Archive for December, 2013

COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIPS: More Insights on the College Recruiting Game

The response to last week’s show with Wayne Mazzoni on the inner secrets regarding the college recruiting game was so overwhelming that I felt compelled to ask Wayne to come back on this AM to handle more calls and dispel more of the myths and misconceptions of college recruiting.

On today’s show, Wayne emphasized again that less than 4% of all HS varsity athletes will ever be good enough to make a college team, regardless of Div I, II, or III level. As such, he reminded listeners that aspiring athletes need to make sure that whatever college they attend, they have to ask themselves, “Would I be happy here on campus even if I never play a sport again.”

That might be a tough question for an 18-year-old youngster to answer, but at the end of the day, it’s an essential one that an incoming college student needs to answer. Remember, while it would be wonderful if every aspriring college athlete see his or her dream come true and makes their college squad, but the reality is that it just doesn’t happen all the time.

Also along those lines, Wayne then explained how “slotted” athletes are those athletes who are heavily recruited primarily by those schools which are heavily competitive in terms of academic admissions. That is, once a college coach at one of these schools decides that this particular athlete is slotted, then the admissions office will flag them and pretty much insure they will be admitted to the school.

Obviously, slotted athletes are very few in number, but once a coach tells a recruit that he or she is slotted, then the youngster has an excellent chance of not only being accepted BUT will also be viewed by the coach as being someone who will be given every advantage to be an impact player as a freshman.

That’s in contrast to a kid who is a walk-on who may or may not even make the team. Furthermore, college walk-ons  have to understand that the coach and his staff is aggressively recruiting for next year. That means that your son or daughter will be facing the same challenge when they become sophomores and have to face incoming recruited athletes. In other words, it doesn’t get any easier.

Wayne also reminded listeners that college athletic scholarships are based on year-to-year renewals. A lot of parents and athletes don’t realize that.  And if a new coach comes on board, most new coaches like to get rid of the “old” recruits and bring in their own.

In short, it’s vital to do your homework, and that takes times. I urge you to check out Wayne’s website GetRecruited.Net. It’s an excellent way to edcuate yourself as you start out on this campaign.

 

DEALING WITH ENTITLEMENT: When Volunteer Coaches Expect Too Much in Return

 

 

 

 

New Ways to Elect a Youth Sports Association’s Board of Directors 

By Doug Abrams

 A few years ago, a nearby youth hockey program held tryouts for its winter teams. Thirty-two players tried out for the two 13-14-year-old bantam teams, so the coaches pinned a number on the back of each player’s jersey for identification. When the last session ended, players wearing numbers 1 to 16 made the top team, and players wearing numbers 17 to 32 made the second team.  All this happened in plain sight of the board of directors.  

A mathematician told me that the odds against the two teams randomly shaking out this way were more than 600 million to 1. Even Powerball players face better odds than that, but board members with bantam sons went home satisfied because their sons made the top team, and so did their close friends’ sons. 

After playing and coaching for nearly 40 years, I thought I knew a thing or two about evaluating hockey talent. I also knew the abilities of some of the kids who tried out because my teams had played against them. I thought that the coaches shortchanged some of the kids, and I could not blame parents for suspecting that the coaches had chosen the teams before anyone hit the ice. The outcome simply defied the odds and could not have been a coincidence.

Families angered by the evident favoritism held their tongues rather than approach the board of directors.  Why complain to the powers-that-be whose appointed coaches created the inequity in the first place, particularly when their children might suffer retaliation?

Systemic Unfairness

When we catalog the troubles that beset youth sports today, the spotlight often shines brightest on violence committed by parents and coaches. Acts of violence usually happen in plain view, and they can attract media coverage and local attention, particularly if someone is arrested or injured.  The adults may later trade accusations about who-started-what, but it is difficult to deny that an outburst occurred after onlookers witnessed it.

Adult outbursts, however, are the symptom and not the disease. Perhaps the most troublesome problem with some community youth sports programs today – favoritism and systemic unfairness – usually produces no public confrontation, witnesses, or headlines. In too many sports programs, winning a position on the board of directors is a key to landing a son or daughter on the right team, and then to assuring that the team that gets choice hours for games and practices. The board appoints not only coaches who will seek reappointment the following year, but also schedulers who might want something special for their own children’s teams. It does not take much ingenuity for appointees to figure out which side of the bread their butter is on.

