Archive for May, 2014

INNOVATION IN SPORTS: Why the NFL is Looking for College Graduates

What an amazingly simple yet stunningly way to select talented players for the NFL!

I think we all know that when it comes to scouting college football players and their potential to play in the NFL, all sorts of tests of physical skills are utilized. The NFL Combine puts potential draft choices through all sorts of drills, poking and prodding the prospects.

But the Philadelphia Eagles, under general manager Howie Roseman, are trying a new approach to find motivated and dedicated football players: they’re looking for college graduates.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal (5/21/2014), several top analysts in the league have noted that there’s a real correlation between players who are college graduates and their tenure in the league. Tony Dungy, the former NFL coach and now NFL analyst, points out in his research, players with college degrees were a lot more likely to earn a second NFL contract. Why? Because they’re motivated and driven when it comes to confronting challenging tasks.

Eagles’ head coach Chip Kelly agrees. He points out that the three teams in the league with the most college grads are the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos, both of whom played in last year’s Super Bowl. The team with the fewest college grads were the Jacksonville Jaguars.The Jags finished with a record of 4-12.

Of course, the physical skills (size, speed, strength, etc) are still very important, but looking for a simple criterion like whether the kid finished college is becoming a more and more important item. As Coach Kelly remarks, “It all has to do with their sense of commitment.” It also translates into intelligence, a sense of preparation, and the ability to set a goal and to accomplish it.

What a smart concept. Hard to believe that this simple approach hadn’t been used before in selecting talent.

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COACHING TIPS: Legendary Pitching Coach Leo Mazzone Speaks Candidly about the Myths of Pitch Counts

I’m not sure when the raging controversy about the epidemic of Tommy John surgeries started, but clearly it’s become the dominant theme this season.

Everybody in baseball seemingly has an opinion, and experts are pinning the blame on LLers who throw too many innings to the simple frailty of the human body regarding elbows and shoulders and not being able to throw 90+ mph pitches.

I have read or heard accounts that say that kids need to stop throwing all 12 months of the year (hey, take some time off and let your arm rest!) to complaints about young pitchers not being taught the fundamentals of pitching mechanics to even allowing kids in LL to throw curves, sliders, and splitters as young as 9 or 10. All of these theories are being put forth.

But amazingly, there’s one expert who  has not been quoted much – Leo Mazzone — the legendary long-time pitching coach for the Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles. Leo was the pitching mentor to some of the all-time greats, such as Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine, among many others.

Mazzone is one of the few people who have said repeatedly that pitch counts are nice to have, but they really should NOT be the lead reason as to when to remove a pitcher from a game. As my guest on my WFAN radio show this AM, Leo made it clear that too many people in baseball are putting pitch counts as the top priority. “That’s nonsense,” said Mazzone, “You should just be observing the pitcher to see if fatigue is setting in. Look them in their face. You can tell if they’re tired. If their arm slot is dropping. If they are taking too much time between pitches. That’s when you know he’s had enough. You don’t need a pitch count. Besides, every pitcher is different. As a coach, you have to know that.”

Leo also made a distinction between “pitching” and “throwing.” He was well known for having his starting pitchers throw between starts, and throw a lot. But Mazzone explained that “throwing” shouldn’t put any kind of stress or strain on a pitcher. But “pitching” does. Having to change speeds, mix in sliders and splitters, all of that is where the stress comes into play.

But when pitchers throw on their off-days, according to Mazzone, that actually builds strength in their arms, not ruin it.

Regarding curve balls and kids. He felt that so long as the right fundamentals of throwing a curve are taught AND the kid has developed enough mature coordination with his body, then it’s okay to teach them how to spin a pitch.

Problem is, very few LL coaches know how to properly instruct a kid on how to throw a breaking ball. Even worse, kids and coaches usually fall in love with the pitch, and they throw it repeatedly. That’s when serious arm injuries, especially to the elbow, can occur.

Mazzone concluded that above all, the main reason we have so many Tommy John operations these days is because of the radar gun. That is, so many kids want to play pro ball and the word is out that unless you can hit or top 90 mph, there’s little chance a scout will sign you.

As a result, kids who normally throw in mid-80s try to jack up their fastballs to maximum velocity. But then they do that over and over again, that’s when the injuries become to kick in.

Mazzone made it clear that real, effective, and winning pitching – even at the big league level – is not about throwing hard – it’s about throwing strikes and changing speeds, getting the batter to shift his weight.

