Archive for August, 2012

SPORTSMANSHIP: It’s Easy to be a Good Winner…the Real Test is When You Lose




Post-Game Handshakes


By Doug Abrams


In late June, Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested a Vancouver youth hockey coach who was captured on video sticking out his leg to trip a 13-year-old opponent as the teams passed each other in the handshake line at the end of a summer league game. The coach, shown pointing accusingly at the tripped player, reportedly had trash-talked the boy throughout the game after he scored the game’s opening goal.  The Vancouver Sun reported that the boy suffered a broken wrist, and the 19-second video has scored more than 2.2 million worldwide views on YouTube.  (

Last year, a 16-year-old varsity football player in Washington Court House, Ohio placed a tack inside his glove and intentionally pricked the hands of 28 opponents in the post-game handshake line after his team had scored a 26-0 victory.  All 28 opponents needed tetanus shots and blood tests from the county health department, and the juvenile court sentenced the player to 90 days’ confinement and 280 hours of community service for multiple counts of assault.

The Vancouver and Ohio incidents remind us that shoving, insults and similar incidents occasionally disrupt handshake lines following hard-fought contests in boys and girls games from coast to coast.  Nearly all post-game handshakes proceed smoothly, but publicized incidents like these sometimes lead coaches and league administrators to suggest dispensing with handshakes altogether.  Sometimes they suggest that teams conduct pre-game handshakes instead, before passions rise.  These suggestions can arise in the leagues in which the incidents occurred, or in other leagues that seek to avoid potential problems.

Either suggestion would be a step in the wrong direction — an unwise overreaction — because handshakes enable parents and coaches to teach players important lessons about sportsmanship.  Occasional breakdowns in handshake lines can be “teaching opportunities” that enable adults to talk with their children about what not to do.  Sports can send youth leaguers the right message when adults embrace teaching opportunities that arise from negative events, but not when adults avoid these opportunities.  Missed teaching opportunities teach nothing.   

A Strong Tradition

The post-game handshake is a tradition in professional sports.  At the end of each Stanley Cup playoff round, for example, hockey teams that have spent the entire series pounding each other nonetheless line up at center ice so that the losing team can recognize the winners.

One of the most iconic photos in National Hockey League history features Boston Bruins goalie “Sugar” Jim Henry shaking hands at center ice with the Montreal Canadiens’ Maurice Richard, who had just scored the winning goal in the final game of the 1952 Stanley Cup semifinals.  Henry had played the third period with eyes swollen nearly shut after he took a shot squarely in the face, and Richard had returned to action early in the period after being knocked unconscious with a likely concussion. 

One account described the post-game meeting between the two bloodied players this way:  “As vicious as the seven-game encounter had been, the opposing players congratulated each other on a hard fought series. Milt Schmidt had his arm around Canadiens rookie Dickie Moore, whom he battled through the series, and the players all shook hands. The most memorable handshake came between Richard and Henry, who almost appeared to be bowing to the Rocket as he struggled to hang onto his goalie gear.” 

The Jim Henry-Maurice Richard photo speaks for itself:

Hockey holds no monopoly on the handshake tradition.  Boxers touch gloves at the beginning of a fight and embrace at the end.  Tennis players shake hands at the net at the end of even the hardest fought matches.  Football coaches meet at midfield and basketball coaches meet on the sidelines for handshakes as their players typically mingle with one another after the final whistle.  In these and other sports, disruptions amid handshakes remain the isolated exception rather than the rule.

Lessons in Youth Sports

The post-game handshake tradition in youth leagues acknowledges what every youth leaguer, parent and coach already knows — that winning is preferable to losing.  Players should strive to win, but post-game handshakes also teach them how to accept the final score gracefully, win, lose or draw.  

Losing a tough game can be a bitter pill to swallow at any age, but overcoming the bitterness defines an athlete’s learning process.  I would tell my youth hockey players that after losing a game, the proudest athletes shake hands and leave the ice gracefully with their heads held high so that a spectator who just arrived would not know which team won and which team lost.  Players practice to win, but learning how to control emotions and remain dignified after a loss also takes plenty of practice.     

Parents and coaches should give their players Olympic gold medal swimmer Amy Van Dyken’s advice:  “The most important lesson I’ve learned from sports,” she says, “is how to be not only a gracious winner, but a good loser as well.  Not everyone wins all the time; as a matter of fact, no one wins all the time. Winning is the easy part; losing is really tough. But, you learn more from one loss than you do from a million wins.  You learn a lot about sportsmanship.”


“It’s really tough to shake the hand of someone who just beat you,” Van Dyken explains, “and it’s even harder to do it with a smile.  If you can learn to do this and push through that pain, you will remember what that moment is like the next time you win and have a better sense of how those competitors around you feel. This experience will teach you a lot on and off the field!”


