Archive for September, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: QB -My Life Behind the Spiral by Steve Young with Jeff Benedict

As most of you know by now, I tend to see the positive aspects of adversity, especially when it comes to sports. All athletes will, at some point in their careers, will confront adversity.

It might be a serious injury that they have to come back from. Perhaps they get cut during a tryout. Maybe the kid makes a mistake in judgment and now has to pay the price in terms of sitting out a bunch of games or even an entire season.

Trust me. The real measure of a kid’s heart and determination is how much they respond to adversity.

Which takes me to NFL Hall of Famer Steve Young.

His long-awaited autobiography officially publishes on October 11th, and it’s quite a story. (Full disclaimer: I served as the editor on the book, and it was a joy.)

Steve was, like so many others, a gifted athlete. Growing up in Greenwich, CT, he was a star in football, basketball, and baseball. He was such a gifted runner in football that his HS coach decided to make him into an option quarterback, so he didn’t pass very often in games. Rather, he ran for score after score.

Recruited primarily by UNC and BYU (he’s a long-time descendant of Brigham Young, plus Steve’s Dad, Grit, played football at BYU), Young ultimately decided on BYU. Being All-State in Connecticut, he felt pretty good about making him name in Provo. But adversity slapped him right in the face.

At his first practice as a freshman, he was stunned to see he was listed as 8th string on the depth chart. He was so low on the chart that not only would he not make the travel team for away games, but he wouldn’t even suit up for home games. Discouraged beyond belief, Steve never unpacked his suitcase for the fall semester. He called his Dad and told him he wanted to quit and come home.

Grit Young replied steadily: “Steve, you can quit….but you can’t come home. We believe in this family that you have to complete what you start.”

This was not the reply, of course, that Steve wanted to hear.

What happened next? Steve decided to confront his adversity and spent the next 4 months working out by himself, over the winter, in the BYU football facility. He just threw pass after pass, until he had thrown close to 10,000 passes. After a while, one of the offensive coaches spotted Steve and his constant practice. The coach spoke to LaVell Edwards, the head coach, and told him how impressed he was with this kid. Edwards was surprised; after all, he assumed that Steve Young would end up as a defensive back, never a quarterback.

But by the end of the spring football season, Young had leapfrogged all the way to being the second string QB behind Jim McMahon.

Let me stop here. The book is honest, forthright, and full of ups and downs but told in such a way that you can’t help but root for Steve. Jeff Benedict from Sports Illustrated who helped Steve write the book did a magnificent job.

In the next few weeks, you’ll be hearing more about Steve’s book as he makes the round of publicity. It’s a great read for any football fan. I would heartily suggest you go to Amazon now and pre-order a copy. I just have a hunch this book is going to sell out quickly.

 

Contact us for more advertising information.

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: Why Are So Many HS Coaches Quitting? A National Epidemic

We have known for some years now that sports parents have become an increasing issue for HS coaches as Moms and Dads often intervene or meddle with the coaches upon behalf of their youngster. Coaches would often remark to each other that the “best kids to coach were those who were orphans.

But the problem with meddling parents has only escalated. And what is happening is that more and more coaches are simply, well, quitting. They just don’t want to deal with this issue anymore. As one long-time athletic director observed recently, “it used to be that a HS coach would last at the school for a career….but these days, the average stay is about 4-5 years, tops.”

According to a stunning survey of 227 HS coaches that was conducted by a local newspaper in Syracuse, NY, (Syracuse.com), the reason why coaches are quitting is simple:

The coaches get tired of dealing with the parents….”

That’s right. Coaches leave because of the parents…and unfortunately, many times, it’s the good coaches who leave.

There are reports from all over – not just Syracuse  —  that the friction between parents and their kid’s HS coaches has only gotten worse. And that’s not good.

You know what I’m talking about. We live in a time where sports parents have invested SO much of their time, energy, and money in their kid’s athletic career that when a youngster plays for a coach who doesn’t happen to share the parent’s opinion of how good their kid is, well, the parent thinks that they have every right to confront the coach and demand more playing time…or to make their kid All-League…or to make them a starter….or whatever the parent feels their kid is entitled to.

