Archive for December, 2016

REFLECTIONS: The Power of a Simple Phone Call….

Repaying Favorite Coaches and Teachers Years Later

By Doug Abrams

 My most recent column explained the enduring player-coach bond. “Behind only the parent-child and child-sibling bonds, the teacher-student bond can be one of life’s most lasting. Coaches are teachers, and players are their students. . . . If a coach treats the team right, coach and players frequently maintain lifelong friendships based on shared experiences and mutual respect.”

From some of my former players and from other readers, that column generated more reactions than any other I have written. Spurred by these reactions, I expand below on what the lifelong bond can mean for players and their coaches, and indeed for students and their classroom teachers.

I focus on one gesture that can enrich relationships. The gesture involves the telephone, and it enables today’s parents to repay their own favorite coaches and teachers for their influence years and even decades ago.

The Need for Reassurance

For the past several years, I have made regular telephone calls to a few of my favorite teachers and favorite coaches. These calls might come a few times a week, or they might come weekly or bi-weekly. The calls usually last a few minutes. Some of my former coaches and teachers are in their sixties, seventies, or even eighties.

The telephone provides welcome opportunities to repay favorite coaches and teachers. I remain a grateful debtor, eager to share memories with men and women whose service years ago helped make the memories possible.

Phone calls may seem like minor gestures, but the calls are not minor to yesterday’s coaches and teachers who need reassurance that their past efforts made a difference. The voice at the other end always closes the conversation with a request to call again soon.

Completing the Circle

These phone calls are reminders that coaching and classroom teaching done right should not be taken for granted. Inspired coaching and teaching reflect the “something extra” that marks accomplishment in any field. Inspiration – going the extra mile for players or students – deserves respect because it does not happen by accident.

Speaking as an educator and as a former youth hockey coach for several years, I remain thankful for my own upbringing. In addition to solid parental influence, I never had a bad teacher from kindergarten through law school. Nor did I ever have a bad coach in any sport. Many adults today cannot look back at such good fortune, and I don’t take my good fortune lightly.

As today’s parents and coaches raise their own families, phone calls to favorite former coaches and teachers help complete an important circle. In childhood and adolescence, players and students need their coaches and teachers. Years later, coaches and teachers need their former players and former students. According to the proverb, what goes around, comes around.

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REFLECTIONS: The Kids Always Remember Their Coaches….

The Players Remember

 By Doug Abrams

 Shortly before Thanksgiving, I was standing in a restaurant lobby, awaiting colleagues for a luncheon meeting of an advisory board that I serve on. A gentleman approached, excused himself, and asked, “You’re Doug, aren’t you?” I said yes, and he asked whether I remembered him. “I probably do,” I said, “but I don’t recognize you. You’ll have to help me.”

I suspected that he was one of my former youth hockey players, but I didn’t know which one. Years after a team’s last game, inability to recognize a player’s face the next time comes with the youth coach’s territory. No wonder I didn’t recognize the gentleman.  I coached him in the early 1990s, when he was 16. Now he is 42, married with children of his own. Images remain frozen in time, but faces change.

Once my former player gave his name, handshakes and reminiscing about bygone seasons quickly followed. After some storytelling, he knew that I indeed remember him. But equally gratifying was that he remembered me.

Chance Encounters

The late November belated reunion demonstrates one reason why youth league and high school coaches should think twice before letting short-term frustrations lead them to depart of their own accord while they still have more to offer.

Coaching sometimes brings short-term frustrations nowadays from challenges largely unknown years ago. These challenges lead many youth league coaches to serve only while their own sons or daughters participate, and they lead many high school coaches to hang up their whistles before their time. Particularly at the high school level, men and women with coaching tenures spanning decades rather than months or years seem a disappearing breed.

Whether to leave youth coaching is, of course, an individual decision for coaches and their families. But when a coach deciding whether to leave seeks my advice, I suggest considering not only the short-term highs and lows, but also the long-term rewards that continued service might hold.

One of the great long-term rewards – and this column’s subject — is that players don’t forget their devoted youth coaches. If a coach treats the team right, coach and players frequently maintain lifelong friendships based on shared experiences and mutual respect. I still keep in contact with many of my former players, though others (such as the player I met in the restaurant lobby) move on. I still get a charge whenever someone approaches in the grocery store (or a restaurant) with, “Hey Doug, remember me? You coached me 25 years ago on the Lions.”

“Pleasing to Remember”

Behind only the parent-child and child-sibling bonds, the teacher-student bond can be one of life’s most lasting. Coaches are teachers in every sense of the word, and players are their students. For a volunteer or compensated coach with more to offer, perseverance today can establish relationships that endure long after the coach blows the whistle for the last time. Chalk up these relationships as deferred compensation for a job well done, a valuable reward not measurable in dollars.

