Archive for January, 2014

ATHLETES/COACHES WHO CHEAT: Varsity Coach Puts Herself into HS Soccer Game

Every HS coach wants to put forth his or her best line-up on the field. That’s only natural and to be expected. After all, it’s the nature of competitive sports.

But what about an assistant varsity coach who consciously decides that the team’s best line-up includes…her? Even if she’s ineligible?

Apparently, that’s what happened a couple of weeks ago at Desoto County HS in southern Florida when Juany Gonzales, an asst varsity coach for the girls’ soccer program, found herself playing in a game against rival HS, Lemon Bay HS. The media reports I read didn’t offer any reason or explanation for why this coach – who graduated from Desoto HS in 2009 – was participating in the game.

That is, it wasn’t as though her participation was approved by the opposing team, or that Desoto didn’t have enough players on its roster, or it was some sort of stunt. 

In fact, it wasn’t until the girls on the Desoto team reported the incident to the school authorities a day or two later that this matter came to light. In other words, if the girls hadn’t said anything, there’s a good chance that Desoto’s 2-1 victory would stand up. In other words, it sounds as though the girls on the Desoto team were just as perplexed as everyone else.

But when the school authorities did check on what took place, the events were confirmed – that Gonzales has played in the varsity game and also in the JV game. 

Not surprisingly, Gonzalez, along with the team’s head coach, Narcy Hinojos, were both fired. The school was placed on probation for a year by the league, and the school was fined $1000. Plus the 2-1 victory was forfeited.

This is still very hard to comprehend. Yes, many of us still pine for our glory days when we played HS sports, but then again, most of us also recognize that once your playing career has come to an end, you’re not allowed to go back and suit up again. And it’s not like Desoto hadn’t won a game all year. While they were only 9-15, they clearly had won some games.

The whole thing is odd. Very odd indeed.

 

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: Here’s What Should Happen Next on “Friday Night Tykes”

If you haven’t seen this new reality show on the Esquire Channel, you might want to take a moment to watch a few minutes of it.

But just be forewarned. It’s as though all of the social consciousness that has been raised in the last 20 years about evil and selfish sports parents and coaches somehow never reached this particulara part of Texas.

Yeah, we all know that Texas is crazy about its football programs. But that being said, there have to be limits.

This series, which is quite disturbing, clearly can’t get enough of abusive coaches and parents shouting and screaming at 8-and-9-old football players. There are head-on collisions and concussions with helmets, kids crying in pain, children throwing up through their facemasks. And that’s just for starters.

But of course, this kind of show is scoring big ratings. After all, who can ever turn away from watching a car wreck – especially when it involves little kids?

Steve Kallas made an excellent observation on my radio show yesterday. Everybody who has seen the show immediately says, “This is blatant child abuse.”

But Steve, as an attorney, went one step further. He actually looked up the child abuse laws in Texas, and not surprisingly, after he read them on the air, it’s an airtight case. Every criteria for child abuse fit what these parents and coaches are doing to these kids. 

So, on the next episode of Friday Night Tykes, here’s what I’d like to see. I’d like to see the local police in San Antonio come in and arrest these out-of-control parents and coaches on child abuse charges. That would be fair and appropriate justice.

Now, that would make for some real “must-see” TV!

ABUSIVE COACHES: LL Coach Sues a 14-Year-Old Player

Well, this is just nuts.

A chiropractor in California claims he suffered a severed Achilles tendon when one of his LL players rounded third base en route to scoring a winning run. The boy threw his helmet up in the air and on the way down, it struck the coach in his lower leg, seriously injuring him.  

Dr. Beck is now suing his former player, who is only 14, for hundreds of thousands to cover his medical pays, loss of income, and pain and suffering.

Now, pretty much everybody who has chimed in on this case agrees this was an accident – that certainly the boy didn’t do this on purpose. And even the coach says that if the boy apologized to him, then he would drop the lawsuit.

