Archive for December, 2014

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: The Year in Review

Here’s a quick review of the biggest topics and headlines regarding sports parenting issues from 2014.

Let’s start with the biggest issue of the year…concussions:

Here’s what we know:

1— Concussions are commonplace in HS football, but they also occur in any contact sport, such as ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, field hockey, and so on.

There is currently no helmet on the market today that can prevent a concussion. True, they are a number of helmets that try to minimize the impact, but there is no one helmet that prevent a concussion. That includes football, ice hockey, lacrosse, and all other contact sports.

Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon from Boston University and considered the leading expert on concussions in the country today, came on my radio show last winter and advised sports parents that they should  not allow their kids to play tackle football until they are at least 14. Why?Because kids’ necks aren’t strong enough to prevent the “bobble-head” effect which is so common with head injuries.

On a strictly personal note, let me add this: If it were me, I would advise my son not to play tackle football until he was 14, or entering HS in ninth grade. Play flag football up until then. Your youngster will have plenty of time to learn how to tackle and block properly but why run the risk of concussions when your child is younger?

Along those same lines I’m also glad that, a couple of years ago, USA Hockey pushed back the age when full body checking is allowed to bantam age – 14. It just makes sense. And I’m glad that more medical experts are studying concussions in soccer caused by heading.

Tackle football will survive in this country, but as the insurance companies begin to raise their premiums for HS teams, more and more middle and smaller HS will most likely go out of the football business. Or they’ll ask the parents to pay for the skyrocketing insurance coverage.

 

2 –Moving onto Social media legal issues. It’s still amazing to me that so many students- and coaches – don’t understand the power of twitter, facebook, Instagram, etc.

Anything you post online is out there for everyone to see. And what might have seemed like a lame joke at first can blow up in a teenager’s face with devastating consequences. It can cost one a college scholarship or even admission into college. A dumb comment can scare away college coaches. It can even cost you possible employment when you graduate.

And yet, we still continue to see stories in the media every week when HS athletes post something stupid, and then claim that they have a right to say what they want on line, like that HS basketball player who wasn’t getting much playing time on his team and started to tweet his complaints. That ended up getting him booted off the team. He claimed he had a right of free speech – but in truth, that doesn’t apply to being on a school team, which is still a privilege not a right.

Most HS coaches now teach kids not to do such dumb things….but unfortunately, lots of kids still do it. They just don’t seem to learn.

3- The end of abusive coaches? One of the better developments over the last year is that more and more abusive coaches are being held accountable for their corrosive actions with kids.

This is happening more at the collegiate, HS, and travel team level. Look, it’s one thing to be a tough disciplinarian…but too many coaches have crossed the line with over-the-top verbal abuse and profanity aimed at their players.  And of course, if you ever grab or make physical contact with a player, well, that’s really asking for trouble.

For years and years, unfortunately, coaches have been deemed to be “above the law” so to speak. Thank goodness some common sense is finally coming into play on coaches who think they can do whatever they please. They need to be held accountable.

4– Repetitive use injuries. We’ve been talking about this medical issue for well over a decade now. And it’s important to remember that this is a medical concern that has only developed in recent years because too many kids now specialize all year in just one sport.

Back in the day, repetitive use injuries didn’t happen to kids who played three sports.

Dr. James Andrews, the famed orthopedic surgeon,  reminds us that kids shouldn’t throw curveballs until they can shave. That means, for most kids, probably around the age of 14. And yet, we still see kids in LL and travel teams throwing sliders and curves all the time. And yet,  we continue to see a stark rise in kids undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Why? Because kids are being taught that in order to be a top prospect, they need to throw 90 mph. That means they totally max out their pitching by throwing every pitch just as hard as they can. It results in their young arms tearing and they end up needing major surgery.

5 – How thrilling was it to see Mo’ne Davis from Philadelphia pitch so well in the LL World Series?

And Mone proved that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she was not only a great athlete, but could certainly dominate against boys her age.  Good for her. Now, we’re all eager to see what sport she will ultimately choose as she goes through HS – baseball? Or basketball?

