Archive for February, 2014

DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: It’s Not Just Football…

A big feature article ran this week in The New York Times with the headline: “Brain Trauma Extends to the Soccer Field.” The reporter, John Branch, did a solid job in covering the tragic story of 29-year-old former soccer player, Patrick Grange, who passed away recently from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

The brain researchers at Boston University did a careful autopsy of Grange’s brain, and found that he suffered from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is the telltale indicator of brain injury from concussions. BU announced it was most likely the first case of a soccer player dying from CTE.  

But while the medical researchers at BU may claim this is the first death that they can attribute to soccer, I think anyone who has a child who plays soccer – or for that matter ANY contact sport such as ice hockey, field hockey, lacrosse, and so on — has been a first-person witness to the numerous collisions that occur between players’ heads, causing concussions.

And in particular, with soccer, the amount of physical contact between players as they battle for a soccer ball is always filled with unexpected bangs to one’s head. That reality, along with the huge number of soccer balls being headed, would suggest that soccer players are particularly vulnerable to concussions.

Now, most of the medical attention on concussions has been paid to football players, but there have long been reports and studies that soccer players suffer lots of problems with concussions. I recall that just about a year or so ago, NBC did a major show about teenage female soccer stars having to cope with headaches, loss of focus, and loss of memory from heading soccer balls. It was difficult to watch talented 13-year-old athletes feel that their medical issues were attributable to concussions from playing soccer.

In Patrick Grange’s case, the 29-year-old lived to play soccer, and was especially proud of his ability to head a soccer ball. Perhaps his passing will serve as a cautionary tale to young soccer players about the real hazards of the sport.

Here’s another suggestion: maybe the time has come to banish heading in soccer? I know that’s not a popular suggestion, but we don’t need more kids with concussions.

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DEALING WITH RACISM: Why History Really Needs to Be Taught…and Learned

 

“Don’t Know Much About History”: When History Classes Fail to Prepare Youth Athletes

By Doug Abrams

 

For the Phillipsburg (N.J.) High School Stateliners varsity wrestling team, the descent from local celebrity to international embarrassment happened swiftly last week. A few hours after the Stateliners capped an undefeated season by winning a state title, a photograph surfaced on social media showing several white team members posing with a black mannequin that wore the T-shirt of rival Paulsboro (N.J.) High School, whose roster includes several African Americans. Evoking images of lynching, the black mannequin was hanging with a noose around its neck.  One wrestler appeared to be saluting, another pointed at the mannequin while holding a paddle, and two wore pointed hoodies reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan. http://www.nj.com/gloucester-county/index.ssf/2014/02/paulsboro_wrestling_dummy_depicted_in_racist_photo_image_being_investigated_in_phillipsburg.html

Three months ago, McAdory High School (McCalla, Ala.) created a similar stir. For a second-round football playoff game against the Pinson Valley Indians, McAdory cheerleaders created a bust-through sign reading, “Hey Indians, get ready to leave in a TRAIL OF TEARS.”  http://d1jrw5jterzxwu.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/article_media/trail-of-tears-mcadory-high-school_0.jpg

In both New Jersey and Alabama, school officials publicly apologized for the messages and disciplined the offending students. Chatter on social media disagreed about whether racism fueled the students, or whether they were pranksters ignorant about the inhumanity they invoked and the hurt they inflicted. We need not take sides in these discussions to suspect that the messages demonstrate once again how ineffectively American history is taught in so many of the nation’s secondary schools.

Lessons From the Past

Ignorance of history is the most plausible explanation for the Phillipsburg and McAdory incidents, or at least I hope it is.  I would hope that no group of high school students would belittle racial lynching or the Trail of Tears if they knew that the first was domestic terrorism fueled by mob rule for decades, and that the second was a death march forced on thousands of helpless Native Americans. Even to students temporarily overcome by sports hoopla, allusions to known murder and cruelty send no worthwhile message.