But if it’s only an apology that he wants, I would imagine the boy and his parents, who have already spent $4,000 on legal bills, would gladly offer any kind of apology he wants.

But this case is very curious. As Steve Kallas pointed out on the show this AM, the coach didn’t fall to the ground in agony as most people who have just suffered an Achilles tear would do. Rather, based upon several media reports, Dr. Beck coached several more games over the course of a few weeks before deciding that he needed medical attention. That may have delayed the apology from the kid.

On the show this AM, we had a number of varying opinions. One was an umpire, who pointed out that if a kid deliberately takes off his helmet in a game, he can be punished, even ejected. Another caller complained that this is nothing more than a trickle down effect from the big leagues, where big leaguers routinely throw their batting helmets up in the air in jubilation when they enjoy a walk-off win. It’s understandable that kids emulate the big leaguers.

But beyond that, as Steve pointed out, this is nothing more than an assumption of the risk that any coach or player takes on in a game like baseball. Suppose an outfielder threw a ball between innings that accidentally hit a coach in the third base coaching box? That happens a lot. Does the coach have a right, then, to sue the outfielder?

You get the idea. While everybody has the right to sue anybody in this country, it sure would be nice if these ridiculous lawsuits – especially when suing a 14-year-0ld – would finally come to an end. And shame on the attorney who took on this case in the first place!

INNOVATIONS IN SPORTS: Making the Most of Adult Supervision of Kids

 

Locker Room Supervision

By Doug Abrams

 

When I coached youth hockey until 2009, the association’s coaches and parents recognized that the players needed supervision on and off the ice.  The need applied both to the mite and squirt teams (for players ten and younger), and to the high school team whose players usually graduated at about eighteen. It applied in practice sessions and games alike. We paid particular attention to the locker rooms, where so many things can go wrong. This column’s discussion of locker room supervision uses hockey as the example, but the discussion also applies to other youth sports where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Best Efforts to be Proactive

Our hockey association enrolled good kids from good families, and the board of directors did not expect any of the malicious abuse, bullying or hazing that sometimes make headlines. But we also knew that kids are kids, and that seemingly harmless locker room banter or horseplay can sometimes turn dangerous in ways no one intended.

The board took what we believed were sound proactive measures, which we discussed with the parents in pre-season meetings.  We explained that coaches display greater foresight about potential risks than unattended players do, but that coaches cannot see and hear everything. Sometimes coaches must also attend to matters away from the locker room.

The parents responded positively to our request for cooperation. Because parents in the younger age groups were normally in the locker room before and after games to help their player suit up and then change back into street clothes, we asked them to help supervise while they were present.  Because parents normally were not in the locker room in the older age groups, we asked team managers to assign themselves or another parent as supervisor, either on a rotating basis or for the entire season.

Some of our hockey teams rostered both boys and girls, but mixed enrollment did not impede supervision. Our home rink and most road rinks had an extra locker room that allowed separation before the fully dressed players gathered together in one room. Otherwise some players dressed in the rest room or other private place satisfactory to parents. Privacy did not become an issue for the players themselves, or for the players and the supervising parent.

The players met our expectations each year because I cannot recall any locker room incident that warranted discipline or even a warning. But remaining proactive means not waiting for something preventable to happen.

Today’s Issues

Why the concern about locker rooms? From time to time, we hear stories about seemingly innocent locker room frolicking that leads to avoidable accidents.  More frequently, though, we see news stories about vicious hazing and bullying that happens in many youth league and high school locker rooms and other places where players congregate. Much of this activity amounts to physical and sexual abuse that may land perpetrators in juvenile or criminal court.

I want to believe youth coaches who respond afterwards that they were unaware of the abuse until someone reports it. I have never met a youth coach who intentionally encouraged or tolerated abuse of a player, and parents know that kids bent on causing trouble usually wait until no adult is paying attention.

