Archive for August, 2013

DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: Reflections on the NFL Settlement

Probably like yourself, I’ve been reading a lot of reports in recent days about the landmark settlement between the NFL and the 4,500 injured players who filed suit. As you know, the total amount to be paid out is $765 million.

That is, of course, a whopping amount of money. Except that you have to put it in perspective. The NFL is guaranteed $40 billion in media revenue in the years to come. Compared to that whopping amount, $765 mil is just a relatively small drop in the bucket.

Furthermore, as part of the deal, the NFL doesn’t have to open up its medical records on how these former players were treated for concussions when they were playing. The vast majority of the players insist that their symptoms were ignored, just so they could be pushed to get back on the field.

But with the terms of the settlement, neither they or anyone else will ever know the truth of their medical diagnoses.

As the Wall Street Journal trumpeted in a headline in today’s paper, this settlement was a big victory for the NFL for all the reasons listed above.

So why did the players’ association decide to take the deal?

Probably because, according to legal experts, the players’ association knew that they would have a very hard time proving in court that the players’ health issues were caused solely by hits in a pro game. After all, suppose the concussions were caused by hits from college or HS games? Or even youth games? If that were the case, then the NFL wouldn’t be liable at all. And that was seen as a big risk for the players’ association.

Bottom line? The players’ association must have decided to take the money and settle. Yes, it’s still a lot of money, but in the end, the NFL wins, if nothing else because the matter is now settled, once and for all.

All this being said, would you still let your son play football?

 

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OBESITY CONCERNS: What Sports Parents Need to Know about the Latest Research

 

A Timely Reminder From Britain About How Equal Opportunity in Youth Sports Enhances Public Health

By Doug Abrams 

A survey published last week reports that only about half of the nation’s seven-year-olds engage in sufficient physical exercise each day to stay healthy. Only 63% of boys and 38% of girls achieve the recommended one hour or more of daily “moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity.” On average, boys and girls in this age group remain sedentary for six to seven hours each day, a bulk of their waking time. The survey’s researchers warn that inactive children may develop habits that encourage inactivity throughout adulthood.  

More bad news about today’s American kids, whose increasingly sedentary lifestyle has helped produce a national epidemic of pediatric obesity? Not this time.

Last week’s survey, published in the peer-reviewed BMJ Open journal, concerns children in another western industrialized nation, the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Because the UK survey tracks public health risks and trends that are also apparent here in the United States, the survey’s findings and recommendations remain instructive to Americans.

When it comes to promoting physical exercise among children and adolescents, Britain and the United States share common problems that invite common solutions. Britons can learn from the American experience, and Americans can learn from the British.

Common Problems

In 2001, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher reported problems that resembled those reported in last week’s UK survey.  Thirteen percent of American children and adolescents were overweight, a number that had tripled since 1980.  Similar to the UK researchers, Dr. Satcher warned that “adolescents who are overweight are at high risk of becoming overweight or obese adults.”  Obesity and overweight 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. 

Trends in the United States continue moving in the wrong direction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now reports that approximately 17% of American children over the age of two (about 12.5 million children) are obese.    

Common Solutions

The United Kingdom researchers urge action that “increases time spent in more intense [physical activity] and decreases the time spent being sedentary.” Potential solutions, they write, may include increased participation in sports, walking to school, preserving and increasing urban green spaces where children can play, and improving perceptions of community safety to encourage parents to permit their children more outdoor play.

In the August 2012 issue of Pediatrics (the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics), a study measured such potential solutions as walking to school, participating regularly in school physical education classes, and playing team sports. The researchers found that walking to school has some residual positive effect on a student’s body weight, but that participation in high school physical education classes does not. 

The Pediatrics researchers found that playing team sports 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.” 

“Obesity prevention programs,” the Pediatrics researchers recommended, “should consider strategies to increase team sport participation among all students.”

Implementing Common Solutions

The Pediatrics study reaffirms the great potential that youth sports programs hold for sustaining children’s health and well-being in the United States, Britain and elsewhere.  But the study should also stimulate inquiry about why so many of these programs fall short of this potential year after year. 

About thirty million American children join at least one organized sports program each year, and nearly all children have some experience with organized sports before they turn 18.  Outside the home and schools, no other activity touches the lives of so many children from coast to coast. 