[Sources: Vancouver Hockey Coach Investigated After Teenage Player Allegedly Tripped, Vancouver Sun, June 28, 2012; Carey Vanderborg, Martin Tremblay, Minor League Hockey Coach, Arrested For Tripping 13-Year Old Boy On Ice, Int’l Business Times, June 28, 2012; Washington Court House Student Sentenced in Thumbtack Incident, Chillicothe (Ohio) Gazette, Dec. 7, 2011; Kevin van Steendelaar, Recalling the Rocket’s Greatest Goal, ; Sportsmanship Quotes, (quoting Van Dyken)]


DANGERS OF LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL: When Will LL Baseball Finally Make the Change to Either Wood or BBCOR Bats?

In light of the $14.5 million settlement between the Stephen Domalewski family and Louisville Slugger and Little League Baseball, isn’t it about time — once and for all — for Little League Baseball to finally make the shift (like the NCAA and HS baseball already has) and mandate that aluminum bats are no longer to be used by kids 13-and-under?

Inexplicably, as LL plays its Championship game today on ABC/ESPN, it’s still very much legal for LLers to use these “weapons” as many people have called them. For years (including today), Steve Kallas and myself have pleaded on-the-air for LL to intervene and ban these bats. But amazingly, LL still hasn’t done so. Maybe with this major multi-million dollar settlement just being announced, LL might finally do the right thing.

But let’s not hold our breath. Remember, rather than abide by years of medical research showing that kids under 13 run a serious risk of arm injury by throwing curves and sliders, LL decided to come out with their own study, suggesting that decades of medical research is all wrong – that throwing curves really isn’t dangerous at all. As a result, all you see on the televised LL games are kids throwing what LL refers to as “breaking balls” – -not curves or sliders. The ESPN commentators must think we don’t know the difference.

And yet, all we keep hearing about are the dramatic rise in Tommy John surgery over the last decades for kids in middle school and HS. Dr. Timothy Kremchek, the long-time orthopedic surgeon for the Cincy Reds, has appeared on my show and publicly decried LL’s research. So has Rick Peterson, the highly-respected major league pitching coach. He wouldn’t let his own boys throw curves until they were out of HS.

Then there’s the pitch count nonsense. It wasn’t until Kallas and myself pointed out to LL officials that their entire approach to pitch counts didn’t add up – that, in effect, LL coaches were allowed to overrule the pitch count suggestions from LL’s own medical advisor, Dr. James Andrews, the well-known orthopedic surgeon. And once LL finally figured that situation out, Kallas and I still pointed out the discrepancies about pitch counts in the actual LL World Series in Williamsport, and how competitive coaches were wearing out kids’ arms. In other words, the pitch counts were only being applied to regular season games, not the games in Williamsport. Fortunately, that’s now been corrected.

All in all, we DO think we’ve made some progress with LL. But for an organization that prides itself on “safety first” for kids, it’s amazing to me that it’s taken them SO long to start to address these critically important issues.

DANGERS OF ALUMINUM BATS: $14.5 Million Settlement Announced in Domalewski Case Against Little League and Louisville Slugger


                                                                                  By Steve Kallas


Many of you are familiar with the sad story of Steven Domalewski who, on June 6, 2006 (at the age of 12), was hit in the chest with a ball hit off an aluminum bat.  The resulting commotio cordis condition caused brain damage to the point where Domalewski has had a very limited ability to function and essentially needs care 24/7 (for a more thorough history of the case, see Kallas Remarks, 5/25/08 and 8/2/10).


Earlier this week, in a settlement of a lawsuit against defendants Little League Baseball and Louisville Slugger in Superior Court, Passaic County, New Jersey, it was announced that the Domalewski family will receive $14.5 million dollars from the two defendants (no word on what the split between defendants is; that part of the settlement is, apparently, not public information).


Rick Wolff, on his excellent WFAN radio show, “The Sports Edge,” will discuss this case and its ramifications this Sunday morning at 8:05.




Well, you can imagine that, in any case where you have a sympathetic plaintiff (in this case, a child who simply went out to pitch in a youth baseball game at the age of 12 and had his life significantly changed (for the worse) forever), defendants aren’t anxious to go before a jury.


But there was some very good lawyering done by New Jersey attorney Ernest Fronzuto on behalf of the Domalewski family.  Domalewski was not hurt in a Little League game, but Little League was named as a defendant because they, essentially, claim that these aluminum bats are safe to use.  As we have seen over the years, there are certainly times when they are not.  Plus, the sizeable amount of the settlement ($14.5 million) shows that this was not a case where a few hundred thousand was paid as a “nuisance” value.