But fair warning. . . . Be prepared for failure to recognize a former player after a decade or more. Non-recognition happens all the time. Players may not initially understand because they see their faces in the mirror every morning. But they do understand once the coach stresses that only their faces, and not the memories and recollections, have changed.

When recognition fails me, I sometimes paraphrase remarks delivered by the beloved school master in the 1939 movie, “Goodbye Mr. Chips.” At his retirement dinner after more than 40 years teaching Latin at a British boys boarding school, Mr. Chips (Robert Donat in his Academy Award-winning title role) alerted the entire student body to the moments of non-recognition that awaited:

“If you come to see me in the years to come — as I hope you will – you may see me hesitate and you’ll say to yourself, ‘Oh, the old boy doesn’t remember me.’ But I do remember you – as you are now.” Images frozen in time.

Schoolmaster Chips closed his on-screen retirement valedictory in Latin: “Haec olim meminisse juvabit.” He did not identify the source, and he provided the students no translation.

The line is from Virgil’s “Aeneid,” and the English translation reminds us that nostalgia remains a long-term reward of teaching, or coaching:

In the future, it will be pleasant to remember these things.”  

COPING WITH ADVERSITY: How to WIN AT LOSING

As a sports parent, what do you say to your youngster who has just experienced “the agony of defeat” for the first time in their very young career?

That kind of parental experience  inspired sportswriter Sam Weinman to write a new book with the provocative title, WIN AT LOSING: How Our Biggest Setbacks Can Lead to Our Greatest Gains. The father of two boys, 11 and 8, Sam starts his book talking about how one of his young boys had a meltdown after losing in a tennis match. Sam gave his son some time to feel the sharp pain of the defeat, but then after a few hours and after his son had calmed down, Sam tried to explain to him that the best way to deal with a defeat is to try and take away what part of your game needs to be worked on, what you need to improve on.

Without those significant takeaways, one will be stuck at the same level in sports, never really making progress to get to the next level. That’s the key in terms of winning at losing. Ironically, suffering a defeat can actually prove to be much more beneficial in one’s long-range career because if a youngster is so gifted early so that he or she lose, then they sometimes don’t learn to fully their game. That is, any possible weakness in their game is masked by their wins, and as such, they don’t feel the need to go out and work on their game.

But when you lose….well, that’s the wake-up. Young athletes begin to realize that they need to improve their game. They start to go out on their own and practice, practice, and practice. It might be working to develop their dexterity in dribbling a basketball with either hand. Or learning how to skate faster backwards. Or whatever the skill may be, the youngster who just flat-out decides to improve their game by having that inner drive to go out and work is key.

THE RIGHT GENES?

I have always felt – but certainly can’t prove it  – that having that inner drive to push oneself to get better in sports is perhaps a genetic trait. That is, some kids seem to be born with that kind of drive. Most others simply don’t. They are okay with their skill level, and see no reason to work any harder at it. But if you see your son or daughter at age 8 or 10 or 12 going outside – without any push from you – to work on their athletic skills on their own, you can rest assured as a parent that your child has been blessed with that inner drive to succeed.

To my way of thinking, there is no better barometer of a kid’s desire to want to get better – not just in sports – but in life in general.

But back to Sam’s book. He recounts a number of stories of how individuals dealt with setbacks, and only a handful deal with sports. He writes about entrepreneurs who cope with start-up issues, business executives, health and injury comebacks, and so on. One of the more poignant stories deals with the Columbia University football team which, back in the late 1980s, didn’t win a game for four season. That’s right – there were football players who never won a game in college.

Sure, they came close a few times. But in the end, they never had the joy of a celebratory locker room. Sam writes about these dedicated football players and how they bonded together, and how so many of them took away the hard-earned discipline they developed at Columbia to become successful doctors, lawyers, Wall Street types, and so on.

WE ALL LOVE UNDERDOGS

The beauty about sports, of course, is that as much as we love to win, we all celebrate the underdog’s achievements – especially that individual who had to overcome setbacks.

Everybody know s about Michael Jordan being cut from his HS team. But did you know that Derek Jeter made 56 errors in his first year of pro ball in just 126 games?  Yet he seemed to overcome that terrible fielding average and do okay. Pat Eilers, a wide receiver who transferred to Notre Dame from Yale even though his football coach at Yale told him “he would never even make the team at Notre Dame” ended up scoring the winning TD in the famous Catholics v. Convicts game between Miami and Notre Dame. Hall of Famer Steve Young went from 8th stringer at BYU and didn’t even dress in uniform for home games to All-American in three years.