Some segments of the American population, however, remain chronically under-served by community youth sports systems, including girls, inner city youth, poor youth, youth who may not demonstrate sufficient athletic talent when they are in elementary school, and youth with disabilities. Among children who do play sports, about 70% quit before turning thirteen, and nearly all quit before turning fifteen.  Indeed the dropout rate begins accelerating as early as age ten.  When researchers ask youngsters why they quit playing, 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 inequities that mark access to youth sports, and the high adult-induced dropout rate, mean that the United States squanders opportunities to provide healthy athletic activity for millions of children, and to teach them the value of a lifestyle rich in physical activity throughout adulthood.  Athletics, after all, can do nothing for a child who is excluded, cut from the team, or induced to quit. 

Jeopardizing the Public Health

What can be done to help assure that youth sports programs in the United States and the United Kingdom meet the major public health concerns identified by the U.S. Surgeon General, the recent Pediatrics study, and last week’s UK survey?  First of all, communities and national and state sports governing bodies can take “equal opportunity” more seriously by reaching out to under-served segments of the youth population that often find only diminished outlets for sports. In their own households, parents can “keep the fires burning” with positive reinforcement that makes continued participation in sports fun and fulfilling for their children. Finally, parents and coaches can stop behaving in ways that lead so many children to quit in droves before their time. 

The Surgeon General’s report, the recent Pediatrics study, and last week’s UK study remind us that communities jeopardize the public health when they exclude broad segments of the youth population, and then churn out bumper crops of athletic dropouts year after year.  Until adults stop taking children’s sports away from children, we will all be the losers.

 

[Sources: Lucy J. Griffiths et al., How Active Are Our Children? Findings From the Millennium Cohort Study, BMJ Open (Aug. 2013); U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Services, The Surgeon General’s Call To Action To Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity 2001; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Overweight and Obesity, Data and Statistics (2012), http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html; 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)]

 

INNOVATIONS IN SPORTS: High Schools Where Sports Come First Over Education?

To give you an idea of how much amateur sports in this country has changed in recent years, now comes word that the Philaelphia Union soccer team of Major League Soccer is going to start its own HS for elite soccer players.

The Philaelphia Union Soccer Academy will open its doors within a few weeks, and will be open to the soccer players who currently play on the Union’s travel soccer teams. Starting with grade 8 and going up to 12th grades, the school – which will be fully licensed and approved by the state of Pennsylvania — will have only abut 35 kids the first year, bu there are plans to rapidly add to that number.

Tuition for the school will be around $15,000 a year, although a good portion of the kids will get funding depending on their financial need.

I was curious as to the general reaction on my radio show this AM, and not surprisingly, there were callers on both sides of the coin. Some thought it was a superb idea – that as long as the academic curriculum of English, math, science, and so on were covered adequately, what’s wrong with having all the kids there to focus on their true passion of soccer? Especially if the school provides the kind of showcase for these kids to attract attention either from pro scouts or college coaches?

On the other hand, detractors felt that this kind of HS experience was much too insulated, and these soccer players would miss out on a generalized, diverse HS life. Plus, they asked: what happens if a kid peaks athletically at age 14 – does he simply leave the academy? What about concerns about lack of playing time, or if a coach and the kid don’t get along? These are real concerns especially in a school where sports (not academics) comes first.

In truth, I do think there are real pros and cons on both sides of the issue. I just don’t think there’s enough research to make a decision either way. The IMG Sports Academy in Florida attracts serious athletes in a variety of sports, and costs about $50,000 a year. But I just don’t know how many of those kids have gone onto become major professional stars. And a caller pointed out that Andre Agassi attacked Nick Bolletieris’ elite tennis camp/school as a kid and absolutely hated it, even though Andre went onto become a star.

But I will say this. I do think that you’re going to see more of these sports-first HS begin to pop up all over the country, and they will be sport-specific, meaning you will see these schools just for soccer,or baseball, or  hockey, and so on. In other words, these sports HS are not going away. Their approach to sports first dovetails very nicely with all of those sports-crazed parents who want their kid to have every opportunity to become a pro in their sport.

 

INNOVATIONS IN SPORTS: Can You Remember When Girls Weren’t Allowed to Play Sports?

 

 

Title IX’s Impact on Youth Sports:

Remembrances on “Women’s Equality Day”

By Doug Abrams

 As social forces swept the nation in early 1971, Congress passed a joint resolution designating August 26 as “Women’s Equality Day” each year.  That was the date in 1920 when the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote, was formally adopted into the federal Constitution.