I suspect that history classes have taught the Phillipsburg wrestlers and their classmates little or nothing about the true horrors of lynching. Almost 3,500 African Americans were summarily hanged, shot, or burned at the stake by vigilantes between 1882 and 1968, mostly from 1882 to 1920 and mostly in the South. Most of the black victims were guilty of nothing except appearing to challenge the Jim Crow caste system, or to look at a white person the wrong way.   Each day of their lives, African Americans knew that their lives might depend on the whims of a lawless mob and a rope. I doubt that the Phillipsburg wrestlers would have struck their pose if their parents or teachers had ever shown them photographs such as the ones at this link: http://withoutsanctuary.org/main.html. (Warning: strong stomach needed.)

I doubt too that history classes taught the McAdory cheerleaders anything about the Trail of Tears.  Shortly after Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, federal authorities forcibly removed more than 100,000 Native Americans from their homes in the southeastern United States, land that other settlers coveted. Acting on Presidential orders throughout the 1830s, federal authorities placed the Indians in internment camps and then forced them to march more than a thousand miles, with nothing but the clothes on their backs, to what is now Oklahoma. About 15,000 men, women and children died of starvation, disease, and exposure to the elements.

“Historically Illiterate”

“We are raising generations of young Americans,” two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough said in 2011, “who are, by and large, historically illiterate.” Americans know McCullough as longtime host of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) series “American Experience” and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. He is perhaps the greatest living American historian, the author of nine books, including such masterpieces as Truman, John Adams, and 1776.

But McCullough has also emerged as a leading advocate for reforming the way secondary schools teach American history. He places the blame for high schoolers’ historical illiteracy squarely where it belongs, on “all of us who are educators, parents, and writers.” “We must not blame our children, or our grandchildren, for not knowing what they haven’t been taught.”

Surveys and studies back up McCullough’s stern criticism. In 2010, the U.S. Education Department’s National Assessment of Educational Progress reaffirmed that students perform worse in civics and American history than in any other subjects. (This is the Department’s latest assessment of civics and history proficiency, with another report due later this year.) According to the Wall Street Journal, only 12% of high school seniors had a firm understanding of American history, and only 2% understood the importance of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 school desegregation decision that fundamentally changed American life.

Like “a Hollywood Costume Drama”

Historian Kenneth C. Davis particularly criticizes the way secondary schools treat uncomfortable aspects of our national history, such as lynching and the Trail of Tears. “Most of us learned history from textbooks that served up the past as if it were a Hollywood costume drama. In schoolbooks of an earlier era, . . [s]lavery . . . got the glossy makeover – it was merely the misguided practice of the rebellious folks down South until the ‘progressives’ of the North showed them the light. American Indians got the same portrayal in textbooks that you saw in B-movies.”

McCullough is right that many high school history textbooks today still serve up “politically correct mush.” In many places, much of the reason stems from systemic reluctance to be honest with students. Many history textbooks are written by eminent historians who spend their careers interpreting, analyzing and criticizing when they write for professional audiences. But often they turn out bland textbooks because they know that before being adopted for classroom use, the texts must win approval from state and local review boards, including ones in places where forthright treatment of topics such as lynching and the Trail of Tears would be a sure way not to close the sale. Classroom teachers may sense too that their careers depend on avoiding controversies that might invite parental complaints, lawsuits seeking to upset the curriculum, and perhaps even efforts at book banning. 

“A Certain Amount of Self-Criticism”

The United States is a strong nation rightfully proud of its national heritage, and we should not resist teaching the younger generation about both the bad and the good. “Any healthy democracy,” says historian Gordon S. Wood, “has to have a certain amount of self-criticism, and that often takes the form . . . of writing critically about the past.”

“Honest history is the weapon of freedom,” wrote historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., because “[t]he strength of history in a free society is its capacity for self-correction.” Each generation enhances this capacity with exposure not only to past triumphs (of which our nation has plenty), but also to past injustices such as those suffered by the victims of lynching and the Trail of Tears.

Before high school athletes ever step onto the field in a multicultural America, they need respect for the past that this exposure encourages.  Because athletes appear in the local limelight more often than their classmates, their missteps hold greater potential to attract attention that may permanently dog them and their schools once news accounts hit the Internet. And wouldn’t the nation be better off if high school history lessons equipped students to choose tolerance, rather than to do what the Phillipsburg wrestlers and the McAdory cheerleaders did?    

