Archive for November, 2014

COACHING TIPS: A New Batch of Idea for Youth Coaches Everywhere

I routinely jot down coaching tips and insights that I find to be both inspirational and instructional when it comes to working with young athletes, and every so often, I like to post these thoughts on this website in the hope that one or two of these tips might be of some use to you. Here, in no particular order, are from my latest batch:

COACHING TIP #1: When I was the head baseball coach at Mercy College, in my first couple of years, I would of course watch every pitch of the game, shout out encouragement to my players, and in short, try very hard to be an upbeat, positive coach all the time.

But one day, I was chatting with one of my better players, and casually asked him if there were anything in my approach during the games that bothered or annoyed my players.

In truth, I honestly thought he would say, “No, Rick, the team is winning, and you’re doing great.”

But much to my amazement, he told me, “Well, now that you ask….during the course of a close or tight game, you tend to pace back and forth in the dugout, and the more you pace, the more nervous you make us on the field.”

“That is, you always tell us to play relaxed,…but clearly you’re extremely nervous…that’s why you pace.”

It was a tremendous observation, and one that I have never forgotten. My pacing was an unconscious nervous habit. So I just made it a point to stop walking back and forth like a caged animal during close games. And the more confident I seemed, the more confident my players became.

I would encourage you to watch how you physically behave during the games, lest you make the same mistake as I did. Remember, you may not be aware that your physical anxiety is actually making your players nervous as well.

COACHING TIP #2….I heard Coach K of Duke talk about how to install a real level of confidence in his players, and I think it’s great.

Talk to any kid playing competitive basketball, and he/she will always tell you that during the course of a game, they will secretly keep an eye on their coach, just in case the kid commits a turnover and makes a mistake. The player wants to see if the coach might take him/her out of the game for making that error.

So how does a great coach convince his players not to worry about that? Coach K instills his faith in his players by telling them over and over, “I believe in you.” Meaning I trust you, and don’t worry about making mistakes. Just play on. 

As a coach, it’s a good thing to remind your players that they will, in fact, make mistakes and errors….that’s to be expected. But the more you can reassure your players that you believe in them, the more they will relax and the faster they will begin to play up to their potential.

Think about that….it’s a very simple but most powerful approach to coaching kids. I believe in you.

COACHING TIP #3…..I have talked a lot over the years about accountability….making your players think for themselves, both on and off the field.

I think that if you, as a coach, can succeed in getting your players to do this, then regardless of your season’s won-loss record, you have really make a major impact on their total lives.

Why? Because if a young person thinks twice before breaking a team rule, or doing something stupid, or posting something silly on Facebook or Twitter, then you have really made a major breakthrough in terms of their learning accountability.

I was talking about Joe Moglia of Coastal Carolina on the show last week – about how amazingly successful he has been in his three years at Coastal as their head coach. Joe preaches a very simple philosophy which is ALL about accountability…he simply calls it BE A MAN….that means that you have to step up and take responsibility for yourself in life and in sports. That’s the key to Joe’s success in life, and clearly his players are Coastal Carolina have bought into it.

(By the way, it was interesting to see how the Wall Street Journal  jumped on the Coach Moglia bandwagon this past week, and basically endorsed him to become the next head coach of the Jets, in case Rex Ryan is asked to step down.)

COACHING TIP #4…I was playing in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League for Al Goldis, who went onto become one of the great baseball scouts of all time. In any event, when one of our players had done something that was clearly against team rules, Goldis came up with a terrific way to not only discipline the individual player, but also to drive the point home.

In short, Goldis gave the player an assignment to write a 3 page essay in which he had to explain not only what he had done wrong, but also had to explain why his actions were selfish and hurt the entire team.

Now, most college and HS kids hate having to write papers, and Goldis latched onto that, and sure enough, not only did the miscreant player write the essay and read it to the rest of the team, it clearly served its purpose: we didn’t have any more disciplinary issues the rest of the season.

I thought it was a brilliant way to coach and teach kids to become accountable and to learn their lesson.

COACHING TIP #5: ….the issue of appointing team captains. Now, I know a lot of coaches like to appoint team captains on their own. Or sometimes, they let the team elect captains at the start of the season.

