionate youth baseball coach. It says on the back cover of his new book that he and his wife have three sons and that he’s coached all three of them on teams. And judging from the extensive content in his book, Jeff has most likely seen it all in terms of kids and baseball.

And to that end, Jeff’s new book clearly reflects the real-life experiences of coaching youth baseball these days, and he does a very nice job in presenting the various kinds of challenges that any coach can anticipate. His approach is strictly a pragmatic one — he provides prescriptive advice on how to draft your players, how to work to get your players at the bottom of your batting order to feel more productive, and along the way, he provides advice on every aspect of the game from how to slide to how to grip a baseball to throw a two-seamer or change-up.

True, there are a number of youth baseball coaching books these days on the market, but if you’re looking for a thorough approach of how to coach a kid’s team, this is one to add to your library. I also give the author bonus points as many of the color how-to photos in the book include girls playing baseball as well as boys. As a father myself who had a daughter play Little League baseball until she was 12, I was glad to see those photos.

The Importance of Words: “Crucial Coaching Conversations”

I call them the three “C”s — Crucial Coaching Conversations — and they are at the very basis of effective sports parenting.

Whether you’re a coach at the amateur level, or a sports parent, you always hear about how important it is to communicate well with your athletes. Problem is, while everybody agrees with that statement, I’m not sure if enough grown-ups understand what “communication” is all about.

I write that, because there are still too many coaches who still insist at yelling and screaming at kids during games…parents who openly shout their disapproval at their son or daughter during a sporting event….coaches who unfortunatley just don’t think twice before opening their mouth.

What grown-ups need to understand is that at the younger levels of sports, kids are trying very hard to gain your approval. They look to you for a knowing smile of approval. But if you are too busy yelling at them for making a mistake, or error, or miscue during the course of a game, or if you feel compelled to give them a “post-game analysis” of what they did wrong in the just-completed game, then the overall effect is that you’re driving them away from their game, not supporting them.

As the adult, it’s incumbent upon to you to think about what you say – both verbally and non-verbally. Kids clearly pick up on these vibes, and if you aren’t careful, the reaction can be devastating. To that end, the next time you find yourself in a situation where kids are looking up to you for guidance as a coach – or even if it’s your kid – keep these tips in mind:

AVOID SARCASTIC REMARKS. Kids under the age of 13 don’t understand sarcastic comments. The so-called humor is lost upon them. As such, just avoid it at all costs.

NEVER BERATE THEM RIGHT AFTER A LOSS. After a tough game, give them some time to recuperate emotionally. Give them a pat on the back, but absolutely do not go into a detailed accounting of what they did wrong. This is not the time for that lecture. Wait until the next practice when they’ve been refreshed before going over mistakes.

BE BRIEF. There’s never any need to talk for more than 3-4 minutes after any tough loss. Besides, kids will just quickly tune you out. Save your breath.

BE SPECIFIC IN YOUR PRAISE. Words like “Good game” or “Nice job” have zero impact. If you really want to have an impact, be specific in your praise. Tell the youngster: “Wow, look at how much progress you’ve made in dribbling the soccer ball with both feet” or “Look at how well you can thrrow strikes…all of your hard work has really paid off.”

That’s what kids want to hear. Not only will it bring a smile to their face, but your words will elevate and encourage them to want to work even harder.

Remember -words are powerful. They can be used for both good and bad, so  be careful.