I have rarely served on a youth hockey board that was comprised entirely of members who remained genuinely committed to the best interests of every boy and girl. In all fairness, many board members – probably most, in the typical association – do care about children and teams other than their own.  But I have also found that one or more members, sometimes a solid bloc, want no part of equity.  They know that their short-term involvement will end when their children’s playing days end, and they may see board service as a way to position their own children and their own teams favorably, even at the expense of other children.

Entitlement

Favoritism in youth sports often has a root cause. On the air over the years, Rick Wolff has discussed what he calls “entitlement,” the notion held by some board members that it is perfectly appropriate to expect preferential treatment for their children in return for their service.

This expectation runs counter to much of the volunteer spirit that thrives in America. When adults volunteer to serve in the local hospital or public school, for example, they generally seek only the personal satisfaction that comes from making a positive difference. They do not expect volunteer service to win their families better emergency medical care or extra classroom instruction. But Rick is right that some youth sports board members convince themselves that “my child is entitled to something extra because I serve and other parents do not.”

Feelings of entitlement should have no place in youth sports.  Many parents have perfectly good reasons for enrolling their child without volunteering to run for the board, and the child should suffer no adverse consequences. These reasons may relate to the parents’ prior commitments to family, employment, or other volunteer activities in the community. We all do what we can, and we all have constraints on our time.

Not only that, but volunteerism is a two-way street.  I always viewed my hockey board memberships (and my coaching) as my chosen community service, and I did not begrudge other people for choosing not to serve.  After all, I always enjoyed open-air concerts, park services, and other community amenities provided by volunteers who did not expect my service in return.  I gave to others, and I received from others. That’s the way life works.

Reducing Favoritism

In a television interview a few years ago, National Football League Hall of Famer Howie Long pointed in the right direction when he discussed favoritism and other adult challenges in youth sports. “We have to get youth sports out of the hands of parents,” he said, “and . . . put it in the control of people who are unbiased.” Ending parental control is not a realistic option today, however, and it is probably not even a good idea because energetic parents with solid values have plenty to offer in sports, both to their own children and to others.

At the same time, community sports programs might help control the bias that Long addressed if they ended the monopoly that parents tend to hold on boards of directors. In a 2011 column, I proposed a modest, but nonetheless easily accomplished, experiment that might produce greater equity. “[Y]outh sports leagues and associations,” I wrote, “should reserve at least one voting board position for a high-school-age player” because “having a teen board member might help muzzle an adult member who is bent on favoritism.” I explained that “having a teen sitting at the table might lead a selfish member to think twice. With a teen listening, word might get around among the other youngsters. Favoritism is sometimes best secured behind closed doors or in discussions among adults, and a healthy dose of embarrassment among the kids might just go a long way.”

A More Profound Change

Why stop with placing a teen on the board of directors? Here I suggest a more profound experiment — every position on a youth sports association’s board should be open not only to current players’ parents, but also to any other adult in the community whom the parents wish to elect.  The other adult may be a former player’s parent, or may be someone who has never had a child in the association. The adult may be nominated by a parent, or the adult may approach the association of his or her own accord.

When questions arise or scarce resources must be allocated, a non-parent board member’s family would not “have a dog in the fight.”  The member would be freer to advocate for, and then to vote for, the result that best serves the interests of all players. (Opening the board to non-parent board members can also bring new ideas and expertise. In a prior column, for example, I wrote about why boards should include a local pediatrician to advise about issues relating to health, safety and cognitive development.)  

Many communities have plenty of adults who already serve in public and private non-athletic youth programs (hospitals and schools, for example) without expecting special privileges in return. Youth sports associations should be no different. Some of these adults might not grasp the finer points of the game, but neither do many of the parents who now serve on sports programs’ boards.

Rules invite good faith application, but they also invite evasion.  The influence of non-parent board members provides no sure guarantee against unchecked favoritism because incumbent board members or other parent groups could simply stack the ballot with non-parent candidates who they know would continue the old ways. But I have also served on civic boards whose nominating committees regularly made good faith efforts to identify solid members of the community, and then presented them to the membership. An incumbent youth sports board would tell much about its commitment to equal opportunity by its willingness (or unwillingness) to take this sort of identification and presentation seriously.  