My approach was always a little different. My sense is that captains are supposed to be team leaders….and if you let kids practice and scrimmage long enough in the preseason, eventually the REAL team leaders will begin to bubble up naturally.

The truth is…some kids are just innate leaders, and they don’t need to be elected or appointed. Besides, some kids don’t want the responsibility of being a team leader…they just don’t like that role – they feel it places too much pressure on them.

My point is…there’s no obligation to appoint or elect team captains.

COACHING TIP #6….I think Coach John Wooden is to be credited with this coaching tip….for every negative comment, be sure to give your player at least four positive comments.

It’s excellent advice. Kids today want and expect positive feedback all the time. And if you give them only negative comments, eventually they won’t respond to you. Nobody likes a steam of negative feedback.

Instead, feed them a steady diet of at least 4 positive comments for every negative comment….that way, when you do feel you have to step in and make a correction, they will pay a lot more attention to what you have to say.

Just be sure that you give them another pat on the back after they make that correction. Let your players know you’re rooting for them and supporting them.

COACHING TIP #7….always remember this.

You have ONE singular power as the coach. You control who gets into the game, and for how long.

At the end of the day, that’s what the players want – to get into the game. And you control that.

So if you aren’t pleased with a player’s  attitude…or their lack of hustle…or their poor sportsmanship, you just say to them, “I want you to stay with me on the bench and you’ll sit here until you understand what I want to see from you. Do you understand?”

Yes, this might be tough to do when it’s your most talented player on the sidelines, but you know what? Do this once or twice early in the season, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly attitudes begin to turn around when you make your point.

Remember: you’re the coach. Make the kids respond to you!

HEROIC ATHLETES/COACHES: Kids Sports + Charitable Causes = Winning Tradition

 

Donating to Youth By Year’s End:  The Potency of Private Giving

By Doug Abrams

 

On November 3, the Meriden (Conn.) Record-Journal ran a brief story about the 20th Hysterical Comedy show, which took place in Wallingford a few nights later.  The twice-a-year event typically draws audiences of more than 400 people. The beneficiary is a local charity called On the Team, which helps needy families pay registration fees, equipment costs, and other expenses that make organized youth sports programs affordable. From ticket sales and the like, the past decade’s comedy shows have raised more than $25,000 to help 135 boys and girls play baseball, soccer and softball.

Local charity events like the Wallingford comedy night can easily pass beneath the media’s radar screen. When brief news stories do appear, however, they accomplish more than simply recognizing the organizers’ good works. News stories can also remind readers to consider making modest tax-deductible donations of their own to causes that improve the lives of underprivileged youth leaguers or other underprivileged children before the end of the tax year in December. This reminder is the purpose of this column.

Charitable Impulses

In and out of sports, a person’s decisions about donating depend, of course, on personal financial circumstances and obligations to the family. Many adults receive more charitable solicitations than they can satisfy, and many must manage the family budget closely these days.

Sports and individual philanthropy, however, can mix very well. The brief article about the Wallingford comedy show reminds me of a few dozen similar articles that have appeared in the national media in just the last year or two. Some describe fundraisers that, like the comedy show itself, make sports accessible to children who otherwise would be sidelined by rising costs and difficult family circumstances. Other articles, such as one that appeared in the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle late last November, describe equally worthwhile initiatives to improve the lives of needy children beyond sports.

The Democrat and Chronicle reported that on the day after Thanksgiving, about two dozen children and four dozen adults braved freezing temperatures to play flag football at a local park in Penfield, a Rochester suburb. The choose-up game benefitted the Center for Youth, a local volunteer organization that provides emergency services for homeless children, school-based programs dedicated to  academic achievement, and similar community outreach programs that make a difference for children in need.

When a Center volunteer, Matthew Richards, was dying of cancer two months earlier at age 37, his wife asked him whether he had any final wishes. “I don’t want anything for me,” he said, “The only thing I’d like you to do is organize a flag football game to benefit the Center for Youth.” When the day came, each participant donated $20 to take the field, and plans were already underway to make the game an annual Thanksgiving weekend fundraising event.