In short, adversity is the stuff of sports. It happens everyday. The real question is: how will your son or daughter react to it when it hits them?

LEGAL CONCERNS: Why are Artificial Turf Fields Falling Apart So Quickly?

Over the last couple of weeks, Matt Stanmyre and his colleague Chris Baxter of NJAdvanceMedia (NJ.com) unleashed a series of investigative columns examining why so many hundreds of HS, college, and local park and rec fields — all covered with beautiful lush green artificial turf – is seemingly falling apart within a year or two of being installed.

According to Matt  who was a guest on my show this AM —  FieldTurf, which is the company that sold the turf to hundreds of school districts all over the country, had originally made it clear to its clients that this “was the best stuff one could buy, that it should last at least 8-10 years, and more likely a lot longer than that.”

Problem is, in many, many cases, the strands of fake grass in the turf are fraying and unraveling within only a year or two of use. The turf is literally falling apart. And since these fields cost anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000, school districts are up in arms about this alarming development.

FieldTurf, which apparently, is the leading company in this industry, is already facing lawsuits from schools from as far away as California, and Matt mentioned on the show that the Newark (NJ) school district has started a class action suit because of the faulty fields. In its defense, FieldTurf says that a few years ago, when they became aware of this growing problem, they sued their supplier of the turf material, called Duraspine, and that the supplier and FieldTurf reached an out of court settlement because of the shoddy material.

But noted Matt, there is allegedly some strong evidence that FieldTurf continued to sell its Duraspine fields to schools without even acknowledging that there had been a problem with the composition of the fields. That practice apparently has now caught the eye of key legislators in NJ who want to do a more thorough investigation and find out more about what’s going on with FieldTurf’s business practices and promises to its customers.

One caller this AM, Jim Madden, a councilman from New Providence, NJ, disagreed with all of this, and claimed that he and his community had been very satisfied with FieldTurf and that the turf had been long-lasting and there were no problems at all. But that call was clearly in the minority. As Matt and Chris’ research showed, there are numerous instances where these fields are just not living up to expectations in a very short period of time.

THE TELLTALE SIGNS

So what can you to investigate your son or daughter’s field? First, be aware that even though it looks fresh and lush from a distance, be sure to go down and actually inspect the turf up close. For those fields that have defective turf, you will note that your shoes or sneakers will be picking up blades of grass — just as though as you were walking through a yard of freshly-mowed grass. Needless to say, with an artificial turf field, that shouldn’t happen.

And note on the turf fields where there are lines that are painted in red, brown, white, or other colors. It’s been noted that the premature wear-and-tear of the field happens on the painted lines at an accelerated pace.

According to Matt, the general response to the series of articles has been astounding. If you like to read them, simply go to NJ.com/FieldTurf, or check out the links below.

Sweeping calls to hold FieldTurf accountable:

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2016/12/lawmakers_call_for_investigation_class-action_laws.html#incart_river_home

Newark schools file class-action lawsuit:

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2016/12/newark_schools_file_class-action_lawsuit_against_f.html#incart_river_home

School boards coordinate legal effort:

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2016/12/nj_schools_to_coordinate_legal_action_against_fiel.html

HEROIC FANS: Giving Back to the Kids in a Most Unusual Way

 Donating to Youth Before the End of the Year

By Doug Abrams

Headlines and commentary report adult excesses in youth sports with unfortunate regularity, but sometimes a positive story stays with readers for its inspiration. The staying power may last for years.

In 2011, the Simcoe (Ontario, Canada) Reformer reported the death of Boston Bruins fan Ron Shepherd at 63. Readers likely expected nothing extraordinary from a story about the passing of a family man who had lived his life outside the public spotlight. But to share his love of hockey with the younger generation, the Shepherd family made a novel request. The family asked that each visitor to the funeral home bring a new hockey stick, and not flowers that would wilt at the curb awaiting trash collection within a week.

The family donated the 75 new sticks to the local youth hockey association for free distribution to players in the youngest age group. “My dad would be so happy to see the kids playing with the sticks,” said Shepherd’s daughter.

Human-interest stories like this one do more than simply highlight one person’s generosity that might otherwise go unnoticed. Individual generosity can also remind readers to consider making their own modest tax-deductible donations to worthy causes that help improve the lives of children. Because the tax year does not end until December 31, this timely reminder is the purpose of this column.

The Best Judges

Charitable impulses depend, of course, on personal financial circumstances and obligations to the family. Many adults receive more charitable solicitations than they can satisfy, and many adults must manage the family budget closely these days. But in and out of sports, adults seeking worthy causes that serve youth do not have far to look.

