Archive for March, 2014

COACHES WHO CHEAT: Holding Coaches Accountable for Their Actions

Every coach I have ever had – whether at the elementary youth level, middle school, high school, college, or professional – has always hammered home the theme of “do the right thing…..be a man….hold yourself accountable for your actions.”

It is so basic and fundamental a theme in sports that it’s hard to comprehend how some coaches don’t seem to get it.

Witness the recent mess with Manhattan College men’s basketball coach Steve Masiello. No question that the 36-year-old Masiello has had great success at Manhattan over the last three years, culminating with the Jaspiers winning an invitation to the NCAA tournament this year.

The University of South Florida noticed, and offered Masiello a contract for five years for $5 million. Masiello agreed to take the job. USF then did a perfunctory background check on Masiello and found that he never graduated from the Univ. of Kentucky, even though Masiello said he did on his resume and on his bio on the Manhattan College website.

USF has a policy that no one can be on their faculty unless they have a college degree. They then informed Masiello that they were rescinding thier offer.

Manhattan College, which apparently did not vet Masiello’s  background when they hired him a few years ago, has now put him “on leave” as they try and figure out what to do with him. That is, do they bring him back as the coach, even though he jumped (or wanted to jump) to USF? Do they fire him for lying about his non-existent college degree? Or do they tell him to take some time off, do the right thing, finish up his degree, and then come back?

Sounds to me like a no-brainer as to what to do. But it’s now more than a week since the story unfolded and Manhattan doesn’t seem in a hurry to make Masiello do the right thing. Nor has he said anything that would suggest that he wants to do the right thing.

Hmm.

And here’s the stunning part. More and more, college coaches seem to not do their homework about their bio. About 13 years ago, George O’Leary was hired as the head football coach at Notre Dame until a local sportswriter in New Hampshire found out that O’Leary had embellished and exaggerated his playing career at the Univ. of New Hampshire, and that he claimed to have a Master’s degree from NYU when he didn’t.

Tom Williams, the head football coach at Yale a few years ago, claimed he was in the running for a Rhodes Scholarship when, in fact, he hadn’t even applied. At least Williams did the right thing: he resigned from Yale.

And then Eddie Jordan who starred at Rutgers some years ago and now is its head basketball coach, had to come clean and admit that he too did not graduate. But Jordan had the right solution: he’s still coaching the team, but also taking courses at Rutgers to finish up.

That, to me, is the best solution for Masiello. Take a page from Jordan’s playbook. Just apologize for the misleading bio, enroll in some college courses, and finish up and get your degree.

But first, you gotta do the right thing, Coach.

COACHING TIPS: Should You Coach Your Own Child?

It’s one of the first questions that most sports parents have to confront: Is it a good – or bad – idea to volunteer to coach your own son or daughter on a youth team?

To me, in my experience, this is always a good thing…BUT you have to be aware of some of the pitfalls that may await you. After all, there’s a tremendous chance to not only bond with your child, but also to share a wonderful experience that will last two lifetimes – yours, and his or hers.

But there are some ground rules: First off, you should always approach your youngster several weeks before the season begins, and ask them if they would like you to coach their team. Most of the time they will be thrilled and excited, but if they show concern, then take that concern seriously. That is, if they really would prefer that you NOT coach them, then respect their feelings and abide by them.

 But for now, let’s assume they are excited to have you as their coach.

 NO FAVORITISM/NEPOTISM

Make sure you explain to them you can’t show them any favoritism. That they are to call you Coach on the field instead of Mom or Dad. And explain to them they can’t expect any special favors from you regarding playing time or playing their favorite position. It’s important that they understand this before the first practice begins.

And of course, make sure you live by that rule of non-favoritism. Why? Because every other parent on the team will assume you ARE going to give you kid more playing time than the others…that you will put them on the All-Star team…and that you will give them the best position to play.

 In other words, you have to work hard to show the other Moms and Dads that you are NOT playing favorites with your own child.

THE ONE-PAGE HANDOUT

At the very first practice of the season, you should have a ONE-PAGE handout that goes through the basics, including the complete schedule, the practice times, and all of your contact info, including the team or league’s website.