Some Suggestions

Some worthy national and local sports-related causes come immediately to mind as worthy recipients of private support. National sports governing bodies typically maintain charitable initiatives devoted to equal opportunity and outreach to under-served youth; because hockey is my sport, the USA Hockey Foundation, maintained by USA Hockey, comes to mind. Service organizations such as On the Team make a local difference. Private youth sports associations, or the local public parks and recreation department, may welcome donations for assistance that reaches families otherwise unable to enroll their children.

Outside the sports realm, local programs such as Rochester’s Center for Youth advance youth enrichment. So does United Way or the community chest. Children’s hospitals serve sick and injured children of modest-income families, and typically accept gifts not only for equipment and other direct medical needs, but also for such amenities as toys, stuffed animals, and games that make a child’s hospital stay more bearable.

These ideas are meant to be suggestive, and not exhaustive, of opportunities that await adults with the ability and desire to help make a difference. Adults can make individual decisions about where and how to make their impact felt.

Making a Difference

“But would my $25 donation really matter? Or would it simply be a drop in the bucket?”

“Every dollar makes a difference,” says former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, “and that’s true whether it’s Warren Buffett’s remarkable $31 billion pledge to the [Bill and Melinda] Gates Foundation, or my late father’s $25 check to the NAACP.”

“If we all just gave according to our ability,” says President Bill Clinton, “the positive impact would be staggering. . . . If everyone did it, we would change the world.”

In his fable, The Lion and the Mouse, Aesop (620 B.C.-560 B.C.) said that “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” The lesson for today’s adults is that every donation matters. Buckets that collect seemingly small acts of kindness can fill up mighty quickly.

 

[Sources:  Leigh Tauss, Comedy Show Helps Kids Play, Record-Journal (Meriden, Conn.), Nov. 3, 2014, p. A3; David Andreatta, A Last Act of Charity, Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle, Nov. 30, 2013; Bill Clinton, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World, pp. 55, 206 (2007); Aesop, The Lion and the Mouse, Aesop’s Fables: A Classic Illustrated Edition, p. 38 (1990)]

DISCIPLINE: Have We Lost Our Touch When It Comes to Disciplining Our Student-Athletes?

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a short feature on the CBS Evening news about the Aliquippa PA HS football team, which is located in one of the old steel mill towns in PA. In truth, it’s a town which has fallen on hard times.

Their HS football team, however, remains a mainstay of town pride – in fact, I believe they haven’t lost a regular season game in 5 years.

In any event, the reporter asked the long-time head coach why he’s been so successful with the kids on his teams, year after year, and he said something remarkable – that at the end of the day, it all comes down to discipline.

That is, if you as a coach have the wherewithal to insist on certain things with your players…like being on time, getting good grades, doing your homework, working hard in practice, and so on, the kids actually respond to this kind of straightforward discipline.

And of course, if the kids don’t live up to your standards, then you have to take disciplinary action.

Why do the kids respond? Because if you show that you care…then they will care…it’s pretty simple – and powerful – formula.

Kids actually DO like discipline…because if you show them that YOU care about the team and the team’s goals, then they will indeed step up their game, work harder, and do their best to please you.

That’s an old fashioned, old school approach to be sure…but you know what? It works.

 

DISCIPLINE IS NOT JUST YELLING

And by the way…I’m not talking about just random yelling and screaming by a coach…that’s not discipline…that’s just noise.  Even worse, it’s counter-productive noise. And sadly, too many coaches still don’t understand the difference.

I’m talking about taking the time to teach…to explain…..to coach….and to enforce team rules and expectations. And of course, if a kid doesn’t abide by the rules, you as the coach have to have the courage to follow through on the kid’s punishment, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER IT’S YOUR BEST PLAYER OR A KID WHO SITS ON THE BENCH.

Yep. That’s the tough part for a coach. You can’t have a double standard for your kids. If your top player breaks the rules, he or she has to undergo the same kind of disciplinary measure that one of your weaker players would have to undergo. In short, you’re trying to teach accountability. Getting your players to think ahead before they break a team rule.

Yes, this is hard for all involved. But it’s the kind of life lessons that needs to be taught when the kids are in their teeens.

