Archive for February, 2015

SPORTSMANSHIP: When HS Coaches Play To Lose…..

 How Youth Coaches Can Lose Players’ Respect Quickly:  Throw a Game

By Doug Abrams

 In Tennessee girls basketball action last week, Riverdale High School faced Smyrna High School in a district tournament match-up.  Both teams tried their hardest all game. The trouble was that, obeying their head coaches’ instructions, both teams tried their hardest to lose.

The coaches knew that the winner would face defending state and national champion Blackman High in the semifinals, but that the loser would move into the opposite bracket. With both teams intent on throwing the game, the London Daily Mail called the contest a “farce.” (Yes, the story quickly reached beyond the United States to an international audience.)

Players on both teams deliberately missed more than a dozen free throws and committed multiple game violations.  When one girl was about to try to score on her own team’s basket, the referees finally stopped the game to warn both coaches.

After the referees filed their game report, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) dismissed both schools from the tournament, fined both $1500, and placed both on probation for the upcoming season. The county schools director suspended both coaches for at least next season.

“We Were Embarrassed”

Manipulating tournament pairings by tanking games is not an entirely new youth league coaching strategy, but tanking usually leaves a foul taste in the mouths of players who know right from wrong. For coaches who covet their players’ respect, ordering the team to deliberately lose can quickly erase years of unblemished service.

Respect quickly evaporated, for example, in an early round of the Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) High School Hockey League’s A-Division playoffs in 2011.  The Westwood High School Warriors led College Jeanne Sauve, 3-2, late in the third period, when Westwood’s coaches schemed to lose the game by pulling their goalie to let the opponents score. The coaches knew that by losing, the Warriors would draw an easier opponent in the upcoming semifinal round and avoid a faceoff against the league’s regular-season champion. With their net empty, the Warriors gave up the tying and winning goals and lost, 4-3.

The Winnipeg Sun reported that many Warriors players left the ice “visibly distraught” because they knew that their coaches had deliberately thrown the game. “It was brutal,” a Warriors forward told the Sun.  “We were embarrassed, and we’re sad we had to put up with it.” With their coach quickly suspended for unethical conduct, Westwood’s players themselves agreed to face the regular-season champion in the semis, the match-up that a victory honestly earned against College Jeanne Sauve would have produced.

“Most of Us Did Not Like the Idea”

Similar coaching shenanigans marred the U.S. Youth Soccer Association Region IV playoffs in Honolulu in June of 2003. With his team ahead 1-0 and about five minutes left to play, the coach of the U-17 De Anza Sharks of Cupertino, California instructed his girls to lose by scoring twice on themselves. Again the strategy was to avoid a strong opponent in the next round. The Sharks lost the game, 2-1.

“Our coach looked at the brackets,” a Sharks player told the Alameda (Calif.) Journal afterwards, “and he felt it would be best if we played a weaker opponent in the second round. He brought up [the idea of deliberately losing] to us before the game. Most of us did not like the idea, but he was our coach and he felt it was the best thing to do.”

The Ethical Compass

Many youth coaches doubtlessly weigh tactics during playoffs and other tournaments, which frequently feature multiple games in a few days, sometimes on only a few hours’ rest. To conserve stamina with the team comfortably ahead, for example, the coach may pace first-stringers and reward substitutes with extra playing time.

The ethical compass points in a different direction, however, when the coach deliberately tries to lose a game. The line between reasonable pacing and deliberately trying to lose may be hazy sometimes, but coaches cross the line when the players themselves figure out that their leaders are scheming to pull a fast one.

The integrity of sports depends on competitors who try their best to win. Angling to lose brings dishonor by denying every competitor the spice that comes from physically and emotionally invigorating competition. The British Association of Coaches points the ethical compass in the right direction: “Sport without fair play is not sport and honours won without fair play can have no real value.”

Only One Bad Deed

Reputation earned over time is the youth coach’s greatest asset. One serious ethical lapse can permanently destroy that asset because, as Supreme Court Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo wrote, reputation “is a plant of tender growth, and its bloom, once lost, is not easily restored.” Or as Benjamin Franklin taught more directly, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”

 The Tennessee girls basketball coaches will doubtlessly find it difficult, if not impossible, to recover their reputations, even if their schools permit them to return to the sidelines after serving their suspensions next season. Players and parents may sometimes forgive a devoted coach’s errors of strategy, or even the coach’s lack of knowledge about the finer points of the game. But players and parents may find it difficult to forgive dishonesty that soils the values that drive sports.