Here’s a tip: at the very end of the sheet, instruct the parents to email you their contact information. In that way, you’ll know whether they actually read the entire hand-out.

AVOID HAVING LOTS OF RULES 

DO NOT have all sorts of rules and regulations. That’s not necessary. Just remind the kids and their parents of three things: to always be on time for practices and games…to represent the team at all times in a positive manner…and to always live up to the expectations of sportsmanship.

Don’t worry about listing punishments if they break these rules. That’s not necessary, and besides, you never want to pinned down by having to hand out a certain punishment. (For example, if you have a punishment that any child who is late for a game will sit out for most of the game, what do you when it turns out the child and their parent stopped to help out the victim of a traffic accident enroute to the game?) In other words, don’t get pinned down by having set punishments.

 But that being said, if a kid or one of their parents breaks one of the rules, you along with the other coaches can determine a reasonable and suitable punishment.  Just let the punishment reasonably fit the crime. 

Suggestion: I’m a big fan of the written essay. That is, rather than having a kid run laps or carry the equipment bag as a punishment, if you really want to drive home the significance of their errant action, tell them to write a one or two page essay within a week that explains why what they did was wrong. Make it clear that they will not practice or play in a game until you have the essay and that it’s acceptable to you.

 Trust me, they will hate doing the essay – but they won’t break the rules again.

 LET’S MOVE BEHIND YELLING AND SCREAMING

Are you a yeller and screamer? If you are, it’s time to change your ways.

Kids today will respond maybe once or twice to your screaming, but after that you will lose all impact with them. They respond much better to praise and a smile.

Kids today want, expect, and demand praise….anger and shouting will only have the impact of DE-MOTIVATING  them from wanting to play for you.

So, how do you praise children? First, put a smile on your face. Second, walk up to every kid during practice or a game, and make sure you give them some specific positive feedback.

 It’s not enough to say, “Way to go, Sammy” Rather, you have to say “Sam, you made a terrific defensive play in that first half…that was a great steal” In other words, BE SPECIFIC in your praise! And do it in front of the entire team. Let the kid feel really good about him or herself for a few moments.

 POST-GAME TALKS

What do you say after the game – especially when they lose.

Let’s say your team loses. As the coach, you’re going to be tempted to go into lecture mode, and spend at least 10-15 minutes going over every detail of the game and what your team did wrong that day.

Just forget that approach. Hang on to your end-of-game notes for the next practice. But when the game ends, just bring your team together, tell them that they played hard, but it just wasn’t their day to prevail.

 Consciously keep your remarks under a minute. Make sure everybody is okay and healthy. And then send them on their way with a smile.

 That’s it….lecture them on their mistakes at the next practice.

 Understand this: kids have very short attention spans, and they really don’t want to sit and listen to you after the game is over. Their minds are already thinking about their next activity is.

If you make the mistake of lecturing them, and pointing out their mistakes, or how disappointed you are in their performance, they will tune you in about 15 seconds.

AVOID THE PGA

Be very careful not to get in the family mini-van on the way home and lecture your child on how he or she played. I call that the PGA – the “Post-Game Analysis” — and it’s important to avoid. Too many parents feel that it’s the perfect time to go over what their child did in the game, and especially the parts where they could improve their skills while it’s still fresh in their head.

That actually is the worst time to talk to your child about the game. On the way home, just be a positive and totally supportive parent/coach. If you do want to discuss the game, just pick out a particular play in which they did well. Focus on the positive – leave the “constructive criticism” for tomorrow or the next day.

COPING WITH BAD BEHAVIOR

What if a kid is being argumentative or is disruptive or unsportsmanslike?

As the coach, just give them a time-out. Remember, the only power you have over the kids is that you determine who gets in the game. So if a kid is acting up, or is out of control, you just tell them to come over and stand on the sidelines with you. Especially if it’s YOUR kid who is acting up. Again, no special favors. And they remain there on the sidelines until they become contrite and understand what they did was wrong.

Once you are convinced they are sincere,  you can then let them get back into the game.

WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER PARENTS?

I happen to be a believer that coaches can be approached by parents.

 I know there are some coaches who tell the Moms and Dads don’t bother me – if your kid has a concern, let them come talk with me.

But I still feel that coaching is very much part of education, and if a parent has a concern for their child, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to approach the coach.