That’s how the best pitchers have won for years, and there’s no reason to change that formula today. And yet, thanks to the radar gun, unfortunately it has.

(For more of Mazzone’s stunning comments and stories, go to WFAN.com and click on the podcast link.)

 

COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIPS: How Many Kids Transfer Schools?

Here’s an interesting tidbit that I read in the Wall Street Journal, and it was so stunning, I felt compelled to share it with you:

“More than 400 men’s basketball players have decided to transfer since the regular season ended in March, according to ESPN, and the NCAA says about 40% of Division I men’s basketball players leave the schools where they initially signed by the end of their sophomore year.”

What this means is that close to half of these kids on Div-I teams — presumably most of them on scholarship – probably aren’t starting or getting enough playing time in their freshman year. Even worse, they are probably still on the bench by the end of their soph year, while their coach is bringing in more talented freshmen.

As a result, that original player realizes that he’s never going to get any real substantial playing time, and rather than sit on the bench for four years – albeit on scholarship – he decides to find another school and move on.

Transferring from one college to another seems simple enough, but the amount of emotional upheaval shouldn’t be minimized. For starters, it’s most disheartening to the player that, despite being recruited, the coach is basically turning his back on him. And of course, all the of the kid’s family and friends back home are embarrassed for him as well.

Of course, I’m generalizing on all of this, but as a former college coach, I have a sense of how these situations play out, and even after a kid transfers, happy endings are hard to come by. 

Even worse, I just don’t know if there are any easy answers on this. If nothing else, let the numbers — 40% transfer rate – serve as a warning to all aspiring college athletes and their parents.

LEGAL CONCERNS: How Towns Can Protect Kids Who Play on Private Teams

Using the “Power of the Permit” to Protect Youth Leaguers’   Safety

By Doug Abrams

 In Vineland, New Jersey last week, the Daily Journal ran a story under the ominous headline, “Midget Football May Be Banned.” The city says that the Vineland Midget Football League, which enrolls players between five and fourteen, reported only two of at least eight players who suffered concussions last season. The private league also allegedly issued some older players helmets that were designed and recommended for younger, smaller and lighter players.

The League does not own fields, but instead uses city-owned fields under annual agreements with the city council. With pre-season practices set to resume in July, the council has threatened to close the fields to the League because, according to the council’s vice president, “nobody followed any protocols” about concussions last season. The Daily Journal reports that under state law, a player who suffers a possible concussion may not return to action in practices or games without written medical clearance.

Unless adherence to safety protocols improves, said the vice president at a recent council meeting, “we can suspend the league by telling them they can’t use the fields.”

The “Power of the Permit”

Where do government agencies and legislative bodies such as Vineland’s City Council get legal authority to suspend or otherwise regulate private youth sports leagues, clubs and associations?

Like the Vineland Midget Football League, most private youth sports organizations do not own and operate their own facilities. They typically use public fields, gymnasiums and other facilities under permits granted by local government agencies, usually the parks and recreation department or the public school district. Under settled law, government authorities may regulate the terms and conditions under which private applicants may use public property, including public athletic facilities.

This is the so-called “power of the permit,” and it means that when a private youth sports organization files an application to use the public facility for the first time, the public decisionmaker may condition grant or denial on adherence to specified conditions, including mandated safety measures. Before the beginning of each season afterwards, the public decisionmaker may determine renewal or non-renewal based on the applicant’s prior performance, as the Vineland city council seems prepared to do by reviewing the football league’s track record concerning concussions safety.

Local Protective Authority

The power of the permit is a valuable, but unfortunately under-used, way to encourage playing conditions that are as safe as possible. The power is particularly important to concussions safety because most state concussions statutes fall short.

Since 2009, New Jersey and forty-eight other states have enacted statutes that seek to improve treatment of actual and suspected concussions suffered by children in organized sports. The states have taken a giant step in the right direction, but their work remains unfinished because more than 30 of the states regulate only interscholastic sports (middle school and high school competition, for example). In these states, millions of youth leaguers who play in private leagues, clubs and associations remain outside the statewide protective statutes.

In states whose concussion legislation does not extend beyond interscholastic sports, the power of the permit enables local authorities to mandate judicious safety measures from private organizations that seek to use public facilities. Participation in sports inevitably brings risk of injury at any age, and contact and collision sports depend on a measure of controlled violence within the rules of the game. As national and state youth sports governing bodies periodically review playing rules with an eye toward greater safety, however, local authorities should use their unquestioned power of the permit to help insure safer sports competition for the nation’s youngest athletes.

