Archive for April, 2014

COACHING TIPS: Are the Days of Yelling and Screaming Over?

Absolutely fascinating discussion this AM on “The Sports Edge” on WFAN Sports Radio. The subject? Have we reached a juncture where coaches who rely upon screaming and yelling have become, well, outdated?

The opinons poured in from callers. Among the highlights:

> “Coaches need to be able to raise their voice in order to motivate kids today. It’s a traditional and standard way of getting kid to play at a higher level.”

> “Coaches these days have to learn how to tailor their motivational techniques — that is, they need to which of the players can  handle in-your-face yelling, and which players can’t handle that.”

> “Yelling/screaming tends to be more of a cultural or even regional phenomenon. That is, kids from more affluent backgrounds tend not to respond well to loud coaches. Kids from more modest backgrounds are just the opposite, and do respond well.”

> “I need to raise my voice in practice sessions because, quite honesty, there’s so much surrouding noise that the kids can’t hear me otherwise.”

> “I tell kids and even apologize to them if I raise my voice during a game.”

I even chimed in and reminded listeners that perhaps the greatest coach – and motivator – of all time, John Wooden, never raised his voice. If a player didn’t respond to his coaching expectations, Wooden would simply not play him. No need for harsh or loud language.

I also volunteered that I never particularly enjoyed playing for loud coaches, nor did I find their words to be especially motivational. I always worked hard in practice and in games, and didn’t think I needed the coach to push me harder. Nor did I want my kids to play for a loud, screaming coach.

For me personally, I felt those in-your-face methods weren’t very effective. If anything, it just humiliated the kids rather than excite them. In short, it was counter-productive coaching.

The bottom line is, of course, that there’s straightforward or easy answer. But one thing is for sure – coaching techniques are indeed changing with the times, and for the most part, those “old school” coaches who like to shout and scream had better be prepared to find another way to communicate with and inspire their teams.


HS CODE OF CONDUCT: A Possible Solution to the Conflict between School Vacations and Varsity Games

On my radio show last Sunday, when we talked about the perennial conflicts between school/family vacations and varsity games/practices, the calls ranged all over the lot. Some folks felt that family vacations come first…others argued that being on a varsity team is a privilege not to be abused.

But by the end of the hour, one call seemed to stand out. Dave Miller, who has been the long-time and highly successful coach at Smithtown West HS on Long Island, chimed in with his approach. In short, he makes the players who want to try out for the varsity sign an agreement the preceding fall — long before the tryouts begin in the spring. He also has the kid’s parents sign the contract as well, just so there’ no misunderstanding. A copy of Coach Miller’s “contract” is published below.

Controversial? Too extreme? Well, Coach Miller reports that by taking this kind of pro-active approach well in advance of the spring tryouts AND he lets the girls know what’s at stake, he hasn’t encountered many issues in recent years.

Is this right, or only, solution? That I don’t know. And I’m the first to admit there are all sorts of complications and other concerns concerning this issue. It’s a thorny problem.

But at least Coach Miller has found a way that works for him and the girls in his softball program – that is, let everybody know well in advance what his policy is and what’s at stake.


To: Varsity, JV softball

candidates and your family

From: Coach Miller

 On behalf of the coaches, I would like to welcome you to Smithtown West Softball. We hope you find your experience enjoyable and rewarding.

 The history of our softball program speaks for itself. We are playoff participants every year and we have an outstanding reputation with college coaches for having one of the elite programs on Long Island. Many of our players advance on to play college ball. The reasons we have been so successful are because our players know what it takes to be a winner AND they are willing to do whatever is required to achieve our goals.

 In order for us to continue our success, you should be aware that by being a part of our program requires a major commitment and that sacrifices will have to be made by you and your family. It will be necessary to make softball your major priority before other things in your life. This may be difficult for some of you. However, I cannot emphasize strongly enough that in order for you to develop as a player and for the team to succeed, you must make these adjustments.

 If for any reason you feel that you will be unable to fulfill your obligations, you should reconsider your decision to tryout for Varsity. Be aware that you are making a 12-week commitment to our program. Being a member of the Varsity requires that you honor your obligations to your team and teammates. You are expected to be at practice daily and at each game. Please understand that we are being as fair and honest with you as we can. You should also be aware that no player will be considered for Varsity if you are away during spring break.

 I would like to address the role of the JV. A JV prepares players for Varsity participation.