Earlier this week, I noticed a sports commentary about Women’s Equality Day in the Hansconian, a small newspaper published in Concord, Massachusetts. The writer invited adults to assess one facet of equality, “the differences in athletic opportunities for your children today as compared to your time while in school.”  “A major aspect of that change,” the writer correctly noted, was Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The differences in athletic opportunities are indeed striking and worth remembering. When I was in high school in the late 1960s, community and interscholastic athletic programs routinely shortchanged girls and frequently overlooked them entirely. Girls could cheer for the boys’ teams or watch the boys’ games from the stands. Girls could play a handful of sports such as field hockey or girls’ basketball under often sub-standard conditions, and suffer ridicule for being tomboys if they sought to taste “boys’ sports.” I do not recall any local voices ever urging that girls deserved more than the meager piece of the pie that they received.

 In 1971, just months before Congress passed Title IX, one commentator cited the inequities stemming from “[s]tereotypes, prejudices, and misconceptions [that] have served to curtail the participation of females in vigorous, competitive physical activities for too many years.” The commentator concluded that “[f]or most females, the avoidance of all participation in physical activities becomes the easiest route to follow.” Gender stereotyping, added a prominent sports sociologist, had “clearly specified sports as a male province. The intrusion of women [was] seen as frivolous, distracting, or downright annoying.”

 Today millions of girls play alongside boys in community youth leagues, and girls’ interscholastic athletic programs hold prominence unknown before passage of Title IX. Lawsuits and social controversy sometimes mark application of Title IX in particular cases, and barriers to girls’ full participation remain. Few responsible voices, however, question the general right of girls to share the playing field, either on girls’ teams or with the boys. 

A Better Country

As most readers of this column know, Title IX and its administrative regulations prohibit gender discrimination in “any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance” in elementary or secondary schools or higher education. Covered programs include interscholastic sports.

Title IX does not apply directly to private community youth sports leagues, which are not “educational programs” and receive no federal funding.  The ethic of gender equity, however, influences these community leagues. Since 1975, about ten million girls have played Little League baseball, and millions of other girls have played other sports with boys, particularly in the pre-teen years when physiological differences between the sexes are negligible. 

Almost every year, girls played on mid-Missouri youth hockey teams that I coached. Sometimes the girls were more talented than many of the boys, and sometimes not. But nobody ever batted an eyelash when girls skated onto the ice because, to a generation accustomed to Title IX and other societal changes, the girls belonged, just as the boys did.

By helping to level the playing field in sports for the female half of the population, Title IX has made the United States a better country.  The rest of this column discusses two major national advances attributable to more equitable participation in youth sports – improved public health and more wholesome childhood socialization.

Improved Public Health

By dramatically increasing rates of girls’ participation in sports in an increasing sedentary age when an obesity epidemic afflicts growing numbers of children, Title IX has proved to be one of the most effective public health measures passed by Congress in the second half of the twentieth century.

In 2001, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher warned that among adults and children alike, “overweight and obesity . . . have reached epidemic proportions in the United States.”  Thirteen percent of children and adolescents were overweight, and the number of overweight adolescents had tripled since 1980. Overweight and obesity both qualify, said Dr. Satcher, 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. 

National trends continue moving in the wrong direction today.  The 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. With this sobering recipe for ill health, a 2012 study published in Pediatrics (the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) measured the potentially positive effects 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.  

The Pediatrics researchers found that “[t]eam sports participation had the strongest and most consistent inverse association with weight status.”  The study estimated 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.”

“All” means “all.” The benefits of a lifestyle rich in physical activity and competitive sports inure to all children who wish to play, and not only to boys.

Linking cause and effect can be an inexact science, of course. There is no guarantee that a youngster denied an opportunity to play organized sports will become sedentary or obese, or that a youngster prone to a sedentary lifestyle or obesity will benefit from playing sports. But intuition suggests that the nation’s pediatric obesity epidemic would be even more serious today if Title IX had not moved millions of girls off the sidelines into the active participation they desire.

More Wholesome Childhood Socialization

Title IX’s benefits transcend physical health and well-being.  In a nation that believes that athletic competition teaches children valuable life lessons, community youth sports programs hold special potential to help shape children’s attitudes about gender roles in a society in which unprecedented numbers of women pursue higher education, enter the work force, and remain on the job throughout their personal and professional lives.