 

[Sources: Joseph P. Smith, Midget Football May Be Banned, Daily Journal (Vineland, N.J.), May 10, 2014, page A1; Tom Farrey, A Permit for Youth Football Safety?, http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/10420535/new-york-city-council-member-wants-law-require-doctor-every-youth-football-game-trainer-practices; Douglas E. Abrams, Confronting the Youth Sports Concussions Crisis: A Central Role for Responsible Local Enforcement of Playing Rules, Mississippi Sports Law Review, vol. 2, page 75 (Symposium Issue 2013),  http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2133615]

 

Sports Psychology Secrets: What the Top Performing Athletes Do…

I thought it might be helpful to introduce some of the “secrets” of sports psychology to parents, coaches, educators, and of course, the athletes themselves.

Please bear in mind that the science of sports psychology has really only been around for about 40 years or so. When I was in college back in the 1970s, there was very little research being done in this field, and even less being reported in academic journals.

I know this first hand because being a psych major, I spent literally hours and hours searching the literature in the libraries at Harvard and came up with very little. This was, of course, before the days of the internet and Google search, but even if they had existed back then, I doubt there would have much to report.

But over the years, as sports psychology gradually become more accdepted, I found from my own clinical work in the field working with athletes that some of the more basic concepts in sports psych ran counter to my own experiences. And as I traded notes with the late Harvey Dorfman, perhaps the greatest sports psychologist of our time, I began to realize that basic instruction in this area didn’t always ring true with developing athletes. Harvey agreed.

Let me give you an example. How many times have you encountered a youngster who, right before an upcoming game, says that he or she is so nervous that they’re having a hard time focusing on the event. The general response is to tell the youngster to “just try and relax….just take some deep breaths to calm yourself.”

Or some psychologists will suggest that the athlete think about “going to their safe place” in their mind in order to relax.

But when I tried these approaches when I played, I found they didn’t help much. Instead, I found through clinical trial-and-error that it was better to not try and get rid of the anxiety, but rather to embrace it. That is, I began to recognize that when my physical body wen through those adrenaline rushes, it was my body simply reassuring me that it was ready and prepared to go out and play in a big game. After awhile, I found that I looked forward to those moments of nervousness before games.

The alternative was to NOT have those anxious moments. When that happened – and they happened very rarely – that made me even more nervous, because my body was not responding well. In other words, it made extremely nervous that I wasn’t nervous.

But fortunately, this didn’t happen tor often. As my pre-game jitters would settle in, I knew that I was physically ready to go out and perform at a peak level.

The other psychological part of this preparation was going through a pre-game ritual of visualization. I honestly don’t know who invented this process, but I do recall reading a very popular book in the 1970s called PSYCHOCYBERNETICS by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. The book is still in print today.

In any event, Dr. Maltz, who was a surgeon, would take time everyday before operating to lie down in a quiet dark room, and then see in his mind’s eye how he was going to perform the surgery. He would “see” himself in the OR, going step-by-step in the process, all in color, and all in great detail. He would go through the entire operation, from beginning to end.

When done, he would “wake” from his visualization session, and then be ready to go operate.

This process has become standard operating procedure for many top athletes, as well as other people who perform for a living. Surgeons, musicians, actors, presenters, and so on. The idea is that by preparing your mind to see what will happen, this helps relieve any concerns or worries that you might not perform well. The key is to see yourself performing well, e.g. making pitches on the corner, hitting free throws over and over again, etc.

The combination of visualization along with experiencing those pre-game jitters works well. As you go out to perform, you can live off the adrenaline rush while at the same time, put your mind on auto-pilot as your physical skills just work follow your visualized path to success. Just let your athletic instincts take over.

Of course, it goes without saying that you need to have practiced and perfected your skill over and over again. You can’t just visualize playing the piano flawlessly and then expect to play it in a concert if you have never played the piano before. Practice and more practice allows your muscles to memorize how to behave once you are in a competition.

You might want to introduce the concept of visualization and how to embrace pre-game jitters to your son or daughter aound the age of 12 or 13. Younger than that, they might not understand why. But as they reach middle school age, that’s a good time to start.

 

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: How Did We Get from Having Fun…..to Today?

So how did we get to this point?

In other words, in the 1960s and 1970s, kids played sports after school or on the weekends pretty much on their own. Ask anybody today over the age of 50, and they’ll regale you with fond memories of how they would play from sun-up to sun-down playing ball….that there were never any parents watching these pick-up games….that there were never any refs or umps….that there were no league standings….and most of all, the kids played merely because it was just fun.