“Hard to Believe”

In the wake of the disturbing football bust-through sign, McAdory High School’s principal announced that he would ask the school’s social studies teachers to present a special unit about the Trail of Tears.  The principal’s reaction showed genuine concern, but McAdory’s history classes should have been teaching the Trail of Tears all along.

In an editorial condemning last week’s Phillipsburg wrestling photo, the South Jersey Times expressed disbelief. “It is hard to believe that the [wrestlers] would not know by the time they’re in high school the ugly history of lynching of black people in America and particularly in the South.” The Times got it wrong. Ignorance of American history in today’s high schools is not hard to believe at all.

 

[Sources: Ana Rodriguez, McAdory High School Will Be “Disciplined” for “Trail of Tears” Banner, Jeffco Superintendent Says, http://blog.al.com/wire/2013/11/mcadory_high_school_cheerleade.html; Phillipsburg Officials Investigating Controversial Wrestling Photo as Communities React, Star-Ledger (Feb. 18, 2014); McAdory High School Apologizes for Trail of Tears Sign, http://www.wsfa.com/story/24001310/mcadory-high-school-apologizes-for-trail-of-tears-sign (Nov. 25, 2013); Lynchings: By State and Race, 1882-1968, http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/shipp/lynchingsstate.html; Timeline for National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Assessments from 1969 to 2017,http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/assessmentsched.asp#assessment_sched; Elizabeth Prine Pauls, Trail of Tears, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/602008/Trail-of-Tears; William Jewell College, Achievement Day (2007) (quoting McCullough); David McCullough, History and Knowing Who We Are, 58 Am. Heritage (Winter 2008); Brian Bolduc, Don’t Know Much About History, Wall St. Journal, June 18, 2011; Kenneth C. Davis, Don’t Know Much About History (1990); Margaret MacMillan, Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History (2009)]

BULLYING: Now is the Time for the NFL to Take a Stand

The stunning and frightening text message exchanges between Miami Dolphins football players Richie Incognito and two of his teammates towards teammate Jonathan Martin and an assistant trainer is not only eye-opening and sobering, but they really underscore how pervasive bullying is in this country. And especially in sports.

If you haven’t read any of the thousands of text exchanges, you should. Just be forewarned – it is staggering stuff.

The only silver lining in this lose-lose situation is that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell can really put forth a strong statement and punishment not only to Cognito, but to any other NFL players who may feel tempted to bully a teammate. A long suspension and major fine are good to start…but why not add to it? Make Cognito write out a substantial and personal apology to Martin, explaining why what he did was wrong, and why this kind of stuff needs to be stopped.

Then, make Cognito into the NFL poster boy to spread the word to college, HS, and youth athletes about why bullying is wrong.

The truth is, we all know that bullying continues at all levels of sports, despite our best intentions to stop it. Now that we have an incident at the NFL level, let’s do what we can to make the most of this unfortunate situation so that the younger athletes can at least learn a positive lesson.

Here’s hoping that Goodell really helps eradicate this nonsense at all levels.

ABUSIVE COACHES: When Coaches are the Bullies….

Coaches Bully Their Players:

The American Academy of Pediatrics Weighs In

By Doug Abrams

 

This month’s issue of Pediatrics, the research journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, features “Bullying Behavior by Athletic Coaches,” a thoughtful article by three authors led by Dr. Nancy L. Swigonski of the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.  Focusing on youth leagues and interscholastic programs, the authors conclude that “bullying behavior such as demeaning, shaming, and name-calling remains a common aspect of coaching in sports at any level, . . . an unacknowledged but frequent experience.”

Dr. Swigonski properly labels this behavior as bullying, which clinicians generally define as the repeated infliction of intentional physical or emotional harm in a relationship characterized by imbalance in power.  The harm to the less powerful target may come not only from physical assault, but also from words. Nearly all state legislatures have paid close attention to student-on-student bullying in the public schools, but bullying is not limited to student perpetrators. Adults can also repeatedly inflict harm on less powerful victims in the workplace, in the neighborhood – or in practice sessions and games in organized sports.

What Is Wrong With This Picture?