But believing the coach who pleads lack of awareness also means recognizing that the coach likely left the team unsupervised in places where experience suggests the potential for misbehavior. In the pros and youth leagues alike, locker rooms have traditionally been perceived as privileged sanctuaries reserved for the players, typified by the adage that “what is done here or said here, stays here.” This tradition needs to change when the players are children.

USA Hockey’s Locker Room Policy

I said earlier that our youth hockey association’s board “took what we believed were sound proactive measures.” It turns out that we could have done more. USA Hockey has instituted a Locker Room Policy that is much more comprehensive than the protocols that our association applied in those years. The Locker Room Policy is one facet of USA Hockey’s overall SafeSport Program, most of which is not hockey-specific. The Program can help national, state and local youth organizations in other sports create, maintain and fine tune their own safety protocols.

USA Hockey’s Locker Room Policy concerns “activities between minor participants; minor participants and adult participants; adults being alone with individual minor participants in locker rooms; and . . . non-official or non-related adults having unsupervised access to players at team events.”

The Policy establishes minimum requirements that local programs may exceed.  At a minimum, for example, local programs must “have at least one responsible screened adult present monitoring the locker room during all team events to assure that only participants (coaches and players), approved team personnel and family members are permitted in the locker room and to supervise the conduct in the locker room.” A screened adult is one who passed official pre-season background checks for specified crimes or sexual abuse.

 

“Acceptable locker room monitoring,” the Policy continues, “could include having locker room monitors in the locker room while participants are in the locker room, or could include having a locker room monitor in the immediate vicinity (near the door) outside the locker room that also regularly and frequently enters the locker room to monitor activity inside. If the monitor(s) are inside, then it is strongly recommended that there be two monitors, both of which have been screened. . . . Any individual meetings between a minor participant and a coach or other adult in a locker room shall require that a second responsible adult is present.”

 

Cell Phones and Other Recording Devices

 

In the age of rapidly advancing technology, locker room safety also raises important concerns about cell phones and other recording devices with camera or audio recording capacity. USA Hockey’s Locker Room Policy mandates that “the use of a mobile device’s recording capabilities in the locker rooms is not permitted at any USA Hockey sanctioned event, provided that it may be acceptable to take photographs or recordings in a locker room in such unique circumstances as a victory celebration, team party, etc., where all persons in the locker room are appropriately dressed and have been advised that photographs or recordings are being taken.” 

 

These are wise requirements because parents, if they are even remotely aware of the personal devastation that cyberbullying and sexting can cause, often warn their children to remain cautious for a teammate’s surreptitious filming or photographing when they are in a state of partial or total undress.  Images can be transmitted worldwide in moments and remain a permanent record.

 

Co-Ed Locker Rooms

 

More than 40 years after Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 began leveling the playing field, boys and girls frequently play on the same teams.  “Where possible,” the Locker Room Policy provides, “the male and female players should undress/dress in separate locker rooms and then convene in a single dressing room prior to the game or team meeting. Once the game is finished, the players may come to one locker room and then the male and female players proceed to their separate dressing rooms to undress and shower (separately), if available. If separate locker rooms are not available, then the genders may take turns using the locker room to change and then leave while the other gender changes. Where possible, when both male and female players are together in the locker room, there should be at least two adults in the locker room that have been properly screened in compliance with USA Hockey Screening Policy.”

 

These too are wise requirements that should remove any thoughts that co-ed youth hockey is somehow inconsistent with locker room safety.

 

Conclusion: A National Model

This column hits only highlights of the Locker Room Policy, which deserves full consideration as a model for leagues in various youth sports that seek greater strides toward players’ physical and emotional safety. The policy is found in USA Hockey’s SafeSport Program Handbook, which is available at

http://assets.ngin.com/attachments/document/0042/6452/USA_Hockey_SafeSport_Program_Handbook.pdf.

ABUSIVE COACHES: What About Moral Standards and Integrity in College Coaches?

There was so much feedback about the Bobby Petrino-themes show I did this AM on WFAN that I decided to reprint the highlights of my fantasy dialogue between Petrino and Tom Jurich, the athletic director at Louisville.