Travel teams hadn’t been invented yet. Kids had heard about college athletic scholarships, but had no real idea beyond that. You played a sport according to the season, e.g. football or soccer in the fall, basketball or hockey in the winter, and baseball or track-and-field in the spring. Nobody played one sport all year round.

As noted, travel teams didn’t exist then. Nor did you ever hear of a kid burning-out on a sport. Overuse specialization injuries? That concept wouldn’t have meant anything to anybody. And most of all, kids were, in general, in better physical shape than our children because video games and computers didn’t exist yet.

So what happened?

There are lots of theories. Here’s mine:

As the television networks became more competitive for more live programming, sports became a top priority. The league owners, being smart business people, began to ask for more and more for the rights to televise their games. With more revenue pouring in, the search for better, faster, and stronger athletes began to trickle down to the colleges, most notably football and basketball.

Then the colleges began to realize that if they could put forth top-flight athletic programs, they could generate lots of TV revenue as well as have proud alumni pour in donations.

Suddenly, athletic scholarships became prize possessions. And for the select few, being signed to a pro contract was indeed like winning the lottery. Pro athletes went from having decent salaries in the 1970s where they had to get part-time jobs in the off-season to now making millions.

All of this transition was not lost on parents. They began to think that if my kid is a star on his or her high school team, maybe – just maybe – my child might be the next Derek Jeter or Mia Hamm. And as a caring parent, I need to do what I can – spend what I can – to give my youngster every opportunity to reach their potential. That translates into playing for a travel team all year round, specialized coaching, summer camps, and so on.

Priorities became re-arranged. What’s the best age for my kid to specialize in a sport? How do I find the best personal coach for her? What are the best showcases to be seen? And on and on. Notably, one of the priorities that dropped off the list was “having fun.” 

So where do we go from here? For starters, I don’t see any let up with the obsession that parents have for their kids and sports. I, for one, still find it unfathomable when I read that a pro player has signed for $60 million or more. I mean, I can just can’t seem to wrap my head around playing a sport I love, and making that kind of money.

And I do think that so long as that kind of financial dream is out there, parents will continue to do whatever they can to give their kid a chance to earn that kind of payday.

It’s almost as though the mentality is: “Look, if my kid can be good enough to play pro and make millions playing sports, we’ll worry about his having fun later on in life – once his playing days are over.”

That just seems like backward thinking. But sadly, I think that’s where we are these days.

 

 

ANOTHER FATALITY: Basketball Ref Attacks, Kills Youth Coach

I’m always stunned when I read of yet another terrible physical confrontation between a youth coach and a referee.

How in the world could emotions run so high that two grown-ups would end up with one of them dead?

Can you imagine? Just a few hours earlier, Joshua Adams, the 37-year-old ref – who is employed as a deputy sheriff in town — was getting ready to work an AAU game of 7th graders.

And the coach – a 25-year-old – was probably just thinking about who was going to start in the game, and figuring out defensive assignments.

But sure enough, just a little while after the game ended, according to local police reports, it was the deputy sheriff who had been arrested for causing the death of the 25-year-0ld coach, Justin Griffin.

Think about this. How could this be?

How could do adults — one of them being a police officer, who is supposed to serve and protect – end the day beating each other up – and one of them beaten so severely that he dies.

According to witnesses, the two of them had argued during the kids’ game about calls and fouls. Apparently, the mutual anger spilled out of the gym and into the parking lot.

Look, I know emotions can run very hot and deep when watching kids play sports. But usually, it’s the parents who tend to lose control. It’s more rare when it’s the coach and the ref, both of whom had no children playing in the game.

Regardless, this is just mind-boggling, and flat-0ut disturbing.

As a result, the question about youth sports – when will the madness end?

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: ON THESE COURTS by Wayne B. Drash

So what do former NBA superstars do when they retire?

Do they just sit around, counting their millions in the bank? Do they become TV commentators and rub elbows on the set with other former stars?

Or do they, like Penny Hardaway, return very quietly to their hometown to help out an old buddy who is battling Stage IV colon cancer, and who needs some help in coaching the Lester Middle School boys basketball team.

Think about that. A former NBA All-Star goes back to his roots, in the less than stellar part of Memphis, to coach a bunch of middle school kids.

