Archive for November, 2012

SPORTSMANSHIP: More on the Jack Taylor 138 Point Scoring “Record”


                               By Steve Kallas


(Author’s Note:  This column is long.  Please stick with it.  It gets better at the end.) 


Well, a lot of new information has come out since the initial this-is-wonderful reaction to Jack Taylor, a 22-year-old sophomore, scoring 138 points in a college basketball game against non-NCAA school Faith Baptist Bible College on November 20, 2012 (final score, Grinnell 179, Faith Baptist 104).




With the full game now up on You Tube (courtesy of Grinell Pioneers Athletics, by the way), much can be learned by watching the game and listening to the announcers.  The most interesting thing?  Well, it is submitted that this is the most interesting thing discussed during the game by the announcers:


“An interesting note here, Grinnell, this game will count for their season wins and losses but for Faith Baptist this will be counted as an exhibition game for their record.  Today I’ve been told that our athletic director and head coach were confirming to make sure that, although this will not be going on Faith Baptist’s record, it can still count for Grinnell and IT IS CONFIRMED THAT IT WILL STILL COUNT FOR GRINNELL.” (emphasis added).


Hard to believe, but, obviously, the coach and AD, realizing that they could script the game against a very weak opponent, actually called somebody (presumably at the NCAA) to make sure that this shooting-fish-in-a-barrel game, DESPITE being an exhibition game for the opposition, would still count in terms of wins, points, and oh yes, records, for Grinnell.




Well, hopefully, one of these major institutions (you know, ESPN, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, etc.) with big “investigative reporting” budgets and/or great access can delve into this question.


While there are many other things to discuss (including, see below, did Jack Taylor start believing his press clippings?), this main question (how is this even a real basketball game against a college team that, in their mind, is playing an exhibition game and is a college that plays in the NCCAA (that is, the National Christian College Athletics Association – not to be confused with the NCAA)) should be answered.




Special thanks to Deadspin, Tyler Burns and @Busted Video for being on the downside of this game from the get-go.  Before the game, when asked what Grinnell fans should look forward to in this game, the color commentator (named Dan) said: “Tonight, Rob [the play-by-play guy], we are looking for records, we want to see points scored and a lot of them.”  Rob then said: “Tonight that record [89 points in a D III game held by Grinnell senior Griffin Lentsch] was going to be attempted possibly to be broken by another Grinnell member, not Griffin Lentsch, but new transfer sophomore Jack Taylor,”


Clearly, everybody on the Grinnell side knew this was a joke game and they were going to shoot for many records, Bible College or no Bible College.


But wait, there’s more.  Early in the game (and forgive the grammar or lack thereof), an announcer said, “The plan would be to try and see how as much as he [Taylor] can score.”  And this gem: “This is a game that the [Grinnell] Pioneers scheduled.  They’ll try and look for those records.”


Anybody getting disturbed yet?


The first time an announcer mentioned the word “blowout” was with about 8:30 left – in the first half (Grinnell was up about 33 at the time).  Shortly thereafter, the announcer mentioned that there were “bone-chilling chants of GC pride”  (Grinnell College pride).


There were some (unintentionally, it is assumed) comical statements during the game.  About 9:30 into the game, Grinnell called timeout because, according to an announcer, “Grinnell’s coaches not appreciating the recent lack of defense.” Well, it’s part of the plan, apparently, to try to press and steal and, it seems, to NOT play defense if the other team breaks the press.  The score when this timeout was called was 33-12.  Late in the game, an announcer said, “At this point, Grinnell’s not even playing defense,” which, one would guess, was a downtick from their prior barely playing defense.


When Taylor scored his 100th point, an announcer said, “Wilt Chamberlain, what do you gotta say.”


Seriously.  As you may know, Wilt was not available for comment.


When the game ended, announcer Rob said that he was “speechless.”  Shortly thereafter, however, he said, “All I have to say is GC pride, GC pride, GC pride.” 


It would have been better if he had remained speechless.