 Now that being said, there are indeed a few parents who will abuse that. They will try and call you or email you endlessly or they’ll wait until after each practice or game to talk with you.

To counteract this kind of obsessive parent, just lay out some ground rules as to when is the best time and way to contact you. For example, email is best….or if you want, tell them to come talk to you after practice as you will wait for 10-15 minutes, tops.

 And when they do talk to you, just listen….DO NOT get into an argument.

 Let them say their piece…hold your tongue. You may absolutely 100 percent disagree with their evaluation of their child’s abilities, or how they are telling you to run the team’s offense, but remember, they see their child as the center of their universe, and they want to be able to go home and tell their family how they had the courage to talk with the coach. That makes them feel good.

 Now, that being said, DO NOT make any promises. Just thank the parent for coming by and talking with you, and that you will take their thoughts and comments under advisement. That’s all you have to say.

 DO NOT make any promises. Don’t even say, “Let me see what I can do…” because that will be interpreted as a promise.

THE FIRST RULE OF COACHING IS THE GOLDEN RULE

What’s the bottom line if you coach your child’s team? Just follow the Golden Rule. 

That is, you need to treat your players in the much the same way you would want any other coaches to treat your child.

Always think about that Rule first, and it will help insure that you, your child, and the rest of the kids will come away with a positive team experience.

 

 

 

 

 

INNOVATIONS IN SPORTS: The International Power of Silence in Sports

 

The Sounds of Silence

By Doug Abrams

 

For a few years now, a county-wide youth soccer association has tried various measures to control what a local newspaper calls “pushy parents and mouthy” coaches on its approximately 200 teams.  Nothing has worked. Even at the youngest age levels, games feature “parents verbally abusing their own children,” and “parents fighting and swearing at referees and young players” from the sidelines. Some coaches also step over the edge.    

Parents and coaches prone to verbal abuse, fighting and swearing are not the soccer association’s only “adult problem.” Earlier this month, a U-13 girls team coach told the local paper that, often with good intentions, some loud parents simply “take the game too seriously and it’s frightening the pressure they put their children under.” “We want parents, parents and adults to stay quiet, stop shouting and let the kids play,” says one association officer.

The youth soccer association’s latest effort to influence the behavior of parents and coaches was a “Silent Weekend” two weeks ago. Not much news here because “Silent Saturdays” and “Silent Sundays” have been with us for about 15 years. Ever since a suburban Cleveland, Ohio youth soccer association conducted a “Silent Saturday” in the late 1990s, leagues have tried the concept throughout the United States, particularly in sports such as soccer and basketball where no physical barrier separates boisterous, and sometimes belligerent, spectators from the game. Usually one game a season is designated as “silent.” 

The “Silent Weekend” earlier this month was different, however, because the local association, the Lancashire Football Association, is British and not American. (Lancashire is about 200 miles northwest of London.)  Nearly all Lancashire soccer clubs, from U-7 to U-16, participated.

Daily Telegraph columnist Jim White explained the ground rules: “[F]or one match at least, parents, spectators and coaches had to remain silent. . ., restricting their noise to applause in the event of a goal. The only people who were allowed to utter a sound were the players themselves, who could shout as much as they wished.”  

The weekend’s result on local playing fields? According to White, “a clatter quite unlike that which can be heard in similar places . . . every Saturday and Sunday. It was the sound of children’s voices; piping, clear and undisturbed by adult bellowing.” “Glorious,” he called it, a glimpse at the way kids played on sandlots and playgrounds before their games became “adultified” in the late 1960s.

The Lancashire Football Association does not expect overnight miracles from its Silent Weekend. But the association does hope that demonstrating an alternative, a silent game might lead parents and coaches to moderate overbearing behavior that it says induces players and referees to quit, discourages teens from training as referees, and stunts the development of players who do take the field.

Depressurizing the Games

For associations willing to try an innovative effort at positive change, “silent” games once or twice a season make sense because they teach adults and children that there might be a better way to conduct organized youth games. Perhaps when parents and coaches who see the difference between business-as-usual and greater self-restraint, they might loosen the reins on the players and, as silent-game supporter Cal Ripken Jr. puts it, “depressurize the games.”