But this wasn’t about Penny’s ego, or his trying to embellish his name or reputation. He was just doing something out of a sense of compassion and kindess for a friend in need.

Wayne Drash, an award-winning writer and journalist for CNN.com, has crafted a magical story about the relationship between Hardaway and Desmond Merriweather, and of course, the season for the kids on the team. A former basketball player himself, Drash captures the essence of this team, and the extraordinary friendship Hardaway and Meriweather.

No, I’m not going to give away the ending of this book, but trust me- this is the kind of stuff that Hollywood makes into movies. I should also point out that the book was honored by winning a prestigous Christopher Award, which is given out each year to salute works of great inspiration of the human spirit.

ON THESE COURTS: A Miracle Season That Changed A City, A Once-Future Star, and A Team Forever by Wayne B. Drash

 

 

ATHLETES WHO CHEAT: What Do You Tell Your Kids?

 

                        What to Tell Youth Leaguers When Pros Cheat

                                                       By Doug Abrams

 

By now, baseball fans know the story. On April 23, New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was ejected in the second inning when Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell complained to home plate umpire Gerry Davis that the hurler took the mound with pine tar, a banned substance, visibly spread on his neck. After being cuffed for two runs on four hits in the first inning, Pineda explained that he sought a better grip on the ball on that chilly Boston night. The next day, he accepted a 10-game suspension without filing an appeal.

After years of illicit steroid use that rewrote Major League Baseball’s record book and shook the game’s integrity, cheating with a gob of pine tar seems like small potatoes. But cheating it was. MLB Rule 8.02(b) states, “The pitcher shall not . . . have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance.”

“We All Know Everyone Does It”

To players and managers familiar with baseball tradition, Pineda’s real offense was not that he used a banned substance. The real offense was that his violation was so obvious that the Red Sox could not ignore it.

Big league teams rarely challenge opposing pitchers because they know that their own pitchers also often hide pine tar or other banned substances, sometimes under their belt buckles or sleeves. Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski says that “we all know everyone does it,” but that his manager had to object this time because “you just can’t do it so blatantly.” Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry, who doctored a few baseballs in his day, agreed: Pineda “didn’t try to hide it. He’s just learning a few tricks of the trade, but just not very good.”

“How Do We Explain This?”

In a Boston Globe column that condemned “open disregard for the pine tar rule,” Yvonne Abraham worried about the Pineda violation’s effect on youth leaguers who watched or learned about it. What, she asked, should she tell her six-year-old before he marched in his first Little League opening day parade that Saturday? “Always follow the rules, son, unless everybody’s breaking them, in which case you should feel free to break them too, as long as you’re not too obvious about it”?

A father of two Little Leaguers emailed Globe writer Nick Cafardo with a similar question: “How do we explain this to our children?” I accept here the writers’ invitation to suggest an appropriate explanation.

Teachable Moments

For parents and coaches, the most effective approach when a pro does something unsavory is to communicate forthrightly with their youth leaguers. After confronting National Hockey League fighting for so many years as a youth hockey coach, I am confident that most kids understand right from wrong when their parents and coaches actually take the time to talk things out with them. Like every other professional hockey fan, our youth teams certainly watched fighting on television, but they hardly ever fought because the adults kept the lines of communication open.

If a pro’s transgression is filmed (as Pineda’s was), why not even show the film to the team in the locker room, in a team meeting, or at home? Don’t try to hide the film because the players will have plenty of opportunities to watch it on their own anyway. Show it two or three times, then talk about it.

With proper guidance from the adults in their lives, youth leaguers are not more prone to cheating, deliberately trying to injure an opponent, charging into the stands, or committing acts of sexual violence simply to imitate a pro they might otherwise admire. I doubt that many well-guided youth leaguers will seek out pine tar in the near future just because a Yankee did it on national television.  

Parents and coaches serve their players best by capitalizing on “teachable moments,” opportunities to draw good lessons from bad events. Welcome the opportunity to teach because incidents like Pineda’s are tailor-made for constructive lessons. For the well-meaning parent who emailed Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo seeking advice about how to explain cheating to his two children, the worst explanation is no explanation at all. When adults explain and lead, most kids will “get it,” and the others may face the coach’s disciplinary action.

After the Pineda incident, MLB executive vice president Joe Torre promises post-season review of Rule 8.02(b) and its ban on foreign substances. Before MLB rulemakers return their verdict, youth league parents and coaches can quote Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild: Banned substances are “illegal, no matter how you do it. You want me to tell [pitchers] how to cheat better?”

