Archive for March, 2015

SOCIAL MEDIA CONCERNS: Think…. Before You Tweet!

 Youth Leaguers Beware:  Social Media Can Ruin Your Life

 By Doug Abrams

Are you a high schooler who wants to attend a good college, perhaps on an academic or athletic scholarship? Are you a collegian who wants to remain in good standing? Want to attend graduate school afterwards? Want to land a good job before or after college? Want to earn a military commission? Want to hold a professional license that requires proof of good character? When your hair turns gray years from now, will you want to encourage your own children and grandchildren to follow your life’s example?

This column concerns one way to help assure that these and other worthwhile lifelong goals remain difficult, and perhaps impossible, to achieve – use social media to harass classmates or others. By hiding behind the presumed anonymity of the keyboard, cyberbullies can ruin their own reputations permanently.

Cyber anonymity is not always what it seems. Because bullies crave an audience, their own boasting might give themselves away; peers will know, and they may not forget, even years later. Or a bully might inadvertently send an electronic message to unintended recipients, who forward them and perhaps figure out the bully’s identity.

The bully’s name might land in the newspaper if the incident happens to produce local notoriety, a lawsuit, a criminal or civil complaint or inquiry, or disputed school discipline. Newspapers land on the Internet, where anyone can quickly search the bully’s name at any time in the future. “Anyone” includes several routine searchers – colleges and universities weighing admissions applications, prospective employers, government agencies, and even friends and family members years later.

 “Kids are KILLING THEMSELVES Over Cyberbullying”

In just the last month, headlines reported two Twitter incidents that should warn about the dangers of treating technology as a toy, without respect for its unprecedented capacity to shame users. The first incident involved former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, whose 17-year-old daughter was accepted at Rhode Island’s Salve Regina University, where she will play softball. Immediately after Schilling tweeted his congratulations in late February, a few male trolls miles away tweeted vulgar sexual slurs directed at her. Some of the slurs seemed to border on, or even cross the line into, threats of sexual violence perhaps cognizable by criminal or civil authorities.

Schilling did not take the matter lightly. “Kids are KILLING THEMSELVES over cyber bullying,” he correctly responded on his blog. “If you hate me because of my political stance that’s ok. If you hate me because you love the Yanks, that’s cool. Those differences are the very fabric of this country. We are ALLOWED to be, think, and act different. Men and women have died for over 239 years so you and I could debate and argue politics, religion, evolution, baseball, sports, whatever, without death as a potential argument finisher.”

After Schilling determined the identities of his daughter’s trolls, his blog named the men, who paid the consequences. At least one lost his job, and others — collegiate student-athletes — face discipline from their schools, including dismissal from their teams.

 “Why Not Give Him a Second Chance?”

 The second recent Twitter incident targeted Mo’ne Davis, who won national attention last summer as the first girl to pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series. When the Disney Channel announced that it would do a film of her achievements, a Bloomsburg (Pa.) University first baseman sent this tweet: “Disney is making a movie about Mo’Ne Davis? WHAT A JOKE. That slut got rocked by Nevada.”

Publicly calling a 13-year-old girl a “slut” is serious business.  The University has dismissed the first baseman from the team, but Davis sent the University an email asking for his reinstatement because “everyone makes mistakes” and “[w]hy not give him a second chance?”

The Changed Dynamic

What lessons do the Schilling and Davis episodes hold for parents, coaches, and youth league and high schools players?  The trolls happened to be older than youth league age, but the lessons do not depend on age.

On “The Sports Edge,” Rick Wolff has long urged parents and coaches to teach players about cyber self-discipline in the Internet age. In his most recent Sunday morning show and blog posting, he correctly reiterates that parents need to talk with their players at home, and that coaches need to talk with players and parents at preseason meetings, with follow-up throughout the season as pressures mount.

Times have changed. Outbreaks of spoken vulgarity have marked sports for decades, and local youth sports rivalries have never been immune from the verbal give-and-take. In the old days, emotions might simmer for a while, but memories and bad feelings usually faded because the words left no permanent written evidence and listeners numbered only a few. By creating a potentially permanent forum for distant communication that can reach an unlimited audience of hundreds or thousands, social media has changed the dynamic.

On Sunday morning’s show, Rick plausibly suggested that the Bloomsburg University first baseman might have thought he was simply being flip, without appreciating the slur’s potential effect on himself or his target. Parents and coaches need to emphasize, however, that speaking and writing remain distinct modes of communication, even when the two modes use the same words.