Sports is a prime engine for early attitude formation.  About 30 million children join at least one organized sports program each year, and nearly all children experience organized sports at some time before turning 18. Outside the home and schools, no other activity reaches so many children, and no other activity enables so many boys and girls to cooperate to pursue common goals.

Behavioralists and child psychologists continue to debate the relative capacities of biology and social environment to influence the development of children’s attitudes about gender roles. But these professionals generally agree that nature and nurture can each affect socialization because gender roles are flexible and capable of modification during childhood and adolescence. Title IX helps facilitate this development and modification by enabling girls and boys to play alongside one another in community youth sports programs from coast to coast.

The President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports & Nutrition recommends that “[g]irls and boys need to work and play together, starting at an early age” because “[t]he social construction of gender begins in early childhood perhaps as early as infancy, as children respon[d] to cues from parents, teachers and others.” Little League and other community youth sports programs are typically conducted outside the schools by private associations or clubs, or by public parks and recreation departments. The capacity of these athletic programs to influence early childhood socialization can be significant because, according to the President’s Council, “[g]ender segregation—the separation of girls and boys in friendships and casual encounters—is central to daily life in elementary schools.”

Conclusion

In 2012, Sports Illustrated was right that “Title IX’s impact has reached well beyond the playing field, forever changing the role of women in society.” Indeed, Title IX has become almost synonymous with gender equity generally in the past four decades. As a national symbol that has aroused public sensibility, the federal mandate has achieved a social impact well beyond the four corners of its statutory language and implementing regulations, which apply only to academic programs in elementary, secondary, and higher education. That impact, beginning in sports for millions of children, is worth remembering on “Women’s Equality Day” and throughout the year.

[Sources: Devon Messecar, Women’s Equality Day: Title IX, Hansconian, Aug. 16, 2013, p. 6; Dorothy V. Harris, The Sportswoman in Our Society, in Sports and American Society: Selected Readings, pp. 310-11 (George H. Sage ed., 2d ed. 1974); Howard L. Nixon II, Sport and Social Organization, pp. 49–50 (1976); Kelli Anderson, The Power of Play, Sports Illustrated, May 7, 2012, p. 44–45; U.S. Dep’t of Health & Human Servs., Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General (1996); President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Physical Activity & Sport in the Lives of Girls: Physical and Mental Health Dimensions from an Interdisciplinary Approach, pp. 14–16 (1997)]

SPORTS PARENTING 101: How Did We Get From There…to Here?

I was thinking about how much the world of sports parenting has changed since I was a kid. When I couldn’t wait to get home from school to play football, basketball, football, whatever, with all the guys in my neighborhood.

But these days, times have indeed changed. And to be a sports parent in 2013? Well, venturing forth to be a sports parents these days is no easy task. For example, these are the kinds of questions you are going to invariably face:

At what age should my child start to play organized sports?

At what age should they begin to specialize in just one? Or suppose they want to play a variety of sports?

What about the dangers of concussions? Should I even let my kid play a contact sport at all?

How can I ensure that my child is good enough to make a travel team? Suppose he or she gets cut during tryouts?

What happens if my youngster plays for a bad or insensitive coach?

Does my kid really have to put in 10,000 hours from 8 to 18 to become a star?

How much should I expect to spend for my kid’s involvement in sports?

You get the idea. What’s curious to me about all of the above questions (and many more like them) is that they were never asked a generation ago.

That is, if you went back in a time-travel machine to the year of, say, 1973, these questions would have seem foreign and clearly unnecessary. No kid, and certainly no parent, would have taken them seriously. After all, kids back then just went out and played sports for fun. Nobody knew what a travel team was….nobody worried about football and concussions….sport specialization didn’t exist. And parents rarely bothered to watch their kids play in pick-up games.

But these days, times have dramatically changed. For example, I just read this past week where Little League Baseball is now going to institute prorams to teach LLers about the dangers of using steroids and PED’s. Can you imagine?

I don’t think there’s any question that today’s athletes are bigger, stronger, and faster than we were. But do they have as much fun? In the long run, that’s the question always worth asking.

Welcome to the New and Improved Ask Coach Wolff

Hi friends – I started this website a couple of years ago because I felt it would serve as an open meeting-place for interested sports parents, coaches, educators, and athletes. In truth, I honestly didn’t know at first if anyone would find this website, or even feel compelled to read the posted articles, or want to write comments.