The problem is at a point where something needs to be done. In fact, when I do speaking events to local communities, the number one complaint from coaches and athletic directors continues to be the “out of control parents who meddle.”

We clearly need to do something to stop this interference by parents. … so what can we do?

FINDING WAYS TO STOP THE MEDDLING

On today’s radio show, we had a number of callers who all shared this growing concern. It was pointed out that, traditionally, at pre-season meetings, the HS AD often makes a statement to all attendees “to please let the coaches and leave them alone to do their job.” Parents hear this, but clearly the warning goes in ear and out the other. Too many parents either feel that the rules don’t apply to them or that, somehow, they are entitled to talk to the coach when it involves their kid.

In other words, this approach doesn’t have much of a lasting impact.

One caller this AM – Jack from New Jersey – said he had coached at the HS level for 35 years, and he had some specific suggestions that worked for him to counteract angry parents. Specifically:

Keep your roster of players deliberately small. 

His point was that if you kept just the bare minimum of kids on the team, then it was much easier to get them all playing time in the games. If you have a larger roster, then all those at the end of the bench (including their parents) are going to grouse and complain about not enough playing time.

Make sure all your kids play at least a little each game.

Not all the kids can play equally or a lot in each game, but as the coach, if you get every kid into the game – again, having a small roster helps — than every kid is going to feel that they contributed in some way.

Have each kid and their parents sign a contract at the beginning of the season.

Jack had every youngster on the varsity come into his office before the season with their parents, and Jack would outline the expectations for that kid, and then would also have to sign a contract that made clear that 1) the parents would not at any time during the season talk to the coach about their kid’s playing time, and 2) that they would never bring up any other player’s name in their conversation.

Did such an approach work? Yes, Jack says that for the most part it did work.

Jack went onto agree with a statement that was made earlier in the show – that a generation ago, HS varsity coaches were seen as the top of the pyramid in sports in town. But these days, with the advent of travel programs, it’s the travel coaches who now have ascended to the top of the pyramid and they seem to have much more clout with the athletes and parents than the HS coaches do.

Routinely these days, a talented player will inform their HS coach that “my travel team coach thinks I should play this position — not the one you want me to play” and make other such demands. HS coaches are often lost as to how to make their players abide by their wishes, not the travel coach’s.

Bottom line? Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any clear way to correct this issue. And until a real solution is found, HS coaches will continue to come and go on a fairly regular basis.

What a shame.

 

MORE ON THE IMPORTANCE OF ADVERSITY: Every Athlete Will Encounter It – and What You Need to Say

Let me ask you this.

What have you have learned, or your kids have learned, from dealing with adversity in sports.

And along those lines, when your youngster runs into a setback, how do you – as an adult – let them handle this important life lesson?

In my mind, when it comes to kids in sports – and learning life lessons – there are very moments in one’s life that can potentially have as much impact as having to confront – and deal with —  and then hopefully, overcome adversity.

And yes, I feel that strongly about the positive long-range effects of adversity.

You talk to any top professional athlete – even the most gifted and most accomplished — about the power of adversity in their lives, and each and every one of them will tell you about an unexpected setback that they have to overcome. It’s a universal common denominator.

You all know about Michael Jordan being cut from his HS varsity team as a sophomore. Looking back, and with all that Michael Jordan has accomplished in his basketball career, that seems impossible. But it did happen. He wasn’t good enough to make the team as a soph.

But the key takeaway was the way in which he handled the disappointment. Rather than fume and complain, Jordan lived with the pain and then went to the head coach and simply asked him what Jordan needed to work on in order to make the team the following year. To this credit, the coach explained how Michael needed to improve his game. And that blue print sparked Jordan to work his tail off on the weaker parts of his game so that, next year, he would make the team. By the time he was a senior, he was considered one of the premier players in North Carolina.

Then there’s NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young. After having a stellar career in HS in Greenwich, CT, he was recruited to play quarterback at BYU. But Young was stunned and dismayed when, as he got to his first practice, he saw his name was listed as 8th string on the depth chart. He was so low on the depth chart that not only did he not travel for away games, he didn’t dress in uniform for home games either.