Written communication arrives without the tone of voice, facial expression, body language, and contemporaneous opportunity for explanation that can soothe face-to-face interaction. Writing appears cold on the page, and its meaning depends not   necessarily on what the writer intends or implies, but on what readers infer. No decent reader could have reacted to the first baseman’s vulgar tweet with anything but disgust.

 “Before You Do It”

Americans are learning the hard way that common decency does not restrain some social media users from wallowing in vulgarity, sexual innuendo, and other vicious cyberbullying. Nor does empathy for the physical and emotional trauma that cyberbullying can inflict on its targets.

Perhaps self-interest might do the trick. As responsible adults teach adolescents empathy, they also need to teach that when the keyboard becomes a weapon, it can injure the user as much as, or sometimes even more than, it injures the target.

Injury to users can be permanent because society does not always give miscreants second chances.  For the rest of their years, the Schilling and Davis tweeters may have a difficult time explaining to educational institutions, prospective employers, government agencies, and others why they publicly leveled indecent sexual slurs at teenage girls, including threats of sexual violence at one.

The 13-year-old Davis was actually much more perceptive than the Bloomsburg University first baseman, who is presumably an adult. In her email asking the University to forgive him, she observed that “sometimes you got to think about what you’re doing before you do it.”

Only afterwards did the Bloomsburg first baseman recognize what he had done. Philly.com reported the apology he tweeted the next day. “[O]ne stupid tweet,” he wrote, “can ruin someone’s life.”

 

 

 

 

Sources: Cam Smith, Curt Schilling on Vile Tweets to Daughter: “This Wasn’t a Mistake. This Is a Crime,” USA TODAY, Mar. 15, 2015; Lucy McCalmont, Curt Schilling Outs Twitter Trolls Who Directed Horribly Vulgar Tweets at His Daughter, Gets One Fired, Huffington Post, Mar. 3, 2015; Curt Schilling, Is it Twitter’s Fault?, https://38pitches.wordpress.com/ (Mar. 3, 2015); Cindy Boren, Offensive Tweet About Mo’ne Davis Gets College Baseball Player Kicked Off Team, Wash. Post, Mar. 23, 2015

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SOCIAL MEDIA CONCERNS: Why Do Young People Have Such a Hard Time Understanding The Consequences?

One of the more stupefying trends that continues unabated in our modern, high-tech world is the uncensored use of twitter and other forms of social media by athletes in their teens.

The irony is that most young athletes – because they have grown up with this technology as part of their lives –  SHOULD be better educated and more thoughtful before they pick up their cellphone and post something that – perhaps at the moment – seems funny to them —  but if they had given it a little more thought, they might have stopped themselves.

Now, we have talked about this kind of behavior many times on my show before. I recall the football player from New Jersey who tweeted some offensive stuff and immediately lost college football scholarship offers for his stupid comments. The football player apparently didn’t realize that college coaches follow him on tweeter, and once you post something stupid, it’s impossible to pull it back.

There have been plenty more incidents about twitter that have cost athletes big time. And now we have a new one to talk about:

It was reported last week that Mo’ne Davis, the star pitcher from the LL World Series last year, was the innocent subject of a nasty tweet.  According to several media sources, Joey Casselberry, a junior first baseman from Bloomsburg University in PA, tweeted the following:

“Disney is making a movie about Mo’ne Davis? What a joke. That slut got rocked by Nevada.”

Now, that simple tweet has had the following impact:

Casselberry was dismissed by the baseball team at Bloomsburg. His case will be reviewed by the school’s disciplinary committee, which is the school’s usual practice.

To her credit, Mone wrote an email to the college saying, “Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone deserves a second chance. I know he didn’t mean it in that type of way. I know people get tired of seeing me on TV. But sometimes you got to think about what you’re doing before you do it.

“It hurt on my part, but he hurt even more. If it was me, I would want to take that back. I know how hard he’s worked. Why not give him a second chance?

Let me repeat that one, key line from Mo’ne: But sometimes you got to think about what you’re doing before you do it.

As my colleague , law professor Doug Abrams, has pointed out many, many times, social media postings on twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and all the rest are routinely viewed by one’s school, coaches, professors, and even employers.

Yes, you DO have the right of freedom of speech in this country, and you can say what you want….BUT you always have to live with the impact of what you say. So the real question is:

Why in the world don’t our young people understand this?  