Louisville Slugger (official name Hillerich & Bradsby) has made these bats for years and has paid a few judgments over the years after jury trials for damage done to young pitchers and, in one case (Brandon Patch), for the death of a young pitcher.


While the money, obviously, will not give Steven Domalewski his life back as he knew it, it will help to offset the millions in medical bills that he is facing now and in the future.




It is submitted that there is a much bigger message than the settlement of a case where a boy is brain-damaged for life as a result of being hit with a ball hit off an aluminum bat.  For some inexplicable reason, Little League has affirmatively decided NOT to change the power of the aluminum bats used in the Little League Majors Division (9-13 year olds; what you are seeing right now on the ever-present Little League World Series on ESPN) and below.  Little League has, to some degree, introduced BBCOR bats (that is, bats that are weaker in power than the previous aluminum bats that were used) into Junior League Baseball (the age level above LL Majors) and has made BBCOR bats mandatory for the older Senior League and Big League divisions.


But, in a world where kids are growing bigger and bigger (and are stronger and stronger), it defies logic that BBCOR bats would not be mandatory at the 13 and below level, especially given the fact that the pitching rubber remains only 46 feet from home plate (the shortest pitching distance there is) in the Little League Majors Division and below.


Given the fact that Steven Domalewski was 12 when this happened to him, here’s hoping that Little League will (sooner, rather than later) announce that BBCOR bats are mandatory in all Little League divisions with no exceptions.


At some point, there will be a new standard of care in this country where the old “weapons,” as described by many, will simply be viewed as too dangerous to allow our kids to be on a baseball field when those types of bats are being used.  As you probably know, these more powerful bats have been banned by the NCAA in college baseball (in 2011) and by the National High School Federation in high school baseball across the country (in 2012).


Having said that, in the Little League lower divisions and in many other youth sport baseball leagues and various summer travel tournaments throughout the country, it’s still the rule that these powerful, non-BBCOR bats are legal. 


The settlement announced in New Jersey this past week should help move along a complete change to weaker (or “truer,” as described by noted baseball pitcher and announcer Ron Darling, since they are closer to wooden bats) BBCOR bats.  Hopefully, someday, we will simply have a return to only wooden bats.


Then, baseball will again be played the way it was meant to be by children of all ages.


OBESITY CONCERNS: How Team Sports Can Help Your Child


New Study Cites Team Sports as an Effective Weapon

Against Childhood Obesity


By Doug Abrams


In 2001, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher issued a thoughtful 60-page report warning that among adults and children alike, “overweight and obesity . . . have reached epidemic proportions in the United States.”  This week’s column focuses on a new 2012 study that reinforces the report’s troubling findings concerning children.

Dr. Satcher did not use the word “epidemic” lightly because 13% of children and adolescents were overweight in 2001, and because the number of overweight adolescents had tripled since 1980.  With national trends moving in the wrong direction, he stressed that sedentary lifestyles learned early can last into adulthood: “[A]dolescents who are overweight are at high risk of becoming overweight or obese adults.” 

“Overweight” and “obesity” are two essentially preventable conditions that identify “ranges of weight that are greater than what is generally considered healthy for a given height.”  Both conditions generally result from such causes as excess calorie consumption or inadequate physical activity. Both qualify, in Dr. Satcher’s words, as “major public health concerns” because they can lead to increased rates of coronary heart disease, diabetes, several forms of cancer, and other chronic health conditions. 

The Surgeon General’s report fell on deaf ears because national trends among children are still moving in the wrong direction today.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that approximately 17% of children over the age of two (about 12.5 million children) are now obese.   

“Increase Team Sport Participation Among All Students”

Dr. Satcher warned that unless national trends do an about-face, “overweight and obesity may soon cause as much preventable disease and death as cigarette smoking.”  With this sobering recipe for ill health as lifestyles have grown increasingly sedentary in recent years, the August 2012 issue of Pediatrics (the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) features a new study conducted by researchers led by Dr. Keith M. Drake of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Lebanon, New Hampshire.  The study measures the potentially positive effects on child health of various forms of physical exercise, including active commuting to school (such as by walking or biking), regular participation in school physical education classes, and participation in team sports.  

Dr. Drake and his team found that active commuting to school has some residual positive effect on a student’s body weight, but that participation in high school physical education classes does not.  But there is more.  The researchers also found that “[t]eam sports participation had the strongest and most consistent inverse association with weight status.”  The study estimates that overweight and obesity would “decrease by 11% and 26% respectively, if adolescents played on at least 2 sports teams per year.” 

The researchers’ recommendation? “Obesity prevention programs should consider strategies to increase team sport participation among all students.”

Good News and Bad News

Like earlier studies, the new Pediatrics study demonstrates the great potential that youth sports programs hold for sustaining good health in America’s children.  But these studies should also stimulate concern about why these programs fall short of this potential year after year. 