6 – The gradual end of HS varsity sports continued in 2014. Thanks to travel programs like the US Soccer Academy, more and more travel programs in this country are drawing more and more kids away from HS varsity teams. This is a trend that continues to grow and will spell the end of competitive varsity teams. The better athletes will opt for travel programs, teams that don’t allow them to play for their HS anymore.

We already see it in soccer, basketball, baseball, and lax….it will also happen soon in football – or at least that’s my sense.

HS programs can’t provide the same kind of college exposure that travel teams do. They can’t provide a higher level of competition. And yes, while travel teams cost parents a lot of money, it’s easy to understand why parents feel a desire to give their children a chance to perform on at a higher level.

I only wish there were more of a uniform or standardized way of running these  travel teams and programs so that parents could better compare and contrast what they are paying so much money for.

 7  —  the Steubenville HS football case was a total disaster. Two starHS football players in a football-crazed town were convicted of digitally raping a HS girl who was unconscious from alcohol consumption. Both players had to go to juvenile detention center for at least a year. This case highlighted how a school district tends to look the other way when star athletes are involved.

Just as horrible was the horrendous hazing case from Sayreville, NJ. It’s just hard to believe that HS students today still don’t think twice about abusing their teammates, or what the consequences will be. And if nothing else, HS coaches have learned the hard way never to leave athletes alone in locker rooms.

8 – Good sportsmanship? This past fall, we talked about good sportsmanship in action in HS cross-country races where some runners stopped to help a fallen competitor, and how then those good sports were penalized for doing so.

In short, how do you reconcile a situation where a HS kid seemingly does the right thing by helping a fallen runner – only to then find out that they will be disqualified from the race?

If you’re going to have those kinds of strict rules in place, then race officials need to be posted at 100 yard intervals through the course.

After all, we don’t want to penalize kids for doing the right thing in life. And yet, these disqualifications have happened several times.

On the other hand, was good sportsmanship in place in that Oklahoma HS football playoff game where the refs goofed on their ruling – and cost a team a victory when they nullified a go-ahead TD with just a minute to go?

A district judge ultimately ruled that once you pr your team enter into a game which is being officiated by refs, then both teams are obliged to follow their directives –  even when the refs made a terrible mistake and it costs one HS the game.

Yes…life is not always fair, even in the world of competitive sports. I guess that’s the only lesson that can be drawn from this extremely unfair call by the refs.

In conclusion, as we look over the headlines from this past year, one thing is certain: Being a sports parent in 2015 is a lot more challenging and daunting than it was in 1970, or 1980, 0r 1990, or 2000. Sports parenting continues to be increasingly complicated, and most parents are left to their own insights or common sense to plan their kids’ involvement. I sincerely hope you and your family have a wonderful — and safe – year in 2015.

 

Contact us for more advertising information.

THE LONG-TERM REWARDS OF COACHING: What It Means to be a Coach

 YOUTH COACHING: TODAY’S CHALLENGES, TOMORROW’S REWARDS

By Doug Abrams

 

A few years ago, one of my recent law students told me an astounding story about the high school JV football team that he and a friend were coaching as volunteers.  After practice shortly before the opening game, the pair hosted a team pizza party at their own expense. With a large roster of hungry football players, that’s a lot of pizza.

Most of the parents appreciated the coaches’ effort to bring the players together, but a few parents phoned the principal to complain that the coaches had not invited them to the party. “If we did not drive our kids to practice,” said one parent, “the coaches would have no team to coach.” The complaining parents withheld their thanks and said nothing about chipping in to help pay for the pizza. The principal supported the coaches.

 Today’s Challenges

This story of petty parental ingratitude illustrates how difficult, and sometimes downright aggravating, interscholastic or youth league coaching can be today. Earning players’ respect has always been challenging for coaches, but the late twentieth century brought obstacles unknown when I began coaching youth hockey in the late 1960s.

The point here is not to debate the merits or demerits of new challenges, or to arbitrate whether parents might be right or wrong in a particular disagreement with the coach. Sometimes parents become nuisances to the team, but sometimes parents correctly criticize the coach for crossing the line.  Parents and coaches alike make mistakes.