In this case, this is a college baseball player – a junior –  who is presumably 20 years old…what was he thinking? Or better said, why was he not thinking?

These days, pretty much every HS, travel, and college coach in the country lectures one’s players about not engaging in social media during the season. Just don’t do it. And yet, it still happens all the time.

For example, the UConn women’s basketball program, under Geno Auriemma and associate coach Chris Dailey, have instituted a season-long ban on UConn players using twitter. And the players clearly abide by that rule.

In fact, UConn players are not even allowed to use their cell phones al all during team meals or other team get-togethers. Such meetings are viewed by the coaches as an important opportunity for the players to talk and to bond with each other, and the ban on phones makes that much easier.

That’s a pretty smart policy regarding twitter and cell phones…maybe that’s one of the reasons why UConn women’s teams are so good, year after year.

In any event, I do want to salute Mo’ne for being compassionate about this baseball player’s error in judgment, but that being said, it doesn’t excuse what this baseball player did. As Mo’ne said, sometimes you’ve got to think about the consequences of your actions BEFORE you do something.

But if the athletes aren’t paying attention…or if they think their 140 characters are just too funny to cause any harm or to put themselves in an awkward spot, clearly they will have to face the consequences.

Zero tolerance, in my mind, is still a very effective way to get a youngster to think twice before they do anything stupid. Or maybe we just follow the lead of UConn women’s basketball – just ban twitter from the very practice of the season to the very last game.

DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: Sports Parents of Football Players Blindsided by Chris Borland’s Unexpected Retirement

Some years ago, in the mid-1990s, there was a famous psychological study reported in Sports Illustrated.

The study asked 198 top Olympic athletes the following choice: if you could take an illegal drug that would allow you to win every event you entered for the next five years – and you wouldn’t get caught – but at the end of five years, you would die….would you take the drug?

More than half said yes. Think about that…..these top athletes would have traded their chance for a long and healthy life for a short-term goal.

To me, that study has some real parallels to what’s happening with the NFL and concussions. In short, if you’re good enough to play in the NFL, and for five years or so you lead a glorious and well-paid life, would you still do it….even though you know that the odds are good your brain might be scrambled beyond repair for the rest of your life?

Now, keep that study in mind….

It was way back last year that I posted the question to you all….Is the sport of football now beginning to decline, and ultimately – thanks to the knotty problem of concussions in the sport – that we’re going to witness the end of this sport?

You already have heard and read about the former NFL players suing and winning about concussion issues. A federal judge is saying that the NFL needs to put up more money to cover future damages.

And now, this past week, one of the NFL’s top rising stars, Chris Borland, at the age of 24, has walked away. A Big Ten All-Star at the University of Wisconsin at 6 foot, 250, he quit due to concussion concerns, even though he hasn’t had a serious history of concussions in recent years. (Although I believe Borland said he had a couple of concussions from when he was younger, one from when he was in 9th grade, and one from playing youth soccer

Of all the things that the NFL DOES NOT want to have happen, it was this: Borland is a bright young star who, at age 24 and before he’s made tons of money, has walked away from the game he loves from a fear of concussions, and what that could mean to his life as he gets older.

He didn’t burn out on the game…or lose interest….or wasn’t good enough. After all, that’s why most NFL players walk away.

Rather, he’s read all the research and articles about former NFL players having serious brain issues as they get older, and Borland didn’t want to risk that.

Remember that even the NFL admits that at least a third of its former players have brain-related issues when they retire.

Some NFL front office people and medical personnel have pooh-poohed this. Eliot Wolf, director of player personnel with the Packers, was quoted as saying that he’s overwhelmed by how many calls and emails he receives from players who WANT to play in the NFL.  Another NFL doctor pointed out that more kids get hurt, statistically, each year from bike injuries than from concussions.

But these fellows are missing the point.

Nobody is suggesting that the NFL is going to shut down tomw. But the truth is, there are all sorts of surveys everywhere that reveal that more and more parents DO NOT want their kids to play football.

The numbers at the youth level are dropping. And also at the HS level. Within a few years, those numbers will begin to take their toll.

So from a football perspective, Chris Borland’s “retirement” at age 24 is very devastating…and if you’re a sports parent who has a son who plays football, or is thinking about playing football, I don’t know how you get around this.

I mean, if the kid had a real history of serious concussions — and he doesn’t want to risk any more — well, that makes sense.