Dr. Swigonski and her colleagues recount a story that highlights four basic guidelines presented in the rest of this column. During a practice session, a parent watched her daughter’s high school basketball coach “screaming at the team that they lacked intelligence and were lazy because they had not executed a play properly.” When the concerned mother questioned the coach afterwards, the coach responded that she had violated the rule that no one was allowed in the gym during practice sessions “for safety reasons.” The mother soon learned that the coach had a long history of intimidating players. The principal told her that the coach was “very successful and won a state title last year, but sometimes gets ‘overexcited.’”

Here are the guidelines that emerge from the story:

1.     Winning is no excuse. Big-time collegiate programs sometimes pay seven-figure salaries to lure coaches who have left a trail of intimidation, unethical behavior, rules violations or worse, provided that the trail also includes winning.  This column is not the place to discuss how colleges should vindicate their ethical standards, or how they should serve the best interests of the adults who play on their teams.  But the coaching bar should be set much higher in youth leagues and interscholastic programs, whose players are children. Parents, school administrators, and coaches themselves routinely tell pollsters that character building is the youth coach’s primary responsibility. These adults should practice what they preach, without letting a winning record give the coach a free pass to bully without consequences.

2.         Practice sessions must be open to parents.  Coaches may understandably worry that outsiders might watch practice sessions for hints about how to gain advantage in upcoming games. Coaches may wish to exclude classmates who would distract the players. Coaches may even wish to avoid putting their youngsters on display. But no sound reason supports routinely excluding parents who merely sit and observe, without causing disruption or interference.

For some parents, attending practices is as much a part of the youth sports experience as attending games. Parental prerogatives, however, extend beyond enjoyment or pleasure. Parents cede a measure of control to the coach when their son or daughter joins a team, but parents do not cede total control. Bullying or other maltreatment is serious business in any child’s upbringing, no matter who happens to be on the delivering end.  Serious enough for parents rightly to remain alert.

When the coach routinely excludes parents from practice sessions, parents might begin to sense that the coach has something to hide.  Openness can protect most coaches by squelching the rumor mill, but sometimes the parents’ senses prove right. 

3.         Coaches should welcome parents’ interest in what the coaches do and say in the locker room. Before the first pre-season practice session, I promised my youth hockey team’s parents that I would email them a day or so after many practices and games to report what the coaches said to the players in the locker room, on the ice, and on the bench. The emails rarely discussed strategy, but I wanted to keep the parents informed so that they could reinforce the staff’s messages about teamwork, fair play, and similar values. The coaches made no effort to hide anything from the parents, and we were pleased that they displayed interest in what transpired behind closed doors.

4.         Youth sports programs should maintain and enforce codes of conduct for coaches.  Like disciplinary rules applicable to players and parents, coaching codes must govern both practice sessions and games.  Words on paper protect no one, however, and written rules do not apply themselves.  The hard part comes when authorities must actually apply the codes to assure that the coach delivers on the respect, dignity and protection that the school or association promises — even when some parents may stand with the coach, and even when the coach is winning.

Locker Rooms and Main Street

To be clear, I understand that some words and deeds that players and coaches pass in locker rooms or on the field would not pass easily for civility on Main Street. Emotions and competitive pressures can distinguish competitive sports from other contexts, and coaches may say or do something in the heat of the moment that they regret later on. But leadership also demands a measure of self-control, and it is no answer to say (as the principal said in Dr. Swigonski’s story) that the coach demonstrates a pattern of “getting over-excited.”

I also understand that discipline and motivation rank among youth coaches’ greatest challenges, even greater sometimes than teaching the Xs and 0s.  I remain confident that most youth league and high school coaches do appreciate the inherent imbalance of power between them and their players, and that even in moments of frustration, most coaches strive to maintain each player’s dignity as they lead.  

I have spent plenty of time in plenty of locker rooms, first as a youth hockey and college hockey player, and then as a youth coach at all age levels for more than 40 years. My coaches were all quite good at discipline and motivation, and some were downright great. I never played for a coach who stooped to bullying, and I never bullied as a coach. 