The point of the JV football story is that unprecedented pressures these days lead too many middle school and high school coaches to leave the coaching ranks before their time, and lead too many youth league coaches to remain active only for a few years while their own sons or daughters participate. “Long termers,” men and women with tenures measured in decades rather than years or months, seem a dying breed. When an experienced youth coach hangs up the whistle with more still to offer, the coach’s departure can deprive future players of valuable leadership and instruction. Talented coaches are hard to come by.

Middle school and high school coaches may leave because of sniping from parents whose real beef is that their children did not crack the starting lineup. Social media can make coaches fair game for critics emboldened by the anonymity of the keyboard. Coaches may sense that their reappointment each year depends more on the win-loss record than on whether the team plays to its potential, or whether the coaches teach citizenship lessons that parents say they want. When school administrators pressured by resistant parents countermand reasonable disciplinary decisions, the coach’s relatively modest stipend may seem not worth the cost of frequent year-round commitment.

The youth league coach’s lot may not be much better. Silence or conflicting signals from the board of directors may leave the coach at the mercy of parents who disagree among themselves about whether to provide each player reasonable playing time, or whether to play a “short bench” to win. Because volunteer youth league coaches normally make no pretense of being professional educators or professional coaches, they can be easy marks for parents who question their knowledge of the game and second-guess their decisions.  Whispering campaigns can be as mean spirited as at the high school level, and parents’ expectations about their children’s prospects for a college scholarship or other athletic advancement can be just as unreasonable.

Tomorrow’s Rewards

Whether to leave coaching is an individual decision for the coach and his or her family. The family figures into the mix because sooner or later, pressures on the coach usually also weigh heavily on the spouse and children. Because time spent coaching can intrude on family commitments, coaches and families must decide for themselves when coaching stops being time well spent.

But when a coach seriously weighing the pros and cons of turning away seeks my advice, I suggest considering not only today’s frustrations (which are real), but also the long-term rewards from years of continued service (which are also real). Here is what I tell them:

In the long run, dedicated youth coaches usually win deserved respect and affection because their players never forget. Coach-player relationships frequently ripen into lifelong friendships based on good memories and mutual esteem. Most of my former players range in age from their early 20s to their early 50s. It is quite a charge when one phones, emails, or approaches me in the grocery store with, “Hey Coach, remember me? You coached me 25 years ago.”

The teacher-student bond can be one of life’s most lasting relationships, behind only the parent-child and child-sibling bonds. Interscholastic coaches and their youth league counterparts are teachers, and players are their students. For a coach with more yet to offer, resisting today’s pressures to quit can bank “deferred compensation” for a job well done, redeemable years later in the form of lasting shared memories.

COLLEGE RECRUITING: The Process Only Becomes More Challenging

Wayne Mazzoni, long-time baseball coach at Sacred Heart University and an expert on the process of how HS athletes are recruiting to college programs, was on the show this AM, and as usual, we just didn’t have enough time to get to all the calls.

But one recurring theme from the calls we did get to was clear: the process of HS athletes trying to be recruited by college coaches has, if possible, only become more difficult. Parents are finding this to be a real maze, full of dead ends, misleading statements, or non-returned emails from coaches.

As one caller said, “I thought I knew the process pretty well when it comes to college recruiting, but each year it becomes more and more problematic.”

Another added: “The local high schools ought to do more to educate parents and students about the system works, and what to do about it.”

As Mazzoni explained, it’s a process that is, at  best, poorly understood, and not well mapped out. And it’s up to the individual athlete and their parent to actively market themselves as opposed to simply waiting for college coaches to contact them.

Among the key points Mazzoni made:

> If you email a coach, be sure to add some key personal referral to your note, as in, a recommendation from a former player in that college’s program, or your travel team coach, or a key college alum. In other words, add something that will distinguish you from the thousands of other kids who are sending out similar emails to that college coach.

>Attending a short summer camp (2-3 days) at a college program you’re really interested in. That will cost a little money, but it will give you a real good look at the college’s facilities, the campus, and of course, a chance to meet the coaches. Plus they will meet you in person as well. That always helps.

>Paying for an online search to help market yourself is always an iffy proposition. Coach Mazzoni felt that most college coaches really don’t spend much time combing through these online services. If you do want to use one, try Berecruited.com, which is free to HS athletes.