This commitment might just improve the odds for many youngsters. 

 

[Sources:  Douglas E. Abrams, Youth Sports Programs Need Unbiased Adults, Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 15, 2003, p. 11; Doug Abrams, Why a Teen Should Serve on the Youth League’s Board of Directors, http://askcoachwolff.com/2011/06/30/why-a-teen-should-serve-on-the-youth-leagues-board-of-directors/; Doug Abrams, “Why Youth Sports Programs Should Seek Input from Pediatricians, and How They Can Do It” — http://askcoachwolff.com/2012/03/08/why-youth-sports-programs-should-seek-input-from-pediatricians-and-how-programs-can-do-it/]

 

COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIPS: The Myths and Misconceptions of College Recruiting

I always enjoy having Wayne Mazzoni on my show because he provides real truth and clarity when it comes to the world of college recruiting.

That’s because, as the pitching coach at Sacred Heart University, he knows what really goes on in the recruiting wars. He’s also very much in demand for speaking engagements to HS athletic groups, and above all, be sure to check out his website BeRecruited.Net if your son or daughter is thinking about playing sports in college.

Wayne touched on a number of topics this AM, and I only wish I had more time as the calls that poured in were all smart and right on target. But among the myths that Wayne exploded:

There’s a college out there for any HS athlete who wants to play intercollegiate sports in college. Wayne made it clear that’s really misleading, even though a lot of HS guidance counselors will mistakenly tell to their students. Wayne cautions HS kids and their parents: even Div. III programs, although they can’t offer scholarships, are usually very active in their recruiting and the jump in talent from HS to Div. III sports is quite substantial.

That is, if you’re just an average HS player, don’t be misled into thinking that you can go to a Div. III program and will make the team as a walk-on. Yes, you might, but making the team AND getting playing team are two totally different things.

In fact I know of some Div. III baseball programs where the head coach has a no-cut policy: you try out, work hard in practice, and you make the roster. But being on the roster DOES NOT guarantee any playing time. As one student told me, “You dress for the games, but never, ever get in. After awhile, you just cut yourself.” Not a good experience.

Online recruting services are a good solid way to be marketed. Mazzoni made the claim that he doesn’t think that any college coach takes these services very seriously, and you are better off saving your money to help pay for your college tuition. He says you should just reach out to the college coach yourself, and finding out if he holds an off-season camps where the athlete can attend and meet the coach in person.

Recruits v. recruited walk-ons v. walk-ons. Wayne made the distinction very clear: recruits are those kids who have received some sort of athletic scholarship to be on the team. A recruited walk-on is someone who has been admitted, but was not offered any scholarship money.  You should also know that the scholarship money kids will get more opportunities to be a starter than the recruited walk-on.

And traditional walk-ons, much in the mode of the famous Notre Dame “Rudy” movie, well, they get a chance to practice until the coach decides whether they should be cut or kept on the team. Just bear in mind that many Div. I programs don’t even allow walk-ons these days. And that the feel-good movie “Rudy” was made more than 30 years ago. In other words, there aren’t many modern-day Rudy’s running around.

I plan to have Wayne back on the show again soon, because I want to prevent as many heartbreaking stories that I can about college recruiting. It is a difficult business, and too few parents know how the game is played.

 

OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: Taking Out One’s Frustrations on Teenage Refs…

 

More Disturbing News About Adult Abuse of Teen Officials

By Doug Abrams 

On November 25, CBC News (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) ran a story under the headline, Teen Hockey Refs Quitting Over Verbal Abuse. The report was from Saskatoon, and the article concerned why so many teens in Canada’s Saskatchewan province refuse to officiate in the younger age groups.

The vice president of the Saskatchewan Referees Association provided an explanation.  “I go the rink all the time and supervise,” he says, and “I have a hard time sitting there and watching games because parents just start yelling and swearing for no reason.” The targeted referees are “kids . . . doing their best,” but “parents expect NHL referees.”