Playing on a JV does not guarantee Varsity selection. It is possible for someone to play 2 or 3 years on the JV, have sufficient skills for that level, but not for the Varsity. Although some JV players advance to the Varsity, some do not. Players are selected to   the Varsity or JV after careful evaluation. Each girl is given an equal opportunity to demonstrate her skills. Selection to each team is based on skill level, not grade level. Also, some returning juniors may be placed on the JV.

Both you and your parent must sign this form  indicating your acceptance of our policy. Please put it in my mailbox in the girl’s PE office as soon as possible.

 Tryouts begin March 3. Feel free to leave a message for me at 555-5555 or by e-mail  should you have any questions.

 Coach Miller

Varsity Softball                                                                                                


Parent signature_________________________________________



Print name_____________________________________________



Player signature_________________________________________



Print name_____________________________________________


ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: Visiting the Sins of the Parents on Their Child


                 Disciplining Violent Youth Sports Parents

                                      By Doug Abrams
Earlier this month, Hockey Winnipeg banned a mother and father from watching their eight-year-old son’s hockey games for three years. The suspensions, the most severe ever imposed by the city’s hockey governing body, banish the two parents from city-sanctioned games in any arena.

The parents’ suspensions arose from a February 8 confrontation that marred the end of a hard-fought Fargo, North Dakota tournament game between their son’s River East Royals white team and a crosstown Winnipeg-area rival. The mother and father allegedly stormed the opponents’ locker room, began yelling, and threw punches at coaches who sought to escort them out. CBC News reported that the Royals squad was ejected from the tournament. The locker room fistfight happened in front of the eight-year-olds inside, some of whom reportedly still suffer nightmares about it.    

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Hockey Winnipeg’s president said afterwards. “There were eight-year-old children stuck in a dressing room with no way out that were subject to this against their will. . . . The husband took a swing at the coach and all hell broke loose.”

The two suspended parents have filed an appeal with Hockey Manitoba, contending that they were defending their son, who they say has a medical condition. The provincial body will hear the appeal late next month, with a further appeal possible to Hockey Canada.

Balancing Act

However the Hockey Winnipeg story turns out, the suspensions demonstrate the balancing act that youth sports associations must sometimes perform when they discipline unruly adults, the troublesome few who threaten to spoil fun and fulfillment for the many.

On one side of the scale, a stern disciplinary response seems appropriate if the Canadian governing bodies find no justification for the conduct of the two Winnipeg parents. The incident left the locker room strewn with child victims – every eight-year-old who witnessed the fisticuffs.

On the other side of the scale, however, banning the accused parents from watching their son’s hockey games for the next three years may also banish their eight-year-old son, even though no media account suggested that he bore any responsibility for what his parents allegedly did. Hockey Winnipeg specified that the three-year suspension does not affect the boy, who may continue playing. But unless cooperative teammates’ families pitch in, or unless the suspended parents may suit up the boy before leaving the rink area, he may end up as collateral damage because it is unrealistic to expect suspended parents to drop off a boy that young at the rink in the middle of winter and leave him to his own devices for three years.  

Individual Accountability

During my 11 years as president of a mid-Missouri youth hockey association, our protocol for disciplining disruptive parents depended on two related (but admittedly sometimes irreconcilable) principles – individual accountability for wrongdoing, and concern for all players and their families.

“Individual accountability” meant that parents remain primarily responsible for their own wrongdoing. A child may mimic the parents or remain silent, but children normally bear no responsibility for their elders’ misconduct.

Unless the player deserved a share of the blame in the particular case, our youth hockey association strained to discipline a wayward parent with measures that would not threaten the player’s participation. Sanctioning a wrongdoing parent is one thing; hurting the blameless child is quite another because youth sports serves the youth, and not their elders.

We stood ready to suspend or dismiss the family from the association only as a last resort. The magnitude of the offense, its effect on other players and families, the parent’s past failures to respond to less restrictive measures, or the parent’s continued non-cooperation had to leave no alternative. With the nearest youth hockey association more than 100 miles away, making a youngster pay the price for the parent’s antics would likely have ended the player’s career.

Concern for All Players and Their Families

Our youth hockey association’s second principle – “concern for all players and their families” – recognized that a small number of troublesome parents can destroy the experiences of the majority of players and their families, and even drive some of the majority from the game altogether. The well-behaved majority deserves protection from the troublesome minority, even if protection means a parent’s long term suspension or removal in an extreme case.

In his excellent Macleans cover story last week, Charlie Gillis attributes falling Canadian youth hockey enrollments partly to “parental obsessiveness” that frequently erupts into the sort of publicized violence that besmirched the Fargo tournament. The “level of obsession,” he writes, “is exacting an enormous toll on the minor hockey system.” In hockey and other sports, parents’ serious (and sometimes criminal) misconduct may warrant a strong response.