One other comical note: when the game ended, announcer Rob said, “and the fans are mildly storming the court – more like walking out there.”  The view on You Tube of a little more than half of the court showed two students on the court.


Hey, maybe some of the intelligent Grinnell students (Grinnell, a fantastic liberal arts college) actually understood that maybe, just maybe, this was unsportsmanlike?

 Here’s hoping.




Interviewed by the New York Times, Faith Baptist coach Brian Finchum said “we tried” and “I’m proud of my guys and the effort they put in.”  He also said that they double and triple-teamed Jack Taylor at times.


But a review of the game tape shows that, of Jack Taylor’s 108 shots, he was double or triple-teamed less than 10 times (it’s probably six, but some of the You Tube video seemed to freeze in certain spots (despite multiple viewings on two different computers), so it’s not perfectly clear).  Finchum apparently was never asked things like, why didn’t you go box-and-one or why didn’t you run the shot clock down at least once in the entire game or why didn’t you just throw two or even three guys at Jack Taylor to make him give up the ball (hey, he might have gotten one assist that way).


None of the above suggestions (that a rec league coach probably would have tried) was tried by Faith Baptist.


Hey, maybe the Faith Baptist coach was playing the game like an exhibition (or is that half an exhibition; it’s still not clear).




Lentsch, the previous record-holder in D III (89 points in a game last year against Principia), was actually announced as the team’s “shooting guard.”  Lentsch shot 2-3 from the field and made two foul shots for seven points against Faith Baptist.


In another unintentional comedic comment, one announcer said that Lentsch “has been uncharacteristically quiet this game.”


You think?




As pointed out by Derek C in a comment to my first article last week, Larson was the recipient and beneficiary of Grinnell’s “system.”  You know, essentially no defense.  So, while Larson did make 34-44 from the field, the overwhelming majority of them were lay-ups.  Despite my thoughts originally that this could be a debate (who had the better game), Jack Taylor clearly had a better game than Larson.




Well, he had some shaky comments after the game.  He told the Times he was going to take Taylor out with about five minutes left but he was on a hot shooting streak.  He told the Times, “I wasn’t going to take a guy out who was in the zone.  I’ve never been in a zone like that, and if I was I certainly wouldn’t want my coach to end it for me.  So we just let him go.”


Gee, coach, even if he already had over 100 and your team was up 60 or more?


Actually, a look at the play-by-play shows that this is simply untrue.  At the five-minutes left in the game mark, Taylor had been just 2-6 in the previous 1:43.  Under no definition of “in the zone” was Taylor in the zone at that time.  Indeed, he would make SEVEN threes in a row from 3:54 left in the game until 1:57 left in the game (by the way, for the record, Grinnell kept its full-court press on after all seven threes; hey, that’s just how they play).  Given his New York Times comments, it’s surprising that the coach took Taylor out of the game with 1:33 left because THAT was when he was REALLY in the zone.




Well, they wrapped themselves around this “achievement.”  Grinnell posted videos, etc. to publicize the achievement.  But wait, there’s more.  Grinnell’s media relations department put out a press release entitled “Grinnell College by the Numbers – 138 and More.”  It explains some of the greatness of Grinnell academically, presumably to get the word out on what a fine academic institution it is (and it is).


Maybe Grinnell should have put out a copy of its “Mission Statement” instead.  Originally chartered in Iowa in 1846, that original statement set forth a mission to educate its students “for the different professions and for the honorable discharge of the duties of life.”  The 2002 statement, up at Grinnell’s website, concludes with “The College aims to graduate men and women … who are prepared in life and work to use their knowledge and their abilities to serve the common good.”


By the way, did anybody notice that the New York Times reported that, the day after the event, Jack Taylor had to take a two-hour break from doing interviews to attend two college classes, one of which was “Introduction to Christianity.”


Is there a conflict there, between scoring 108 points against a Bible College, taking all of the accolades and then, the next day, going to Intro to Christianity. 


Was that really the “Christian thing to do?”


Just asking.