Think for a moment about the great inspirational sports movies you’ve seen all through years…Hoosiers…Remember The Titans…Rudy….even The Mighty Ducks —  and yes, they are inspirational. And they all have one singular theme that runs throughout all of them…there’s a head coach in each movie who is a tough disciplinarian and who holds the athletes accountable.

It’s a subject that is not really taught but it’s just assumed that coaches know how to implement it and enforce it.

And yet, we know if done the wrong way, it can cause real issues.

 

WALKING A FINE LINE?

The tricky part for a coach, of course, is knowing how to walk the fine line between being a tough but fair disciplinarian….and just being a coach who is on a power trip and is just being obnoxious to his players.

Take a moment and think back to some of your HS coaches…I know that some of the best coaches I had were tough disciplinarians…that if you got out of line, and goofed off in practice, you immediately found yourself on the sidelines….or being told to run and run and run for a good long time.

There was no room for error…if you wanted to be on the team, you had to live with the coach’s approach. And kids responded.

I recall my senior year on the HS basketball team. Our team was good, and it was built around a star player who was averaging 20 points a game.

But during the Christmas break that year, the star player was caught smoking a cigarette, which was against team rules. What happened? The coach immediately kicked him off the team.

There were no protests. Codes of Conduct hadn’t been invented yet. To the player’s credit, his parents didn’t complain to the school board or threaten a lawsuit.

In short, we as a team moved on. And the coach’s stern discipline was upheld.

The star player came back to play the next season – his senior year – and he resumed being a star. But there was never any more concerns about discipline on his behalf or the team.

Yes, you could say this was a different time and place, and maybe if this had occurred today, the dismissal from the team might be seen as too harsh. But in those days, if you broke a rule…you were held accountable. To me, that’s still a pretty good life lesson.

 

TRENDS IN SPORTS: Have We Lost Our Way with Youth Sports?

Think back to when you were a kid – maybe in the 1970 or 80s. For the most part, if you wanted to play basketball, you simply went to the local playground, or maybe a local HS gym would be open, and pick-up basketball games – games with no set teams, uniforms, refs, clocks, etc – would be flourishing.

There weren’t any leagues….just kids like yourself playing ball….there weren’t any Dads overseeing any of this. You would play, most often half-court games, 3 on 3, or 4 or 4…and if your team won in a game up to 7 or 11 points, your team stayed on the court to take on the next team.

Pretty simple – very effective – and lots of spontaneous fun.

When you had your fill for the day, you just packed your stuff up and went home. During these pick-up games,  you worked on your skills as a player, picked up tips from playing against older players, and so on. Nobody screamed or yelled, or made you sit on the bench.

This experience was universal in just about every town and neighborhood in America…that is, if you grew up in Chicago or LA or wherever, and wanted to play some basketball, pick-up games were everywhere. You just played.

Now fast forward to 2014. Recently I received a long email from a sports Mom from out west who had becoming increasingly concerned about her son’s declining lack of playing time during the last AAU basketball season.

It turns out that her son – who was 12 last season and in 6th grade – is viewed in her area as being one of the premier players, and as such, was invited to play on an exclusive travel team.

But this travel team took the phrase “travel” to a new dimension.

Because the team was being run – and funded – by a very wealthy father whose son was also on the team – this team of 6th graders competed in AAU tournaments all over the country last spring and summer. This team Dad paid for all the travel and expenses of the kids and coaches and parents.

But in exchange for all of this, the founder /parent also wanted to make sure that his team had a good shot at winning the AAU national championships in this age bracket. So to insure they had a good chance of doing this, he scoured the nation via online scouting reports to find the best 6th grade players from all over. And yes, the top kids in middle school are ranked pretty much everywhere in this country. Hard to believe but yes, this is true.

Sure enough, this travel team Dad found a couple of star players from two other faraway states, and enticed them and their families to have their talented kids join his super travel team.  Amazingly, these kids did do that, and once they did, that meant that some of the original players on the travel team’s roster were basically told their services were no longer needed. After all, the team had to make room for the new recruits.

The Mom who emailed me told me that her son’s playing time was being diminished because of all this national recruiting at the 6th grade level. As such, her son got frustrated and finally decided to leave and play for a local team that certainly didn’t enjoy the same kind of first class travel treatment, but he was now able to play in the games a lot more. Remember, the kid is only 12.