> Above all, you must first find a college that you would be happy at REGARDLESS of whether you play sports there or not. Since so few HS athletes go on to make a team in college, you need to first find a school where you like the campus, where it’s located, what they offer in terms of academics, and of course, the student body.

And one more thing: college today is expensive. Very expensive. So, take your time and do your homework. Make sure you find the right college that is the perfect fit for you, because you’re going to make a very big investment in it. For more information, you can find Wayne Mazzoni at GetRecruited.org.

COLLEGE RECRUITING: THE TOP TEN “MUST DO’S” YOU NEED TO KNOW…

Top 10 Must Do’s For College Recruiting

By Coach Wayne Mazzoni, NCAA Coach Since 1992

 

  1. Choose The College First.  The fact is, more than a third of college freshmen athletes DO NOT play four years of their sport once in college.  There are a variety of reasons for this, but to pick a school from all those choices mostly for the sport/coach, if that college athletic career  does not work out, you will be quite unhappy.  Start with schools you love first, then think about their athletic program.

 

 

  1. Find Out How Good You Are. Or aren’t!  If you are a DIII player and are chasing down DI coaches, you are wasting valuable time.  Talk to your high school or travel coaches, teammates, go watch college practices and games, go to camps, etc., and get a solid idea of what level is right for you. PS – don’t let your parents try to convince you that you’re DI material when you know, deep down, that you’re better suited for DIII.

 

 

  1. Narrow Your College List To 10-20 Schools. It could be a few more, or a few less, but get a list of schools right for you as a student, a person, and as an athlete.  There are about 3500 college choices, but only a select few that are right for each person. There are millions of jobs, but only a select few that are right for each worker.  Same with colleges.

 

  1. Market Yourself – The Right Way. There are only three ways a college coach can evaluate you.  Live (games, tournaments, camps), video, or evaluation from one of your coaches.  No one way is magic, but if your list is short, you can get each coach on your list to see you one way or another. But you have to take the first step – don’t wait for a college coach to contact you.

 

  1. Play As If Someone Is Watching You. Why?  Because they probably are and often when you least expect it.  Yes,  you first need the basic talent to get our attention, but after that we are looking at what kind of person you are.  How you handle adversity, your attention to detail, attitude, hustle, competiveness.  The list goes on and on. And yes, college coaches do their homework when it comes to prospects.

 

  1. Be Personable.  If you are not comfortable meeting and talking to college coaches, I suggest you do some dry runs out on a coach/school that’s really only a secondary choice. While talent means more than your personality when it comes to recruiting, having both talent and personality gets you way ahead. 

 

  1. Ask Questions. For two reasons.  First, you need real answers.  What is my future role on the team?  Who’s ahead of me at my position? Will I be on the travel team to away games? What’s the gym and field look like?  What are the other coaches like?  Do you have a strength coach, etc.   It also helps you show interest and coaches want players who care about their program. Do your preparation. Come with real questions about the team; understand that the coach will most likely not volunteer any other details unless you specifically ask him or her.

 

  1. Admit It! If you can’t get into the school you are interested in due to academics, it’s all a waste of time.  So before you get all pumped up on a school who is recruiting you, make sure the coach talks to you honestly about your admissions chances and if he or she can help get you admitted. Talk to your high school guidance counselor as well.

 

  1. Get NCAA Certified. While most of you will walk through this step easily, others may have an issue.  But for the DI and DII bound of you reading this, the NCAA Initial Eligibility Center is a must.  Here is the link, take it from there.

 

  1. Get The Final Numbers and Feel. At some point, you and your parents need to know what the school is going to cost and if you and your family can afford it.  If a financial  package comes in at a number that makes sense to you, it’s time to do your overnight visit to the college.  On this visit, get a feel for the dorms, classes, coaches, teammates, practices, social life, etc.  This could be your place, so kick the tires and check it out in person.

 

 

For more information: Coach Mazzoni was a borderline talented DIII athlete who went to Gettysburg College to play football, but only lasted on year on the gridiron, before playing three on the diamond.  He was the type of pitcher who made the rest of the team’s ERA look good.