Discouraged and upset, Steve called his Dad back home, and said he wanted to quit and come home. Steve’s Dad listened quietly, and finally said, “Steve, you can certainly quit the team, if you want…..but you can’t come home. I just won’t allow that.”

That sent a wake-up call to Steve. Adversity was calling. Rather than go home, he decided to devote the rest of the football season and the entire winter to throwing 10,000 spirals in the BYU football facility in order to improve his game. He worked and worked so much that the coaching staff finally began to take notice. It suddenly dawned on them that perhaps they had misjudged Steve’s talents. Sure enough, by the time he was a senior, he finished runner-up in the Heisman Trophy race.

Again. Steve’s ascent to stardom was kickstarted because of adversity staring him in the face.

THE ONGOING ADVERSITY FACED BY DANNY WOODHEAD

Last week, in The Player’s Tribune, which is Derek Jeter’s online platform for top athletes. Danny Woodhead of the San Diego Chargers – you might recall Danny also played for the Jets and the Patriots – did a first-person letter to himself  — writing to himself when he was 18 about all the adversity he was going to face in his football life.

It was an interesting perspective. Danny is now around 30, and his reflections are quite moving and powerful.

Mind you, Danny has now played in the NFL for close to a decade, so on the surface, he’s a success story. But when he was 18 and growing up in Nebraska where they grow football players real big– Dan was only  5-7 and 175 pounds. But he did have great speed and fierce determination.

And sure enough, he became a great HS football player. He even broke the state rushing record in Nebraska. Pretty impressive for a guy who was relatively small.

When he got to be a senior in HS, the University of Nebraska – Danny’s beloved University of Nebraska – basically told him he was too small to play at the D-1 level. No scholarship offer. But they offered him a chance to walk-on as a kick returner. But that’s about it. No guarantees.

That was the first slap in Danny’s face in terms of football adversity.

Not having any other D-I offers, Woodhead  went to Chadron State – a Div-II school  of 3,000 students – where he starred as a running back and along the way,  he broke the NCAA rushing record. But despite that remarkable college career, he was bypassed by the NFL scouts…no one invited him to the scouting combine.

Not surprisingly, Danny was undrafted. But the NY Jets did call him and asked if he would like to sign as an undrafted free agent. Thrilled he does so. But when he gets to Jets’ camp, he tears his ACL. Out for the season.

Then the second year, having recovered from his knee injury, he makes the Jets in training camp. But as the season starts, he’s let go.

You get the idea….no scholarship. Too small. Not drafted. Get hurts. Come back and then gets cut. In short, adversity topped with more adversity.

And yet….there’s a happy ending in all of this. Danny leans heavily on his wife, his family, and of course his belief in God and in himself.

When he and his wife get back to Omaha after being cut by the Jets, he gets a call from the New England Patriots. Overjoyed, Danny signs. And ends up being a major contributor on their Super Bowl team.  Adversity turns into amazing.

Now, we know…there are hundreds, even thousands of stories of athletes from all over in different sports who have had to confront adversity. And of course, not all of them have the same kind of happy ending that Danny Woodhead had.

But the real takeaway here is learning how to come to grips with adversity….to deal with the harsh reality of sports…and most importantly, if being a top competitor is important to your son or daughter, how do they react to that setback?

As a parent, what do you say to your youngster if they tried out for the travel team and didn’t make it…

Or if they suffered an injury that means they can’t play that season?

Or if the coach decided on starting another kid over your youngster?

What do you say? And more importantly, how did your athlete react?

 

When your youngster comes home upset, disappointed, and in tears, what do you say to them?

Look, every kid is different, and every situation is different. But here are some thoughts I’d like to pass along whenever your kid runs into adversity:

 

O First, give them some space to let the hurt hurt….let it fester in them for a day or two. Besides, there’s not much you can do at this point except to give them a hug.

O But after a day or two….that’s when you want to reach out to them, in a quiet moment, and let them talk…let them open up to you. Yes, there may be tears involved….but you need to let youngster know that there are important life lessons to be learned from this setback.