Or if for some reason, he was warned by his doctor to quit because he was feeling depressed, well, that’s another reason. What I mean is, there have been recent cases of college football players who have taken their own lives, and autopsies have revealed serious build-of tau, the unwanted substance that comes from concussions.

But from all accounts, this is a very healthy star football player who seems very level-headed (no pun intended) and has thought it all through, and has decided to quit.

That is quite an indictment of the sport he clearly loves.

Sports Parents Need to Decide

So what does one do, if your son tells you that he wants to play football?

In truth, I’m not sure what I would suggest or do in this kind of situation. Obviously, you want your son to have a long and healthy life. So is the gamble to play a few years of football really worth it?

Here again, as I wrote in the Huffington Post last week, I sure wish the President’s Council on Physical Fitness would come up with guidelines here to help sports parents everywhere find a pathway through the maze. After all, for every doctor who says that concussions are terribly dangerous, there’s another top physician who will say that the concern is overblown. It all makes it very difficult for a sports parent to have to make a choice on this vitally important matter.

Meanwhile, it’s our kids who end up paying the price.

 

HEROIC ATHLETES: A Moment in Sports Worth Savoring…

 When a School Sports Team Protects a Bullied Classmate

 By Doug Abrams

 Middle school basketball games usually generate no headlines. The visiting team bus arrives, the teams suit up, and the players take the court for an hour or so. Parents and classmates cheer, the teams shake hands at the final buzzer, and the bus leaves for home.  Nobody remembers the final score for very long, and the players are unlikely ever to recount middle school sports memories to their own children years later.

A recent basketball game at Lincoln Middle School in Kenosha, Wisconsin was different. The contest quickly went viral – not to be forgotten — because the Lincoln team’s dramatic act of citizenship eclipsed the scoreboard.

In the middle of the game, the eighth-grade Lincoln players saw one or more fans in the stands verbally abusing one of their courtside cheerleaders, Desiree Andrews, who has Down syndrome. The players (yes, the players) stopped the game and approached the stands to halt the maltreatment of their classmate.

“The kids in the audience were picking on Dee, so we all stepped forward,” Lincoln Middle School player Chase Vazquez said later. “We walked off the court and went to the bullies and told them to stop because that’s not right to be mean to another person,” teammate Miles Rodriguez told Fox & Friends. “It’s not fair when other people get treated wrong,” teammate Scooter Terrien explained to WTMJ-TV, because “we’re all created the same.”

 Lessons To Be Learned

The Kenosha story resonates for two reasons. First, the bullying was happening (perhaps not for the first time) right under the noses of coaches and other school officials, who evidently did nothing to stop it before the players took matters into their own hands.

Second, the players demonstrated courage and values uncommon among students, who rarely intervene to protect a bullied classmate. Children are not born with courage or values, so the Lincoln Middle School basketball players must have learned right from wrong from their parents at home. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

The American Medical Association, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention correctly identify bullying as a serious “public health problem.” With research showing the profound immediate and lasting harm that bullying can wreak on school children, the Lincoln Middle School’s evident non-response and the eighth-grade players’ uncommon response each warrants our attention.

 

The Schools

 Pediatric professionals recognize bullying as a form of child abuse, perpetrated by other children rather than by adults. School officials overlook their protective and pedagogical roles when they ignore verbal or physical bullying that happens in plain sight.

If Lincoln Middle School authorities indeed tolerated the bullying of Desiree Andrews from the stands, the authorities failed on two accounts. Not only did they leave her unprotected; they may also have squandered an opportunity to teach citizenship lessons central to the public schools’ mission.

Protecting vulnerable students is serious business because researchers tell us that victims of bullying may display psychosomatic symptoms resembling ones suffered by many child abuse victims, including sleep disturbances, bedwetting, abdominal pain, high levels of anxiety and depression, loneliness, low self-esteem and heightened fear for personal safety. Bullying can also induce school phobia, increase truancy, or impair the victim’s concentration and classroom achievement. Research also indicates that persistent bullying leaves many victims with lifelong emotional scars.

Citizenship lessons also weigh heavily. “[E]ducating our youth for citizenship in public schools,” Chief Justice Warren Burger explained a generation ago, “is not confined to books, the curriculum, or civics class; schools must teach by example the shared values of a civilized social order.” The “basic educational mission,” the Chief Justice wrote, “emphasizes teaching the “habits and manners of civility. . . . The inculcation of these values is truly the ‘work of the schools.’”