 

He has been a college coach since 1992 and has written several books on the recruiting process, as well as having lead recruiting talks since 1998 at over 500 high schools.  For more info visit www.GetRecruited.Net

COPING WITH ADVERSITY: What’s The Right Move When the Refs Flub a Major Call?

Okay, in this day and age of “instant replay” and “upon further review,” we’ve become accustomed – even expectant –  to seeing critically important calls in a game being overturned. And for the most part, we as sports fans understand if a ref’s call may have been decided wrongly. After all, they are forced to make a call in real-life time, without the benefit of slow-motion replays from different angles.

But that’s all in the heat of the moment.

What does a team do when a ref – or in this case, a team of ref’s – make a ruling that simply reveals their lack of knowledge of the rule book? And even worse, their lack of preparation ends up costing a HS football a big win in the state playoffs?

That’s precisely what happened a couple of weeks ago in a quarterfinal HS football game in Oklahoma. In short, Frederick A. Douglass HS scored the go-ahead TD with 1:04 left in the game on a 58-yard pass play. But during the play, one of Douglass coaches start running down the sideline, and accidentally obstructed with a ref. The official threw a flag.

But there is where things go off the rails. The ref met with his officiating colleagues, and determined that the infraction should result in wiping away the critically important TD, and bringing the ball all the way back to the line of scrimmage. Both teams were stunned: the Douglass team couldn’t believe their eyes, and the other team, Locust Grove HS, suddenly saw their prayers answered.

Instead of Douglass leading 25-20 with 1:04 to go, it was now 20-19 in favor of Locust Grove.

Problem is…the refs goofed. The penalty should have been assessed on the point after attempt, or on the ensuing kickoff, and it should have been 5 yards. But the go-ahead TD should have stayed on the scoreboard.

A day later, the Oklahoma State Athletic Association called the screw-up by the refs “inexcusable.” And the school district in which Douglass HS is located decided to sue  some sort of  relief  — to either pick up the game at the 1:04 mark, or totally replay the game from the beginning.

Jere Longman of the New York Times was my guest this AM on WFAN as he covered the bizarre chain of events, and pointed out there’s very little precedent for courts to get involved in these kinds of situations. However, there was one case in 1981 where the Georgia Supreme Court, in overturning a lower court’s decision, said that an important HS football game should not be replayed.

In this case, the judge in Oklahoma ruled that it’s understood by all HS athletes and coaches that once one agrees to participate in a HS sporting event, one tacitly agrees that the refs’ rulings will, in fact, serve as the final say. That suggests that even if the refs make a terrible call, as they did in this case,  the ruling will stand and cannot be appealed.

And so, that’s the end of the story. Douglass HS was deprived of its go-ahead TD in a state playoff game due to the ignorance of the football refs not knowing the rule book. Douglass saw its season come to an unexpected end. Locust Grove advanced because of the ruling, and in their semi-final game, they lost.

There’s hard to find any silver lining in any of this, except that one hopes that the lesson that is learned  here is that officials will take some time to really learn the rule book. It’s understood that most HS refs work games out of a love of the game, not to get wealthy. But you would hope that, especially with playoff games, the refs would double check everything. In some states, for example, they often have a supervisory ref assigned to playoff games just for this purpose. And of course, it would be a nice touch if somebody actually brought a HS football rule book to the game.

As for the kids on Frederick A Douglass HS, well, you can make a case that perhaps they will learn the hard way from this difficult outcome, that life is often full of unexpected downturn, that sometimes when you win, you really lose. But still…

ABUSIVE COACHES: The Secret of “Voice Control” When Coaching

 The Youth Coach’s “Theater”

By Doug Abrams

 

A few years ago, I happened to watch a pee wee hockey practice conducted by a coach who spent nearly the entire hour-long session barking instructions at his 11-12-year-old players. The players seemed willing to follow directions even if the coach spoke in a measured tone without a steady shout, but the coach never gave them the opportunity.

I did not notice whether the players were tuning out, but I would not be surprised if they were. Barking does not resonate for long because nobody likes to be shouted at incessantly by people who are charged with leading them.