The Tennessee high school basketball coaches’ ethical lapse counsels youth coaches against yielding to temptation to throw a tournament game for tactical advantage. We often speak of 20/20 hindsight, but coaches with values also need 20/20 foresight. Integrity is a youth coach’s foundation, and a permanently tattered reputation is too great a price to pay for today’s chance at tainted victory.

 

[Sources: Oliver O’Connell, Two High School Basketball Teams Suspended For BOTH Trying to Lose the Same Game – With One Player Even Shooting Into Her Own Basket, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2969629/We-NOT-champions-Two-girls-high-school-basketball-teams-suspended-trying-lose-game.html                   (Feb. 25, 2015); Tom Kreager and Mealand Ragland, Riverdale, Smyrna Coaches Suspended for 2015-16 Season, District Says, Daily News Journal (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), Feb. 25, 2015; Ken Wiebe, Swift Hockey Justice, Winnipeg Sun, Mar. 5, 2011, p. S3; Mike McGreehan, Board Takes Action Against Youth Coach, Alameda Journal, Sept. 23, 2003, p. B1]

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PARENTS V. COACHES: The Time Has Come to Reinvent Our Relationship!

Of all the questions I’m asked when I do sports parenting presentations, the one topic that far surpasses everything else is: as a sports parent, what’s the best way to approach my kid’s coach about…..(fill in the rest of the question here: playing time, position, being made captain, etc).

There was a time not that long ago when coaches were never approached by parents. About anything. Coaches were put on a pedestal, and for better or worse, parents never went to complain. That kind of act was seen as being totally off-limits, and if a youngster had an issue with the coach, it was up to the boy or girl to approach the coach on their own. That took tremendous courage, and as such, it was rarely done.

Any issue that involved the coach was usually seen as the sole responsibility of the Athletic Director to keep tabs on the coaches, and if things were out of sync, it was the AD who stepped in, quietly, and talked to the coach. There were no parental complaints to the school board, or principal, or threatened lawsuits.

Now, clearly those days are gone. And while I am not so naive as to think that everything with old-time coaches was truly wonderful  back in the day, the fact is that, these days, friction between coaches and parents continues and only grows worse. Every week I read of more and more quality coaches quitting, not because of the kids, but because of the interference from Moms and Dads. And more and more parents complain that coaches just aren’t very good any more.

So on this AM’s radio show, I opened the floor to suggestions on what we can finally do to straighten the ship and start heading back in a positive direction. There were some excellent suggestions which I recap below:

1 – BETTER COMMUNICATION: This is a concept that everybody agrees with, until you get down to specifics. But one idea that everybody seemed to like is that the AD and head coach of each varsity team should meet with the players and their parents in a mandatory meeting before the very first tryout. The AD should run the meeting, introduce the head coach, go over the coach’s credentials, experience, etc., and then talk about the coach’s philosophy towards tryouts, cuts, underclassmen playing more than seniors, and on and on.

The point is….it’s better to give voice NOW before the first practice to let all concerned exactly what the coach is all about. And yes, parents can certainly and should ask direct questions.

2 – ANONYMOUS SURVEYS: Such a simple but effective way of communicating. Have two such surveys- one at the middle of the season in which team players AND their parents can fill out a form which basically grades the coaching staff, not so much about their won-loss record, but on how their son/daughter is enjoying the season or not, what could be improved, other concerns, etc.

Another similar follow-up survey should be done at the end of the season as well. The surveys have to be done anonymously in order not to invite any retaliation against a player or their family.

3 – LET COACHES REACH OUT! Another good idea was to suggest that the head coach take the initiative and reach out a player’s parents if the coach and his staff sense that an issue is developing. In other words, rather waiting for the athlete and his parents come to the coach, why not tell the coach to make the first move?

The idea here is to show parents that the coach is a sensitive educator, and that he/she can see some friction may be developing. By making the first move, the coach will both impress the parents as well show that he/she wants to nip any problems in the bud.

These three ideas, I feel, are a step in the right direction, mainly because they are specific and offer some positive action. I’m curious as to any other ideas you have. By the way, if you’d like to hear the original show from this AM, you can always go to WFAN.com and find the link for Rick Wolff’s Sports Edge podcast.

HEROIC ATHLETES/COACHES: Some Role Models You Should Tell Your Athletes About…

 What to Tell Children When Professional Athletes Stray

By Doug Abrams

 

The past few years have exposed a darker side of professional sports, in full view of children who follow their favorite stars. In bygone decades, some players were no angels but sportswriters chose silence over public revelation. Since Watergate, however, journalists play by different rules.