Well, on Rick Wolff’s Sports Edge show this past weekend, virtually all of the callers were disgusted with the record, one even suggesting that his team would have gone after Jack Taylor, maybe even hurt him.  While that happens in the schoolyards of New York City on a not-infrequent basis, hard to believe that Faith Baptist Bible College would do that.


But Jack Taylor seemed to start believing his press clippings.  Interviewed by ESPN a few days after the game, Taylor actually said the following:  “I think I was just in that mental state to where it really didn’t matter what the defense did.”


Come back to us, Jack.  You were pretty cool before that statement.  And as we said repeatedly on Rick Wolff’s Sports Edge show (up under Rick Wolff’s picture at, nobody could blame Jack Taylor.  He did what the coaches wanted him to do.


But after that statement, he should take a step back.  The defense (and the Faith Baptist coach) did virtually NOTHING to stop Jack Taylor.  Very few double teams (less than 10 on 108 shots), no box-and-one, no 30-35 second possessions (NONE), no run two guys at him to make him give up the ball.


Frankly, the fish in a barrel had a better chance.




A basketball team with 10 kids of 275-300 enrolled in a Bible College, playing an exhibition game, was torched by a very good shooter whose coach and AD called in advance to “confirm” that any records set that night would be valid.  They were inexplicably told that they would be valid (real game for one team, exhibition game for another).  So, Grinnell College, apparently, reached the goals they wanted to attain by winning 179-104 and having one player score 138 points.


Just as Part I concluded, draw your own conclusions.  




The goal of letting Jack Taylor take a ton of shots against Faith Baptist Bible College was, according to many, to let Jack Taylor “shoot himself out of” his shooting slump.  It apparently did not work.  Taylor shot just 6-21 (29%), 3-13 on threes (23%), against a good William Penn (Iowa) team as Grinnell lost it’s next game, 131-116.


Does Grinnell play Faith Baptist Bible College again this season?


That’s a rhetorical question.











COACHING TIPS: An X-Rated Slip of the Tongue?



What Did Penn State’s Football Coach Say During Saturday’s Post-Game ESPN Interview?

Lessons About “Slips of the Tongue” for Youth League Players, Coaches and Parents

By Doug Abrams

This past Saturday, the Penn State football team closed out a tumultuous season with a stirring 24-21 overtime home field victory against Wisconsin.  The win left the Nittany Lions with an 8-4 record (6-2 in the Big Ten).  It was quite a comeback for a team that stared the NCAA’s Death Penalty in the face last summer on the heels of a child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and the coaches and university officials accused of covering it up. 

In a live, nationally televised sideline interview with ESPN2’s Jessica Mendoza moments after the final whistle on Saturday, first-year Penn State Coach Bill O’Brien praised his players as “a bunch of f***ers” who “fight hard.  They’re a bunch of great kids.”

Did the coach really drop the F-Bomb, or (as some of his supporters have argued) did he say “a bunch of fighters”?  Or did he mean to say “fighters” and simply choose the wrong word in the heat of the moment?  Watch this 25-second clip, and you can decide for yourself: To my eyes and ears, the coach did indeed say “f***ers” and then tried to correct himself. 

One way or the other, I would not take him to task.  From my years coaching youth hockey, I know how coaches’ emotions can run high moments after winning or losing a tough game.  Emotion is precisely why many youth sports programs have a “24-hour rule,” which forbids parents to discuss a complaint with the coach immediately after a game.  Without time to wind down for a day or so, coaches sometimes suffer slips of the tongue.

If pressures that volunteer youth league coaches face are any indication, the pressures that collegiate and pro coaches face must be overpowering at times.  Yet these coaches talk to national audiences in televised post-game interviews on the field and in the press room before many fans have even reached the exits.  Most collegiate and pro coaches speak well, but occasionally they let down their guard and say the wrong thing. 

Because we are human and nobody is perfect, I would cut some slack for coaches who spontaneously say something off-color on television that they later wish they could take back.  But I also watch collegiate and the pro games for lessons that would be helpful in youth leagues.  I think that Coach O’Brien did swear on national television, and it looked to me like he wished almost immediately that he had said something different.  That wish is Saturday’s lesson for youth league coaches, players and parents.