O Make it clear to them that if this activity is truly meaningful to them, then it’s going to be up to them to figure out what went wrong, and most importantly, how they are going to commit to make their goals come true.

No, not every dream will come true….but at least your youngster will learn about life…that one can’t take success for granted….that in the long run, success – in sports and in other avenues of life —  involves a lot of hard work and effort.

And if they do ultimately succeed and prevail, well, that victory is going to taste that much better.

For me, that’s one of the most important legacies sports can teach one’s kid.

GAME OFFICIALS: Why It’s Essential to Keep Their Work in Mind

Respect for Officials

By Doug Abrams

Late last month, The Oklahoman carried a thoughtful op-ed article by Mike Whaley, the Director of Officials for the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association. The OSSAA is the membership organization that supervises and regulates the state’s interscholastic sports programs.

With the fall season approaching, Whaley reminded coaches, parents, and players to respect the referees and umpires who help assure the smooth operation of high school and middle school games. “As much as your team wants to win,” he wrote, “officials want to get the calls right. Make no mistake, officials miss calls, . . . but the vast majority of them I know approach every contest in an effort to work the ‘perfect game’”.

“In the world of secondary sports,” Whaley concluded, “athletics is education-based — the core value to the student-athlete is in the process not the outcome.”

Essential Cogs In the Machinery

Mike Whaley is right to urge respect for referees and umpires. Officials do sometimes miss calls because they, like the parents and coaches and players, are not professionals in the sport. Everyone makes mistakes. But for every missed call, officials make dozens of correct calls that only appear wrong to parents and coaches who do not understand the rules, do not see the action as closely as they think they do, or cannot overcome partisanship.

Responsibility brings accountability, so officials should expect periodic reviews by league authorities. But perfection cannot be the standard or the expectation. Leagues will be entitled to perfect referees when the players become perfect players, the coaches become perfect coaches, and the parents become perfect parents. Until that day of universal perfection dawns, fallible officials are a part of youth league and interscholastic sports.

As a youth hockey coach, I learned early that officials deserve respect because, like parents and coaches, they are essential cogs in the complex machinery that enables the young athletes to play. But I also sense that in many communities, persistent disrespect can jeopardize player safety by inducing many experienced referees and umpires to retire prematurely, worn down by the verbal and sometimes physical abuse they face during games.

The rest of this column discusses the sometimes hidden link between officials’ premature retirements and heightened risks to player safety, especially in contact and collision sports.

Premature Retirements

Earlier this year, the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer published an article by Tim Stevens, “Abusive Fans Make It Tougher to Recruit High School Sports Refs.” The article led with this troublesome forecast: “Irate high school sports fans . . . are heaping so much abuse on referees that it is becoming hard for North Carolina and other states to recruit new officials. . . .”

The media regularly reports about chronic referee shortages, not only in school sports, but also in many youth leagues from coast to coast. Among the officials I have known, most stepped forward not primarily for the relatively modest stipends they receive, but to remain active in the game while serving youth and their families. Most officials are family men and women with personal obligations and reputations. Most can find other constructive ways to participate in community life, free from persistent abuse dished out by other adults, often within sight and earshot of the officials’ own families.

Safety Risks

Why the link between chronic referee shortages and player safety? “To be effective for promoting safety,” says a recent medical study, a youth sport’s rules “must be enforced rigorously and consistently by referees and leagues.” Parents and coaches assume important enforcement roles, but referees are the primary enforcers once the game starts. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports consensus among sports medicine professionals that “[o]fficials controlling the physicality of the game . . . can . . . play significant roles in reducing contact injuries.”

This essential control suffers when so many veteran officials quit each year. Many replacement officials are simply not yet ready for the responsibilities cast on them. But for the premature departures of so many veterans, many of the replacements would not yet be on the field.