Thirty to thirty-five million children — nearly half of all American youngsters — join at least one organized sports program each year.  At some time before they turn eighteen, almost all children have some experience with organized sports.  Outside the home and schools, no other activity touches the lives of so many children from coast to coast. 

About 70% of these youngsters, however, quit playing organized sports by the time they turn thirteen, and nearly all quit by the time they turn fifteen.  Indeed the dropout rate begins accelerating as early as age ten.  When researchers ask youngsters why they quit, the reasons given most often are that practice sessions and games stopped being fun because parents and coaches imposed too much pressure to win, yelled at them for making errors, and cut or benched less talented players.

The high adult-induced dropout rate means that the nation squanders opportunities to provide healthy athletic activity for millions of children, and to teach them the value of a lifestyle rich in physical activity.  Athletics, after all, can do nothing for a child who has been cut or who has quit. 

The damage is too often permanent because, as Dr. Satcher intimated, many children leave youth sports with their self-esteem so tattered that they despise athletics and avoid participating for the rest of their lives, even in such invigorating carryover sports as swimming, bicycling and jogging.  Lingering emotional scars can endure well into middle age and beyond, a substantial deprivation in light of the demonstrated health benefits of lifelong physical exercise.

Serving the National Interest

What can be done to help assure that youth sports programs meet the “major public health concerns” identified by the Surgeon General?  In their own households, adults can “keep the fires burning” with positive reinforcement that makes continued participation in sports fun and fulfilling for their own children. In the greater community, adults can stop behaving in ways that lead children to quit in droves before their time, and can maintain sports programs that assure equal opportunity for all youngsters who wish to play, including inner-city youths who often find diminished outlets for sports.  (Last year I wrote a three-part column, linked in the sources below, that describes how a community can make sports available to all children who wish to play.)  

The Surgeon General’s report and the recent Pediatrics study remind us that when communities churn out bumper crops of athletic dropouts year after year, adults disserve the national interest by jeopardizing the public health. 



[Sources:  U.S, Dep’t of Health and Human Services, The Surgeon General’s Call To Action To Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity 2001; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Overweight and Obesity, Data and Statistics (2012), ; Keith M. Drake et al., Influence of Sports, Physical Education, and Active Commuting to School on Adolescent Weight Status, Pediatrics, vol. 130, p. e296 (Aug. 2012); “Achieving Equal Opportunity in Youth Sports (Part I) — The ‘Power of the Permit’” — ; “Achieving Equal Opportunity in Youth Sports (Part II): The ‘Child Impact Statement’” — ; “Achieving Equal Opportunity in Youth Sports (Part III): Reform and Resistance” — ]


TRAVEL TEAMS: US Soccer Federation Continues to Make Life Difficult for HS Soccer Players

I had discussed this issue back in Jan and Feb of this year, and it was a serious issue then. Now, this issue only continues to spread, this time to Long Island, which is a long-time hot bed of excellent HS soccer.

In short, the US Soccer Federation, one of the nation’s leading travel programs, is insisting that talented HS soccer players make a choice: either play with us, or play with your HS varsity team… but you can’t do both.

Here’s the problem. There’s no real good reason why USSF should be forcing kids into this dilemma. Sure, we all know that college coaches recruit only from travel teams and showcases, but to make a kid walk away from his HS team and buddies for an extra 10 weeks of soccer? C’mon. That’s not only not fair, but it’s also wrong.

Dick Hogan, my guest this AM, is a long-time HS and college soccer coach on LI, and he was outraged by this mandate. Already HS programs are losing top players because of this. Then, Matt Allen, the highly-successful soccer coach at Byram Hills HS in Armonk, NY, called and complained about it. Byram Hills is losing two top players…Mamaroneck HS is losing 5.

And of course, it’s all being done in the pursuit of trying to gain a partial scholarship for college soccer. There are, of course, no guarantees here. USSF doesn’t guarantee anything more than each kid on its roster will get 25% playing time in a game. That same kid on his HS team would play 100% of the game. Plus, of course, there are no guarantees of athletic scholarships. And of course, a kid also has to pay hundreds of dollars to play on a USSF team.

To me, I just find this entire situation totally outrageous. Sure, the USSF people feel that an extra 10 weeks of training will help the American boys reach the Olympics in soccer. I’m not sure I buy into that. Besides, the American female soccer players didn’t seem to have any problem in being competitive, and of course, winning the gold in London. As of right now, the USSF doesn’t have the same mandate for HS girls.

It’s hard enough being a kid playing sports these days. Why does the USSF have to make it that much more difficult?



“We Are Not Alone”:  The Globalization of Youth Sports

By Doug Abrams


Shortly after we posted last week’s column about troubles in British youth sports, a friend e-mailed me with perceptive four-word message: “We are not alone.”