“You don’t lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership,” said President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who knew a thing or two about military and civilian command. President Theodore Roosevelt explained his own success this way: “People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.”

“Knowing” and “Earning”

It is helpful to think of youth league coaching as part theater, with the practice or game venue as the coach’s stage and the players as the audience. Once the coach understands the game and how to motivate kids, the coach puts on a performance. Mere understanding is not enough.

This column offers a two-part formula known to anyone who has ever been successful on stage. First, the coach must “know the audience.” Second, the coach must “earn the right” to the audience’s continuing participation.

First: Knowing the Audience

As a threshold matter, the pee wee hockey coach did not know his audience. After the practice session, I asked him why he was so loud and boisterous for the whole hour. “That’s what pro coaches do,” he responded, and he sincerely meant it.  “Vince Lombardi was gruff with his players, and he’s in the Hall of Fame,” the coach explained, “I’m just trying to be a good coach.”

I am not sure that the hockey coach was right about Lombardi and the pros, but he was surely wrong about kids. Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins were adults, and pee wee hockey players are . . . well, pee wees.

The pros today are elite multimillionaire adults employed by multimillion-dollar (and sometimes billion-dollar) corporations to provide public entertainment that earns profits for owners and shareholders. Lucrative media deals, corporate sponsorships, personal endorsements, and cities’ economic fortunes ride on winning and losing. When coaches yell at a pro, the multimillionaire still gets paid handsomely.

Youth leaguers are not miniature adults or pint-sized professionals. They are children with youthful emotional needs and cognitive capacities. They are growing, learning and playing, not working. Without fat contracts, national media coverage and audiences of millions, children play for fun and fulfillment to an audience consisting usually of only family and friends.  The children’s physical and emotional welfare, and not financial reward, is the bottom line.

Some youth coaches miss the distinction when they lead youth leaguers for the first time. Then some become creatures of habit and never temper their approach. Much of their knowledge of sports comes from the professional games they watch on television, attend in person, or read about in the newspapers. Youth leaguers are different.

Second: Earning the Right to the Audience

Once coaches know their youthful audience, they must earn the right to that audience. Similar to most other rights that must be earned, this one demands hard work and careful attention. Just because a person speaks does not necessarily mean that anyone will continue listening. Similar to theatergoers who may leave before the curtain falls, players may disengage before the end of the season, the coach’s final act. Coaches retain the right to an audience only when the audience wants to stay put.

This frank recognition, drawn from humility and not entitlement, should motivate anyone who seeks rapport with an audience, including youth league coaches. Writer Catherine Drinker Bowen used to keep a simple sign posted above her desk as she created her well-crafted biographies: “Will the reader turn the page?” Youth league coaches should write something similar atop their notebooks and practice agendas: “Will the players come back for more?”  As Ms. Bowen understood, the right answer does not come from taking the audience for granted.

Dave Snyder, my hockey coach at Wesleyan University, taught me about “voice control” when we did some clinics together after I graduated. Be firm but fair, authoritative but not authoritarian. Theater instructors similarly stress voice control as a path to successful and effective communication.

When I coached youth hockey, I used voice control to speak on the ice in the same tone of voice that I would use with the players on the street. I would raise my voice when I needed to be heard some distance away, but never to intimidate or to win false respect. Find a youth coach who remains convinced that barking wins respect, and you have found a coach who is either insecure or inexperienced, or both. When coaches maintain voice control and treat players like fellow human beings, respect follows if the coach deserves it.

“50 Percent of the Performance”

Mastery of theater remains important for youth coaches because open lines of communication remain important. “No coach has ever won a game by what he knows,” said former Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, “It’s what his players know that counts.”

When Shirley Booth won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1952, she shared the credit because “the audience is 50 percent of the performance.” The percentage may be even higher in youth sports because the audience is so impressionable.  “All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It. All the youth sports world certainly is.

 

TRAVEL TEAMS: The Five Biggest Myths Regarding Elite Teams

 

Five Myths About Playing “Elite” Travel Youth Sports

By VJ Stanley

Frozenshorts.com

 

MYTH #1: Because you pay a lot of money, you believe your child’s athletic ability has a quantitative value.