Because of the competitors’ size and speed, loss of game control seems particularly troublesome in contact and collision sports in high schools and middle schools, the levels that the OSSAA and other state activities associations supervise.  Most parents and coaches do not cross the line into verbal or physical abuse of officials, and most adults may deplore such abuse. But the majority’s disgust does not diminish the harmful influence of the errant minority who do cross. Leagues often get the quality of officiating that they deserve, and player safety may depend on the outcome.

Sources: Mike Whaley, OSSAA Official: Treat the Refs, Umps Right During This High School Sports Year, The Oklahoman, Aug. 24, 2016; Tim Stevens, Abusive Fans Make It Tougher to Recruit High School Sports Refs, Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, Mar. 27, 2016; Charles H. Tator et al., Spinal Injuries in Canadian Ice Hockey: An Update to 2005, Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, vol. 19, p.  451 (2009); Chris G. Kouteres & Andrew J.M. Gregory, Injuries in Youth Soccer, Pediatrics, vol. 125, p. 410 (Feb. 2010).

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: Where Have We Been….and Where Are We Going?

I’ve known Bob Bigelow for close to two decades as a sports parenting advocate like myself. Back in the mid-1970s, Bob was a 6-8 sharp-shootingAll-Ivy forward at Penn who was so talented that he became a first-round draft choice in the NBA.

After Bob’s playing days came to an end, Bob and I have been trying to help educate sports parents, athletic directors, and coaches about how youth sports has changed dramatically here in the US, and how things are going to continue to change in the years to come. That was the theme of my WFAN show this AM, and right away, one of the sharp callers – Coach Tom from North Arlington, NJ – chimed in and agreed with Bob that unlike 20 years ago, parents have become increasingly sophisticated about the “game” of competitive athletics. That is, that Moms and Dads recognize earlier than ever before that their 8 or 10 year might be blessed with superior athletic talent and drive.

Of course, most of the time, these kids reach their full athletic potential sometime in HS, but that doesn’t stop parents with deep pockets and big dreams for their kid to spend a fortune on travel teams, private coaches, specialized camps, you name it. Parents see this all as a kind of investment – a down payment, if you will – on a kid’s future earnings as a pro.

But as was pointed out on the show, whereas a generation ago talented athletes didn’t start to get recruited until they were juniors or seniors in HS, the timing has all changed now. Because of the internet’s presence and growing social media, college coaches now begin to track promising athletes at much younger ages, dipping down into 9th grade and even middle school. Truth be told, if a youngster is prodigiously tall — say, 6-5 or so – by the time he’s in the 7th or 8th grade, he has most likely heard from college recruiters.

Of course, as Bob and I agree, this is all absurd. Kids change so much during their teenage years that it’s both misleading as well as unfair to a kid to start receiving interest from college coaches before they have really established themselves as bona fide athletes. Yet the NCAA has no rule against this kind of pre-pubescent recruiting, and even though top college coaches decry this kind of recruiting, the fact is that it continues unabated.

Of course, when an 8th grader gets a letter in the mail – even just a form letter – which carries the logo of a top college program, this kind of unexpected feedback only serves to reinforce the parents’ belief that his or her son or daughter is going to become a superstar and make millions one day.

This is just so unfair and misleading to the parents and the kids. And yet, it just feeds into the system.

SOME GOOD NEWS IN PARENTAL BEHAVIOR

Bigelow and I both feel strongly that there has been progress in terms of educating parents on how to behave at their kids’ games. That of course is good news. But as kids start to be recruited at younger and younger ages, that’s become a growing concern. And of course, there are the enticements of numerous travel coaches and private coaches who feed into the process even more, e.g. if your kid wants to become one of the best, he or she needs to have me coach them all year round.

And of course, that’s going to cost real money. How about asking for a guarantee that if my kid plays for your travel team, then Coach, you will guarantee that they’ll get a college scholarship. Of course, nobody will guarantee that, but isn’t that what, in effect, you’re paying for?

Finally, it was pointed out that in a recent study of NFL top draft selections, something like 80-85% of those top football players never specialized in just one sport growing up. Same with NBA star Steph Curry.

In other words, there is clearly some sort of major disconnect between the theory of specializing in just one sport an early age….and which athletes become superstars by the time they finish HS.

It’s food for thought.