Occasional silent games can actually enhance players’ skills development because kids (like adults) learn best by doing, and not simply by listening.  A columnist reported that during Silent Sunday in one central Illinois youth soccer association last year, “[l]eaders emerged on some of the teams and you could see the players understand some of the concepts they had been taught in practice.  The players were free to figure out what worked, and what didn’t.” 

At the same time, however, once-a-year silent games can resemble Band-Aids, which may stanch bloodletting without actually treating the injury below the surface. If youth sports associations wish civility to coexist with spirited competition, they must do more than simply designate one game each year as “silent,” before parents and coaches resume their old ways the next game.

The most effective way to encourage what Ripken calls “depressurized games” is systemic change that produces a wholesome environment week in and week out. Like other organizations, youth sports associations develop cultures over time. Some associations tolerate or encourage adult misconduct and belligerence, and others stress responsible self-restraint and positive cheering from adults whose children try their best to win as they master the skills of the game. A wholesome group culture outlasts one day’s enforced silence.

Associations must also discipline the small minority of parents and coaches who cross the line during non-silent games. Codes of conduct are mere words on paper, and words to not enforce themselves.    

“These Sports Are All I Have”

Judging from newspaper coverage over the years, “silent” games meet with mixed reactions.  Some parents and coaches tell reporters that, even if only for one game, they favor letting players take charge of their own teams, free from distractions from the bench and stands. Adults who resent enforced silence, however, say that passionate parental involvement, and passionate coaching instruction, are central to the youth sports experience. Some players welcome freedom from loud adults, but other players say that they miss vocal support from their parents and coaches.

Former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Mark Knudson finds it “hard to argue with the concept of ‘Silent Saturday.’” It’s one game a season,” he reasons, “and it provides a lesson that could be taken to heart. The kids should be able to play the game without being shouted down and chastised for making a mistake.”  “The problem,” Knudson adds, “is that we as adults shouldn’t have to be told to behave ourselves at sporting events. It should go without saying that we don’t scream at the kids from the stands and expect them to play better just to make us look good.”

Opposition persists, however. In 2012, for example, the Pauls Valley (Okla.) Recreation Board debated whether to schedule one or two Silent Saturdays during its youth basketball season. One mother vehemently objected because “these sports are all that I have to cheer for my kids.”

The mother’s objection reminds me of a scene from “Coach Carter,” the 2005 drama starring Samuel L. Jackson as Ken Carter, the Richmond (Calif.) High School basketball coach who drew national attention in 1999 by benching his undefeated team, padlocking the gym doors, and threatening to cancel games because the players were failing their academic courses. 

Richmond’s principal ordered Carter to resume the season because basketball is all the players had.  “I think that’s the problem,” responded the coach.   

 

[Sources: Enjoy Football and the Sound of Silence, Blackpool Gazette (Britain), Mar. 10, 2014; Lancashire Football Parents Urged to Stay Quiet During “Silent Weekend,” Lancashire Telegraph (Britain), Feb. 19, 2014; Gary Sawyer, Players Learn Nuances of Soccer During Silent Sunday, The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.), Apr. 14, 2013, p. C3; Ezra Mann, “Silent Saturday on Hold,” Pauls Valley (Okla.) Daily Democrat, Jan. 23, 2012; Cal Ripken Jr., Together, Parents Can Set Limits on Unruly Adults, Baltimore Sun, Nov, 27, 2007 p. 1N; Mark Knudson, “Silent Saturday” Teaches Some Valuable Lessons, Fort Collins Coloradan, Feb. 25, 2007]

INNOVATIONS IN SPORTS: Preventing ACL Injuries in Female Athletes

Just a quick medical tip for those sports parents who have daughters who play sports.

According to a number of medical studies, female athletes suffer anywhere from 4 to 7 times more ACL tears than their male counterparts do. Many Moms and Dads aren’t aware of this painful reality, but it’s true.

That sounds not only extremely unfair, but also exaggerated. But it’s not. These days, it’s rare to go watch a girls’ HS varsity or travel team soccer game or lacrosse match or basketball game and not see any number of girls sporting knee braces. Sadly, it’s just become commonplace.