I’ve heard this comment in many forms. Parents often brag about how much money they’ve spent on their child’s youth sport’s experience, how “whipped” they are from the brutal schedule their child has in youth sports, how far they had to travel last weekend, how many times they’ve visited their child’s orthopedic surgeon or personal trainer. I then hear, “My son signed his first contract to play junior hockey.” (Even though the parent paid $10,000 in various travel fees for his son to play on that team).

I’ve also seen children go play on an “elite academy team” with their families paying thousands of dollars and then bragging about it, only to hear later on that they regretted the decision when no scholarship offer appeared.

Let me make this clear: There is no correlation between how much   money you spend on your child’s athletic “elite” travel team and their ability to play at a higher level.

You can’t buy talent. If this was true, how do poor kids reach their athletic peak? Think of this example. Your child has a cold. You take her to the pediatrician and get a prescription for some medicine. You’re done. You aren’t sent to a specialist to pay more money. You only go to a specialist when you need special results. In this case, it’s just a common cold for a common child. What if this new youth sport’s paradigm is not a special situation for most children and does not call for special attention? You’d be spending and wasting money needlessly. Wouldn’t you get frustrated when you didn’t get special results?

Continually we hear the disappointment in the end game of this monetary path. The money spent far outweighs what is received in athletic scholarships. There’s a tangible hangover to this paradigm. We see it every day.

On our website, frozenshorts.com, we have a form to fill out that will show you what it costs per hour for your child to play elite travel sports per weekend. The cost — about $230.00 an hour –should astound you!

 

Myth #2: A child should play one sport year round in order to become a star athlete.

Really?  Who told you that? Are they making money off of your participation in that one sport activity? Why is this happening?

This idea has taken hold and grown over the last thirty years.  More and more youth sports’ organizations adhere to this. They ask the family to submit a calendar of their kid’s “outside” activities and inform the parents that their children, if they don’t want to fall behind, need to make a year round training commitment. It’s implied by some coaches that failure to make this level of commitment will cause the child to lose serious playing time or be benched. However, it is never the star player who receives this sort of demand. Excuses are always made for this player.

“Mandatory” camps are routinely held during the “off” season. It’s apparent you had better sign up and attend to keep your spot. Families are told that the team must stay and play together to win.

Almost all these teams/organizations say this and yet many don’t win as much as they’d lead you to believe, considering the importance placed on winning. In addition, few parents realize that their child may lose substantial playing time to the new kid who suddenly is added to the team, and is given “carte blanche”  by the coach. This kind of move often undermines the team concept.

Finally, I hear parents allow and encourage one sport year round participation because their children “love” the sport and Mom and Dad are allowing their children “to take this as far as they can.”

Let me put it this way. I LOVE ice cream. But I can’t eat it every day. It’s not just not healthy.

Let’s look at the science, psychology, and data.  There are 2 to8 times more injuries for those kids who play one sport year round. Health, according to Dr. James Andrews, the top orthopedic surgeon in the US, is the most important thing for an athlete’s success at each level.

Children change their mind all the time. Having them do anything year round tends to be against their nature.  They may initially want to play year round–even enjoy it. But soon, it will begin to wear on them.

These are kids—and kids want to do different things. They will proceed to please their parents and avoid the stigma of quitting. But invariably, for many, injuries begin and their bodies and minds tell them they need to rest. Soon you have a child not having any fun who is more susceptible to getting hurt.

The simple truth is, the drive for athletic scholarships, or a pro career, isn’t dependent on focusing on one sport year all year round.  The Minnesota Twins always look for multi-sport athletes. Their top prospect, Byron Buxton, is the #1 prospect in all of minor league baseball and was a basketball star in high school.

Three out of the four starting quarterbacks in the 2013 AFC and NFC championship games were drafted by major league baseball teams. Peyton Manning — the one quarterback who wasn’t drafted — played shortstop in high school right through his senior year. Ryan Callahan, the former captain of the New York Rangers and now with the Tampa Bay Lightning, played soccer and advocates time away from hockey in the off-season. Brian Gionta, the captain of the Montreal Canadiens, takes three months off from skating after every season. Abby Wambach, considered to be the top female soccer player in the world, was a high school basketball star.