My friend is right.  In this age of globalization, Americans’ responses to a wide range of economic, political and cultural challenges depend intimately on learning how other nations meet similar challenges.  In turn, other nations can learn from the United States.  Technology and instantaneous communication have made the world a smaller place, so the globalization of youth sports — its successes and its shortcomings — should not surprise us.  

In many other nations, youth sports systems face stresses similar to the stresses we face in the United States.  At all ability levels and age divisions, sports offers positive influences for most child athletes, both during their playing days and afterwards.  But youth sports also suffers too often from parents who take the fun from the game, coaches who overlook responsibilities to teach life lessons, and players who abandon sportsmanship.  Americans, indeed, are not alone.

I continue last week’s column here by looking at the youth sports scene in another nation – New Zealand.  Just the other day, the Southland Times (Wellington, N.Z.) reported that a Southland Boys’ High School rugby player was suspended for five weeks for kicking an opponent in the head in a U-15 game in Wyndham last month.  After reading this account, I collected other articles that have appeared in the New Zealand press in just the last three months. 

“Yeah, Sort of Embarrassed”

On May 19, a father ran 30 to 50 feet onto the field during a U-10 rugby match in Papatoetoe, blindsided the referee and grabbed the official by the throat.  According to an eyewitness, the father was shouting, “Why don’t you referee the game properly?” After the father was arrested for common assault, the New Zealand Herald (Auckland, N.Z.) reported that he was asked whether he was embarrassed. “Yeah,” he said, “sort of embarrassed.”

“If We Lose This Match. . . .”

When a coach threatened to kill him, the volunteer referee called off a Wellington-area soccer game for 11th graders with five minutes remaining on May 12.  The coach’s verbal attack in front of the players led the referee’s 10-year-old son to leave the field crying.

The referee, who had just disallowed a goal by the coach’s team, said that the coach “was swearing . . . and getting really agitated and I said, ‘Look I need you to leave the field.”  The coach responded that “This is our home field – I’m not leaving. . . . If we lose this match, I’m going to f—ing kill you.” 

“Having that kind of guy around kids is scary,” a parent told the Dominion Post (Wellington, N.Z.) about the coach, who was later suspended for the rest of the season. 

“It is an Honour to Represent the School”

On May 5, WaiteraHigh School’s U-15 rugby team turned post-game handshakes into a brawl against a team that had just beaten them soundly, 123-0.  Local rugby officials applauded the decision of Waitera’s principal to suspend seven players and forfeit the team’s next match.  The New Zealand Herald reported that at a closed-door meeting, the captains of the school’s two older rugby teams lectured the U-15 players about “pride at playing for the school, the fact that you play hard but you play fair, the fact that it is an honour to represent the school.”  The captains told their younger classmates that “they have brought not only the school but the sportspeople of this school into disrepute.”

According to the Taranaki Daily News (New Plymouth, N.Z.), Waitera’s principal herself told the offending players that “if people get inside your head on the sports field, then you are always going to lose. You have to learn to lift yourself above what others are doing.  You have to ignore that and play the game showing good sportsmanship.”

 “An Example of Worst Practice”

In early May, the Waikato Times (Hamilton, N.Z.) reported that a small Hamilton secondary school played a rugby match against a much stronger opponent, and lost by more than 100 points.  The Times condemned the winning coach, who continued running up the score even after the outcome was no longer in doubt. 

“Instead of instructing his team to ease off and let the badly-beaten side emerge with some modicum of satisfaction, enjoyment and encouragement,” said the Times, “he continued to push his young . . . impressionable charges to seek as many tries [efforts to score] as possible. . . . What he didn’t realize is that sport reflects character – and character contains compassion and common sense.”

The Times looked to the United States for the proper approach.  “[I]n the US the practice of ‘running up the score’ is rightly regarded as an example of worst practice.  Coaches of kids’ sport in the US have been lambasted, stood down and sacked from their roles after overseeing one-sided blowouts.  Others who have seen the bigger picture and controlled the damage are widely praised.”

The Times concluded its thoughtful editorial with advice about youth sports similar to what United States newspapers often provide:  “Winning is part of the equation, but it’s not the first thing a kids coach should be aiming for. . . . A good coach can foster kids with a lifelong love of sport.  A bad coach can bring the end.”  

Meeting Challenges

These over-the-edge incidents carry a common thread – each one reflects the dark underside of youth sports, but each one also produced a swift arrest, suspension, or editorial rebuke from voices who found the incident unacceptable.  Much the same action and reaction characterizes youth sports in the United States, and produces optimism that the majority’s values can overcome the lapses of the few.