Civility and bullying do not mix. Confronting bullies and their parents can put schools disciplinarians in precarious positions, but virtually all states have enacted strong anti-bullying legislation in the past two decades. This consensus commands schools to act, not only in classrooms and hallways, but also during school-sponsored extracurricular activities such as interscholastic sports competitions.

 

Players and Their Families

 Now for the Lincoln players. . . .  Like the students who verbally assaulted Desiree Andrews from the stands, most bullies crave an audience. Sooner or later, most bullying happens in front of student onlookers, most of whom do not intervene on a victim’s behalf or report the bullying. Onlookers are much more likely to avoid associating with the victim, or even to join the bullies in an effort to boost social position or to avoid being targeted. One study found that 85% of bullying incidents had student onlookers, but that onlookers intervened to protect the victim only 10% of the time. Bullies wield real or perceived power, and (as we know from incidents of adults who recoiled from aiding crime victims) confrontation takes guts.

The parents of the Lincoln Middle School basketball players must be teaching the right lessons at home. Children are not born with attitudes about bullying; bullying, and rejection of bullying, are learned responses. Researchers have found that parents can help prevent bullying by raising their own sons and daughters in a household that stresses civility, mutual respect, empathy, and tolerance. Peers, teachers and other adults exert influence, but parents remain prime role models for their children.

 

A “Public Health Problem”

For good or ill, peer pressure matters in the elementary and secondary schools. Now that the dust has settled, perhaps the Kenosha bullying was controlled better by the basketball players acting as a team than by teachers or administrators moving through the stands.

Rick Wolff, Brooke de Lench, Jim Thompson and others have spoken and written about the role that youth athletes can play when they act as a team to help prevent and control bullying that targets vulnerable classmates. By stepping up to protect a seemingly easy target who was no match physically or emotionally for bullies, the Kenosha middle school basketball players proved that these youth sports experts are on the right track.

 

 

Sources (with videos): Middle school basketball players defend bullied cheerleader, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/wisconsin-middle-school-basketball-players-defend-bullied-cheerleader/ (Mar. 12, 2015); Players leave court mid-game to confront bully of cheerleader with Down syndrome, http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/03/13/players-leave-court-mid-game-to-confront-bully-cheerleader-with-down-syndrome/ (Mar. 13, 2015); Deneen Smith, Welcome to D’s House, Kenosha (Wis.) Times, Mar. 9, 2015;  Douglas E. Abrams, A Coordinated Public Response to School Bullying, in Our Promise: Achieving Educational Equity for America’s Children (Carolina Academic Press 2009). Hat tips to Rick Wolff and Peter Randall for bringing the Kenosha story to my attention.

LEGAL CONCERNS: More and More Coaches Are Filing Defamation Lawsuits Against Parents

For many years, it’s been noted that upset sports parents have become so angry with their kid’s coach that the parents have filed a lawsuit against the coach.

Most of these lawsuits are deemed by the courts as being frivolous, but the reality is that when a HS or travel team coach is sued, the defendant still has to secure an attorney to fight the charges, which cost time, money, and emotional expense. More importantly, these lawsuits become a matter of the public record, so that everyone in the local community now knows that a parent was so angry with a coach’s actions or behavior regarding the parent’s son or daughter that they are now taking the coach.

In short, it casts a long shadow on the coach’s reputation.

In recent years, coaches have been sued in cases like these:

> A father, who felt his son was headed to the NBA, sued the HS basketball coach when his son tried out but was cut from the HS team. The Dad sued for millions.

> A parent sued a travel team softball coach when the coach taught the daughter a pitching motion which turned out to be illegal. The girl lost a college scholarship, and the father sued the travel coach for $700,000.

> Another Dad, whose son was the leading scorer in a travel hockey program for 16-year-olds, was so angry that his son was not named as the league MVP, that he sued.

You get the idea. And there are thousands of other cases like these.

But now, a new wrinkle has popped up. More and more coaches are retaliating, and are filing their own lawsuits against parents who, the coaches feel, have gone too far and have defamed or besmirched the coach’s reputation.

COACHES WHO HAVE BEEN DEFAMED BY PARENTS

My guest this AM, law professor Doug Abrams, made it clear that to win a defamation claim, one needs to distinguish between opinion and fact. That is, if I say to my neighbor, “I think my daughter’s lacrosse coach isn’t very good,” well, that’s an opinion, and I’m entitled to my opinion as exercised by my right of freedom of speech. Opinions are not going to support a defamation case.