Journalists today remain silent about nothing, and indeed strive to outdo one another with accounts of pros who cross the line into criminality and other personal irresponsibility off the field. Accompanying swift public disclosure in broadcast and print sources is the limitless reach of social media, which sometimes brings graphic video (think Ray Rice in the elevator).

Every baseball fan today knows about the Major Leagues’ “steroids era,” when some players cheated to secure advantage. We know too about disturbing rates of criminality among players in some leagues, particularly the NBA and the NFL (which some cynics dub the “National Felons League”). Headlines chronicle players’ arrests for such crimes as assault, rape, and child abuse. Last week we learned once again that adult cheating can infect even the Little League World Series.

“A Life of Greatness”

How should parents and coaches explain to their children news accounts of a prominent player’s arrest or conviction?  It seems to me that the adults can counter the bad news about errant players with the good news about players who use sports to set examples that make us proud. (And yes, the media does report the good news, often as prominently as it reports the bad. Good news is not hard to find if the adults pay attention.) Because professional athletes are drawn from the general population, some stray but most do not. People make choices.

For parents and coaches who want to discuss choices, here is a good start. . . . In just the past few weeks, the media spotlighted three prominent pros whose choices set wholesome examples for young athletes, and indeed also for their elders:

  • Two years into his three-year $37.5 million contract, 29-year-old St. Louis Rams center Jason Brown left football and bought a 1,000-acre North Carolina farm. Brown told CBS that his agent advised that, “You’re making the biggest mistake of your life” by walking away from the final $12.5 million. Brown disagreed because he had resolved to learn how to be a farmer so he could help feed the hungry by donating his crops to food pantries.

Last fall, his First Fruits Farm donated 46,000 pounds of sweet potatoes and 10,000 pounds of cucumbers. More is on the way. “[W]hen I think about a life of greatness,” he told CBS, “I think about a life of service.”

  • During the National Hockey League’s All-Star Game weekend in Columbus, Ohio late last month, Washington Capitals’ captain Alex Ovechkin went public with his desire to win either the Honda car that would be awarded to the player chosen last in the NHL Fantasy Draft, or the car that would be awarded to the game’s most valuable player. He even held up a handwritten sign that went viral: “I want to be last. I need a car.”

Ovechkin’s salary did not leave him wanting for wheels, so the other players wondered what he was up to. He took a lot of ribbing, did not tip his hand, but came up short when he was chosen second-to-last in the fantasy draft and failed to win the MVP Award.

Ovechkin’s agent then revealed that his client wanted a car so that he could donate it to a Washington-area youth hockey program for special-needs children. Ovechkin felt a bond with the program ever since a pre-season skating session, when he struck a friendship with one of the program’s young players, a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome.

When Honda learned why the Capitals’ captain wanted the car, the company gave him a new 2015 Honda Accord, which the star promptly turned over to the youth team.

  • After spending three years with the NFL’s Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers, 26-year-old safety Ricardo Silva spurned offers to play in Canada or become a college football coach. Instead he joined Teach for America. He teaches geometry at Washington, D.C.’s Ballou High School because, he told the Washington Post, “I would love to see kids go to college. And I feel like I can show them the way.” “It’s more than football to me,” he told CNN, “It’s life.”

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Kids deserve to learn about professional athletes like Jason Brown, Alex Ovechkin and Ricardo Silva. Amid occasional reports about pros who stray into criminality and personal irresponsibility, the trio’s stories demonstrate the power of sports as a force for good in American life.

 

[Sources: Adam Gretz, Alex Ovechkin Wanted to Win a Car At All-Star Game So He Could Donate It, http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/eye-on-hockey/24994227/alex-ovechkin-wanted-to-win-a-car-at-all-star-game-so-he-could-donate-it  (Jan. 25, 2015); CBS News, Steve Hartman, Why a Football Player Traded NFL Career for a Tractor, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/former-nfl-player-farms-for-good/ (Dec. 26, 2014); Tim Stevens, Jason Brown, a Former NFL Lineman, Has Big Dreams, News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/11/27/3413624/jason-brown-a-former-nfl-lineman.html (Nov. 27, 2013); Helena Andrews, Former Football Player Ricardo Silva Teaching High School in D.C., Wash. Post, Sept. 19, 2014; CNN, Betsy Anderson, Trading Football For Teaching, http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/30/world/iyw-silva-nfl-to-teacher-text/index.html (Feb. 1, 2015). A hat tip to John Coleman for bringing Alex Ovechkin’s story to my attention.]