The CBC article concerned youth hockey in one Canadian province, but the vice president’s explanation sounds familiar to almost anyone whose children play youth sports, from house leagues to select teams. Verbal – and sometimes physical — abuse leveled by parents and coaches against teen officials plagues more than youth hockey, more than one province or state, and more than one nation.

Lowering the Bar

This year alone, the hall of shame appears mighty crowded.  The Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, for example, reported the arrest of a 43-year-old manager of a 10-12-year-old New Jersey Little League team.  The manager was charged with two counts of assault for slapping a 17-year-old umpire who had ejected him from a game.

The Sunshine Coast Daily (Queensland, Australia) wrote about a father who watched his son, a 14-year-old referee, absorb verbal abuse from an adult soccer fan and then, in the next game, from a coach who accused the boy of biased calls on the field. “I don’t think they see the youth in the kids,” the father said, “They think it’s life and death when in fact it’s youth sport.”  

The Santa Clarita (Calif.) News reported a 34-year-old coach’s arrest for assaulting a 17-year-old referee during a 12-14-year-old parks and recreation department flag football game.  The coach walked onto the field, yelled about the referee’s call, and struck the boy in the face, knocking him to the turf.

The Charleston (S.C.) Post & Courier wrote about a teen umpire who was “in tears as he took off his equipment after the game, because one of the coaches had given him such a hard time” during a recreation league baseball game. A fellow 16-year-old umpire wondered aloud whether the few dollars he earns is worth enduring verbal abuse from parents and coaches who “will do whatever they can to win.”

Each of these manhandled teen officials is someone else’s child, and each one deserved the physical and emotional safety that youth sports promises all its participants. We cannot simply dismiss the news reports by rationalizing that only a minority of adults cross the line, while most behave decently. Abusive parents and coaches do constitute the minority, but I suspect that media coverage alone actually understates their number.  Many readers of this column have doubtlessly witnessed abuse of teen officials that never reached the local papers because, without an injury or arrest, the incidents seem so commonplace that they are not newsworthy. Newspapers and their readers often set the youth league bar mighty low these days because they set their expectations for civility mighty low.

The Greater Problem

In hockey and other youth sports, the very appearance of growing numbers of teen officials itself signals dysfunction created by abusive parents and coaches. Rather than risk having to cancel or reschedule games for lack of officials, many leagues and associations recruit teens to replace disgusted adults who have quit rather than put up with further verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse. Many adult officials sign up to serve kids and remain active in their sport, but reach their tipping point before too long. In my last few years coaching squirt hockey teams for 9-10-year-olds, I cannot recall ever having a referee over the age of about fifteen, except occasionally in the playoffs.

Teen referees may see officiating as an opportunity to earn a few dollars, assume a leadership role, and demonstrate community service on their college applications.  In my experience, the teens take their responsibility seriously and generally do an excellent job. But they too are often chased away, once they or their parents grow fed up with abuse from parents and coaches who doubtlessly perceive the adolescents as even easier marks for harassment than adult officials.

“The Silent, Constant Source of Support”

What can local leagues and sports associations do to control adult abuse of teen officials?  In youth sports as in other areas of American life, prevention and public education should be the initial anti-abuse strategy. Strong messages conveyed in pre-season parents meetings and seminars, followed by rules enforcement throughout the season, can create healthy local sports cultures.  Most parents and coaches know right from wrong, and most tend toward civility when they know that authorities and most other parents expect it.

Coaches also play a central role. Mike Matheny manages the St. Louis Cardinals these days, but in 2009 he agreed to coach a St. Louis-area youth baseball team. He agreed on one condition – that the youngsters’ parents would embrace his vision of a team based on respect, sportsmanship, integrity, and citizenship. He outlined this vision in a six-page letter to the parents which became known as the “Matheny Manifesto” once it went viral and began attracting national attention.

Among other things, Matheny warned the parents that “we will not have good umpiring. This is a fact; the sooner we understand that, the better off we will be. . . . The boys will not be allowed at any time to show any emotion against the umpire. They will not shake their head, or pout, or say anything to the umpire. . . . You as parents need to be the silent, constant, source of support.”    

Who Are the Role Models?

