Archive for May, 2015

TRENDS IN SPORTS: Some Good News About Kids Who Play HS Sports…

Remember all those wonderful platitudes that we sports parents like to point to as to why it’s a positive life experience for our kids to play HS sports?

You know what I mean – all the intangibles that coaches and we like to point to? Playing competitive sports leads to better sportsmanship….one needs to work hard to achieve goals…..learn how to do one’s part as a member of a team…learn more about becoming a leader, and on and on. We’ve heard about these positive attributes of being a team player since we were kids ourselves, but curiously no one has ever quantified any of this.

At least up til now.

But Kevin Kniffin, a post-doctoral student at Cornell and a former HS athlete himself, did a long-term study of students who played HS sports, and then compared their “real-life” experiences with those of non-athletic students (e.g. members of the school band or from the HS yearbook club). Kniffin came away with two fascinating conclusions:

Former HS athletes, in large part, ended up with higher-status careers than their peers, and in addition, they earned 10-15 percent more in terms of annual income.

Lots of possible explanations for these results, but I’d like to think that this good news has to do with the long-lasting impressions that the “intangibles” have upon student-athletes. Whether it’s the general sense of work ethic of striving hard to achieve goals, or learning how to become a leader on a team, or the power of setting goals, these – and many more life lessons – are developed primarily through HS sports.

Yes, that’s just one man’s opinion —  my own — but I would daresay that anyone who has played competitive sports in school would probably agree with me. It’s just one of the ways that HS sports shapes one’s personality in a positive way. Long after the schoolboy achievements are accomplished, the legacy of being a HS athlete lasts a life-time. That’s a lesson one shouldn’t forget.

I do hope that this researcher goes back and does even more research in this field. I just think it’s the kind of long-range information that coaches and sports parents everywhere would embrace. In the meantime, if your youngster is participating in HS sports, be sure to let him or her know how proud you are of them.

TRENDS IN SPORTS: Baseball Continues to Lose Its Young Fan Base at an Alarming Rate

Earlier this month, I had Rob Nelson, the inventor of Big League Chew, on my show to talk about the sudden and rapid decline of kids signing up for youth baseball in this country. As I mentioned on WFAN, I have been getting these reports of a lack of participation for the past few years, but this year it has been alarming in former baseball hotbeds like suburban New Jersey and New York.

I wanted Nellie to come and discuss not only why this was happening, but what could be done to stop this discouraging trend.

Apparently our discussion was timely, as this past week an article by Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal pretty much focused on the same trend. In Costa’s article, he centered on the small town of Newburgh, NY, where the numbers for kids playing Little League baseball has dropped precipitously – just as Nellie had discussed several weeks earlier.

In short, Costa’s research echoes what Nellie and I have found – that whereas Major League Baseball and Little League Baseball are raking in record amounts of money, that ironically, their young fan base is dropping at an alarming pace.

This is a trend that has personally concerned me for several years. I always wondered why Little League coaches run baseball games more like punishment sessions rather than finding ways to speed up the game and allowing kids to have fun. In the town where I live, I would watch youth games that would go on endlessly, with no action in the field because pitchers couldn’t throw strikes, would walk dozens of batters, and of course, the batters were too scared of being hit by an errant pitch to try and swing.

So kids just stand in the sun when they’re in the field….and batters wait for their chance to go to bat and walk. Nothing happens. It’s boring. And clearly no fun.

And on adjacent fields, other kids are running nonstop playing soccer, or learning how to score goals in a lax game.

It doesn’t take much to figure out that today’s kids will eventually migrate to those activities that feature a lot more action. And now it’s become national news.

Now, understand I have nothing against lax or soccer. All of my kids played those sports, and they are wonderful activities. What I don’t like is how MLB and LL Baseball are doing such a poor job in attracting young kids to baseball. Maybe this drop off in participation will finally serve as a serious wake-up call.

Nellie says that the key is to run practices and games where the following happens:

a) Have the coaches pitch. They can throw strikes at a safe speed where kids can swing the bat and make contact. Once contact is made, then action occurs.

b) In practices, work on drills that can be done quickly and efficiently. Again, action is the key. If you’re teaching how to field ground balls, for example,get the kids lined up at shortstop and jumping into action quickly. Keep it moving! Or practice run-downs. Kids love that game of cat-and-mouse.

c) Throw some fun into it. Get them to practice singing the National Anthem. Get kids to imitate their favorite big leaguer’s batting stance. Let them try and experiment as a switch-hitter.

d) In short, avoid at all costs just letting the players standing around and doing nothing. Avoid coaching lectures. Let the kids try different things. Let them play.

Here’s the bottom line: Baseball will only continue to be a major sport in this country if the younger generations continue to go out and play the sport. But the way it’s going now, baseball is on the pathway to being left behind.



ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: The Latest Update from Australia

More About Australia’s Ugly Parent Syndrome: Post-Game “Debriefing”

By Doug Abrams

 Australians have a label for the negative influence of some adults in that nation’s youth sports leagues. Aussies call it the “ugly parent syndrome.” Most often, the label describes acts of parental violence, particularly acts that are serious enough to reach the headlines. Periodically on this blog, I have written about media accounts of these acts in Australia, and in other western nations whose youth sports systems resemble systems here in the United States.

Spurred by a new study by Dr. Sam Elliott at Flinders University (Adelaide, South Australia), the Australian media reports yet another, sometimes less apparent manifestation of ugly sports parenting – post-game “debriefing.” Australians use the term “debriefing” to describe parents’ sometimes strident post-game criticisms of their player’s performance. With the game’s pressures still weighing on the player’s mind, criticism begins while the player is a captive audience in the family vehicle on the way home, or it begins soon after the family arrives.

Here in the United States, I have heard Rick Wolff and others call this parental criticism “station wagon syndrome,” or more recently “SUV syndrome.” By whatever name, the new Flinders University study reemphasizes the harmful effects that well-meaning sports parents can have on the fun their children seek from sports. The Advertiser, an Adelaide daily newspaper, warns that debriefing is “killing children’s enjoyment of sport with post-game grillings on their performance, making it more likely that youngsters will quit.”

Declining Enrollments and High Dropout Rates

American parents, coaches, and league administrators should pay attention to troubling reports from nations whose youth sports systems resemble our own. Globalization and the Internet media have left the world a smaller place, so nations can learn plenty from one another about how to overcome common economic, political and cultural stresses.

The new Flinders University study, which interviewed 12- and 13-year-old youth soccer players and their families, plausibly links pressurized debriefing to two serious concerns that plague youth sports in the United States and Australia. Both concerns — declining enrollments and high dropout rates — raise red flags.

In the United States, between 30 and 35 million boys and girls — nearly half the nation’s children – enroll in at least one youth sport each year.  The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently reported that about 1.7 million boys and girls — about 63% of Australian children – enroll in at least one organized sport outside school hours.

These are hefty numbers, but they appear to be falling in both nations. And among boys and girls who do enroll, about 70% drop out by the time they turn 13, and nearly all quit by the time they turn 15. When researchers ask youngsters the reasons for quitting, the answers given most often are that practice sessions and games stopped being fun because parents and coaches imposed too much pressure.


The Flinders University study suggests that fun and pressurized post-game debriefing do not mix. When a player dreads swift criticism in the car or in the living room, victory can produce not the thrill the player has earned, but only relief that the team avoided defeat. This fear of failure diminishes the fun and fulfillment that youngsters deserve from the games they play.

Immediately after a loss or a bad game, reassurance from a parent or coach may signal unconditional support. In the back seat on the way home, youngsters deserve to ride in peace without being an unwilling audience for parental criticism while memories of the game’s pressure remain fresh. Like adults, youth leaguers need time to decompress from competition.

After the passage of time, young athletes can take constructive correction delivered in positive tone and language by supportive parents and coaches. Dr. Elliott says that “if children experience a win or loss, played well or not well, parents are instrumental for support – they can talk them through that and it’s the advice that children crave.”

But even after the passage of time, adults need to remain patient with their children’s mistakes on the field. Particularly at the younger age levels, players trying hard will often do as many things wrong as right. They are children, not seasoned adult professionals providing popular entertainment for salaries in the millions.

In fact, parents should encourage players to welcome mistakes, which are invitations to learn. Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden coached adults, but he tolerated his players’ mistakes as part of the game. “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything,” he would say. “A doer makes mistakes.”

 Opportunities Lost

Professional sports holds a firm grip on the United States and Australia, and adults in both nations regularly tell pollsters that wholesome athletic competition benefits children physically and emotionally. Amid these powerful cultural forces, declining enrollments and steadily high dropout rates suggest that something is wrong about the way adults manage youth leagues.

As the new Flinders University study intimates, debriefing done wrong is doubtlessly one factor contributing to both negative trends. The ultimate losers are boys and girls who miss out on opportunities to thrive in sports through childhood and adolescence. Organized sports can do nothing for a boy or girl who does not enroll, or who drops out prematurely.


Sources: Tim Williams, Positive Test for Critical Parents, The Advertiser (Adelaide, Australia), Apr. 18, 2015, p. 7; Sheradyn Holderhead, Flinders University Study On “Ugly Parents Syndrome” Impact On Falling Sports Interest, The Advertiser, Apr. 3, 2013.

HEROIC ATHLETES: Ivy League Baseball Continues to Attract Top Talent, Both On and Off the Field

Anybody who has heard my radio show over the last 15 years knows that I’m a big supporter of Ivy League baseball. To me, there’s just something very unique and special about talented baseball players who are also brilliant and accomplished students. Even more, because the baseball season is so short AND so cold in the Northeast, I’m just so impressed with the kinds of top ballplayers who come out of these programs.

That’s why I was so eager to have Brett Boretti, the head coach of Columbia baseball, come on my show this AM. Columbia just won its third Ivy Championship in a row, and they start the NCAA playoffs in a couple of weeks. Columbia finished with a regular season record of 29-15, their most wins in a season ever, and they routinely knock off top-ranked programs. This year, for example, they defeated the University of Houston twice on the road. At the time Houston was ranked #6 in the nation. Last year, they beat the University of Arizona, the defending national champs.