Removing Profanity From the Team Culture

In the youth hockey programs where I have coached, players’ swearing was not a major concern on teams below the age of about 12.  On teams for middle schoolers and high schoolers, however, off-color language can easily infect the locker room and the bench area during practices and games. 

Beginning during the preseason period, our youth hockey coaches forbade foul language and enforced the rule where necessary.  The coaches told the players that we weren’t prudes, and we assured them that we had spent enough time in locker rooms to hear just about anything the players might say now.  But we also told the players that we had two good reasons for the no-profanity rule. 

The first reason related simply to citizenship.  We told the players that they would soon begin spending their personal and professional lives with other people, and that most listeners do not think much of profanity for very long.  We asked the players, for example, how long they would hold respect for a pro whom they heard swearing during an autograph session or personal appearance.

The coaches’ second reason for banning foul language — the reason relevant to Saturday’s ESPN interview — concerned the scoreboard. Players and coaches accustomed to using profanity among their teammates are more likely to slip and say the wrong thing at the wrong time in the heat of a game.  Plenty of youth league players and coaches have suffered ejection or penalty for using profanity to an official or opposing player.  Sometimes the profanity is inadvertent, and sometimes it is not.  One way or the other, players and coaches can hurt themselves on the scoreboard once profanity becomes an accepted or tolerated part of the team’s culture.

Banning profanity requires restraint from more than just the players themselves.  Players are less likely to respect the ban when they hear swearing from the coach during practices or games, or from their own parents discussing the team at home.  Like anyone else, children have little patience with authority figures who instruct them to “do as I say, not as I do.”  Children pay attention to what is happening around them, and they learn what they watch.        

Avoiding Slips of the Tongue

I do not know Coach O’Brien and I am not privy to what he or some of his players might say, or might not say, in the Penn State locker room or on the sidelines when only the team is listening.  But I do know that slips of the tongue during games are much more likely when a team tolerates foul language as acceptable.  Regardless of what the coach said on national television last Saturday in Happy Valley, the importance of commonsense rules that instill citizenship and minimize the likelihood of verbal slips provides an important lesson for youth league teams.

SPORTSMANSHIP: An Inside Look at the Jack Taylor Scoring Record


                      By Steve Kallas


Yes, it’s hard to fathom.  Yes, it’s amazing.  Yes, it’s the all-time college scoring record for points in a game.  But the feat of Grinnell’s Jack Taylor, scoring 138 points in a D III college game, also raises a number of questions.


 Arguably the most interesting question.  How can a player shoot 108 times in a 40- minute game?  Better yet, how can a player shoot 108 times in 36 minutes, since Taylor did not play the whole game (what? He needed a rest?)?

 By now you know the numbers: 27 for 71 from three-point land, 25 for 37 from two-point land, 7 for 10 from the foul line.  No assists (what did you expect?).

 To this writer, the best question is:  What was the other coach thinking/doing?  From the 15 or so baskets that this writer has seen video of, Faith Baptist Bible (which dropped to 0-5) played man-to-man defense (well, if you can call it defense) the entire game.  Of those 15 or so baskets, Taylor was double-teamed ONCE – and that double team came very late.

 The answer, of course, as to what the Faith Baptist coach should have done is two-fold:  if a guy, at any level, scores 58 by half-time, you don’t know what you’re doing if you don’t come out in a box-and-one for the second half.  Maybe the Faith Baptist coach is a die-hard man-to-man guy like Bob Knight.  But those plans have to be re-examined if your man-to-man has given up 58 by the half.

 In fact, one can debate whether you are actually playing man-to-man DEFENSE if a team goes for 179 against you. 

 The second part of the equation is equally simple.  If you are playing a team that likes a run and gun tempo (Grinnell, according to published reports, has led the nation in scoring 17 of the last 19 seasons), you have to consider taking the air out of the ball.  Your opponent can’t, by mathematical definition, score 179 or take 136 shots (as a team) if you keep possession of the ball for 30-35 seconds per your possessions.