When I coached youth hockey, I also set ground rules in the preseason parents meeting. I told the parents that officials inevitably make mistakes because they (like the parents, coaches and children) are not professionals in the sport. But I also told the parents for every mistake, officials also make dozens of correct calls that appear incorrect to parents and coaches who do not understand the rules, or who do not see the action as well as they think they do. 

I also said that mistake or no, the parents will be entitled to perfect referees when they become perfect parents, the players become perfect players, and the coaches become perfect coaches. Until that day, imperfect officials are part of youth sports.  

To appeal to the parents’ better instincts, I reminded them that referees can hear profanity and other verbal abuse only when parents shout so loudly from the stands or sidelines that the players on the field can also hear it. Adults should not shout anything that they would be embarrassed to say in front of their children at home. The adults’ conduct should not sink below the level they would find acceptable from their own children because adults, and not children, should be the role models.

When Prevention Efforts Fail

Even the most effective prevention programs cannot prevent 100% of targeted misconduct. The best that these programs can do is to make misconduct the isolated exception rather than the rule. When a parent or coach fails to respond appropriately to education efforts designed to prevent abuse of teen officials who are doing the right thing, the league or association should react with suspension or other disciplinary action.

In extreme cases, the public response may include criminal prosecution of the sort contemplated in the news accounts that opened this column.  When a parent or coach strikes an official (teen or otherwise), the adult has committed a criminal assault.  When an adult directs incessant verbal harassment at a teen official during or after a game, the adult may cross the line that separates healthy competition from the crime of endangering the welfare of a child.

Criminal endangerment statutes are broadly worded to enable authorities to reach a wide range of emotionally abusive conduct that compromises the strong public interest in child protection.  From parents or someone else, serious injury to a child’s emotional well-being often stems from a pattern of belittling, derision or other verbal abuse.  The unrelenting torrent that adults sometimes unleash on teen officials during and after games might fit the bill. Children’s games hold no immunity from the standards of child protection that apply on Main Street, at home, or anyplace else in town.

 

[Sources: CBC News, Teen Hockey Refs Quitting Over Verbal Abuse, Nov. 25, 2013; Doug Abrams, “When Verbal Abuse of a Teen Official Becomes Criminal Child Endangerment” – http://askcoachwolff.com/2013/06/18/obnoxious-sports-parents-the-criminality-of-attacking-young-refs/]

 

 

PARENTS V. COACHES: What Should the Boundaries Be Regarding Parental Conversations with Coaches?

Ideally, we want our kids to learn how to stand on their own two feet, so that if they have an issue with a coach, one’s son or daughter will have enough personal courage and gumption to address the coach. The youngster may have an issue with one’s playing time, or the position they’ve been assigned, and so on.

But the everyday reality is that many sports parents don’t wait or even encourage their youngster to take matters in their own  hands. Rather, hawk-eyed parents will spot other Dads chatting up the coach after a practice session, and in our ever-competitive sports world, ambitious Dads will want to chat up the coach as well.

Now, lots of HS coaches and travel coaches have become proactive about these situations. As one of my WFAN callers mentioned this AM, he has adopted a 24-hour “dark” policy. This is a very popular approach in which no parent can call or email the coach for at least 24 hours after every game.

If your school or program doesn’t have this policy in place already, I urge you as a coach to adopt it right away.

However, there are still those coaches who make it clear that they never want to interact with the parents. They tell the kids on the team at the first practice sessionthat they (the coaches) are there for the athletes – not for the Moms and Dads.

While that policy may work for some coaches, it’s my opinion that Moms and Dads should have the right to talk with the coaches. After all, coaches are educators, and just as you can reach out to your child’s teacher about your child’s academic performance, sports parents should be able to make appointments to see the coach as well.

However, that being said, there are some strict guidelines. Besides the 24-hour rule, if you do call or see the coach in person after a practice, PLEASE bear in mind that the coach probably has their own family to tend to. As such, DO NOT converse with the coach for more than 10 minutes. Ask your question, and then listen to their answer carefully.

PLEASE DO NOT try to “sell” the coach on your perspective. That is, don’t try to convince him or debate with him on the merits of your child’s abilities, and why they should start or play more in the games. Ultimately, you are not going to be successful in your attempts.

If you want, you can opt to email the coach. Just be very, very careful what you write in your email. Understand that the coach will now have a written record of your point of view.