TRENDS IN SPORTS: Parochial HS Football Powers Dominate Public HS Teams – Is this Fair?

Let’s say you live in northern New Jersey, which is a heavily populated area. And let’s say you send your son to local public schools in your town.

But as your son gets into middle school, it’s apparent that he’s going to be a top athlete, and especially in football. Before too long, he (and you) start hearing about some of the top HS football programs in your area: about how many of these teams go on the road occasionally during the football season and play top HS football teams from other parts of the country, that they send numerous players to Div. I programs each year on scholarship, and so on.

On the other hand, the local public school in your team has a decent football program, and although it’s a big school, it’s not at the same competitive level as, say, a Bergen Catholic, Don Bosco, or St. Joe’s, or any of the other parochial powerhouses in northern NJ.

So what do you do? For lots of aspiring football players, this is a no-brainer: you attend one of the powerhouses. And over the last few years, the migration of top players into these parochial programs has drained the public schools of lot of its stars.

That, of course, is a family’s right and privilege. No one disputes that. But things get a bit sticky when those parochial schools still compete and play against those very same public schools.

It’s gotten to the point where, just recently, head football coach Joe Stinson at Eastside HS, which is a large public school, told the NJ State Interscholastic Assn. (NJSIAA) that rather than play Don Bosco HS this fall, he would forfeit the game. Why would a respected HS football coach say that?

Because he fears for the safety for his players against such a dominant team.

Other public schools are beginning to follow suit. No one wants to see their team forfeit, but as Darren Cooper, sports columnist for the Bergen Record, said on my show this AM, “This issue has been brewing for some years now, and it’s now bubbling up to the top. The powers-that-be are going to have to do something. In fact, a committee in NJ has been set up to see what can be done.”

From my perspective, all kids who play sports want to have a level playing field when the game begins. But over the last decade, the football field has been tilted drastically in favor of the parochial schools in NJ. Public schools are limited to just those players who live within their school district boundaries. But parochial schools have no such limits: they can, and do, bring in top players from all over. No one will admit that they actively recruit, but clearly that’s said with a knowing wink and a nod.

Ten years ago, this wasn’t so much of a problem. But it is now.

And by the way, this isn’t just happening in NJ or with parochial schools. In fact, it’s a pattern that is trending all over the country, and administrators are scrambling to find a way to keep that playing field level.

In any event, the time has come for the NJ State Interscholastic Athletic Assn. to really step up and dig in and try to find a reasonable solution for the 2015 football season. No, it won’t be easy, as there are dissenters on all side of this issue. And yes, every so often, a public school will rise up and defeat a parochial school. But that’s happening less and less, and if anything, with HS coaches now saying they will forfeit rather than play a parochial team, that’s a result that no one wants.

There must be a way to figure this out. I’m banking on the NJSIAA to come up with a solution soon.

SPORT SAFETY: New Federal Lawsuit Charges Pop Warner Football As Source of Concussions

Concussions have been making headlines across the country for several years now, but this past week, a new lawsuit was filed that pits the family of a former football player against Pop Warner football.

In short, this  focuses on a young man who played Pop Warner football for four years as a kid, but by the time he was 25, he had become seriously depressed and ended up committing suicide. The autopsy report found strong evidence of CTE, which of course is caused by blows to the head.

Joseph Chernach’s family in Wisconsin filed a $5 million federal lawsuit against Pop Warner football, alleging that Pop Warner “knew or should have known that tackle football was dangerous for children,and exposed children to head injuries, including dementia pugilistica (a kind of CTE).”

The lawsuit goes on to say that Pop Warner’s actions were “deliberate” – in effect, that Pop Warner knew, or should have known, that kids that young can easily suffer serious long-term brain damage from concussions.

The complaint says that even as long ago as 1997, there were medical protocols in place regarding concussions, but the Pop Warner  really didn’t follow those rules. Even more, they didn’t use the safest helmets for the kids, didn’t limit the amount of hitting and contact in practice, and so on.

Chernach played four years of Pop Warner as a running back and linebacker, and usually played every down of every game. He also played football and wrestled in HS. He also was a pole vauiter. He went to Central Mich Univ. By all accounts, he was a happy and outgoing young man during HS and into college.

But during college, Chernach eventually stopped going to class and dropped out. He returned home, became withdrawn and a recluse, and refused all medical help from his family. Then, in June 2012, Joseph killed himself.