Bonus: A Movie Review

In the wake of the Pineda headlines, the Washington Post observed that “[b]ending the many rules of baseball is commonplace, and the gamesmanship is often applauded as an almost romantic part of the game.” The off-hand comment reminds me of “It Happens Every Spring,” a delightful and thoroughly artful 1949 baseball comedy that I count among my favorite movies after watching it more than a dozen times since I was a Little Leaguer.

Ray Milland plays Vernon K. Simpson, a young, shy college chemistry professor and passionate baseball fan who, in a laboratory experiment, accidentally invents a liquid that repels wood, including wood baseball bats. With help from two varsity baseball players (including catcher Alan Hale, Jr., who later played the Skipper on “Gilligan’s Island”), Professor Simpson confirms that he is unhittable when he applies the liquid to the ball through a sponge hidden behind a small hole in the pocket of his glove. With a leave of absence from the college president, he tries out with St. Louis and pitches them to the World Series because the hidden liquid indeed keeps bats from ever striking the ball. (I won’t give way the ending.)

When you watch the black-and-white film, you might wonder why viewers never learn whether Vernon Simpson pitched for the Cardinals or the Browns, or why the other major league teams’ uniforms and stadiums are similarly identified only by their city, and not by their actual names and logos. You might also wonder why “It Happens Every Spring” did not feature cameos by actual major leaguers.

The answer is that Commissioner Happy Chandler refused to allow Major League Baseball to cooperate with the film’s producers because — you guessed it — he felt that the movie condoned cheating.

Watch “It Happens Every Spring” anyway. It’s great family entertainment, without violence, sex, or foul language. The film received two Academy Award nominations (for Best Writing and Motion Picture Story). And don’t worry that Vernon Simpson’s sudden stardom might prod your young ballplayers to ask for a chemistry set so that they can produce a liquid that repels wood. With today’s composite bats in youth games, what good is wood-repellent anyway?  

[Sources: Greg Schimmel, Cheat Sheet, Washington Post, Apr. 27, 2014, page D2; Pineda Should Be “More Discreet,” San Diego Union-Tribune, April 26, 2014, page D2; Yvonne Abraham, Why Stick to the Rules?, Boston Globe, April 27, 2014; Nick Cafardo, Time to Get a Grip On Rule, Boston Globe, April 25, 2014, page C1]

INNOVATIONS IN SPORTS: A Look at HS Varsity Cheerleading

I don’t write much about cheerleading because, in truth, I really don’t much about this activity as being a competitive activity. That being said, I do know that it’s a most popular sport and has grown substantially all over the country over the last couple of decades.

And in fact, just this past week, New York State became the 35th state to officially bless cheerleading as an interscholastic sport at the HS level (CT and NJ haven’t made the sport official yet, but according to most local media reports, they aren’t far behind).

Some important notes regarding cheerleading becoming a varsity sport:

> The American Academy of Pediatrics reported in 2012 that of all female sports, cheerleading had by far and away the most catastrophic injuries over the last 25 years. In fact, 66% of all catastrophic injuries suffered by female athletes were due to cheerleading.

Common sense tells you why: kids falling off pyramids, breaking limbs, suffering concussions, or worse, and it’s not just the kids on top – those girls down below who get hit also suffer terrible injuries.

That being said, the Academy also reported that cheerleading was generally a very safe sport; it’s just that when injuries do occur, they tend to be devastating.

> As a varsity sport, this now means that all the coaches who are hired in NYS to serve as cheerleading instructors need to be licensed and certified by the state, with a heavy dose of how to prevent injuries.

It also means that school districts have to pick up the tab for coaching salaries, insurance, equipment, travel, game fees, and so on. For districts strapped for cash, these costs can add up.

> Also in NYS. For years, since cheerleading was not an official sport, girls could cheerlead at, say, HS football games during the fall, and then continue to play on the HS soccer or volleyball team. No more. Under NYS rules, you have to now choose just one sport to play per season.

As noted, I grew up in a time where cheerleaders were seen at football and basketball games, and for the most part, they were just decorative in nature. But competitive cheerleading has obviously grown and changed dramatically since I was in HS.

And I, for one, have said many times on my show that so long as your youngster plays a sport after school, I really don’t care what sport they play so long as there is real physical exertion and they stay in shape.

To that end, from what I can tell about cheerleading, it is a most competitive activity and clearly those who compete have to be in great shape. Bottom line? Three cheers for the cheerleaders!