And most importantly, NEVER put down another kid on the team. That’s not only unfair, it’s wrong. So, if you’re tempted to “explain” to the coach why your kid should be starting over this other kid, you have now crossed the line. Most coaches won’t even respond to this kind of email.

One other thing to consider. Lots of sports parents feel that if they don’t talk to the coach on behalf of their kid, who will? That is, they feel they have to be youngster’s advocate.

But lots of kids will then turn to you and say, “Dad, how could you go and talk to the coach about me? Don’t you know he absolutely hates that? Now I’ll never see the field!”

In other words, your best intentions may backfire on you. Bottom lineL even if you are hellbent to talk to your kid’s coach, better check with your son and daughter first. Or at least get their views first.

MAKING IT COUNT: Being Creative When It Comes to Giving Back

 

Donating to Youth This Year

By Doug Abrams

The day after Thanksgiving, about two dozen children and four dozen adults braved freezing temperatures to play flag football at a park in Penfield, New York, a Rochester suburb. Choose-up games in local parks normally do not reach the sports pages, but this game caught the eye of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle for good reason. The game was a benefit for the Center for Youth, a local volunteer organization that provides emergency services for homeless children, school-based programs dedicated to school engagement and academic success, and a variety of other community outreach programs that make a difference for children in need.

When a Center volunteer, Matthew Richards, was dying of cancer in September at age 37, his wife asked him whether he had any final wishes. “I don’t want anything for me,” he said, “The only thing I’d like you to do is organize a flag football game to benefit the Center for Youth.” When the day came, each participant donated $20 to take the field, and plans were already underway to make the game an annual Thanksgiving weekend fundraising event.

The Democrat and Chronicle story reminds me of a story that appeared in the Simcoe (Ontario, Canada) Reformer two years ago. When Boston Bruins fan Ron Shepherd died at 63, his family wanted to share his love of hockey with the next generation of youth leaguers. The family requested that instead of sending flowers that would last only a few days, each visitor to the funeral home bring a new hockey stick.

The Shepherd family donated the 75 new sticks to the local youth hockey association for free distribution to the youngsters, who ranged in age from five to high school. “My dad would be so happy to see the kids playing with the sticks,” said Shepherd’s daughter.

Some Suggestions

Matthew Richards and Ron Shepherd inspired acts of charity benefitting the community’s children when they passed away. Their example, however, can lead parents and coaches to decide whether they wish to make modest donations now to benefit underprivileged youth leaguers or other underprivileged children generally. Most donations would be tax-deductible, and the current tax year does not end until December 31. Decisions depend, of course, on personal financial circumstances and obligations to the family. Many adults receive more charitable solicitations than they can satisfy, and many must manage the family budget closely these days.     

Some worthy youth-related causes come immediately to mind. The parent or coach might already have a favorite national, state or local service organization, such as Rochester’s Center for Youth.  Their child’s youth sports association, or the local parks and recreation department, may provide scholarship assistance that waives fees for families that might otherwise be unable to enroll their children. National sports governing bodies typically maintain charitable initiatives devoted to equal opportunity and outreach to under-served youth; because hockey is my sport, the USA Hockey Foundation, maintained by USA Hockey, comes to mind. Children’s hospitals serve sick and injured children of modest-income families, and typically accept donations not only for equipment and other direct medical needs, but also for amenities such as toys, stuffed animals, and games that make a patient’s hospital stay more bearable.  This paragraph is meant to be suggestive, not exhaustive.

Making a Difference

“But would my $25 donation really matter?” 

“Every dollar makes a difference,” says New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, “and that’s true whether it’s Warren Buffett’s remarkable $31 billion pledge to the [Bill and Melinda] Gates Foundation, or my late father’s $25 check to the NAACP.”

“If we all just gave according to our ability,” concludes President Bill Clinton in Giving, his recent book on philanthropy, “the positive impact would be staggering. . . . If everyone did it, we would change the world.”

Every donation matters, and every donation serves a worthwhile purpose.