 Let me give you a Fantasy job interview…now, play along with me for a few minutes and see if you get my drift…

 

This is a make-believe one-on-one conversation between Tom Jurich, the Director of Athletics at the University of Louisville, and a prospective head football coach…we’ll call him Robert.

 

AD: Well, Robert, I had a chance to go over your resume…and it’s very clear that no matter where you go, your track record is that your football teams win, and win a lot.

 

ROBERT: Yes…I’ve won at a number of colleges…

AD: That’s good, because we have a winning program here at Louisville, and we want to keep that tradition going.

 

ROBERT: So do I.

AD: But I have to ask you about a few, uh, incidents on your resume…just in case the media asks questions…you know how annoying the media can be.

 

ROBERT: I sure do…

AD: Okay, now, we’re big on teaching our student-athletes on being accountable and being stand up guys….so, when you resigned in the middle of the season as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons to take the head coaching job at Arkansas, you didn’t tell your team…rather you just merely left a memo taped to each player’s locker? No face-to-face with them? 

ROBERT: Well, I was in a hurry…and besides, guys at the pro level…they know that coaches come and go all the time. It’s part of the deal.

 

AD: And how about when you were at Arkansas….let me see if I got this right…even though you were married with kids, you were having an ongoing affair with a woman in her mid-20s, you pulled strings to get her a good job in the athletics dept, and she was engaged to one of  the team’s strength and conditioning coaches?

 

And all of this came out ONLY because you were in a motorcycle accident with her as a passenger, and you had to explain why she was riding with you? 

ROBERT Yeah, I know it sounds bad….but trust me, the media made it sound worse that it was.

AD: So you were let go from that job, and you were hired by Western Kentucky University…but despite this all personal stuff at Arkansas, Western Kentucky gave you a 4-year contract worth $850,000 a year…and you promised you stay for all 4 years —  that you had finally learned your lesson? 

ROBERT: Yeah, can you imagine? They only paid me $850,000 a year!

 

AD: And now, you want me and our board of trustees to overlook ALL of this unbelievable nonsense and not only hire you….but also pay you millions of dollars?

ROBERT: Yes….that’s pretty much it. You guys in? Because if not, I have plenty of other colleges calling me.

 AD: Robert…you’re our guy! You’re just the kind of leader and positive role model we desperately want here for our football program here at Louisville..so congratulations…you’re hired! How about $3.5 million a year…and a seven year contract? Is that enough?

You get the idea…it’s not news that college programs are all about dollars these days. But where do we draw the line? Petrino is hardly cut from the same cloth as, say, Coach K of Duke or the late John Wooden of UCLA. Ask yourself -would you want your son to play football for him? Do you feel he has his life’s priorities in order?

And how about the powers-that-be at Louisville? Not just the AD, but presumably the board of trustees and school president had to approve hiring Petrino for close to $25 mil over seven years. They have to be asked the same questions.

And finally, what about the players themselves? Is it fair to them to have to play for a coach who doesn’t seem to embrace the core qualities of accountability and respect?

The problem is this…we’re sending all the wrong messages to our kids when it comes to playing sports. Can’t colleges find other top coaches who are successful who also embody qualities that are to be emulated, not scorned?

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: What was the Biggest Story in Sports Parenting in 2013?

I asked this question on my radio show this morning:

“In your opinion, what was the biggest story or development in sports parenting in 2013?”

Each passing year presents all sorts of new and challenging issues in sports parenting, but for a variety of reasons, I thought 2013 was notable for a number of stories and their long-range impact. 

Specifically, I mentioned Title IX issues (namely two senior boys being allowed to play on the girls’ volleyball team at Greeley HS in Chappaqua, NY… the heightened awareness of abusive coaches, all stemming from the Mike Rice incident at Rutgers where he was fired after videotape popped of him being out of control at team practices….the growing concerns about the dangers of concussions in contact sports for all kids…the ongoing concerns about hazing and bullying, and especially with cyberbullying….a retro movement to return to more zero tolerance policies for HS athletes, making the traditional Code of Conduct much more substantial….and the lingering concerns from the Steubenville, Ohio football cover-up case.