The best youth coaches lead through the force of their personalities, the quality of their example, and the persuasiveness of their positive appeals to team pride.  Most players know that winning is more fun than losing, and most respond.  Particularly at the high school level and on elite youth league teams, non-response can bring the sort of reduced playing time that Rick Wolff has discussed on his show.  But coaches who demonstrate a pattern of demeaning, shaming, and name-calling simply do not belong among young people.

The “Real World”

We do not “wussify” America by commanding coaches and administrators to reject the timeworn excuse that adult bullying can help athletes and other children prepare for the “real world.” The excuse recalls Johnny Cash’s hit song, “A Boy Named Sue.” The father said this about why he named his son so oddly and thus targeted him for lifelong bullying: “Son, this world is rough/ And if a man’s gonna make it, he’s gotta be tough/ And I knew I wouldn’t be there to help ya along.”

In the real world, adults do not breed toughness by naming their sons Sue. Nor should parents, youth leagues, or school administrators tolerate coaches who believe that bullying boys and girls pays off on the scoreboard or later in life.

 

[Sources:  Nancy L. Swigonski et al., Bullying Behavior by Athletic Coaches, Pediatrics, vol. 133, p. e273 (Feb. 2014); Douglas E. Abrams, A Coordinated Public Response to School Bullying, in Our Promise: Achieving Educational Equity for America’s Children (2009),   http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1139038; Johnny Cash, A Boy Named Sue, http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/johnnycash/aboynamedsue.html

COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIPS: College Soccer Coaches Offering Scholarships to Girls in Middle School

The New York Times ran a big feature piece two weeks ago about how Division I soccer coaches are furiously recruiting girls at the middle school level, and offering them athletic scholarships even before they have started HS.

This is hard to believe, but then again, maybe it’s not. This kind of thing has  been going on for sometime with college basketball coaches chasing middle school players who happen to well over 6 feet tall. I also  hear this kind of recruiting craze is going on with talented lacrosse players as early as ninth and tenth grade.

But here’s the problem with girls soccer. Most college coaches recognize that there are only a certain number of highly talented female soccer players, and yet, there are more than 300 Division I soccer programs.

So, rather than wait — as the NCAA mandates – until the summer after the girl’s junior year in HS, the coaches are flocking to travel tournaments when the girls are still in middle school – and they offer these kids college scholarships. Why? Because there is a feeding frenzy from all the competitive college women’s soccer programs to sign up talent as soon as possible.

Now, the girls benefit because they have the security of having a college scholarship in hand even before they start ninth grade (I guess the college coaches don’t worry too much about SAT or ACT scores or high school transcripts). And their girls’ parents are ecstatic. After all, they can now sleep well, not having to worry about big tuition biils.

But pity the college coaches – they’re on the hook with these kids – even though they won’t be playing in college for another 4-5 years! And remember, these scholarship offers are binding on the college.

What does the NCAA make of all this? According to their handbook, college coaches are not allowed to reach out to HS soccer player until after their junior year. But the college coaches get around this by simply contacting the girl’s travel team or HS coach, let that coach know of their interest, and then the girl can then contact the college directly. And that’s just what happens.

So what’s the solution? Remember that the NCAA is always undermanned in terms of trying to enforce its rules. So maybe the time has come for the NCAA just to give up, that is, abolish these rules regarding recruiting and let the college coaches just go at it as they wish.

Sounds like a radical solution, to be sure. But maybe the time has come?

 

INNOVATI0N IN SPORTS: New Law Proposes Mandatory Doctors and/or Trainers at Football Games and Practices

New York City Councilman Stephen Levin announced a few days before the Super Bowl that he was going to introduce the Youth Football Safety Act, which would mandate that any youth football teams which play in New York City.

In effect, this legislation would stipulate a medical doctor would have to be in attendance at any game in the PSAL (Public HS School League), Catholic HS League, or Pop Warner leagues. In addition, any practice that has full contact cannot begin unless there is either a doctor or athletic trainer to monitor the entire practice.

In addition, the NYC Parks Department will not allow any tackle football games to take place unless the applying parties have confirmed the presence of a doctor and/or trainer.

Sounds like a great idea, Mr. Lavin. After all, we all agree that tackle football carries a great deal of potential physical harm and injury to our kids, and I think it’s fair to say that everyone -including parents, kids, and coaches  – would love to have a physician or athletic trainer on hand for practices and games.