But if I say, “My daughter’s lacrosse coach routinely grabs girls by the neck in practice, and then pulls hard on their ponytails,” that’s a statement of fact. And if that factual proclamation is not true, then a coach can bring a cause for defamation. In other words, you can express personal opinions, but once you start making false statements, you could be in real trouble.

In a recent case in Minnesota, a HS hockey coach sued a mother whose son had been cut by the coach. Apparently, she had made numerous statements about the coach and his coaching methods that were not true. Outraged, the HS coach filed suit against her, which led to an out-of-court settlement in his favor, including a public apology from the Mom.

This is happening more and more around the country, and Doug and I discussed, this kind of “suing back” might add a chilling effect to parents who feel tempted to file a lawsuit against a coach. Remember, coaches at most public schools work on an annual contract, and if they feel they have been wronged, these retaliatory lawsuits can help clean their reputation and allow them to keep their coaching position.

TRYING TO KEEP THE PEACE

Speaking of which, one of the key factors in all of this is the role of the school AD and school board. Clearly they need to step up and defend their coaches from these kinds of charges, but it is always wise for the AD to investigate any serious complaints, especially if they come from a lot of parents.

As Doug points out, it’s one thing if a single parent complains about a coach and their kid being cut….but if a number of parents complain about the coach for the way he humiliates the kids in practice, then that’s a good indicator for the AD to step up and see what’s going on in the practice sessions.

In the meantime, it’s just very sad that we’re reached a point in American sports where parents AND coaches feel they have to resort to taking legal action instead of sitting down and simply communicating to resolve any issues.

 

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: What We Need NOW in Terms of Sports Parenting Leadership….

(The following column was requested of Rick Wolff by the editors of the Huffington Post, and it ran online in that publication on Thursday, March 12, 2015)

 

A SYSTEM IN DIRE NEED OF DIRECTION

Once upon a time- and I start with this phrase as though I’m going to tell a children’s story – because when I tell kids today about a time when they were free to go out and play on their own —  when there were no official tryouts, no bullying coaches, no screaming parents on the sidelines – well, these kids really think I’m truly telling them a fairy tale.

And yet, it wasn’t that long ago when that was indeed how children in the United States discovered sports. They, along with their neighborhood friends, went outside and played and soaked up the pure joy and freedom that comes with playing sports for fun.

But of course, those days are long gone, having been overrun by parents’ zeal to insure that their kid gets a leg up on their athletic peers, to perhaps rise to a level where one’s son or daughter will become professional athletes, or at the very least, to earn a college athletic scholarship.

But for the vast majority of American student-athletes, according to the NCAA, less than 4% of all high school varsity athletes will ever be good enough to make a college team at either the Division I, II, or III level. That’s just making the team. The percentage of kids who earn a full or even just a partial athletic scholarship is dramatically smaller.

If so few high school varsity athletes will ever make a college team, why are sports so valuable to our kids?

Because they learn key lessons in life: specifically, how to be a team player… how to work towards a common goal with teammates… how to cope with both winning and losing… how to deal with unexpected adversity….how to be coached by someone other than one’s parent…. and of course, the overall benefit of being physically fit.

These benefits are not new. They have been around for a long, long time. But somehow, we as adults have lost our way with our kids in sports. Parents today have reached a point where they need some real guideposts to help us find our way again.

What strikes me as very distressful is that the world of sports parenting is only becoming more and more confusing. There is no roadmap. High school athletic directors rarely have the time to oversee and “coach” their coaches. Literally anyone can put out a shingle and start, own, and operate a travel team. Too many parents are physically threatening officials and refs who work their kids’ games.

So how we can stop the madness?

In my opinion, here’s what we need:

HAVE PRESIDENT OBAMA OR THE PRESIDENT’S COUNCIL FOR PHYSICAL FITNESS SET UP FEDERAL GUIDELINES REGARDING YOUTH SPORTS INSTRUCTION

We Americans take tremendous pride in our sports traditions.

But curiously, we don’t offer any guidelines to sports parents today about key questions: what’s the right age for my child to specialize in one sport? Or should they not specialize at all? Is it important for my child to be on a travel team? What is the truth about letting my son play football and the risk of concussions? Girls suffer five times more ACL injuries than boys – can we do anything to protect them?