Even if we sense that the media sometimes covers only particularly egregious incidents, the recent New Zealand articles collected here portray challenges similar to the ones that characterize American youth sports.  Sport New Zealand, a government agency responsible for sport and physical recreation in the nation, points adults in the right direction. 

Sport New Zealand’s mission is to “have more kids playing and enjoying sport [and] more adults participating and getting involved.”  To encourage “young New Zealanders to develop a love of sport and recreation that leads to lifelong participation,” the agency reaches out to parents (who are “our children’s first inspiration”) and coaches (who “have a positive influence on the lives and values of those they come into contact with”).  According to one Sport New Zealand official, the goal is to teach children to love sports for the rest of their lives and not “burn them out or put them off.” 

Conclusion: The Globalization of Youth Sports

Foreign perspectives about youth sports can help sharpen understanding about problems in the United States.  The 2010 Reuters/Ipsos survey about parents’ behavior in 22 nations, discussed in last week’s column, recognizes the globalization of youth sports.  So too does the thoughtful 2010 report of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Protecting Children from Violence in Sport: A Review With a Focus on Industrialized Countries,

Ever since its creation in 1946, UNICEF has been a world leader in care, research and public advocacy for children who face poverty, hunger and disease throughout the world.  Now another external influence has hit the international radar screen — youth sports.

[Sources:  Nathan Burdon, Player Banned After Head-Kick Video, Southland Times, Aug. 8, 2012, p. 1; Aggressive Coaching Fails the Players and the Sport, Waikato Times, May 26, 2012, p. 8 (editorial); Andrew Koubaridis, Man “Embarrassed” Over Rugby Incident, New Zealand Herald, May 24, 2012; Blair Ensor, Dominion Post, Threat to Kill at Kids’ Soccer Game, May 26, 2012; Tony Bird, After-Match Handshake Turns Into Brawl, Taranaki Daily News, May 10, 2012; Matthew Theunissen, School Team Banned for Brawl After Thumping, New Zealand Herald, May 10, 2012; Sport New Zealand, ; Good Sports, Dominion Post, July 23, 2011, p. 12]

DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: New Numbers Suggest Fewer Kids Playing Tackle Football

The question still remains for so many sports parents – what do you do if your child tells you that they want to play tackle football?

In light of the onslaught of research that clearly links repeated concussions from playing football to long-term mental health concerns, it’s just harder for parents to let their boys go out, strap on a helmet, and start tackling other players.

To that end, I was wondering when we would start to see a decline in the numbers of kids playing football. Sure enough, the state of Minnesota is reporting a substantial decline in kids playing youth football; in some parts of that state, it’s down by as much as 20%. That’s a substantial decline.

And a major sporting goods association says that in 2006, there more than 10 million in the USA playing tackle football. But in 2011, that number dropped to 9 million. I’m sure there are other factors at work here, but I would assume that one of the major factors are parental worries about concussions.

Problem is, despite the best attempts from helmet manufacturers, no one has really developed the technology yet to substantially minimize the risk of kids suffering concussions. Yes, there have been improvements, and yes, coaches are stepping up their instructions to kids on how to tackle properly, using one’s shoulders instead of one’s head. But football being football, there are always going to be accidental head-to-head hits – and that’s the issue.

So, for now, there seems to be no clear answer as to whether you allow your 6 or 7 year old to play football. Perhaps one suggestion is to not let them play tackle until they’re at least in middle school or HS. Perhaps they will have learned the best way to tackle an opponent without jeoparding a hit to the  head. But again, there’s no guarantee in this.

As one caller confessed this AM, he played football right through HS and in college, and now, at age 24, he’s being told by his neurologist that there’s no cure for his occasional memory lapses. Even worse, he was told that these are definitely caused by multiple concussions he suffered during his playing days. As that caller said, “There’s no way I would ever let my own son play football. It’s just not worth it.”

Pretty sobering stuff.

OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: American Parents Don’t Have A Monopoly on Bad Behavior



Insights Into British Youth Sports

By Doug Abrams


Last week, the Birmingham Mail’s headline drew my attention — “’Blame It On the Pushy Parents’: Report Reveals Rising Violence and Abuse in Youth Football.”  Here we go again, I thought.  Yet another story about American parents who embarrass themselves and their families, this time in Alabama.

I jumped the gun, and I was wrong.  It turns out that “Birmingham” meant Birmingham, England, the country’s second most populous city (after London).  And “youth football” in the headline meant what Americans call youth soccer.  What a relief to hear yet again that the United States holds no monopoly on troublesome youth sports parents!

The article prodded me to check out what has been happening lately in British youth sports, so I did some digging.  Among the articles I found from the past year are these five:

“I Wish Dad Would Shut Up”

The Birmingham Mail article itself reported that youth soccer in that city “has been swept by a rising tide of violence, abuse and sendings off” (players thrown out of the game after receiving a red card).  The article described “head-butting, spitting and serious foul play” in games for children as young as seven. 