 

Myth 3: Your team benefits by playing other “elite” teams.

The truth is, most teams are only elite because someone put that title on it.

Most elite teams consist of a group of kids whose parents agreed to pay an outrageous fee for their child’s participation on this team. The team was picked from a pool of participants that excluded anyone who couldn’t afford to pay the fee and/or didn’t want to give up everything else they were doing to play on this team. The league you play in has the same criteria as you do; therefore, there is no way you can expect true elite competition.

Most recreation level sports aren’t as good as “elite” because of desire. I’ve watched many and can say that just like elite teams and players, there are a couple of stand-out kids, a couple who are not very good, and the rest are about the same talent level. You could easily switch some kids from either team and not see much of a difference.

Here’s another truth: I’ve talked to many kids who passed up playing for their high school and most publicly say they wouldn’t change what they did. But behind the scenes, and in growing numbers, kids are going back to their high school varsity teams. They are quietly saying to family and friends they are regretting their decision to play elite sports instead of with their high school friends.

There are only so many spots on college teams and they’re getting filled by not just a national pool but a global pool of talent. While it is true that some college coaches only recruit from the “one sport year round” pedigree, most college coaches, regardless of sport, look for multi-sport athletes who are great teammates and have high-quality character first and foremost.

 

Myth #4:  Showcases are a big step towards your athletic scholarship goal

Here is my definition of a showcase. A truly elite program sends out individual invitations for an athlete to attend. The event is only for children above the age of 15. The coaches let the kids play, with minimal instruction. The parents pay a nominal fee. The showcase isn’t there for the main purpose of funding a team/program/organization.

I understand that college coaches sometimes get paid a fee to attend these showcases. They also get an advantage watching a lot of kids play their sport in a short amount of time. They can only attend these showcases at certain times of the year, according to the NCAA rules. Because of the plethora of these money-making showcases, there is a watered down aspect that starts to develop.. In some cases, kids go to these showcases, tired, not at peak, and try to impress college scouts with their “stuff” and they can get injured. 80% of a college coach’s job is recruiting. Trust me, if you have talent, we will find you. It’s our job.

The last soccer showcase I took my son to, we had to travel six hours by car. My son played four games against the same level of competition that he normally played against in his ‘elite” travel league back home.  I watched every team I could get to (about 600 kids.) I saw two children who I considered to be D1 material.

I also discovered there were only six other coaches attending this showcase, and I did not recognize any D1 schools.

We paid $600to sit and watch soccer for the weekend. I understand and acknowledge that some people refer to this as their social lives. But the point was supposed to be a showcase for college coaches and perspective college-bound student-athletes.

It was not. It was the last showcase we went to.

On the way home I had the “Santa Claus” talk with my son regarding D1 athletic scholarships and his chances of receiving one. As an aside to this story, it was also the last season my son played travel soccer. He still played and started for his high school team his senior year.

 

Myth #5: Personal trainers are a necessity in youth sports.

Have we gotten to the point that specialization in sports has robbed our children of the basic fundamentals of running, stopping, throwing, kicking, and catching? These children now have to be taught basic fundamentals by specialists?

I am all for certified athletic trainers in rehabbing injuries. But until you show me a study where an overweight 10-year-old worked with a personal trainer for 8 years and was transformed into a DI athlete with no baggage, I have a hard time believing.

We have gotten messages from a couple of national trainers and they say elite training gives an athlete a mental and physical edge, but that applies only for the very top 1% of the athletes in the country.

My point? Be wary of any trainer who is attempting to make a buck off you or your son’s ambitions.

Go outside and play for fun in pickup games. Make up your own games. The coping, sharing, playing, socializing, and fun will lead to great times and memories. Bring the backyard back!

It’s not our goal here at Frozen Shorts to decide when, how, or even if the light goes on for those participating in youth sports. Our job is to just keep flipping the switch.

V.J. Stanley served as a head coach in college hockey for 21 years and is now an author who speaks nationally on balanced excellence in youth and high school sports for better health and injury prevention. He can contacted at frozenshorts.com.