Brain tissue was examined by Dr Ann McKee, one of the top experts on CTE, and she concluded that there “were very serious changes in the brain stem” and “it’s the worst example of this in someone this young.” She was referring to the build-up of tau (which is the tell-tale sign of  CTE) in the young man’s brain.

And here’s another new case. This past week, the mother of a teenage water polo player sued USA Water Polo in federal court saying that the organization didn’t do enough to protect players from concussions.

I have talked on my radio show over the last couple of years that these kinds of lawsuits would eventually begin to pop up…and now they are.

I also imagine it’s only a matter of time before we’ll see a major lawsuit filed against HS football team and school district, claiming that a kid suffered concussions which led to serious medical problems or death.

In fact, there’s already a lawsuit out in Illinois that is built upon that very supposition.

All of this only adds more uncertainty to sports parents who have to decide whether they will allow their kids to play football and other contact sports, like lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, and ice hockey.

In addition, this also means that insurance companies everywhere are really going to take a hard look as to whether they want to be in the business of insuring contact sports. That is, at the end of the day, it’s the insurance companies that have to cover the cost of all these concussion-based lawsuits.

ONLY FROM POP WARNER FOOTBALL?

One can argue that in the Chernach case, it might be difficult to prove that his suicide was caused strictly by his play in Pop Warner. After all, the kid did play HS football, wrestled, and was a pole vaulter. Perhaps those activities also led to the brain damage. In fact, that’s been the immediate defense from Pop Warner.

But some legal experts point out that the Chernach family only has to show that playing Pop Warner led, in part, to the damage. That’s the key to see whether this lawsuit keeps going.

Steve Kallas, attorney and sports parenting expert, noted on the show this AM this is just the opposite of the former NFL players who have filed suit against the NFL. In its defense, the NFL has said that these individuals played pro football, college football, and HS football, and as such, it’s impossible to tell which caused CTE to erupt.

In this case, though, the Chernach attorneys are saying that despite the fact that Joseph played HS football, wrestled, and was a pole vaulter, it was the Pop Warner involvement that, for the most part, led to his demise.

There have been a couple of other recent cases where young athletes have taken their lives, presumably due to concussions. There was the young football player at Penn who hung himself at age 21. Owen Thomas, who by all accounts was well-adjusted, suddenly went through an emotional outburst before killing himself. An autopsy revealed a high level of CTE.

MORE EVIDENCE

But let’s remember this: concussions weren’t invented just a few years ago. They’ve been around for a long, long time. I recall concerns about concussions when I played HS and college football. Of course, in those days, if a player was concussed, he was brought out of the game until he got rid of the cob webs and then was allowed to go back and play.

Only now have we seen so many former NFL players run into health troubles years after they have retired. But now we’re also seeing alarming trends with younger players.

There’s more and more evidence that when it comes to tackle football, you should NOT allow your kids to play full-contact under the age of 12.

This latest study comes from the prestigious medical journal Neurology, and features a study from Boston University which strongly suggests that if you let your son play tackle football under the age of 12, there’s a higher risk that he will develop memory and thinking problems as he’s  get older.

This study was conducted studying 42 former NFL players, ages 41-65, all of whom played tackle football at young ages.

In short, those former NFL players performed 20 percent less well than the group who didn’t play tackle football.

Concluded Dr. Robert Stern, who was the senior author of the study which comes out of BU School of Medicine: “The message is, the earlier you start playing tackle football, the more issues you may have.”

This comes after the work of Dr. Robert Cantu, the noted neurosurgeon, who has said that kids shouldn’t play tackle football until they are 14. Dr. Cantu says that the brain is still very much developing in those critically important years, and since the neck muscles aren’t strong enough yet, the brain and head wobble like a bobble-head and when struck, it can cause more damage than it might to an older athlete.

As I’ve noted many times on the show, Tom Brady didn’t play tackle football until he was 14. Perhaps the time has come to follow that example and not let our kids play tackle football until they’re in their teen-age years.

SPORT SAFETY: When On-The-Field Celebrations Turn Deadly Dangerous

 

Storming and Dogpiling:

Dangerous Uncontrolled Celebrations In Youth Sports

By Doug Abrams

 Earlier this season, tragedy struck at a third-tier soccer game in Mizoram, a state in northeast India. After scoring the tying goal in the 62nd minute, 23-year-old midfielder Peter Biaksangzuala tried imitating some prominent pros by celebrating with a somersault. He landed heavily on his head and back and was immediately transported barely conscious to a local hospital. After five days on life support, he died of severe spinal cord injuries.