I couldn’t have been more off-base. Within a matter of a few months, askcoachwolff.com was off and running, and the number of readers continues to grow at an amazing pace. We’re now reaching thousands of concerned sports parenting fans each week.

I couldn’t be more pleased with our reception and of course, with our new look, and I hope you are too. In the immediate future, I hope to expand our reach even more. Please feel free to contact me, or my colleagues Doug Abrams and Steve Kallas, who provide very smart and timely sports parenting observations.

In the meantime, many, many thanks for your continued support. Rick Wolff

PARENTS V. COACHES: Meddling Parents at the College Level

How Troublesome Parents Can Hurt Their Player’s Chances in College Sports

Early last month, I had an interesting telephone conversation with the men’s soccer coach at a small western university.  He told me that before he recruits a high school player and communicates with the admissions office, he tries to size up the young man’s parents by meeting and talking with them.

Nothing unusual so far, but then the conversation continued.  The coach said that if the parents appear troublesome, his enthusiasm for the player may diminish.  In an extreme case, the coach might even strike the player from the list to avoid future hassles with the parents.

In 2008, the Los Angeles Times did a story on Pete Carroll, then the head football coach of the University of Southern California Trojans, one of the nation’s most prominent college programs.  The story described the phone calls and emails he routinely received from USC players’ parents about various issues, including injuries the player sustained or academic choices the player might be wrestling with. But, according to Carroll, the parents “basically call me about playing time.”

Individual Accountability

Last month’s phone conversation with the soccer coach was an eye opener because, as a youth hockey association president for 11 years, I always urged the board of directors to distinguish between parent and player when it considered disciplining a parent for misconduct.  It seemed unfair to make an innocent player assume the consequences for what his or her parents did.

Should a similar approach, grounded in individual accountability, apply when the college coach weighs a recruiting (and thus, an academic) decision that will likely affect the future course of the player’s life? Coaches must answer that question for themselves, but I can understand why some might tread carefully when their antennae tell them that signing a player might bring four years of meddlesome parenting similar to what many youth league and high school coaches face these days.  The player may have been a star on the high school or club team but, unless the player is something special, the coach’s list might include other players with similar talent.  Taking a chance with helicopter parents just might seem like a prospect worth avoiding.

Whether or not an athletic scholarship is at stake, college recruiting sometimes compels coaches to draw fine lines, make close calls, and heed their instincts. On the one hand, the coach should expect parents to remain engaged by asking penetrating questions. Coaches should welcome this engagement because parents do not stop being parents simply because their player commits to a college. Choosing the right college is serious business.  With the student away from home for a sustained period perhaps for the first time, parents rightfully expect the coach to take safety, academics and socialization seriously because the college’s obligations extend to student-athletes.

But the player has almost always reached the age of majority by the time the time he or she matriculates. Parents accustomed to micromanaging relationships with youth league or club coaches since elementary school should demonstrate willingness to ease up on the reins. Pete Carroll told the Los Angeles Times that he understood the delicate balance: “I talk to [parents] just like we’re sharing this responsibility to help this work out for the kids.”

Warning Signs

Parents do their player a disservice when they take chances that might dim the coach’s interest during the recruiting process. Conversations with the family might raise warning signs, particularly where the parents appear overbearing or try to monopolize the give-and-take before the player can ever get a word in edgewise. Perhaps the coach can dismiss domineering as healthy enthusiasm from parents who simply want the best for their player, and perhaps not.

The recruiter’s conversations with the player’s high school or club coach can sometimes tell much about the parents. Private conversations can turn quite candid when the coach, thinking toward the future, wants to maintain credibility with the college counterpart.

Nowadays the college coach might also find clues on the Internet and the social media.  If the parent’s name has reached the local newspapers with violence or other misbehavior during youth league games or practices, the coach can retrieve the article with a keyboard and a name search. Parents also sometimes vent on the social media. Some college admissions offices reportedly watch the Internet and social media for telltale signs, and we should expect similar due diligence from coaches who are charged with assembling a talented, harmonious team.

Rick Wolff has talked on the air about how today’s technology can preserve a permanent, indelible record of public misconduct. Players must watch with their words and deeds, but so must their parents. The bottom line is that parents who cross the line in high school or club sports may hurt their players, not only in the short run, but also in the long run.