No Winners

Disciplinary proceedings are the least savory aspect of being a youth league coach or administrator. I much preferred to teach and lead players while enjoying harmony with parents who respected sportsmanship and got along with one another and with me. For the sake of families who seek a wholesome experience from their children’s sports, however, disciplinary proceedings carefully calibrated to the offense and the offender are important to youth sports.

Calibration often does not come easily because for at least one of the parties, a disciplinary proceeding normally cannot make the sports experience better; the best the proceeding can do is to make that experience less worse. Media accounts of this month’s Fargo locker room brawl and its aftermath do not suggest that any winners will emerge.


HS CODE OF CONDUCT: Should Kids Be Penalized for Missing Games Due to Family Vacation?

Here’s a knotty problem that has been around for some time at the HS varsity level…and yet nobody seems to have found a really workable solution for it.

I’m talking about school breaks at Easter/Passover and over Christmas/New Year’s. Most varsity sports programs last about 10 weeks. During that time, if there’s a week slated off for vacation, that can really wreak havoc with the schedule – especially in the spring where outside sports can be derailed by the weather.

Most of the time, the coach will instruct players at the first practice that anyone who misses a practice or game during a vacation break will be penalized. Usually, for every missed practice or game, the kid will sit a game. And, some coaches, in an attempt to drive home their point, will add that there’s no guarantee that they get more playing time once they sit out their suspension – that they have to earn back the right to get time in the games.

But parents often complain, saying that vacations are meant to be about family time. They say that coaches always say that “family comes first” – but apparently not during a scheduled school break.

Parents often point out that it’s about having quality time together with their kids, and that since usually both parents work, this is a week which is very valuable to them. Thus, it’s not fair to punish their kid for missing a game because he/she is on a family vacation.

Is there a solution? I’m honestly not sure. There are good arguments on both sides.

Some coaches will hold only optional practices during the week. But is that fair to the kids who stayed home over the break?

Or coaches will try and slate only non-league games. But again, is that fair to the kids who remained and competed while their teammates went off to the beach?

Is this a question of dedication to the team?

The ideal situation is probably to shut down all games and practices during the week, but when you have a 10-week season and the weather is iffy, it’s tough to make this happen.

Of course, it would be great if all the kids stayed home and practiced and played, but it’s just very, very hard for a coach to mandate it. And again, should there be a punishment?

If you have any solutions, I’d love to hear them.

COACHING TIPS: How Do You Prevent Arm Injuries?

If your son is 13 or younger, and happens to be able to throw something that resembles a curve ball for strikes, chances are he’s one of the most popular kids in town.

That’s because every LL coach and travel team coach is looking to fill their roster with a pitcher who can throw strikes AND who can throw a curve ball.

And even though all these coaches will reassure you that they will NOT burn out your youngster, the sad reality is that if your son is pitching in LL games twice a week and then also pitching twice a week in games for a travel team, he is unknowingly putting a tremendous stress on his arm.

As I tell parents all the time, would you rather your son win the local LL championship at age 12…or would you prefer that he keeps his arm intact so that he can be a star when he’s 16 or 18?

LL Baseball claims that kids hurt their arms from too much fatigue and overuse. Other well-respected major league pitching coaches and orthopedic surgeons insist kids hurt their arms by throwing too many curves, sliders, and breaking balls.

But the one common ground is that kids today are undergoing arm surgery at an unprecedented rate. And it’s been on the rise in the last decade.

So what do you — as a parent – do to protect your kid’s future?

Educate them. Explain to them that most medical doctors say that kids shouldn’t throw curves or sliders until they are 14. Let your child know that while it’s fun to throw a deuce to an unsuspecting batter in LL, the truth is that there’s real potential that throwing too many curves might cause undue strain on their elbow.

You don’t have to scare them. Just tell them to take it easy, and to protect their arm from overuse.

Be firm with the coaches. Let your son’s coaches know that he threw 85 pitches on Sunday, and as such, you don’t want him to pitch again until Wednesday or Thursday. In truth, coaches won’t like this, but will abide by your wishes. Just make sure that they don’t try and sneak your boy in for an inning or two of relief on those off-days.

Remember, for these travel team coaches, they’re more concerned about winning than about your son’s long-term health for their arm. That’s a sad indictment, but too often true.

If your son reports some tenderness in their elbow or shoulder, first shut them down. DO NOT let them pitch. And then, get them to see an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports injuries right away. The last thing your son needs is to go out and to try and throw more.  That could potentially make things worse.