Why are women so much more prone to these injuries? It has to do with the way they are put together, in terms of their pelvis, legs, and knees. That is, it’s just the way women are physically structured.

But here’s the good news. There is more and more research coming forth that girls can do a lot to actually prevent these devastating injuries. To that end, I would strongly suggest you pick up a copy of a book entitled The ACL Solution by Dr. Robert Marx of the prestigious Hospital for Special Surgery in NYC.

Dr. Marx points to a number of exercises that girls can and should do before every practice and game that will strengthen the muscles around the knee. If you can’t find a copy of the book in your local bookstore, I would urge you to order a copy from either Amazon or BN.com.

INNOVATION IN SPORTS: Backyard Sports Eliminates Parental Pressures on Kids

Several years ago, Danny Bernstein, a former HS and college athlete, decided that he like what his own kids were going through in youth sports. Too much pressure on the kids to succeed, too many coaches pushing on the kids to excel. The element of fun had been squeezed out of the youth sports experience.

So Bernstein decided to do something to change the youth sports culture. He remembered  how, as a kid himself, he used to go in the backyard with his buddies and play pick up games. No parents. No refs. No pressures. In short, Bernstein launched a venture called Backyard Sports, programs in which kids receive instruction from independent coaches (e.g. not volunteer parents), and then the kids play competitive games, but where the parents are not encouraged to watch. The parents hear the squeaks of kids sneakers and the squeaks of sneakers – and best of all, they hear the kids laughing and yes – having fun!

This approach has two advantages: one, the kids receive instruction from coaches who are trained in their sport, and who do not put any pressure on the kids to succeed or live up to expectations, and two, when the games begin, the kids basically monitor themselves. As Bernstein points out, kids learn how to assert themselves when left to their own playing situations. Leadership skills suddenly develop. Kids let their talents flow.

Plus there’s no worry about living up to Mom and Dad’s expectations (remember, at most youth games, the parents often shout out instructions from the sidelines on when to pass, or when to shoot, and so on. In Backyard Sports, kids enjoy the freedom to improvise during the game, try new things, and never have to worry about being reprimanded by a coach.

It sounds a reversal back to the good ol’ days. And it’s working well. If you like more information, I would encourage you to check out the website for Backyard Sports  at Byardsports.com.

 

LEGAL CONCERNS: Boy is Cut from HS Hoops Team for Having Long Hair and Then Sues

The boy was a proud member of the Greensburg HS varsity basketball team. Problem was, the head coach informed the young man that the team had a strict policy about hair length and maintaining a clean cut image, and that unless he cut his hair, he would be off the team.

The boy protested. He pointed out that there were no such rules for the other varsity boys’ teams at the HS, and certainly no such hair-length rules applied to the girls’ teams. The boy felt so strongly about his dismissal from the team due to this unwritten rule that he and his parents decided to file a lawsuit against the school district based upon sexual discrimination. That is, you can’t have a hair-length rule for boys and not for girls.

Sure enough, just last week the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh District agreed with the boy. The court ruled in favor of him, and along the way, rejected the school district’s argument that it was merely following the mandates of famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden who always demanded uniformity in appearance for his players.

There was a time many years ago when male athletes with long hair would have been kicked off varsity teams, just because the coach didn’t like their look. But as sports and society have evolved, we have evolved past these silly concerns. So long as the long hair doesn’t pose some sort of health problem, a school district or a coach really shouldn’t be interfering with an athlete’s personal appearance. That kind of stuff is just silly.  PS – the boy left Greensburg HS and transferred to another HS in Indiana. He’s now a 6-2 junior guard at a school which doesn’t have a policy on hair length – -and guess what – the boy now sports a short hair cut.

OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: Why (Young) Refs Are Walking Away

 

More Troubling News About Abuse of Referees

By Doug Abrams

 

Last week, a newspaper reported about a local youth soccer league that is “suffering a severe shortage of referees because too many are dropping out due to abuse from the sidelines.” The paper identified the usual abusers – parents and coaches.  One U-13 coach emphasized that the league’s referee shortage is “by no means caused by the majority” of adults, but rather by “‘a few bad apples’ who are capable of ruining” games for everyone else.