“Storming” and “Dogpiling”

The India soccer celebration gone wrong happened in adult competition, and death was a rare if not unprecedented outcome. But the incident offers another opportunity to alert youth league and high school sports programs about how swiftly unrestrained individual or team celebrations can morph into avoidable, and sometimes serious, injury. Both “storming” and “dogpiling” celebrations call for preventive measures by coaches, parents, and league administrators.

Storming the court or gridiron at the end of a game remains an unfortunate tradition in sports such as basketball or football, where no barriers typically separate fans from the field.  The Sporting News’ Dave Kindred has called storming “madhouse celebrations” fueled by “stampede pathology.” Flying objects can cause serious injury, and anyone who stumbles risks being crushed.

Even when no fans storm from the stands at the end of a game, the winning team’s own celebration after a score or a victory — commonly called “dogpiling” — holds similar dangers in sports such as hockey, baseball and soccer.  We have all seen pros and collegians pile on top of one another at the pitcher’s mound or the goal line, and youth leaguers are prone to imitate what they see.

“You Feel Like You’re Going to Get Killed”

Storming and dogpiling may seem like innocent fun, but press accounts report punches thrown, fans shoved to the ground, knee ligaments torn, skulls fractured, and other bones broken. Perhaps the worst high school basketball storming incident occurred on February 6, 2004, moments after 18-year-old Tucson High School senior Joe Kay scored the game’s last points with a two-handed slam dunk to upset an archrival.  About 200 frenzied fans stormed the court to celebrate the victory, and one tackled the 6’6” Kay, the class valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar who was headed to Stanford University on a full volleyball scholarship.  Kay suffered a broken jaw and a torn carotid artery, which caused a stroke that left him unable to speak and paralyzed on his right side. Joe Kay, wrote the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, was “the schoolboy hero one minute and the trampled victim the next.”

Former New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte describes fear from his teammates’ dogpiling.  “I’ve been on the bottom,” he told the San Antonio Express News, “and you feel like you’re going to get killed.  You’re screaming and trying to get people off you.”

Responsibilities to Youth Leaguers

Professional and intercollegiate leagues can set their own standards for their adult players. But storming and dogpiling warrant preventive responses in youth leagues and interscholastic sports programs conducted for the benefit of children.

In my own sport of hockey, storming is not an issue because the boards and glass separate spectators from the ice surface, but high school players and youth leaguers of all ages risk serious, avoidable injury when they dogpile after winning a game.  In the 5-8-year-old mites, 15 teammates amount to several hundred pounds on top of the goaltender and whoever else lands on the bottom. Fifteen high school teammates, each weighing as much as 150 pounds or more, can total more than a ton of weight on the players at the bottom. Even in sports whose players squirming for position do not wear skates with razor-sharp blades, that is a lot of weight.

“No Piling On”

Coaches, parents and league administrators sometimes tolerate storming and dogpiling as essentially harmless traditions sustained by healthy exuberance and partisanship. But neither celebration deserves tolerance because neither is healthy.

Interscholastic sports programs and youth leagues should prohibit fans from rushing the field or court after the game, should fully and candidly explain the reasons, and, if necessary, should arrange for security to assure enforcement. In sports that are prone to dogpiling, coaches should enforce a no-dogpiling rule for their own teams.

In our youth hockey association, coaches from mites to high school found the no-dogpiling rule easy to administer.  The coaches would discuss the rule with players and parents before the season.  Parents now understood why goalies destined for the bottom of the post-game dogpile would sometimes skate away from pursuing teammates. In the last minute or so of every game that we were going to win, the coaches would remind the players on the bench to “Congratulate the goalie, but stay on your feet.  No piling on.”

For fans and players alike, celebration is a big part of sports. But team and individual achievements mean just as much with prudence and an eye toward the future.

 

[Sources: Vivek Chaudhary, Indian Footballer Peter Biaksangzuala’s Death Leads to Fifa Proposal For Somersault Ban, The Independent, Oct. 24, 2014; Dave Kindred, A Stampede Isn’t a Celebration, The Sporting News, Feb. 23, 2004, p. 64; Brent Zwerneman, Mad Dogpiles, San Antonio (Tex.) Express News, June 30, 2004, at 1C (quoting Andy Pettitte); Steve Solloway, Storming the Court, and a Storm of Controversy, Portland (Maine) Press Herald, May 5, 2006, at D8]