In any event, that exclusive travel team did go on to win the national championship for sixth graders, so I presume this was all worth the time and expense for the team founder. But remember –we’re talking about kids who are still in middle school – not even in HS yet.

I know I’m old school….but that being said, I’m not sure in the grand scheme of sports in life how significant it is to say your 12 year old won a mythical national championship. I guess we’re all different in terms of our priorities.

Let’s put this all in perspective….when you were in 6th or 7th grade, what were you doing for your basketball games?  And now, look how things have changed. Some kids played for CYO, some for local rec teams, but most of us as kids just played pick-up games.

And now…we’re exposing our kids to national travel teams? I find this to be just amazing.

Look at this way: we’ve covered high schools in this country that are set up and run exclusively for soccer players…we know that lots of talented ice hockey players leave their current travel programs in HS and go play for highly competitive hockey travel programs, particularly in the Midwest….we know that there are sham prep schools for talented basketball players….and on and on.

But these are at least at the HS level…now we’re dealing with 6th graders being recruited for national travel teams?

My question is this:

Is this smart? Is this healthy? Yes, we always hear about those few kids who eventually progress to the professional ranks, but how about all the others? What happens to them along the way when they find out they’re not good enough to play pro, or even in college?

And more importantly, have we lost our way with youth sports in this country? Are we making progress….or have we started to go sideways?

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: American Moms and Dads are Still “Number One” in the World

 The “Main Street Test”

By Doug Abrams

 The November 1 issue of The Australian Magazine carries a thoughtful feature article by Natasha Bita about out-of-control youth sports parents and coaches. She reports recent confrontations at soccer and rugby matches Down Under, but similar incidents happen regularly almost anywhere boys and girls play organized sports, including the United States.

Reports of adult confrontations in children’s games create a prominent role for a “Main Street Test”: As adults cheer for their child and support the team effort, they should not say or do anything that they would be embarrassed to say or do in front of the child on Main Street.

The Main Street Test leaves plenty of room for partisan, but positive, enthusiasm because rooting for the team marks the best in sports. Games are meant to be fun for the whole family, and cheering is part of the fun. Parents and coaches should want the team to win within the rules, but the adults should not let their language or conduct descend below levels that they would tolerate from their own children.

Australia and the United States

Among other recent Australian embarrassments, Ms. Bita wrote about Brisbane U-11 rugby parents who spent an entire game “hurling instructions and insults from the sidelines,” and then used vulgarity to accuse the winning team of cheating. She also wrote about a boys’ youth soccer game in North Ipswich that saw police use tear gas and Tasers to break up a brawl among 100 spectators.

Ms. Bita described a Sydney U-13 girls’ soccer coach who allegedly sucker punched and head butted a parent who asked him to stop swearing at his players. A U-15 rugby match in New South Wales was marred by a brawl between players that, according to an official on the scene, “start[ed] with banter from the parents.” In Canberra, kids played a U-12 soccer game before empty stands because officials banned parents for hooliganism at a prior game between the two teams.

Now, for the United States. . . . In just the last month and a half, two U-11 youth football teams in Washington State were banned from the post-season playoffs after their parents brawled. In New Mexico, two high school girls’ soccer games ended prematurely, one because an angry parent went onto the field and the other because a parent instigated a shouting match. An angry New Jersey father allegedly ran across the field and tackled his son’s youth football coach after a game.

I suspect that in Australia and the United States alike, unruly adults in youth sports are actually more numerous than they appear because the media covers only a small fraction of verbal assaults and other disruptive incidents. A dust-up tends not to reach the newspapers unless someone is arrested or injured. Mere loud incivility, even in the presence of onlookers, may not qualify as newsworthy.

