Archive for February, 2016

SPORT SAFETY: Physical Therapy When Coming Back from an Injury…

This is a given. If your son or daughter plays competitive sports, at some point in their career, they’re going to get hurt.

It might be an ankle sprain, a bump on the head, a jammed neck. Or it might be more serious, such as a sprained MCL, broken leg, etc.

The good news is that if your kid gets hurt, chances are they will first see a doctor for a diagnosis, and then be referred to a local physical therapist who will work with the athlete and guide them back to being healthy again and ready to compete.

Now, a little background. Back in August, I had an operation to repair my hip. The procedure is called hip resurfacing, which is in the same ballpark as hip replacement, but not as extreme.

After Dr. Edwin Su of the Hospital for Special Surgery worked on me, I knew I would be headed for several weeks of physical therapy.

And to that end, I attended ProClinix in Armonk, NY, where Dr. Brian Dombal is one of the principals and a terrific therapist. Brian, along with his colleague Dr. James Cassell, did an amazing job in literally getting me back on my feet and jogging and working out within a matter of a few months. These days, I’m happy to report, I’m back to my regular running schedule 3 or 4 times a week, whereas last year at this time, I could hardly stand up for more than 5 minutes. And running was simply out of the question.

Because I was so impressed with Brian and his staff at ProClinix, I asked Brian to come on my radio show this AM, because he sees young athletes every day in his practice, and he knows first hand  the worries that the kids have, as well as their parents.

Brian made some important points: first and foremost, it’s essential that there a clear line of communication among the physical therapist, the parents, the school coach, and the school’s trainer. In other words, there should never be any possibility of misunderstanding of how well the injured athlete is progressing, and what is his or her timetable to return.

Brian also made it clear that each athlete has to work at their own pace. That is, the physical therapist has to listen carefully to the athlete regarding their progress, and never give in to the pleadings of the parents or the coach who is eager to have the youngster return to action. Coming back too soon to play runs a serious risk of aggravating the original injury.

Along those lines, the issue of repetitive use injuries came up. “I see kids who are literally playing two or three sports in the same season,
Brian explained. The chances for injury when repeating the same actions over and over again is substantial. Problem is, kids these days are so eager to keep up and compete with their peers that they don’t want to take any time off from their sports, even if their body is telling them they’re hurt.

“That’s a real concern,” Brian points out. “Kids need to understand that, sometimes, they have to back off and let their body rest.”

But psychologically, that’s not always easy to do as kids don’t want to fall behind the others. And with only so many weeks in a season, the idea of sitting out is difficult for any kid.

At the other end, if a youngster is coming off a serious injury which involved surgery, it’s often on the physical therapist to help guide the individual and reassure him or her that they’re healed and ready to go. “This decision has to be made in direct consultation with the physician,” says Brian. “But to me, the key is whether the athlete clearly is able to run and perform at 100 percent. If there’s any holding back or gingerness, then he or she is not ready to go out.”

Here’s the bottom line: there was a time not long ago when physical therapists were around but not really a major part of the sports scene. The good news is that these days, they are. Be proactive. Before your son or daughter – or even yourself — need to find a physical therapist, do your homework now and find someone in your area who is well regarded.

Trust me, if you and your family are involved in sports, at some point you will need a physical therapist.


SPORTSMANSHIP: Here’s How to Stop Lopsided Scores in HS

Let me talk  — once again —  about lopsided scores in HS games. Like hazing, we just can’t seem to stop this trend. And I’m not sure why.

The most recent disgraceful  blowout was a HS girls semifinal playoff game in Cleveland where Gilmour Academy defeated Northeast Ohio Prep 108 to 1.

That’s right 108-1.

Every basketball season we hear and read about lopsided scores. They just never seem to go away. But why is that?

The truth is, the head coaches of both teams absolutely hate these kinds of games. The losing coach hates them for a variety of reasons, including the public humiliation of his or her squad. What does a coach say to a team that just lost by 50 or 70 points or more?