But what’s so neat about Columbia this year is that they are led by 29-year-old Joe Falcone, a 6-5,230 lb outfielder with tremendous power. Falcone, the son of former major league pitcher Pete Falcone, hit .345 this season along with 11 HRs. But here’s the best part about Joe. After HS, instead of going to college, he enlisted in the Marines and did three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan as a medic. Once he finished his stint in the Marine Corps, he came back home and enrolled at the College of Staten Island where he spent a year before transferring to Columbia.

Joe was Boretti’s best recruit, to be sure, but as the coach laughs, “I didn’t recruit Joe at all. He just showed up in my office one day, and asked if he could try out for the team. Good thing I said yes!”

But don’t be misled. Coach Boretti and his staff comb the entire nation for top players who also have superb grades, board scores, great mental make-up AND who are terrific ballplayers. This explains why Columbia has had 4 players drafted by Major League Baseball in the last three years.

And that’s typical of the Ivy League. Each year at least 10-15 players are drafted from the eight schools and many others are signed as undrafted free agents. If you follow baseball, you will recognize these names: Mark DeRosa (Penn), Craig Breslow (Yale), Ryan Lavernway (Yale), Chris Young (Princeton). Ed Lucas (Dartmouth), Doug Glanville (Penn), Ron Darling (Yale), and of course, don’t forget that Lou Gehrig went to Columbia. And this is just the tip of the Ivy League ,major league iceberg.

And Brad Asmus, who is the manager of the Detroit Tigers, didn’t play ball at Dartmouth but played in the bigs for 20 years.

Bottom line? I just think it’s great that are so many talented baseball players across the country who find their way to the Ivy League. Here’s hoping the trend continues…but here’s also hoping that spring time comes earlier to the Northeast!

DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: More and More States are Stepping Up at the HS Level

Georgia Announces New Football Concussion Rules

By Doug Abrams

Last month, the executive committee of the Georgia High School Association, the state’s governing body for interscholastic sports, voted unanimously to limit full- contact drills in football practice sessions. The new limits, which take effect August 1, apply during both the preseason and the regular season. Georgia becomes the latest state to adopt limits designed to prevent concussions and other traumatic brain injuries in interscholastic football without changing the essential character of the game.

The GHSA says that its new rules resemble existing National Collegiate Athletic Association and National Football League rules, which many Georgia high schools were already following. The Macon Telegraph reports that during the preseason, full-contact drills will now be limited to 135 minutes each week, but not on more than two consecutive days. When a team holds two-a-day practices, contact may take place during only one session.

The newspaper reports that in practice sessions during the season, full contact is now limited to “90 minutes per week, or 30 minutes per practice spread across three practices. Full contact on back-to-back days will be permitted, but three straight full-contact practices will be prohibited.”

State and Local Regulation

Since 2009, all fifty states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to improve prevention and treatment of concussions in interscholastic sports. The laws’ three mandates create a nationwide pattern that shows promise. Parents, coaches and players generally must receive information and education about the dangers of concussions and when to suspect that a player may have suffered one.  When a player is suspected to have suffered possible concussive injury, teams and coaches must immediately remove the player from the practice session or game. Players may not return to action until a physician or other licensed medical professional clears the player and affirms that return is medically appropriate.

The universal state legislation does not seek to regulate individual teams’ practice agendas. In the typical state, however, statewide regulation of interscholastic sports is not limited to the legislature. The state education department may also establish rules and regulations.  So may the state high school athletic association, which is typically comprised of most or all competing public and private schools.

Conclusion: “Concussed Out of Life”

Educators serve the public health best by reassuring families that youth leaguers can play vigorous, competitive organized sports as safely as possible.  Athletic competition inevitably brings risk of injury at any age, and contact and collision sports depend on a measure of controlled violence within the rules of the game.  But state athletic associations can try to reduce the risk of concussions by periodically adjusting and enforcing safety rules in light of medical research, as the Georgia High School Association has done.

Individual high schools and coaches may adopt football concussions mandates on their own, but statewide mandates from state athletic governing bodies remain preferable. Not only do statewide mandates protect more players than scattershot individual mandates; statewide mandates also encourage safety measures by assuring that no individual team suffers a competitive disadvantage for putting safety first. Statewide mandates, properly enforced, level the playing field for the athletes who compete.

From state legislatures to state high school athletic associations, the stakes remain high.  “The concern about concussion is that not only can you get concussed out of the game,” says Canadian Paediatric Society president Dr. Richard Stanwick, but “you can get concussed out of life.”


Sources: Ron Seibel, GHSA Votes To Limit Contact In Football Practice, The Telegraph of Macon, Apr. 13, 2015; Assoc. Press, GA Sports Officials Vote To Limit Football Drills, Apr. 14, 2015; Ga. High School Assoc.,