Not that Faith Baptist Bible was complicit in this ”achievement,” but a rec league coach could have found a few ways to slow this train down.

 Grinnell, again according to published reports, likes to press, shoot 3s and hoist them up quickly.  An open question has to be did Grinnell press and, if yes, for how long.  You often run into these things in high school or travel ball slaughters.  If you are up 39 at the half, you might want to think about calling off the dogs.  Again, an open question.


 Who? Well, if you are a college basketball junkie, you might know that Lentsch, a Grinnell player, last year broke the all-time D III scoring record by scoring 89 in a game against Principia College.  Lentsch also led the nation in three-point field goals per game with 4.43 per game.

 So, where was Griffin Lentsch this year?  Why, he was playing in last night’s record-breaking game, of course.  Lentsch’s stats last night?  Two for three from the floor (including one for two from three-point land) and 2-2 from the free-throw line for seven points.



 Well, that could certainly be open to debate.  Larson, the high scorer for Faith Baptist Bible, had 70 points on 34-44 shooting (it did take him all 40 minutes, however).  While Jack Taylor was quoted by the AP as saying, “it felt like anything I tossed up was going in,” the reality is that he shot 48% (52-108) from the field while the rest of his team shot 57% (16-28) from the field.

 Maybe Jack should have set up his teammates a bit more.  Larson, meanwhile, shot a staggering 77% (34-44) from the field, a truly amazing number, especially for so many attempts.

 So, who had the better game?  I think many college coaches would pick Larson’s game.


 Well, you still have to give credit for an amazing performance by Jack Taylor.  Nobody thought that Rio Grande’s Bevo Francis’s 1954 record of 113 points (against Hillsdale) would ever be broken.

 But that record has been shattered by 25 points.

 Having said that, as usual, a performance like this often raises more questions than it answers.

 Draw your own conclusions.

SPORTSMANSHIP: Is that 138 Points in a College Hoops Game a Legit Record?

Like everyone else who follows sports, when I read the headlines about this sophomore guard from Div-III Grinnell College in Iowa scoring 138 points in a single game, it just didn’t seem possible.

But as the facts begin to be played out, more and more pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place.  Yes, the guard — Jack Taylor – did, in fact, score 138 points against a tiny school called Faith Baptist College. And yes, for more than 25 years, Grinnell has featured a unique run-and-gun offense in which the team routinely leads the nation in scoring because their long-time coach, David Arsenault, has build his entire program around having a full-court press, having new kids come in off the bench every 90 seconds, and making sure his kids take plenty of 3 point shots. Arsenault calls it “The System” and has written books and produced videos about it. And Grinnell has run several league championships over the years, and made it to the NCAA playoffs, although I don’t think they have ever won a national championship.

In any event, Taylor ended up taking up 108 (!) shots in the game against Faith Baptist, and played 36 minutes of the 40 minute game. As my guest Steve Kallas pointed out on my show this morning, there were all sorts of questions that this performance raised.

For starters, according to the Grinnell announcers on the game’s telecast, the Grinnell coaching staff had already contacted the NCAA before the game to make sure that any potential records that might be set in the game would indeed count. They probably did this because Faith Baptist had told Grinnell that they considered this game to be merely an exhibition game, not a real game. Besides, Faith Baptist is not even a member of the NCAA or the NAIA.

With that backdrop, the contest began and clearly Grinnell was trouncing Faith Baptist. They were up by 50 at half-time. But that didn’t stop the onslaught. By the end of the affair, Grinnell had used 20 players – which is admirable – but they had built their entire offense to keep feeding Taylor so he could shoot, and shoot, and shoot.

As several callers mentioned this AM, it does seem as though the Faith Baptist team was somehow complicit in this record. After all, if you were the coach of that team, wouldn’t you have asked Grinnell’s Arsenault at half-time to call of the dogs? Or perhaps ask that the clock keep running in the second half? Or since it was an exhibition, simply tell Grinnell at half-time “Thanks for the scrimmage…we’re going home now.”