For the winning coach, he or she knows that such a lopsided affair is going to result in a lot of questions as to how they allowed the score to get out of hand, that the coach is seen as a discompassionate jerk who allowed his or her team to run up the score. Plus the coach runs the risk of so angering the losing team that a brawl or fisticuffs might ensue. And there’s always the worry of a player getting injured in what has become a meaningless romp.

It seems to me that EVERY coach should know, in advance, how to handle these kinds of games. That is, if it becomes clear early on that the game is going to be a rout, it’s essential to substitute liberally. Everybody knows that. But more than that, if by halftime the score is out of control, then the two coaches and the refs should meet and discuss either stopping the game there, or making sure that the clock runs all the time in the second half.

In some states, but not all, mercy rules allow the clock to run in the second half. In this game in Ohio, there was no such rule in place.


In this particular game, the score was 72-1 at the half, so it wasn’t as though the final outcome was at risk. They should have ended the game at that point.

Another approach would be for the refs to take control and tell the two coaches at the half that the game is over. Trust me, nobody is going to protest that kind of decision. Why take the risk of someone getting hurt? Besides, the kids who are playing don’t want this nonsensical game to continue either.


Yes, I suppose some could make a case that playing in such a lopsided affair builds character for the losing team, but I just don’t buy that. The kids realize early on that they’re getting routed, and they just move on. They’re not interested in playing.

What’s the bottom line?

Coaches and refs….if you ever find yourself in a HS game where the margin of winning is 30-40 points at the half AND  in your judgment, the margin is only going to get worse, step up and be an adult and get together with the coaches, the AD’s, and make a decision at half-time to either end the game, or at least run the clock in the second half.

To me, that’s just the right thing to do.



DON’T “SHOULD” ON YOUR KIDS: Build Their Mental Toughness

By Dr. Rob Bell and Bill Parisi

Reviewed by Rick Wolff

This delightful sports parenting – and coaching – guide features a most unusual title, which is clearly intended to motivate Moms and Dads to try and think twice before putting their own personal expectations onto their kids who play sports.

Adapted from one of the earlier chapters in the book, the authors pinpoint some of the daily interactions that sports parents have with their kids before the youngster goes into action:

“Alex, you shouldn’t be nervous.”

“Dwayne, you shouldn’t make so many mistakes.”

You get the idea. Any well-meaning sports parent who has exposed to their 10-year-old to a post-game analysis on the drive home from a game will immediately recognize what Dr. Bell and Mr. Parisi are alluding to in this chapter.

Of course, most sports parents feel it’s their obligation to lay these “shoulds” on their kids, especially when the game just finished and the action is still fresh in one’s mind and the parents are driving their son or daughter to their next event. Problem is, this kind of parental grilling only ends up alienating the youngster from the sport. It does not motivate them to play harder or better.

The rest of the chapters in the book offer timely and other pertinent parenting and coaching insights as well, including advice on specializing in one sport, dealing with pre-game jitters, coping with adversity, keeping calm during games, and other related topics. The authors do a fine job in peppering their book with case studies of young athletes as well as professional ballplayers, all of whom have experienced the thrill of victory as well as the agony of defeat on a personal level. It makes for compelling reading.

Overall, because the chapters are short, this is a fast-paced and entertaining read that adds real insight into the library of sports parenting and coaching manuals.  I do think that we are gaining ground in educating sports parents and coaches about the intricacies in how we communicate with our kids who are developing athletes, and Bell and Parisi have written an excellent manual that every Mom, Dad, and coach ought to read before they start a conversation with their aspiring youngster. In other words, Mom and Dad, think twice before you lay a “should” on your athlete.


Dr. Rob Bell is a long-time sports psychology coach who has worked with top athletes as well as with corporate employees. For more information, his website is

Bill Parisi is well-known for his highly popular Parisi Speed School outlets throughout the country. A former NCAA All-American in track and field, Parisi qualified for the 1988 Olympic trials in the javelin throw. Check out

DON’T “SHOULD” ON YOUR KIDS is available on Amazon. 152 pages, $18.