The “bad apples” spare no referees, not even teens whom the local youth soccer league recruits and trains to replace adults who are unwilling to absorb further harassment. “While there is a long-term shortage of adult referees,” says the league, “it is the younger kids subjected to abuse . . . who are regularly dropping out” because they “are put off by the harassment.”

A “Parental Cultural Revolution”

This is not another newspaper story about how verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse has saddled many United States youth leagues with a chronic referee shortage. This story appeared on the other side of the Atlantic in the Gloucestershire Echo, a British daily newspaper based in Cheltenham, about 100 miles from London.

Barely five months have passed since former British international soccer star Gary Lineker called for a “parental cultural revolution” in that nation’s youth soccer leagues to stem “the abuse [and] damage” that he has seen parents inflict on their children at all levels of play. “Who cares who wins an under-eights game?,” Lineker asked in the New Statesman magazine. If parents would just “let their children enjoy themselves, you would be staggered at the difference it would make.”

The Echo article and Lineker’s public call remind us that no one nation holds a monopoly on verbal abuse leveled by parents and coaches. Teen referees remain frequent targets. Last November, for example, CBC News (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) ran a story under the headline, Teen Hockey Refs Quitting Over Verbal Abuse. The vice president of the Saskatchewan Referees Association explained why so many teens in that province refuse to officiate games in the younger age groups. “I go the rink all the time and supervise,” he said, 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 Sunshine Coast Daily (Queensland, Australia) wrote about a father who watched his son, a 14-year-old soccer referee, absorb verbal abuse from an adult spectator and then, in the next game, from a coach who accused the boy of bias. “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.”  

In the last year alone here in the United States, 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 whether the few dollars he earns from officiating is worth enduring abuse from parents and coaches who “will do whatever they can to win.”

We should not dismiss news reports such as these by rationalizing that only a few “bad apples” cross the line into incivility or violence. Most adults do behave decently at their children’s games, but I suspect that media coverage alone understates the number of troublemakers. Many readers of this column have doubtlessly witnessed abuse of teen officials that never reached the local papers because the incidents seem so commonplace that they are not newsworthy now that the youth sports bar is often set so low.

The Greater Problem

In soccer and other sports, the influx of teen officials itself signals dysfunction grounded in adult misbehavior. Rather than risk having to cancel or reschedule games for lack of officials, many youth leagues here in the United States recruit teens to replace adults who quit from disgust with abusive parents and coaches. In my last few years coaching 9-10-year-old squirt hockey teams, I cannot recall seeing a referee over the age of about fifteen, except occasionally in the playoffs.  Frequently teen referees soon quit too, once they or their parents grow fed up with parents and coaches who may tag the adolescents as easier marks for harassment than adult officials.

Who Suffers Most?

When the referee ranks grow thin, the ultimate losers are the young players themselves. The Cheltenham soccer league’s chief referee told the Echo that “10 games a week on average are played without a referee” because he cannot staff the games but wishes to avoid outright cancelation.

The steady exodus of officials can also directly increase risk of injury. “To be effective for promoting safety,” says a recent medical study, a sport’s rules “must be enforced rigorously and consistently by referees and leagues.” The American Academy of Pediatrics says that “[o]fficials controlling the physicality of thegame . . . can . . . play significant roles in reducing contact injuries.”

Particularly in contact or collision sports at older age levels, this essential control can suffer when so many veteran officials hang up their whistles each year. Many replacement officials are less experienced and frequently unable to keep up with a fast-paced game. But for the veteran officials’ departure, many of the replacements would not be on the field in the first place.

When parents and coaches complain about dangers in games overseen by less experienced officials, the adults need to look hard at their own incivility. Parents and coaches often get the officiating they deserve, and their children pay the price.

“The Diminishing Lack of Fun”

The steady exodus of experienced referees is one symptom of a more serious disease. Early last month, Rick Wolff discussed a front-page Wall Street Journal article that reported that enrollment in the nation’s four most popular youth sports (football, baseball, soccer and basketball) declined 4% from 2008 to 2012. Rick perceptively suggested that the prime reason is “the diminishing amount of joy and fun that kids are taking away from sports.”

Gary Lineker likewise argues that “pushy parents screaming abuse from the sidelines are killing their kids’ love of” soccer. Do we doubt that many overbearing parents and coaches who publicly abuse referees – other people’s children — also take the joy and fun of sports away from their own children?