 “Worst Behaved”

How common are unruly adults in American youth sports, and how important is the Main Street Test as a self-control measure? A 2010 poll of 22 nations, jointly conducted by Reuters News and the market research company Ipsos, ranked parents in the United States as the world’s “worst behaved” sports parents. Sixty percent of U.S. adults who had attended youth sports contests reported that they had seen parents become verbally or physically abusive toward coaches or officials; runners-up were parents in India (59%), Italy (55%), Argentina (54%), and Canada (53%). As bad as the confrontations that opened this column were, Australia registered a relatively low 50%.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll confirmed earlier estimates of adult excesses in the United States. In a Survey USA poll in Indianapolis, Indiana, for example, 55% of parents said that they had seen other parents engaging in verbal abuse at youth sporting events, and 21% said that they had seen a physical altercation between other parents. In a Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission survey, 45.3% of youth leaguers said that adults had called them names, yelled at them, or insulted them while they were playing; 17.5% said that an adult had hit, kicked or slapped them during a game.

The National Alliance for Youth Sports estimates that about 15% of youth league games see a confrontation between parents or coaches and officials, and a national summit on Raising Community Standards in Children’s Sports called youth sports a “hotbed of chaos, violence and mean-spiritedness.” In a survey of youth athletes conducted by Sports Illustrated For Kids magazine, 74% had watched out-of-control adults at their games; 37% had watched parents yelling at children, 27% had watched parents yelling at coaches or officials, 25% had watched coaches yelling at officials or children, and 4% had watched violence by adults.

Setting the Example

Too many parents and coaches fail the Main Street Test during games by baiting referees, berating adolescent opponents, and unleashing profanity that they would deplore if it came from the mouths of their own children. Referees and other participants can hear these verbal assaults only when the adults yell so loud that their own children on the field or the bench can also hear.

When parents or coaches physically confront one another, anyone nearby can witness the bullying. The adults’ physical abuse would not win their children’s respect on Main Street, so there is no reason to believe that the abuse wins respect at the game either.

Most adults do behave themselves as their children play, but many youth athletes display better self-discipline than their elders. This turnabout stains the game because adults, not children, should set the example, on Main Street and at the field.

 

[Sources: Natasha Bita, Children Brawling at Footy Match is Bad Enough. But When the Parents Join In, It’s Time to Blow the Whistle, Australian Magazine, Nov. 1, 2014, p. 18; James Yodice, Unruly Parents Force Girls Soccer Matches to be Stopped, Albuquerque Journal, Sept. 25, 2014, p. D3; Douglas E. Abrams, Player Safety in Youth Sports: Sportsmanship and Respect as an Injury-Prevention Strategy, Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, vol. 39, p. 1 (2012).]

SPORTSMANSHIP: Is It Appropriate to Help a Fallen Competitor?

The following incident occurred in the Minnesota State cross-country championship a couple of weeks ago….

Two HS runners, both upperclassmen – Kailee Kaminski of Esko HS, and Tierney Winter of Watertown HS, came across a freshman runner, Jessica Cristoffer, who had collapsed on the course about 50 meters from the finish line. Jessica is a student at Jackson County Central HS. The three girls didn’t know each other.

The two older runners didn’t hesitate – they helped Jessica get up and assisted her to finish the race.

They did this, even though a HS cross country official warned the two older girls that if they helped their opponent, they would be immediately disqualified. Minnesota state rules make it clear that you are not allowed to assist an opponent.

Well, the two girls did help Jessica finish, and they – along with the fallen runner – were indeed both disqualified from the race.

What do you think? Did these girls do the right thing?

Apparently the no-help rule is put in place so that if a runner goes down, a professional athletic trainer can attend to them, assess the situation, and prevent further possible injury. That is, it’s feared that if  a well-meaning opponent tries to help a fallen runner, they may end up doing more harm than good if moving the fallen runner might cause more physical damage.

That makes sense….but it also seems to me that we want to encourage good sportsmanship as well.

If nothing else, the two girls who helped will be long remembered for their act of sportsmanship more than for finishing the race.

Said one of the older runners afterwards: “I couldn’t leave her there….I’ve seen girls help each other out, so I was like, I’ll help her and see what happens. …I wouldn’t want to be left if it were I, so I just thought of myself there, too.”

Lots of response on my WFAN show this AM. Some callers felt that the girls should be applauded for their Good Samaritan act, not disqualified. Others commented that since an official was right there, and had warned them not to help, that they should be disqualified for not listening to an official.