LEGAL CONCERNS: Athletes from Outside the School District Pay Tuition Fees to Transfer in and Play Right Away: And It’s All Legal

I have covered a lot of unusual developments in amateur sports over the years, but this one really made me sit back and think.

Suppose I told you that in the state of NJ, there are a bunch of talented HS basketball players who decided to transfer from their current HS to a different school district, then enroll in that school, and then play on the basketball team right away.

Sound inviting? All you need to do is pay that new school district’s individual student’s tuition fee – a fee which is routinely thousands of dollars less expensive than a comparable parochial or private school in that area of NJ.

Heck, some public high schools in NJ which have terrific academics and athletics, who I guess are looking for more students, even advertise this opportunity on their website!

Let me be more specific.

Point Beach HS in central NJ is a very small public HS with only 400 kids in the entire HS. Yet over the last few years, their boys’ basketball team has produced numerous Div I players….big kids who are 6’7, 6’8, 6’9  or so. So you must be thinking, “Wow, they must have great drinking water in Point Beach to produce basketball players who are so tall and talented.”

But the truth is, the star basketball players at Point Beach don’t necessarily live there. Many of them reside elsewhere, but their parents pay an annual tuition fee of $7,700 a year so that their son can go to Point Beach HS and play on the boys’ basketball team.

In recent years, Point Beach basketball has suddenly become a launching pad for Division I players. Kids have gone to ND, Iowa, Rhode Island, Florida Atlantic, and so on. Only one of those Div I players actually grew up in town in Point Beach. The rest are all imports.

What about the local kids who DO live in that school district and who have grown up hoping to play for the HS varsity team? Well, the harsh reality is that most of them get to HS and then realize that they have no chance of getting much playing time on the varsity team.

The long-time parents in the town are understandably outraged; after all, their kids’ dreams of playing HS hoops are crushed by these out-of-towners. But here’s the kicker: this is all perfectly legal.


Suppose this happened to your son or daughter in your local HS? They work hard and finally get a chance to try out for the varsity team, only to see on the first day a bunch of new kids who are bigger and stronger and who are also trying out? The head coach knows that at the varsity level, it’s about winning. And so, he goes with the best players, even if they are new to the school district. Case closed.

As some of my callers said this AM, “There are no guarantees in HS sports. Just because you think you have a good shot at being a starter, there’s no guarantee of that – especially if some new kids enroll.”

Matt Stanmyre is a sports writer with NJ Advance Media and broke this story a couple of weeks, and the response have been strong. Some commiserate with the local kids and their parents, and voice outrage about these kids coming into school. Others say that’s just another example of how youth sports and priorities have changed in recent years.

Others wonder how in the world these Div-I prospects end up at such a small HS.Rumors swirl as to whether Nick Catania, the talented head coach at Point Beach, is recruiting these top athletes on the sly. According to sportswriter Stanmyre, Catania vehemently denies all of this, and says these players simply find him and that the small school — which has top academics — suits their needs. Regardless, there is no evidence that Coach Catania is recruiting. But clearly the word has gotten out.


To attend Point Beach HS as an out of district student, the annual tuition is $7,700. That’s still a lot of cash, but it’s a lot less than going to a top parochial school in NJ where the tuition is $16,000 a year. And private schools can run $30,000 or more a year.

Furthermore, Point Beach is not the public school that allows this. There are others,  good ones like Northern Highlands HS in northern NJ, where the application form to enroll is on the school’s website. The tuition fee at Northern Highlands runs about $13,400 a year.

Matt also told me there’s a public HS called Eastern Regional HS in southern NJ which is renowned for its field hockey program. Apparently, top HS field hockey players routinely enroll there as tuition transfers to play there.

I wonder how the other field hockey coaches who compete against Eastern Regional feel about a perennial powerhouse which basically allows top players to go to school there from anywhere in the state.

From the brief research that I have done, apparently it’s up to the individual school district to decide whether they want to allow HS students to transfer in by paying tuition. I know in New York State, where I live, some top high schools like Horace Greeley HS in Chappaqua and Bryam Hills in Armonk don’t allow transfers. Other schools, I have heard, do allow transfer athletes.