It sure would be nice if the President, a noted sports fan AND a sports parent himself, would appoint a blue-ribbon of experts to help us.

AND DON’T JUST TALK IN GENERIC POINTS. BE SPECIFIC.

There are lot of wonderful glossy reports and white papers that say that youth sports is a mess in this country, that there’s an obesity problems with kids, and so on.

Yes. We know that. We’re living it. Forget the overview stuff.

Give parents, coaches, and kids real specific directions and instructions.

LICENSE AND CERTIFY TRAVEL TEAMS

That means real regulation of everything from who the coaches are, if they are trained in CPR, background checks, and most importantly, has anyone with real credentials trained the travel team coaches to be a coach? Just being a former player does not qualify for you to train or work with kids.

Let’s also have transparency about the tryout fees, the costs of being on the team, the coaches’ salaries, and let’s discuss guarantees on my kid’s playing time. And for the elite travel teams, let’s provide real stats on how many kids on those teams are actually offered college scholarships, from what colleges, how much, and so on.

PUTTING THE FUN BACK INTO THE GAMES

There are all sorts of surveys about why kids these days are quitting sports. But the one common theme throughout all those polls is that sports is no longer fun for the youngster. When a sport is transformed into a highly competitive, win-at-all-costs activity, with one’s parents foaming at the mouth while yelling at refs, who wants to play anymore?

Ironically, these kinds of surveys about “fun in sports” didn’t exist twenty-five years ago. Why? Because kids back then were having fun.

 

INNOVATIONS IN SPORTS: How Do You Prepare A Survey of A Coach’s Performance?

From time to time, I receive emails from frustrated parents who feel that their son or daughter’s coach is non-communicative with either the kids or the parents. The coach basically says, “I don’t want to deal with the Moms and Dads. If you have a problem with that, take it up with the athletic director.”

Now, although I personally feel that kind of attitude is both outdated and non-productive, there are still lots of coaches, especially at the HS and travel team level, who maintain that approach. And the truth is, coaches are still entitled to maintain that firewall from the parents, unless their AD instructs them otherwise.

Nevertheless, parents ask me all the time about setting up a coaching survey, of which I happen to be an advocate. In fact, my sense is that most coaches, who take their job seriously, would welcome ANY kind of feedback from their players and the parents, so long as it’s presented in a professional and non-aggressive manner. True, the coaches may not like some of the negative comments  — who does? – but if they’re serious about becoming a better coach, this kind of objective feedback can only help them.

HOW DOES ONE SET UP A SURVEY?

If you would like to put such a plan into action, I would keep these basic parameters in mind:

If the team is part of the public high school, then you must work in conjunction with the school AD. You can’t, and shouldn’t, do a survey of the coach on your own.

If the team is a travel team, then you need to inform the person who owns or runs the travel team of your intention.

The survey needs to be short, to the point, and totally anonymous. To be effective, the responders’ identities need to be protected at all costs. Otherwise, there’s always the risk of retribution by the coach.

Write the instructions fairly and right down the middle. DO NOT make it sound like this is your chance, as a parent, to really “get back” or “unload” criticism at the coach. That’s really not the purpose of this exercise.

In terms of the actual questions, you can make them a combination of True/False or a scale of 1-5, where 1 is one extreme and 5 is the other. Questions should be direct, and address specific issues.  You do not want essays here.

Here are some samples below:

Did your youngster feel that he/she enjoyed playing on the team?

Overall, was it an enjoyable experience for your son/daughter?

Did they feel that the coach handled the issue of playing time fairly?

Did your youngster feel they benefitted from the coaching, in terms of skill development? That is, did your youngster feel the coach improved their game?

Did your youngster feel that the coach was too demanding or too tough in practice?

Did your youngster ever feel that they were picked on, or humiliated by the coach?

Did the coach use extreme profanity, or verbally abuse the players?

Was there any physical abuse, such as grabbing of players by the jersey?

Did the coach always show good sportsmanship?

You get the idea. Come up with no more than 10-15 questions, make the AD approves, and then ideally the AD will distribute them to the parents to fill out.

Remind the parents NOT to write a long essay, and to NOT sign their name. Remind them again that this is to be totally anonymous, and their feedback will be helpful to insure a solid program.

Finally, too many parents figure a survey like this is the perfect way to build a case against a coach in order to get him or her fired. While that may indeed happen, that decision is strictly under the realm of the athletic director or the individual who runs the travel team. You need to always bear that in mind.