 

[Sources: Harassment Must Stop Says League As Referee Numbers Drop, Gloucestershire Echo, Mar. 4, 2014, p. 45; Gary Lineker, Pushy Parents Screaming Abuse From the Sidelines Are Killing Their Kids’ Love of Football, New Statesman, Oct. 24, 2013; Doug Abrams, More Disturbing News About Adult Abuse of Teen Officials, http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2013/12/17/obnoxious-sports-parents-taking-ones-frustrations-teenage-refs/; Doug Abrams, How Adults’ Abuse of Officials Endangers Player Safety, http://askcoachwolff.com/2011/06/16/how-adults-abuse-of-officials-endangers-player-safety/; Rick Wolff, Wall Street Journal Says Fewer Kids are Playing Sports, http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2014/02/02/sports-parenting-trends-wall-street-journal-study-says-fewer-kids-playing-sports/ (Feb. 2, 2014)]

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: A Candid Talk about The Pressures of Youth Ice Hockey

I had the pleasure of talking youth ice hockey with Doug Abrams this AM on my radio show. Now, normally, I have Doug on — who’s on the faculty at teh Univ of Missouri School of Law – to discuss legal aspects regarding sports parenting — and he and our colleague Steve Kallas are just terrific – but for some time I have wanted to discuss in some detail the mindset of Hockey Moms and Dads with Doug.

Traditionally, because of the high cost, time commitment, and extreme pressure for playing time in games, ice hockey has always been regarded as one of the most volatile youth sports. Sure, parents go nuts at soccer games, hasketball games, Little League, and so on, but hockey has always held a “special” place when it comes to Moms and Dads wanting to make sure their little one is on the fast track in the hockey world.

Doug and I immediately focused on the travel team element in youth hockey. Because rink time is so limited, it seems that those kids who are good enough to make the local travel team at age 8 are the ones who quickly are absorbed into the elite travel world. That encompasses a season that lasts from Labor Day right up to mid-March, and in some cases, even longer. Practices are twice a week, and games are on Saturday and Sunday. And since rink rental is pricey, the cost of practice time, coaches salaries, equipment, insurance, and so on usually easily puts the price tag around $2,000 to $3,000. And that doesn’t include the cost of gas to and from games and practices, or meals or hotels on the road.

To me, that’s why parents tend to get very emotional if, during the games, their youngster is on the third line and doesn’t always get enough ice time like the other players. Coaches will often tell parents at the beginning of the season that “everybody will get equal playing time” but too often as the pressures to win over the long season build, too many coaches start to play the better players more often than the developing kids. That’s a problem for parents.

In fact, I recently read where there’s a new app available where parents can actually track their kids’ on-ice time. Sounds silly, but it’s quickly becoming a popular app.

In any event, Doug, who grew up on Long Island in the 1960s and who went onto become a stellar goalie at Wesleyan University (he even held the record for many years in Div. III for most saves in a game with 64), pointed out that when he was a kid, parents at hockey games were never an issue. It’s only in the more recent years where parents have become a much vocal (and a disturbing) presence at their kids’ games.

Doug who coached youth hockey for decades after his own collegiate career, has been recognized numerous times for his contribution to the sport including being honored by USA Hockey, fully understands how the game has gone in a different direction.

He points out how the gradual shift from “having fun” to “we gotta win” took place, and with this shift, the sport of ice hockey has changed dramatically. Doug pointed out in Bobby Orr’s recent blockbuster bestseller, Orr wrote that too many local hockey programs forget to recognize that the vast majority of kids who play hockey are average. Orr says that’s the definition of average — most kids are average players.

That doesn’t mean average players don’t enjoy playing the game less. It just means that their playing careers should be enjoyed for the moment. Planning about getting to the next level and the pro’s is far-fetched. Just go out and enjoy the game. That’s what Bobby Orr’s Dad told him, and it certainly work for Orr.

One of the callers this AM was from a gentleman who recalled seeing Doug play hockey when Doug was in HS. Both the caller and Doug recollected how the game then was much more fun, that the coaches were gracious and kind, and the parents had better things to do than watch their kids play youth sports.

What a nice memory!