But if the school board decides not to allow this, then the issue becomes moot.


Meanwhile, there is legislation under way in the Sunshine State that goes one step further. A law is being proposed there that any HS student in Florida can attend any Florida HS he or she wants….and doesn’t have to pay a tuition fee. Plus you can play on the HS sport team right away.

Florida HS coaches are outraged. They see this move as bringing a sense of free agency to HS kids. That is, talented athletes will be tempted to jump to another high school for any number of reasons: better coaching, better facilities, better conduit to college coaches, and who knows, maybe some extra perks under the table.

Sounds hard to believe, but this is being considered in Florida as I write this. Such a move just sounds it could backfire in a big, big way.

LEGAL CONCERNS: Making Our Playing Fields Level for ALL Athletes

When Game Officials Overlook Youth Leaguers’ Cultural, Ethnic, or Religious Identities

 By Doug Abrams

When the Flagstaff (Ariz.) High School Eagles girls basketball team faced Greenway High School earlier this month, the Eagles wore their hair in traditional Navajo buns during pregame warmup. Flagstaff is near the Navajo reservation, a sizeable percentage of the student body are from the tribe, and the girls wore the buns to honor their heritage. Before tipoff, the referee prohibited the buns as a potential safety hazard because they were done with yarn. The girls complied and removed them.

Reuters reported that Flagstaff’s principal was “livid” at the referee’s decision, and that the Navajo Nation’s president called it “blatant discrimination.” The Arizona Interscholastic Association, which administers the state’s high school sports, said that the referee had applied the rules in good faith without intending an insult. But the Association apologized and announced that players may wear Navajo buns in future games. The Association has promised to continue exploring issues related to cultural sensitivity.

We have been down this road before. First a game official decides that a youth player, coach, or team may not participate while wearing a cultural, ethnic, or religious symbol, or while speaking a language other than English. Without suggesting that anyone had ever played dirty, the official cites player safety or competitive parity. When the referee’s decision becomes public, the league or the sport’s national or local governing body rescinds the decision and apologizes.

Consider these prior incidents:

Lakeville, Massachusetts (2005)  

In the third inning of a Little League semifinal state tournament game, a Methuen (Mass.) assistant coach instructed his 14-year-old pitcher in Spanish to try to pick off a runner at second base.  The press reported that Methuen’s pitcher and catcher did not speak English fluently.

The umpire stopped the game, instructed the assistant coach to speak only English, and threatened to eject any player or coach he heard speaking Spanish. Methuen’s manager called the umpire’s instruction “sickening,” but he continued the game when the tournament director on the scene backed the umpire.

“It appears,” a Little League spokesman told the Associated Press afterwards, that “the umpire was concerned that the coach or manager may have been using a language other than English . . . to communicate potentially ‘illegal’ instructions to his players.” The umpire reportedly also thought that speaking a foreign language might give Methuen an unfair advantage.

Little League International, whose rule book comes in both English and Spanish, distanced itself from the umpire’s decision and instructed state officials to remove him from further games in the state tournament.

Cooper City, Florida (2012)

 Two referees ejected a volunteer youth soccer coach from a game for instructing some of his 14-18-year-old players in Spanish. The coach had refused to heed the refs’ instructions to speak only English.  The ejected coach later said that various referees had also tried to discourage players from speaking Spanish to one another during games. As in Lakeville a few years earlier, league officials disavowed any English-only rule within a few days.

Aurora, Colorado (2014)

The Overland High School Trailblazers opened their girls varsity soccer season short one player. The referees sidelined the Muslim player with a pre-game ruling that her hijab, a headscarf worn by Muslim women as a sign of modesty and devotion, created a “danger.”

Trailblazer coaches and teammates, and other voices on social media, criticized the ruling, and the Trailblazers stood with their sidelined teammate. Most were not Muslims, but all sent a powerful message by wearing hijabs in their next game two days later. The referees let them play, and no injuries were reported.