[Source: Gary Klein, The Xs and Os of Dealing With Parents, L.A. Times, Oct. 22, 2008, p. D1]

COACHING TIPS: Fascinating Insights on American Soccer from Shep Messing

Small world department. Many years ago, when I was a student-athlete (an aspiring baseball player) at Harvard and living in a dorm called Mather House, across the hallway from me was the Harvard soccer goalie, Shep Messing.

Now, in those days, Harvard soccer was very good, and indeed, Shep was an All-American goalkeeper for the Crimson.

But if truth be told, American soccer was still very much in its embryonic years, and it wasn’t until the New York Cosmos came on the scene in the mid-1970s with such superstars as Pele, Chinaglia, Beckenbauer — and yes, Shep Messing – all playing for the Cosmis did Americans start to truly follow the sport.

Shep carved a tremendous career for himself in the sport, and now is doing television commentary on the Olympic games.

That’s why I was eager to have him on my show this AM. I wanted to get Shep’s take on the explosion of soccer in the US.  And Shep, always a lively personality, had some fascinating thoughts which generates lots of calls. Specifically:

Shep feels that the American youth system of soccer is much too structured for kids to develop any spontaneity in the sport. That is, instead of letting the kids just go out and play and experiment, today’s coaches quash kids’ creativity by putting too much emphasis on what position each kid should play, focusing on winning, and in short, bleaching the game of true joy and engagement.

Because of that, Shep feels that USA will continue to stay a step or two below such powerhouses as Brazil or Italy or Spain because those kids ARE allowed to be spontaneous in their play as kids. One caller suggested that maybe it’s because today’s American youth soccer coaches were brought up on American football which explains why our soccer coaches are so rigid and structued in their approach to the kids. That was a good observation.

Finally, I asked Shep about concussions. He felt that it’s a real concern, even recalling when he was knocked unconscious in a game and had to carted off the field. Soccer, especially when two kids are vying for a ball in the air, has a real problem in knocking heads, Shep explained, and that’s something that needs to be addressed. Along those lines, Shep was also in favor of having kids (especially goalies) wear protective headgear to prevent concussions.

Messing, who grew up on Long Island, surprised me when he told me that he played a variety of sports as a kid, including baseball, football, and so on. It wasn’t until he was 16 when he was first introduced to soccer. From first playing soccer at 16, it was remarkable that Messing became a star by the time he was in college, just a few years later.

PS – If you’re a soccer fan, Shep’s interview on WFAN is definitely worth listening to. All of my shows are available in podcast format. Just go to WFAN.com and find the links to my show.

PITCH COUNTS: 16-Year-Old Throws 772 Pitches in 9 Days

Leo Mazzone, the former long-time pitching coach of the Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles, never kept pitch counts. He just observed the man on the mound very closely, and Leo could rely upon his own instincts and experience to know when the pitcher was tiring or if his mechanics were falling apart.

Nolan Ryan, the legendary fire-baller, liked to finish what he started, and the Hall of Famer never paid any attention to how many pitches he threw in a game. He routinely racked up large pitch counts in games, and it didn’t seem to bother Ryan as he pitched well into his 40s. Never really had any arm problems, either.

But of course, the prevailing mentality these days is to mark down every pitch a pitcher makes. Whether it’s Little League, HS, college, or pro ball, pitching coaches get nervous when the count gets to around 70 or 80 or more. Time to warm up the bullpen!

Now comes word of a 16-year-old Japanese prospect named Tomohiro Anraku who, during the course of the Koshien tournament (the largest HS sporting event in Japan – it’s held twice a year), racked up a total of 772 pitches in 9 days. Here’s the breakdown: Tuesday, he threw 232 pitches….Saturday, 159…Monday, 138….Tuesday, 134….Wednesday, 109.

Along the way, the 6-4 righty struck out 37 in 44 innings, walked only 7, and gave up 12 earned runs on 44 hits.

He is routinely clocked at 94 mph, but toward the end of his week-long efforts, his velocity dropped to the high 80s.

At the end, was he tired? Yes. Did his arm hurt, or become injured? Apparently not. Is going to take the rest of the year off? No, the August Koshien tournament starts up soon, and he’s eager to throw in that one as well.

Only time will tell whether this young man is getting good advice from his coaches, or whether he may be risking a serious injury that could potentially derail a possible pro career. We’ll see.