But by not doing anything to stop this lopsided affair, I hold the Faith Baptist coach just as accountable as the Grinnell coach. Look, we all keep track of records because we always assume that they are meaningful and represent something of singular achievement in an athletic event. I’m not sure, under that criteria, scoring 138 points in this kind of basketball work-out, would qualify. Will Taylor’s record appear in the NCAA record books? Yes, it will. But this is one time where a little sportsmanship would have gone a long, long way.

LEGAL CONCERNS: Violent Sports Parents – Can They Be Stopped?


Why Criminal Prosecutions Help Control Parental Violence in Youth Sports (Part II)

By Doug Abrams


Last week’s column discussed the evident rise in reported incidents of parental violence at children’s sports events, including violent incidents that require police intervention.  Amid optimism that rational voices have been making headway, Rick Wolff correctly voiced concern on The Sports Edge that we may be experiencing a renewed “epidemic of sports parents going wild.”

When Rick spoke late last month, Thomas Tonda’s Minnesota conviction and sentencing was the most recent reported example of parental excess.  It did not take long, however, for another disturbing case to reach the headlines. 

Barely a week after Rick’s show, the Chicago Herald reported the arrest of John Kasik on felony charges in the Chicago suburb of Lisle.  Enraged at the high school volleyball coach for removing his daughter from a match, Kasik allegedly threatened to kill the coach and rape his wife and daughter. The alleged threats came that night in several text messages and voice mails for about five hours between 9:30 pm and 2:30 am.  At a meeting at school the next day, Kasik allegedly blocked the athletic director’s path out of the office and bumped him repeatedly.  Prosecutors have charged the father with felony telephone harassment and misdemeanor battery and disorderly conduct.  Kasik has pleaded not guilty.

Last week’s column discussed why many prosecutors remain hesitant to charge violent youth sports parents for assault or similar crimes.  Here I discuss why meaningful court-imposed sanctions on convicted parents, including jail time in appropriate cases, remain important for their potential to deter some parents from future attacks. 


When prosecutors do secure a conviction or guilty plea, judges may sentence the youth sports parent to little more than probation or community service.  Without a prior criminal record, the parent with one or more children at home usually does not appear to pose a continuing threat to the community. 

Leaving the parent with a criminal record has serious consequences even without jail time, of course, and the court might reasonably conclude that probation or community service produces the most reasonable outcome.  Particularly in cases of serious injury, however, judges should also remain more sensitive to the appropriateness of incarceration, even for just a few days or (as in the Tonda case) for a few months. Because word gets around in local youth sports circles, imposing jail time on a particular parent may deter others from committing similar crimes. 

In criminal law, the likelihood of deterrence generally depends on two factors, the nature of the offense and the nature of the offender.  The nature of the offense, by itself, does not hold particular promise in youth leagues because prosecutions are more likely to deter future premeditated crimes than future impulsive crimes of passion. Most youth league assaults fall into the second category because I have never heard of a parent or coach who woke up in the morning plotting to attack someone at their child’s game later that day.  In youth sports, most parental assaults happen in the heat of the moment without much planning or thinking.  We cannot always count on criminal prosecutions to deter impulsive behavior.

The nature of the offender, however, holds more promise in youth leagues because publicity about the realistic threat of prosecution is more likely to deter people who think rationally and can summon a measure of self-control.  Despite the usually impulsive nature of attacks by youth sports parents, these adults are normally family people trying to earn a living and raise their children.  They normally value their jobs and their place in the community, they have never had prior brushes with the law, and they sense what prosecution and conviction would mean for them and their families.  These factors are grist for deterrence.

The Force of Law

Violent youth sports parents hurt the immediate victim, the children who witness the violence or hear about an incident, and the majority of families who seek a physically and emotionally safe environment for their children in sports.  Parent education sends a signal to most adults that parental violence holds no place in youth sports, but sometimes the signal must be delivered with the force of law.