Central to American Life

I do not know the motives of the officials in Flagstaff or in any of the earlier games reported here. Game officials have a tough job and may deserve the benefit of the doubt in some cases, but reason remains for suspicion that prejudice may sometime play a role in expressed concerns for safety or competitive parity. It seems more than an uncomfortable coincidence that in matters of conscience or respect, reports of youth leaguers regulated by officials tend to involve members of cultural, ethnic, or religious minorities who seem “different.”

Incidents such as the ones described here should remind us that sports provides valuable opportunities for youngsters of various backgrounds to participate in mainstream national culture. Because sports remains central to American life, the impulse to include, rather than exclude, children marks youth leagues at their finest.

Seeking to induce children to disavow their heritage or religion, or to speak a language they have not yet mastered, serves no worthwhile purpose because arbitrarily excluding children from wholesome activities serves no worthwhile purpose. When youngsters from diverse cultures play hard and clean and contribute to the team, sports programs serve the community best by displaying tolerance and respect for individual differences. Tolerance includes rules applications that demonstrate respect without conferring competitive advantage or otherwise changing the essential character of the game or competition.

Youth sports incidents such as the one that arose earlier this month in Flagstaff may not happen often, but they happen. If these incidents have a silver lining, it is that suspected prejudice exposed to public view usually does not withstand the light of day.

These incidents suggest the wisdom of proactive measures. To the extent possible, league rules should address reasonably foreseeable sensitive issues that are likely to have particular impact on cultural, ethnic, or religious minorities. The Arizona Interscholastic Association promises to promises to pay closer attention to sensitivity issues, as it should. So should other leagues and governing bodies nationwide.

These issues are not always predictable. Referee certification classes and clinics, which generally are already required, should discuss tolerance and respect with game officials who will administer largely discretionary standards such as safety and competitive parity. Avoidable embarrassment, even followed by apology, serves no one in youth sports well.


Sources: Reuters, Arizona Basketball Team Wins Reversal of Navajo Hair Bun Ban,  (Feb. 5, 2016); Aurelio Moreno, Coach Speaks Spanish, Is Tossed: Cooper City Soccer League Says It Has No Such Rule, Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Dec. 21, 2012;  Assoc. Press, Ump Bans Mass. Team From Speaking Spanish, USA Today, July 29, 2005; Mark Zeigler, Ump Out – Told Massachusetts Little Leaguers: English Only, San Diego Union-Tribune, July 30, 2005; Douglas E. Abrams, Youth Sports Heroes of the Month: Overland High School (Aurora, Colo.) Girls Soccer Team, (Mar. 31, 2014).

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: Celebrating 18 Years of The Sports Edge on WFAN

This morning’s radio show on WFAN marked the 18th anniversary of the Sports Edge being on the air. And I want to thank you all for your tremendous  support, and great and smart comments and questions over the years.

We may be the only major radio show in the nation that focuses exclusively on sports parenting issues. And with the “here today, gone tomorrow” mentality of sports shows, being on the air for close to 20 years is pretty special.

I first became involved in sports parenting when my own kids were just starting out in sports, and now, 18 years later, they are in their 20s and 30s, and I’m happy to say, they still love sports and still enjoy playing them.

I think, to me, that’s the ultimate bottom line. That is, that their original love and passion for sports has stayed with them, long after their competitive days in HS and college and, in my son’s case, pro ball. As a sports parent myself, I’m very proud that they continue to go out and play in hockey games, take batting practice, pick up a lax stick and practice some shots on goal, and so on.


Once upon a time in this country, back in the early 1990s, I was one of a handful of people who was talking about the changing landscape of sports parenting. As I recall, back then, there was Fred Engh and I believe Bob Bigelow was getting involved in sports parenting as well. But one thing was for sure – the field of sports parenting was a new frontier.

And that was no surprise. After all, up until the 1980s or so, it used to be that kids learned how to play sports by playing pick-up games with their buddies and peers on playgrounds, sandlots, and open fields. The older kids chose teams, nobody sat out, and if there were a dispute on a call, we argued for awhile, and then just did a do-over.