There’s just one minor detail which I don’t think you addressed. And that’s the cost of this program, and more importantly, who’s going to pay for it.

The idea of having a doctor in attendance at games is not a new idea. I remember way back when I playing HS football in the late 1960s, you couldn’t start the football game unless a doctor was on the sidelines. And having a trainer at practices is also an old but smart idea.

The question has always been – who’s going to pick up the tab?

Maybe the NFL? What about the NCAA? A corporate sponsor? Don’t count on it. Chances are that, if this legislation goes through, the fees will have to be absorbed by the schools, or most likely, simply passed onto the parents. And these fees won’t necessarily be inexpensive.

In short, it’s a fine law….I just wish it came with some way to pay for all this extra medical attention without putting it on schools and parents.

COACHING TIPS: Why Aren’t There More Women Coaches at the Youth Level?

 

 

Women as Youth League Coaches

By Doug Abrams

 

In late October, the president of an upstate New York Little League baseball program wrote “10 Truly Frightening Aspects of Youth Sports,” a thoughtful op-ed article that appeared in a few regional newspapers. Aspect number eight was “the lack of female coaches” in youth leagues and high school programs.  The point was well taken. 

When youth leagues begin naming coaches for their spring teams soon, boards of directors will consider applications from parents and other adults whose experience equips them to serve as head coaches. The boards will also consider parents and other adults who may be better suited for assistant coaching positions because they lack background in X’s and 0’s, but can lead youngsters in tandem with the head coach.

The term “parents and other adults” here should include both men and women, but too often the term does not. In their advertisements and other outreach seeking qualified coaches, youth leagues should specify that both men and women may coach, but normally the leagues do not.  In It’s All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth Sports (2009), Michael A. Messner found that traditional expectations often push men and women in different directions, even when a woman brings years of game experience to the table. “The head coach—nearly always a man—is the leader and the public face of the team; the team parent—nearly always a woman—is working less visibly behind the scenes, doing the ‘housekeeping’ support work; assistant coaches—mostly men, but including the occasional woman—help the coach on the field during practices and games.”

These gender distinctions help shape coaching staffs, not only on boys teams, but also on girls teams and co-ed teams.  Messner questioned male coaches about the frequent channeling of women away from coaching to be the “team moms” who organize road trips, arrange for postgame snacks, and perform similar auxiliary chores. Most coaches answered sheepishly that they had never thought about informal channeling. Youth leagues need to think about it, however, not only because many women bring knowledge of the game that equals or exceeds the knowledge brought by many men, but also because playing for female coaches teaches boys and girls lessons about appropriate gender roles in our society.

Knowledge of the Game

More than 40 years after Congress enacted Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the nation now has a generation of young and middle-aged women whose experience playing sports rivals the experience of their male counterparts. Like many men their age, many women have plenty to teach boys and girls.

Boards of directors do youth leaguers no favor by naming an inexperienced head coach instead of an applicant who is experienced in the game. Boards serve players best by assembling a coaching talent pool as large as possible, and not by artificially restricting the size of the pool.  Leagues fail in this basic mission when they exclude or tacitly discourage women, or send subtle cues that disparage women who wish to coach. 

The effects of artificial restriction do not end with head coaching slots.  On nearly all the youth hockey teams I have seen in recent years, the coaching staffs included one or more inexperienced or less experienced male assistants, including ones who knew little about the game until their children enrolled. Most of these assistants worked well with the head coach, did a fine job, and made a positive difference for the players.  Many moved from assistant coaching to head coaching after gaining experience, confidence and public exposure for a year or more.

In early 2012, I wrote about five core duties that assistant coaches can perform on a youth team. They can help conduct practice sessions, offer support and leadership on the bench during games, help supervise the team on and off the field, advise the head coach, and monitor the pulse of the team’s parents. Female assistant coaches can perform these duties, and many others, as well as men can.