The Birmingham Football Association’s disciplinary manager pointed the finger directly at the adults:  “It is not the majority of players who are the problem – it is parents, spectators and club officials. . . . Football is a game to be enjoyed and the sooner certain adults realise this and start to give good examples of supportive behaviour and respect,” the better off the players will be.

The disciplinary manager told the Mail’s Mike Lockley about the association’s recent survey of the soccer players themselves.  When asked to name their greatest desire, what did they say most often?  “I wish dad would shut up.”

Kids Copy the Pros

Earlier this week, the Coventry Telegraph reported that several youth soccer games in Coventry and Warwickshire (near Birmingham) were “abandoned” (terminated before completion) last season because of misconduct that included headbutting, spitting, brawls, fighting, and attacks on referees. The local football association’s discipline manager blamed the example set by pro soccer players.  “When these younger players see something in professional football, they will copy it.”

“A couple of World Cups ago, when the players started diving to win penalties,” the manager explained, “there was a big increase in diving.  Now we see [professional] players swearing at referees and young players and copying it.”

“Shut Up and Get On With the Game”

On June 22, the Plymouth Herald reported that “[a] father whose son was involved in an offside dispute during a youth football match has ended up in the dock [on trial] after he was accused of punching the manager of the rival team” in the face.  (Plymouth, about 190 miles southwest of London, is the city from which the Pilgrims sailed to North America in 1620.)

The confrontation began when the 17-year-old son verbally abused the referee who called him offside.  The opposing manager told the boy to “shut up and get on with the game.”  The father admitted throwing the punch that cut the manager’s lip and left him with a headache for a few days, but the father said that he acted in self-defense after the manager “put his head close to his face.” 

The city magistrates who heard the case found no evidence of self-defense and convicted the father after deliberating for only fifteen minutes.  They sentenced him to 120 hours of community service, and ordered him to pay 100 pounds (about $ 156) in compensation to the manager and 500 pounds (about $ 780) toward prosecution costs.

“Held By the Scruff of the Neck Like a Cat”

On January 26, a father admitted assaulting his 12-year-old son for “disrespecting his football teammates” during a game.  The Express and Echo, Exeter’s daily paper, reported that the father had been shouting at the boy throughout the game before the boy finally told him to “shut up.”  According to the prosecutor, “When [the boy] came off the pitch [the field], his father approached him and grabbed his neck.  The victim described it as being held by the scruff of the neck like a cat.”  The father’s side of the story? “I told him off as he deserved to be told off.” 

The court sentenced the father to a 20 months’ probation and ordered him to pay court costs of 125 pounds (about $195).

“We Do Not Want Our Game Spoilt by Adults”

On September 5, 2011, the London Daily Mail reported that “the blight of foul-mouthed spectators is no longer unique to football,” but has spread to “angry mothers and fathers . . . at children’s rugby games.”

Writer Eleanor Harding reported that rugby “[o]fficials at junior games are increasingly being assaulted.  Games have had to be abandoned because of fights – with one man even pulling out a knife at a children’s match in Wales.”

A national rugby foundation has responded by enlisting players to help keep their elders in line.  Captains of youth teams hand spectators a letter reminding them that, “As young players we are taught to follow the core values of rugby and it is important that you do too. . . .  We do not want our game spoilt by the bad behaviour of adults.” 

One Rugby Football Union official hopes that “if these letters come from the kids, it will have greater impact on the parents.” 


Two weeks ago, I wrote about a 2010 international survey, conducted by Reuters News and the marketing research firm Ipsos, that ranked American parents 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%).  Britain took a backseat in ninth place, at 37%.

Perhaps only the worst incidents reach the newspapers. The confrontations described in the news stories presented here, however, make you wonder about how bad things are in the six countries that finished so much higher than Britain in the worldwide adult-misbehavior survey — including the United States, which took the gold medal.      


[Sources: Four In 10 (37%) Global Citizens Have Been To Children’s Sports Event,;  Mike Lockley, ‘Blame It on the Pushy Parents’: Report Reveals Rising Violence and Abuse in Youth Football, Birmingham Mail, July 31, 2012, p. 5; Touchline Bust-up Lands Dad in Court, Plymouth Herald, June 22, 2012, p. 1;  Martin Bagot, Rising Toll of Bad Behaviour on Pitch, Coventry Telegraph,  Aug. 6, 2012, p. 5;  Stuart Abel, Guilty:  Dad Who Hit Youth Football Boss, Plymouth Herald,  June 23, 2012, p. 4;  Dad Admits Assaulting Son, 12, Express and Echo, Jan. 26, 2012, p. 14; Eleanor Harding, Rugby Blows the Whistle on Touchline Tantrums of Parents, Daily Mail, Sept. 5, 2011]

COACHING TIPS: Sportsmanship v. gamemanship – Play to Win, or Play to Advance?