I was delighted by the depth and range of the callers’ reactions. And they even brought up other key issues, such as the concerns about HS kids transferring from one HS to another in order to further their own athletic interests. This kind of “HS shopping” has become commonplace in recent years, and if anything, it’s a trend that seems to be growing more and more.

And there were plenty of calls about the Chappaqua Title IX case, cyberbullying, holding kids accountable for their actions, and there was discussion about Steubenville and how that town seemed to lost its priorities about protecting its football program.

But by the end of the hour, the topic from 2013 that people came back to was the concussion issue. And I agree with that. I can’t recall any other challenge that is more overwhelming than concussions. What do parents decide today when their little one wants to play football, ice hockey, lax, or any other contact sport? And if the top doc’s all say that it’s not so much the first concussion, but the repeated ones that cause the most damage down the road, how does a parent decide to let their child go back and play that sport again after a first concussion?

Even worse, while there are all sorts of companies trying to invent a concussion-preventing helmet, so far that just hasn’t happened.

And we’re already seeing the fallout. By most accounts, enrollment in football programs around the country have already dropped by 10 percent. That’s a significant number. And chances are it will only increase in the years to come. 

In sum, there were a number of pressing developments this past year, but the concussion issue was, to me, the lead story. And I think its impact is going to continue for a long  time.

 

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: Have We Finally Pushed Our Kids Too Far?

 

Are Casualties Mounting in the “Youth Sports Arms Race”?:

Some New Polling Data

By Doug Abrams

 

Writing in the Wall Street Journal in 2010, Sue Shellenbarger reported that “the escalating time, travel and financial demands of many competitive youth teams are pushing some parents over the edge.  Many are pushing back, dropping teams mid-season, barring year-round competition for their children or refusing to make their kids available for holiday or vacation-time play.”

Shellenbarger was writing about the “youth sports arms race,” whose dynamics sometimes resemble the Cold War brinksmanship that pushed Washington and Moscow each to seek military superiority in the years following World War II. If the Soviets had X missiles, then the United States quickly needed X+, at least until the other side ratcheted up the stakes to the next level. 

In the athletic arena, the major armaments are time and money, driven by some parents’ fear that “if the next town’s team played 40 games for seven months last year, our team must play 50 games for eight months this year, or else our kids will fall behind.” Or that “if Johnny and Susie down the block have private coaching, then our Billy and Mary must have it too, and maybe for more hours a week.”

The relentless back-and-forth leads some parents to seek out organized sports for their pre-kindergarten children; to pursue “elite” teams for their elementary schoolers; and to spend ever more on registration fees, private coaches, interstate travel, hotel bills and whatever else seems necessary to keep up. The immediate casualties may be quality family life, including the nighttime dinner table and family vacations. Escalation can bring satisfaction, at least until parents see other families enrolling their own children at even younger ages, spending even more, or saying yes to even longer seasons.

The New Poll About “Trouble Signs”

Shellenbarger called attention to some “trouble signs” that the youth sports arms race may push some families to the brink and perhaps beyond.  She pinpointed “marital tension over the demands of sports teams; conflicts or jealousy between siblings over the time and parental attention allotted to sports; or parental resentment over the cost of sports to the family, in money and time.”

A new online poll of 400 youth sports mothers, released late this summer, suggests that Shellenbarger exposed a tender nerve nearly four years ago. The poll, conducted by the online market research company uSamp, was commissioned by i9 Sports, a youth sports league franchise marked by such features as one-day weekly commitments, local play without long-distance travel, and focus on fun. The poll results show the stress that escalating youth sports demands can exact on families.