Bottom line? Use common sense and use parental caution with your son. You want their pitching career to continue well into their teens and later on.


COACHING TIPS: The Advantages of a “Blind” Draft in Youth Baseball

Here’s a suggestion for Little League baseball and softball coaches.

Every year, in anticipation of the upcoming season, coaches get together to hold an annual draft of ballplayers. Coaches — either inspired by their own fantasy-league baseball drafts, or maybe they really do think they are better at evaluating young ballplayers better than their competitors – get together and stage a “draft” of players.

It’s normally done in rounds, and each coach selects the player he wants from the remaining pool of players. And, as you might imagine, team often end up lopsided in terms of talent, or lack thereof. And then when the games begin, the scores of the games can go haywire because of the unequal talent on the teams.

I guess there coaches who somehow feel smug and self-congratulatory when games are lopsided in their scores. But for the kids, it’s really not much playing in a baseball game where the score is 17-0 in the second inning.

In any event, here’s a better idea which I have advocated for years.

When the coaches get together for their draft, try this approach: have the league director put up 4 or 6 teams on a whiteboard, and then let the coaches in attendance balance each team so that each one is seen as being just as strong as the others.

Then, when the league director feels there is true parity, he asks the coaches if they feel the same way. If they do, then the director should confirm one more time that everybody feels good about each team.

At that point, he should place each coach’s name in a hat and then pick each one out randomly with the assignment of a team. Obviously, if the coach wants to coach his kid, then that child should be “traded” to his team for a player of equal ability.

So why is this so much better than a draft? Because if the teams truly are equal in talent, then the games should be close and competitive, and therefore, much more fun.

Leagues who have adopted this approach swear by it. It’s worth trying in your town.

LEGAL CONCERNS: Do Contact Sports Result in Off-the-Field Violent Behavior?


 New Study Links High School Sports Aggression and Dating Violence

 By Doug Abrams

The upcoming issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health features a new study that warrants attention from parents, teachers and coaches of boys who play high school football and basketball. The study found that boys in these two interscholastic sports were nearly twice as likely as other boys to have recently abused their girlfriends in dating relationships. Boys who played both sports were twice as likely to have been abusive, and boys who played only football were 50% more likely.


The study surveyed 1,648 male California high school athletes who had had at least one relationship with a girl for more than a week.  The researchers, led by Dr. Heather McCauley of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, found a link between “hyper-masculine attitudes” and dating violence. The researchers found these attitudes more prevalent in football and basketball players than in boys who played other sports such as soccer, wrestling, baseball, or track and field.


The new study does not suggest that all, or even most, high school football and basketball players are prone to intimate violence. But the findings do suggest the value of violence-prevention efforts by parents and coaches who raise and mentor high school boys who play these two sports. To be on the safe side, perhaps these prevention efforts should also reach boys in other contact or collision sports.  Sports often depends on controlled aggression within the rules of the game, but the rules of the game of life are much different than the rules that prevail on the athletic field.




Parents come first. Peers and adults outside the home influence children and adolescents, but parents remain primarily responsible for teaching social values and the essentials of healthy interpersonal relations. It should not take much for responsible parents to counsel their sons about mutual respect when they begin dating.


Because adolescent dating violence resembles student-on-student bullying, emerging research about bullying prevention can be helpful here. Children are not born with attitudes that reject violence, and they are not born respectful. Non-violence and respect can be learned, and violence and disrespect can be unlearned.


Researchers have found that parents can help prevent bullying by maintaining a household that rejects intimidation and fosters nonviolent conflict management while stressing civility and empathy. Studies have also shown increased propensity for bullying among children who are raised in homes that are marked by abuse, lack of clear disciplinary rules, or the absence of responsible parental supervision.


Teachers and Coaches


Most school-age children attend public schools, where teachers interact with students daily during the academic year. These professionals teach academic subjects, but they also teach what the Supreme Court calls “the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior” and “the shared values of a civilized social order.” Schools do not displace parental influence, but the Court is right that schools remain “a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment.” This preparation and adjustment can be centerpieces of anti-violence and anti-bullying curricula designed for the general student body, athletes and non-athletes alike.


In an upcoming issue of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Dr. McCauley and several of her colleagues identify a special role for “athletic coaches as violence prevention advocates.”  The point is well taken, not only because coaches are teachers in every sense of the word, but also because coaches have special opportunities, and thus special responsibilities, to influence their players with high standards.  Interscholastic athletes may spend more time with their coaches than with any classroom teacher, and they may hold special respect for the coach forged by team cohesiveness.