[Sources:  David Andreatta, A Last Act of Charity, Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle, Nov. 30, 2013; Barbara Simpson, Gift in Memory of Ron, Simcoe Reformer (Ontario, Canada), Apr. 18, 2011, p. 8; Aesop, The Lion and the Mouse, Aesop’s Fables: A Classic Illustrated Edition, p. 38 (1990); Bill Clinton, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World, pp. 55, 206 (2007)]

PARENTS V. COACHES: Major Lawsuit Pits Old-School Coach Against Today’s Active Sports Parents

 

A major lawsuit was filed just recently which, to me, seems like a kind of “perfect storm” between HS parents and a HS coach.

Now,I don’t have all the details in this case yet, but on paper, this sounds like a classic confrontation between an “old school” tough HS football coach whose in-your-face disciplinarian ways are being challenged by some of the parents of his players.

 

Here are the basics. Rich Ward is the head football coach at Marlboro HS, which is up the Hudson River. He is admittedly tough with his players, but he has also won. In four seasons, the team has gone 40-5, and has won three straight Section 9 Class B championships.

 

But now a lawsuit contends that during 2011 and 2012, Ward told his players to physically injure some opposing players (such as break their fingers, target their knees, and so on) and an one occasion, that he wanted to see their opponents go out in “body bags.”

 

There are also claims of Coach Ward, in a playoff game last year, of grabbing his QB by the facemask, jerking the kid’s face and neck when doing so and screaming at him. The QB in question has declined comment.

 

There are also claims of heavy-duty profanity, and even maybe evidence of a racial slur.

 

Now, the lawsuit was filed by a former Marlboro HS coach, as well as some parents of some former Marlboro players. Named in the suit were Coach Ward, as well as the Marlboro Superintendent and the School District.

 

The school superintendent says that these allegations have been checked out numerous times, and are all unfounded. In short, they are fully behind the coach.  

In light of the Mike Rice case at Rutgers, as we have discussed on this show, more and more coaches are being put under the microscope. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

In fact, I would argue that 10-20 years ago, old school coaching tactics like the ones I just described – well, no parent would have ever dreamed of filing a lawsuit.

 

But clearly times are changing. We’ll have to wait and see how this Marlboro case plays out, but certainly if Coach Ward and his school district lose, it will be most interesting to see what kind of ripple effect that decision would have on coaches nationwide.

TRAVEL TEAMS: Let’s take a look at AAU Basketball

Over the years, AAU basketball has quietly built itself into THE showcase for all aspiring hoopsters. It’s rare to find any town in America where there isn’t an AAU program.

Of course, AAU is just like any travel team, and with it, it has lots of pros and cons ingrained in it. Over the years, I have heard (and have seen) coaches in AAU who aren’t well trained, tryouts that aren’t well organized, and playing time doled out according to cronyism (e.g. friends of the head coach). If you want your son or daughter try out, you  have to pay a fee. And then if they do make a team, there’s a major fee for that. And don’t forget, you pay for the travel, not the team.

Now, to be sure, these troubling incidents are not just confined to AAU ball. They happen in just about every travel team you can find. But for some reason – perhaps because it carries the prestigious label of the American Athletic Union – AAU ball seems to escape a lot of the scrutiny.

I read the other day where Kobe Bryant, who grew up playing basketball in Italy until he was 14, said that he was grateful that he didn’t become entrapped by AAU ball here in the US. Why? Because he felt that playing in Europe, he was more exposed to the fundamentals of the game, learning how to play defense, how to pass, how to play position, and so on. His sense is that American kids in AAU are much more focused on individual stats and accomplishments in order to attract the attention of college coaches.

Even Charles Barkley has issues with AAU. He commented that people tell me this kid is a rising star, that he can really run and jump. I tell them that sounds like a deer. Lots of deer can run and jump, but that doesn’t mean I’d put them in the starting line-up.

All these points are well-taken. And when I interviewed Rob Weingard this AM, who is the creative force behind a new movie called THREE TEAMS which focuses on three youth basketball teams from Long Island, Rob pointed out that the odds of any kid playing AAU ball to get a college scholarship are indeed staggering. In 2012, Weingard pointed out, that out of the thousands of highly talented boy basketball players in Nassau and Suffolk County, most of whom played AAU ball, only one youngster received a scholarship for basketball. And that was to Longwood College.

Bottom line? As with any travel program, always try to maintain a healthy perspective on what you and your child are signing up for.