[Sources: Josh Stockinger, Parent Accused of Threatening to Kill Coach, Chicago Daily Herald, Oct. 30, 2012); Josh Stockinger, Attorney: Depression, Alcohol May Have Set Off Parent, Chicago Daily Herald, Nov. 20, 2012]

COACHING TIPS: Are We “Helicoptering” Too Much?

It’s a very fundamental question.

As sports parents today, are we unintentionally being overly protective of our kids in sports? That is, because Moms and Dads these days are so eager to make sure that their little one only enjoys success and advancement in sports, we may be depriving our children of the inevitable setbacks, disappointments, and frustations that accompany sports.

That may sound odd, but as caller after caller on my show suggested this AM, it’s only when a kid confronts real discouragement in sports when they decide to put their mind and body to push to succeed. This might come from being cut from a team, or not getting enough playing time, or being passed over in some other capacity on the team.

No, it’s not fun. Tears will often occur as well. But in the long-run, this kind of disappointment will ultimately force the young athlete to decide whether he or she really wants to succeed in that sport. Sure, going to Mom and Dad to talk with the coach is the easy (and popular) solution. But that doesn’t make the athlete into a stronger competitor.

A generation or two ago, the youngster – when confronted with these kinds of situations – didn’t turn to Mom and Dad to have them speak to the coach. Rather, the kid would simply redouble his efforts: work harder in practice, talk directly to the coach, stay later in practice, and so on in order to prove to the coaching staff that the youngster was serious in his commitment. This was all considerered to be part of the maturation process that young athletes wen through — the so-called “learning the intangibles” that come from sports. In short, the kid works harder and gets tougher.

But these days, there’s a growing sense that kids who encounter frustration merely turn to their parents who, in turn, talk to the coach about whatever issue the kid may be confronting. This kind of parental proxy doesn’t really do much for the youngster’s development. After all, it only reinforces the concept that if things aren’t going well, I often have to ask Mom and Dad to clear up the issues.

Bottom line? Yes, as sports parents, we all want our athletes to succeed. But during those moments of frustration that all athletes encounter, don’t be so eager to jump in and volunteer to call the coach and smooth things over. Let the frustration smolder with your child, and let him or her figure out how they will cope with this matter…on their own.

Yes, you can and should be sympathetic — but ask the important question first of your child: “What do you plan to do about this?”




Why Criminal Prosecutions Help Control Parental Violence in Youth Sports (Part I)

By Doug Abrams


On October 16, a Minnesota judge sentenced Thomas Tonda to six months in prison for choking his son’s pee wee hockey coach during a practice session while the 11-12-year-old players watched.  Tonda had pleaded guilty to one felony count of terroristic threats after prosecutors dismissed a misdemeanor assault charge.

The attack occurred after Tonda’s son complained that he was not getting enough skating time during the session.  In anger, the boy swung his stick like a baseball bat, hitting a teammate in the face.  According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the coach told him to continue practicing, but the boy left the ice for the locker room instead.  Thomas Tonda followed his son, and then returned to scream at the coach and attack him.  Onlookers intervened to break the father’s choke-hold, and the coach recovered but missed more than a month on the job from neck pain.

A few days after Tonda’s sentencing, Rick Wolff did an excellent show about the evident rise in reported incidents of parental violence at children’s sports events, including incidents that require police intervention.  Rick correctly voiced concern that, even though more and more parents today heed calls to embrace sportsmanship, we may be experiencing a renewed “epidemic of sports parents going wild.”

A Troublesome Minority

I watch the nation’s newspapers for youth sports articles almost every day, and I too sense a rise in reported violence by youth sports parents.  Violent parents are surely the small minority, but I suspect that acts of parental violence happen even more frequently than news reports indicate because local sports associations and leagues probably overlook many of these acts or else resolve them informally, without a police call or the glare of publicity.

Rick and his callers thoughtfully explored reasons why some parents become violent against youth coaches, officials, or other parents.  The show also explored strategies – including pre-season parent education sessions – that might influence parents toward greater safety and civility in youth sports.  Such sessions have doubtlessly proved effective but, like other prevention initiatives in American life, they are unlikely to influence everyone they target. 