Sixty-eight percent of mothers responding said that their child’s youth sports involvement causes stress in their lives; 51% said that this involvement causes stress for the whole family; 24% said that it causes conflict with their significant other; and (4) 24% said that they have resented their children because sports consumes too much time. Seventy-six percent of mothers polled said that they are happy when the sports season is over.

Seventy-nine percent of mothers said that they wanted an alternative to the youth sports “win at all costs” mentality; 54% said that the competitive culture of youth sports hurts children; and 23% said that they or their children have been excluded socially because the children were not as talented as other children. Of mothers who reported stress, 87% blamed scheduling conflicts, including five-night-a-week commitments; 67% cited cost; and 53% said that sports deprived their families of holidays, weekends and free time.

Individual Family Decisionmaking

Each family must resolve for itself the appropriate level of commitment to youth sports, and no poll or public discussion can assure the right balance or determine the outcome. “In the 1950s and 1960s,” says Rick Wolff, “‘conspicuous consumption’ was a national rage and “‘keeping up with the Joneses’ was an American obsession. It would appear that the newest manifestation of these competitive desires is revealed by today’s sports parents who always want something more, bigger and better for their athletically-inclined kids.”

Brooke de Lench calls on parents to consider whether “to restore some sanity and find a better balance” between sports and other aspects of family life, and she points the way with helpful tips. Longtime Minnesota high school hockey coach and official Hal Tearse says that sometimes parents should “exercise [their] rights and obligations as a parent and say no.  No to excessive travel, no to overlap, no to the destruction of the family for the sake of sports.”

Other parents, however, thrive on competitive commitments and view busy scheduling as best for their families.  Massachusetts attorney Bill Heney, for example, tells the Boston Globe that his children’s hockey schedules are “something we all love and can do together as a family.” Sports “is a way to spend some great quality time with your kids,” adds Gregg Lowis of Springfield, Illinois, “We’re pretty much at games constantly.”

Seeking the Right Balance

One size does not fit all, but discussion among parents and thoughtful commentators offers perspectives that are important to families seeking to achieve the right balance among sports, family time, academics, and lifestyle. So do polls and surveys that report parents’ attitudes in the aggregate.

I suspect that when some hesitant parents see another family pursuing the youth sports arms race, they may feel guilt for shortchanging their children by being the “only” parents who want to slow down and perhaps say no.  The new polling data, and the anecdotal evidence amassed by so many writers, suggest that this isolation is misplaced because parents who want to pull in the reins have plenty of company.

I see a similar dynamic among first-year law students here at the University of Missouri.  When a student in a 70-member class has trouble mastering a particular reading assignment, the student may fear that he or she is the only one having trouble because nobody else wants to talk about their own feelings.  The truth, however, is that if one student finds an assignment perplexing, it is usually because the assignment perplexes much of the class. Each perplexed student has plenty of company but might not realize it.

Law students are much better off when they realize that most of their classmates face the same challenges as they do. Youth sports parents seeking to achieve the right balance for their family can best reach informed decisions when they realize that many other parents wrestle with the same conflicts and reach a variety of conclusions. “Yes” is a possible answer, but so is “no.”

 

[Sources: Sue Shellenbarger, Kids Quit the Team for More Family Time, Wall St. Journal, July 21, 2010, page D1; i9 Sports Survey – Moms Stress Over Sports, http://www.ocalamom.com/profiles/blogs/i9-sports-survey-moms-stress-over-sports, i9 Sports, http://www.i9sports.com/; uSamp, http://www.usamp.com/; Brooke de Lench, Balancing Sports and Family: 13 Tips for Parents, http://www.momsteam.com/successful-parenting/balancing-sports-and-family-13-tips-for-parents; Hal Tearse, Parenting for the Game of Life, http://www.momsteam.com/blog/hal-tearse/parenting-game-life; Joseph P. Kahn, Families With Multiple Children, Sports Wrestle Logistical Nightmares, Boston Globe, Nov. 9, 2013; Alissa Groeninger, Starting ‘Em Young, State J.-Register (Springfield, Ill.), Nov. 11, 2012, p. 45]