There’s no question that the Olympics are a huge international celebration of supremely dedicated and talented athletes, all of whom hope to perhaps win a gold medal in their sport. So what happened with the opening rounds of the badminton competition was so bizarre.

I don’t want to go into too much detail here – but basically four teams in the women’s doubles badminton competition were disqualified from moving on in the Olympic tournament because they were throwing, or tanking, games on purpose.

Why? Because the way the competition was going, the teams figured out strategically that it would be more advantageous to them to “throw” a match in order to avoid winning and thus playing a difficult team next in their draw. In short – by losing on purpose and going into the loser’s bracket, they felt it would aid them in the long run in terms of reaching the medal round.

Unsportsmanslike? You bet. But in terms of gamemanship, was this actually a smart move? Columnists in both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal asked the same question. As it turned out, the competitors were disqualified so their gambit was quashed. After all, the basic assumption of all sports is that all competitors are going to play hard to win.

But as a sports parent or youth coach, chances are you might encounter a comparable situation where sportsmanship dictates your team plays to win, but gamemanship might suggest an alterative approach. Especially in touraments for soccer, ice hockey, and baseball/softball, where sometimes advancing depends on a score differential, you might be tempted to try and “game” the system.

Personally, I feel that if you want to compete, you always play to win. Trying to avoid a tough opponent early on in order to get around and play them later doesn’t make sense to me.

OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: Does Your Child Ask This Question?


“Will You Still Love Me If I Don’t Win?”

By Doug Abrams


I appreciate non-fiction books whose titles or subtitles provoke thought, even before I open the pages and begin reading.  Once the cover piques interest, reading the book itself is like icing on the cake.

One such book is “Will You Still Love Me If I Don’t Win?: A Guide for Parents of Young Athletes,” written by Christopher Andersonn (with Barbara Andersonn).  To be quite candid, I have not read it but the eye-catching title stimulates me to write this column. 

The title underscores advice that the American Academy of Pediatrics gives parents and coaches who want their children to thrive in sports:  “Adults must clearly show that the child’s worth is unrelated to the outcome of the game.”  “Good effort should be praised,” the Academy explains, and “[u]nconditional approval should be given for participating and having fun.”

Reward Performance, Not Outcome

“Unrelated to the outcome of the game” . . . “praise” . . . “unconditional approval” . . . .  The point is that parents and coaches should reward children for the quality of their performance (which the players can control), and not for the outcome of the game (which individual players usually cannot control).  This distinction between “performance goals” and “outcome goals,” drawn helpfully by the Positive Coaching Alliance’s Jim Thompson, remains central for parents who understand children’s reactions to praise they have earned.    

What should a young player think when her parents take her out for ice cream after the team wins, but not after the team loses?  Or after the player gets the big hit or scores the big touchdown, but not after he strikes out or fumbles the ball? 

And what should a young player think when the coaches lavish praise after wins or big plays, but remain non-communicative and even verbally hostile after losses or missed plays?

Children are sensitive to the verbal and non-verbal cues that the adults in their lives deliver wittingly or unwittingly.  When parents or coaches convey the subtle message that they appreciate the player more in good times than in bad, the player will get the message — even if the parents or coaches did not mean to convey it.  The lesson for adults is that they need to be careful with players who take their sport seriously, crave adult approval, and remain perceptive about what their parents and coaches do and say.

Facts of Athletic Life

Once players have given their best effort, parents and coaches send the right message when they treat victory and defeat alike.  Teams should try to win every game because striving to win within the rules is the essence of competitive sports.  I suspect, though, that parents and coaches sometimes let down their guard because they mistakenly compare defeat to failure. 

The comparison is misplaced.  Every day of every season, half of all youth leaguers competing in America lose.  Each one returns to play another day.  All athletes taste defeat because nobody plays on undefeated teams every year, and nobody goes from season to season winning every meet or match in individual sports.  Striving to win, yet rebounding from defeat, is central to youth sports because it is central to preparation for adulthood.  Parents and coaches are the role models who must show the way.

Time for Ice Cream


So much for the old adage that “you can’t tell a book by its cover.”  Sometimes a book’s title says plenty even before you open to the table of contents or page one. Come to think of it, the Andersonns’ title is so intriguing that I think I will get the book and read it.  Call this column an anticipatory book review.

Now, take the kids out for ice cream and urge them to focus on winning the next game, no matter what just happened on the field. 


[Source:  Am. Acad. of Pediatrics, Organized Athletics for Preadolescent Children, Pediatrics, vol. 84, p. 583]