In my correspondence this week with Doug Abrams, he pointed out that a similar situation had happened in Ohio two years ago, and the good Samaritan there was disqualified for helping a competitor who has fallen short of the tape. But then the authorities changed her mind and did count both girls as official finishers.

Doug also mentioned  a case in Tennessee where the situation was a little different. In that race, a boy went down in serious medical distress halfway through the course. It was in the woods, and there were no officials around. A runner, Seth Goldstein, who knew CPR from working as a lifeguard, could see the runner was having some of seizure. Seth stopped, helped give first aid to the runner, and waited with him until help arrived. Once they took care of the boy, Seth went back to finish his race. He, of course, finished last – the race was long over – but Seth saved the competitor’s life, and was considered a  true hero.

The ultimate teaching moment here was, “How did we educate our kids to be good sports and Good Samaritans? And how did they know when to lend a hand when it might mean disqualification? Of course, every situation is different, but if nothing else, we sure hope we raise our kids to think quickly, do the right thing, and always put things in proper perspective.

 

TRAVEL TEAMS: Does the Future of HS Football Reside in Travel Programs?

For well over a decade, I have predicted that the reach, scope, and growth of travel teams will eventually (and sooner rather than later) overtake traditional HS varsity sports programs.

That’s for all HS sports, except for one: football.

After all, we have already witnessed HS soccer players being forced to choose between their HS team and their travel programs. Top HS basketball players are now opting for AAU travel teams instead. Same with ice hockey, baseball, and so on. I do think this trend is going to continue where the elite athletes will feel more pressure to opt for a travel program where they receive more showcase exposure to college programs, even at the expense of playing with their buddies and friends from their HS.

For all these years, though, I have always thought HS football would remain untouched by travel programs.

Why? Because HS football involves a substantial number of players for its roster, it’s an expensive sport including pads, helmets, and insurance, and you need a bunch of coaches to oversee it all. Plus, of all the HS sports, football is usually draped with HS tradition and student support.

But after seeing what it is happening all over the country with the sport of football, I sense a confluence of factors that are coming together to quietly erode local HS programs.

We already know about the concussion concerns. Even the NFL now admits that it anticipates 1/3 of its current players to suffer problems in the years to come due to hits to the head. As a result, parents today are more concerned than ever about the dangers of playing football, especially when we know that there is no helmet on the market today that truly prevents concussions.

Then, as noted, football — unlike, say, soccer or basketball, is an expensive sport. Even if the HS provides equipment, it’s pricey for both the school and the parent to keep the athlete well protected.

And it’s anticipated that as insurance companies begin to re-calculate the pressing medical concerns regarding concussions, the premiums for insurance for HS football will continue to climb even more.

Finally, there’s increasing anecdotal evidence that more of today’s young athletes just don’t want to put in the long hours and effort to play football. That usually means spending lots of time all year long in the weight room, staying in top shape.

It’s already recognized that HS football programs have been experiencing significant fall-offs in enrollment. And nobody is saying that drop-off is going to stop soon. In fact, more and more smaller HS programs are now combining teams in order to have enough kids to form one team.

So what do I think will happen?

My guess – and that’s all it is at this point – is that some enterprising parents will follow the pathway of travel team programs from other sports, and will start their own travel team for HS football. That means they would put the word out to talented players in their county or area that if they want to try out and be on an elite football team where all the kids have aspirations to play against better teams and players, then this is where they ought to be.

Kids won’t have to worry about just good their local HS team is going to be, or for that matter, whether they will have enough kids to form a HS varsity.

Instead, the travel team could line up games against other top travel football teams from around the country, probably private or parochial HS, since there are likely  rules in place about a HS team playing against a team which is not affiliated with a HS. The parents of the travel players would pay the costs of coach’s salaries, refs, insurance, fields, and have to pay for their kid’s equipment and travel. So, yes, it would be expensive, but most travel parents are already aware that it costs real money for their kids to participate at a higher level.

The payoff is that the HS travel players would gain greater exposure to college coaches, and of course, play at a higher level of competition.

Sound like a pipe dream? Maybe. I would —  and did – say the same thing a decade ago. But now I’m not so sure.