There was no need for refs or umpires… need for tryouts…no need for one’s parents to intervene.

As kids, we kept score for the individual game, and if the game had a lopsided score, we simply stopped and reshuffled the teams to make them more equal.

Nobody worried about individual stats….nobody worried about making All-League or All-State….nobody gave a thought to playing in college or in the pro’s. Did we dream about that stuff? Sure. But nobody took it seriously.

We just played….because it was fun to do.

But then things began to change, bit by bit.

Way back then, for example, there was this new concept of travel teams introduced. Now, nobody knew what travel teams were or how they would change youth sports, but like a spreading virus, once travel teams started, they grew and grew everywhere. Now you’d be hard pressed to find any town or community anywhere in the US where travel teams don’t exist.


Right around the time travel teams got going, it seemed that after years and years of parents always backing up the HS coaches on strategy, discipline and so forth, suddenly, there was a growing rash of parents interfering with their kid’s coaches.

There were parents arguing with coaches about their kid’s playing time. Parents were getting in the face of their kids’ coaches, complaining bitterly, even threatening lawsuits against the athletic director and school district if the Dad felt his kid had been slighted.

Formal HS Codes of Conduct began to pop up, so that AD’s and coaches could point to prescribed kinds of punishments. But for the most part, the Codes were soft and did not promote a sense of strict discipline. That’s because the parents didn’t want the schools to adopt a zero tolerance policy. If they did, it might mean that their own child might run afoul of the rules and get booted off the team instead of getting just a warning.

These, there have been growing discipline issues with social media abuse, such as Twitter, Facebook, sexting. Of course, these things didn’t exist 18 years ago, but they sure do now, and they cause sports parents to have tremendous anxiety when their kids are involved.

For years and years, LL baseball allowed pitchers to throw as many pitches as they wanted. It  wasn’t until Steve Kallas came on the Sports Edge and pointed out that especially in Williamsport, top young pitchers were throwing hundreds and hundreds of pitches in a week of tournament play. Finally,  LL woke up and realized that they had to change their rules and regulations on pitch counts.

And of course, LL still allows young pitchers to throw curves and sliders endlessly, even though Dr. James Andrews, who serves on their board of directors, still says that kids shouldn’t throw breaking balls until they’re old enough to shave.

Don’t even get me started about LL and aluminum baseball bats, which in my opinion, is still very dangerous. Anybody  — and I mean anybody – who has ever thrown batting practice to a kid with an aluminum bat knows instinctively that the ball comes off the bat faster – much faster than off of wood. LL, please stop telling me that’s not true.


Now, These days, there are growing numbers of other people who have become sports parenting advocates, and I applaud that. From coast to coast, there are sports parenting advocates who are blogging….posting columns….doing TED talks….writing books….and so on. It shows that the gospel we’ve been trying to spread on Sunday mornings for the last 18 years is finally beginning to have a real impact.

But I must confess that I do get something of a chuckle when they post a column about this “new phenomenon” of pushy parents…or a lack of sportsmanship….or kids quitting sports at a young age….or how travel teams are having a major impact on their kids….and so on – and they write these columns as though these kinds of incidents are totally new developments in our athletic society and that they are the first to pinpoint them.

But you and I know the truth…we’ve been taking about these issues on the air at WFAN for 18 years. And like yourself, I’ll be most interested to see how the world of sports parenting changes in the years to come. What will the next generation of sports parents do when it comes to their kids in sports? That, of course, is the ultimate question. And will fun still part of the experience?

Until then, my thanks to the loyal readers of Askcoachwolff, and for those of you who listen to The Sports Edge on WFAN Radio each Sunday. I also want to send a special of personal thanks to Doug Abrams and Steve Kallas, two brilliant attorneys who share my passion for doing the right thing for kids who play sports. It’s nice to know that there are wonderful people in this world like Doug and Steve.

Sports parenting continues to be a most challenging topic for all of us, and as noted, I think we have made some progress. I just hope we can make even more progress in the next 18 years.