This two-part column discusses why, in appropriate cases, these strategies seeking safety and civility should include prosecuting violent parents for assault or similar crimes. Meaningful court-imposed sanctions, including jail time in appropriate cases, should follow conviction after trial or a guilty plea.  Some acts of parental violence are so serious that mere informal resolution by private associations or leagues does not serve the public interest.

The Tonda case is actually an exception because many prosecutors remain hesitant to charge adults for attacks committed in youth sports.  Not only that, but convicted parents may escape jail time and other meaningful sanctions that might deter other parents from future attacks.  I discuss prosecutors’ hesitancy here, and I will discuss sanctions and deterrence next week.

Hesitant Prosecutors

Unless the victim’s injury is particularly serious (as it was in Tonda’s case), prosecutors reportedly often hesitate to charge offending youth sports parents because securing a conviction can be difficult.  Except when violence instigated by a parent is caught on video or occurs before numerous witnesses, prosecutions may falter when the parent claims self-defense (“He pushed me first”) or provocation (“She cussed at me first”).  The parent may have an eyewitness friend or ally willing to lie or bend the truth to law enforcement authorities and, if necessary, to the court on the witness stand.  Cases charging parental assault often collapse into “he said-she said” standoffs.  

Prosecutors may also face hurdles because unless the victim suffered serious injury, offending sports parents often make sympathetic defendants in the courtroom once they are lawyered-up.  Most of these parents are first-time offenders.  They are regularly employed and the kind of people we would enjoy as next-door neighbors, even though they lose self-control once their child’s game starts. Except perhaps where the victim’s injury is particularly serious, juries can be sympathetic to parents who appear contrite for having committed an assault in the heat of passion to defend the perceived interests of their children. And juries can also be sympathetic to parents who assert that if they must serve prison time even briefly, the real loser would be their innocent child at home.

Despite the hurdles that prosecutors may face in cases involving violent youth sports parents, focusing solely on the outcome misses the point. Juries occasionally acquit despite sufficient evidence of guilt, but this potential exists with any defendant who may appear sympathetic. Where prosecutors have evidence sufficient to charge a youth sports parent for assault, they signal social disapproval as much by the charge as by the outcome.  Prosecution sends a message that needs to be sent, and prosecutors do win many youth sports cases in plea bargains or convictions after trial.  

Next week, I will discuss why court-imposed prison time can be a powerful deterrent against similar future violence by other parents. I suspect that Minnesota’s prisons house other inmates for assaults similar to Tonda’s choke-hold, and violent youth sports parents should not get a pass. 


[Source: Pat Pheifer, Dad Gets 6 Months for Attack on Coach, Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minn.), Oct. 17, 2012, p. 1A]


First off…an apology to the loyal readers of….

You were probably wondering why I hadn’t found the time to put up any news posts on the blog over the last two weeks. Like millions of others, I lost power the afternoon that Hurricane Sandy came ashore here in New York. I live in a very wooded area, and as the storms ripped through my neighborhood, the number of trees and telephone poles that crashed to the ground was unprecedented.

The 90 mph winds from Sandy blew through by Tuesday AM, but by that time the damage was already done. We have had storms before, and had lost power for 3-4 days before, but the landscape in my neighborhood from Sandy was devastating. Countless trees knocked down, telephone poles snapped in half, wires strewn everywhere. The poor young couple next door had a major tree fall right on their house. Fortunately, they were downstairs in their basement, and they emerged unscathed.

We didn’t have any power for a full 12 days. Even worse, the temperature was getting colder, and I had to scramble to find a warm spot for my family. By yesterday, the house temperature was down to 39 degrees.

Bottom line? Thanks to tremendous luck and some scrambling, we were fortunate enough to find a small (but warm) motel room where we resided for 10 days. But wow – this was some storm.

In any event, I’m happy to report that my family and I are all safe and sound, and back in our home again. I hope and pray that you and your family are all good as well. Rick Wolff