Beginning at pre-season players meetings and continuing throughout the schedule and afterwards, the coach should instruct that wholesome personal relationships depend on keeping hands off other people, including girls. For athletes accustomed to local prominence and perhaps special treatment for years, the coach must dispel notions that athletic prowess confers entitlement to commit acts of violence outside the rules and expectations that apply to other students. In triumphs and setbacks alike, aggression must be left on the field, replaced in the greater community by civility and mutual respect.


The recent study of high school dating violence, and similar studies of dating violence committed by male collegiate athletes, mean that prevention efforts by parents at home, teachers in school, and coaches during and after the season must be as persistent as the risks they seek to counter. No prevention effort can reduce the number of unwanted incidents to zero, but significant reduction remains a worthwhile goal because every incident prevented means a victim spared.  Dr. McCauley and her researchers point, for example, to positive results achieved by “Coaching Boys into Men,” a program that seeks to “inspire men to teach boys the importance of respecting women and that violence never equals strength.”


Education is key to socialization, and parents, teachers and coaches are educators. Each performs a distinctive role, but the ultimate goal remains common.  The unpalatable alternative to sustained prevention efforts can sometimes be mere reaction to incidents after they occur. Recent national headlines from Steubenville, Ohio and Maryville, Missouri illustrate that adult intervention appears too late once the victim has suffered physical and emotional injury, and once the perpetrator has suffered lasting social stigma or legal punishment.    



[Sources: McCauley HL, Jaime MCD, Tancredi DJ, Silverman JG, Decker MR, Austin SB, Jones K, Miller E, Differences in Adolescent Relationship Abuse Perpetration and Gender-Inequitable Attitudes by Sport Among Male High School Athletes, Journal of Adolescent Health (in press 2014); Jaime MC, McCauley HL, Tancredi DJ, Nettiksimmons J, Decker MR, Silverman JG, O’Connor B, Stetkevich N, Miller E, Athletic Coaches as Violence Prevention Advocates, Journal of Interpersonal Violence (in press 2014); Reuters, Teen Boys Who Play Sports Twice as Likely to Admit Abusing a Girlfriend: Study, Mar. 26, 2014; Douglas E. Abrams, A Coordinated Public Response to School Bullying, in Our Promise: Achieving Educational Equity for America’s Children (2009)]

COACHING TIPS: Getting Ready for the Upcoming LL and Youth Baseball Season

As you prepare for the upcoming Little League, Cal Ripken, youth baseball, travel team, or rec ball, here are some basic tips every parent and coach should keep in mind at all times:


You have to learn how to throw. How to catch. How to field. How to hit. How to learn the rules. Overcome the fear of being hit by a hardball. And realize that even if you do everything well, chances are good you’re still going to fail.

This is a lesson that, unfortunately, most coaches and parents never tell kids. Maybe it’s because they don’t want kids to become discouraged, but my sense is that kids would be reassured if you told them upfront (and repeated) that baseball is a brutally tough sport to play and to play well.

Tip: As Steve Kallas says: “If you shoot 30% in basketball, you’re going to be benched. If, as a quarterback, you complete 30% of your passes, you too will be benched. But in baseball, if you are successful thirty percent of the time as a hitter, then you will be considered a Hall of Famer.”

Keep reminding your players of this reality.


Little League Baseball points to a 5-year study that says that it’s not breaking balls that injure kids’ arms – that it’s due to overuse. But if you talk or listen to the medical world’s top surgeons, they still say that the epidemic of youngsters undergoing arm surgery is due to throwing curves and sliders before the age of 14.

More so, the best pitching coaches instruct kids to learn how to throw strikes and to spot locations when they’re growing up. Learn control first – and then you can develop breaking pitches later on.


Ted Williams. Rod Carew. Derek Jeter. Ichiro. All great, great hitters – and all of them have or had totally different approaches to hitting a baseball.

My point? Don’t try a “one-size-fits-all” for young hitters. Look first at their body size. If they’re wiry and fast, let them emphasize their speed with an Ichiro approach. If they’re heavier and stronger, let them develop into power hitters.

Yes, you can keep teach them the basics, but let them experiment and develop their own approach to hitting.


The game was invented to be played with wooden bats. And while I understand that wooden bats do break and they’re expensive to replace, using aluminum bats will lead to your child developing bad hitting habits, not to mention increase the safety concerns of hitting line drives back at defenseless pitchers.

Yes, aluminum bats are easier to swing when you’re under the age of 10. But trust me, despite the fact that Little League and Cal Ripken League allow aluminum bats, your ballplayer will benefit greatly in the long run by using wood.