Gender Roles

Youth leagues teach youngsters not only fundamentals and skills, but also lifelong citizenship lessons.  These citizenship lessons can include ones about appropriate gender roles. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette urges leagues to “acclimate all kids to women coaches from a young age. . . . Creating a new normal that features a more diverse mix of men and women coaching Little League teams and Pop Warner football squads would help change assumptions that tend to form early. Grades schools and high schools should create incentives that encourage women teachers to take up coaching more broadly. And recreational leagues should . . . [go] after the right coach, not the right gender.”

 

As the Post-Gazette recommends, youth sports programs can influence boys and girls who will work in gender-neutral settings throughout their adult lives. About 30 million American youngsters play in organized sports programs each year, and nearly all children play in at least one program before turning eighteen. Outside the home and schools, no other activity reaches so many children. In a nation that believes that athletic competition teaches valuable lessons that extend beyond the playing field, youth sports programs hold special potential to help shape the attitudes of boys and girls about gender equality in the 21st century. 

 

Behavioralists and child psychologists continue to debate the relative influence of biology and social environment on children’s attitudes about gender roles. But these professionals generally agree that, depending on the context, “nature” and “nurture” can each affects socialization.  Girls perceive a female coach as a role model who can influence their own lives, and boys learn when they experience a woman in a leadership position. One recent researcher is right that “when females occupy coaching positions it provides evidence, for boys and girls, that women can succeed and be powerful.” 

The nation will be better off if children learn this lesson while they are young.  Children are more apt to learn when sports programs appoint (as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette advises) “the right coach, not the right gender,” and then support every coach.

 

 

[Sources: Greg Kamp, Ten Truly Frightening Aspects of Youth Sports, Penfield (N.Y.) Post, October 31, 2013); Michael A. Messner, It’s All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth Sports (2009); Matthew J.X. Malady, Why Don’t Any Women Coach Big-Time Men’s Sports? And Why Don’t We Care?, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 7, 2012; Nicole M. LaVoi, Occupational Sex Segregation In a Youth Soccer Organization: Females In Positions of Power, Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, vol. 18, p. 25 (Sept. 2009)]

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: Wall Street Journal Study Says Fewer Kids are Playing Sports

It was a front-page story that ran in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal. According to some national studies, the Journal concluded that in all the four most popular sports in the country – football, soccer, baseball, and basketball —  the enrollment of kids ages 6-17 was done 4% from 2008 to 2012,

Knowing that millions of kids play sports in this country, that’s a fairly hefty number of youngsters not playing sports. Especially when the overall popular of kids 6-17 in the US during that time frame dropped only 0.6%.

So, the obvious question is why? Is it because of the growing alarm regarding concussions? Well, perhaps. Except that concussions didn’t become an urgent issue until last year, so that wouldn’t necessarily explain the drop starting in 2008.

Is it too much specialization at an early age, leading to burnout? Yes, that could be a part of the issue as well. Kids do tire of playing the same sport all-year round, and many do quit when they’re 12 or 13.

But in my opinion, the real culprit here is the diminishing amount of joy and fun that kids are taking away from sports. That is, we all talk about fun being the top priority for boys and girls in sports, but I think we’re finally seeing the diminishing lack of fun catching up to our kids.

In other words, when kids today realize at a tender age — maybe 9 or 10 – that they are not destined to be a star on the team, they begin to ask themselves whether all the time and effort that they put into the team is really worth the effort. Kids today have so many ways to utilize their spare time, whether it be doing stuff online or getting a job to make some money, that they really ask themselves whether it’s really a big deal or not if they quit sports. Especially if they don’t make a travel team, they often conclude that just to be a guy on the team, or a bench player, doesn’t really mean anything to them. And so they walk away.

Especially in a day and age where kids and obesity are a real issue, this is not a good trend. I have read several studies that today’s generation of children may be the first generation to have a shorter life-span that the generation before it. In short, our kids aren’t in shape – and the theory goes that if they played more sports right through HS, then they would benefit, both physically and mentally.

In short, while fun is always to be a driving part of sports, if kids don’t feel they’re enjoying themselves, the do end up quitting. This is not good.

From my perspective, the time has come to finally re-examine how youth, travel, and HS sports are run in this country.  For years I have campaigned for some sort of national or federal commission to oversee kids in sports. Maybe this study from the WSJ will finally set the wheels in motion to do this.