Their child’s youth sports association, or the local parks and recreation department, may accept donations toward fees or equipment for families that might otherwise be unable to keep pace with escalating costs of participation. Private local donations may also help bring state-of-the-art safety equipment such as automated external defibrillators.

National youth sports governing bodies typically maintain charitable initiatives devoted to equal opportunity and outreach to under-served youth. Because hockey is my sport, the USA Hockey Foundation, maintained by USA Hockey, comes to mind.

A parent or coach concerned about advancing player safety nationally may support leading organizations, such as the MomsTeam Institute of Youth Sports Safety.

Outside of sports, the parent or coach might have a favorite national, state, or local charity with a youth focus.  For example, children’s hospitals serve sick and injured boys and girls from modest-income families, and typically accept donations not only for equipment and other direct medical needs, but also for amenities such as toys and games that make a young patient’s hospital stay more bearable.

A local hospital may serve as an indigent-care facility for families that cannot easily afford these amenities. When their child’s hospitalization happens suddenly, other families frequently overlook touches like toys and games, at least for a while as they adjust to the new family situation.

This list is meant to be illustrative, not exhaustive. Private philanthropy matters, and individual adults are the best judges of where their dollars can do the most good.

Filling Buckets

“But would my $25 donation really matter? Or would it simply be a drop in the bucket?”

“Every dollar makes a difference,” says former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, “and that’s true whether it’s Warren Buffett’s remarkable $31 billion pledge to the [Bill and Melinda] Gates Foundation, or my late father’s $25 check to the NAACP.”

In his fable, The Lion and the Mouse, Aesop put it well more than two thousand years ago: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Maya Angelou reminds us today that (as Ron Shepherd’s daughter experienced in Simcoe five years ago) donations serve both the recipient and the donor: “Among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”

Buckets that collect seemingly small acts of kindness can fill up quickly when thoughtful adults take the initiative and pitch in.

 

Sources:  Barbara Simpson, Gift in Memory of Ron, Simcoe Reformer (Ontario, Canada), Apr. 18, 2011, p. 8; National Philanthropic Trust, Philanthropy Quotes, https://www.nptrust.org/history-of-giving/philanthropic-quotes/ (quoting Bloomberg and Angelou); Aesop, The Lion and the Mouse, Aesop’s Fables: A Classic Illustrated Edition, p. 38 (1990).

 

 

SOCIAL MEDIA CONCERNS: The Inherent Dangers of Social Media for Young Athletes

Tom Pincince is a long-time assistant director of athletics at Central Connecticut State University. A former three-sport athlete and college football player, he has been involved in sports for much of his life.

But along the way – especially because he has three young daughters 0  he has quietly carved a niche for himself as an expert on social media, and how vital it is for parents and coaches to educate young athletes about the dangers of social media. Over the last several years, Tom has done presentations to dozens of schools throughout Connecticut, and his website (TakeThisPlayOff.com) has become quite popular.

A generation ago, terms like Twitter…Facebook…Vine…Snapchat…Instagram….and so on just didn’t exist. And yet today, all of these media outlets are everywhere AND the younger generation is not only well aware of these social media outlets, but are fluent with them. Problem is, too many young people – especially middle school and HS athletes — will post upsetting comments online without really thinking through the potential consequences. That is, for example, a young athlete might post something on Twitter that voices his or her displeasure or unwanted comments, and think that only their close friends are reading it. Then the athlete finds out that when you post on Twitter, it’s akin to standing on a mountain top and shouting to the rest of the world your inner-most thoughts and sentiments.

ONCE IT’S OUT THERE…IT’S TOO LATE

There are countless examples of top athletes who have lost college scholarship offers due to misguided tweets. There’s a famous case of a college football player from Elon who tweeted how unhappy he was with his lack of playing time, and made some other terrible comments about his coach, and that went viral. Not good.

Because once something is online, it’s there forever. And too few teenagers or college kids seem to understand that a social media posting can really come back to haunt them when applying to college, or for a job, or whatever.

Pincince makes the analogy that parents give kids a cellphone when they are young and simply say, “Go have some fun.” Says Tom: “But you wouldn’t give the keys to the family car to a young kid without first training them on how to operate the vehicle, make sure they have plenty of safety training, and so on. So how come we don’t do the same thing with our kids and cellphones and social media?”

He makes a most valid point. I have personally turned down job applicants a few years out of college who, once I checked out their Facebook page, realized this was someone I didn’t want to be associated with. Kids need to know just how public all of their posting is.

I know being a sports parent these days is becoming more and more complicated, but please take the time to talk with your kids about social media and explain to them how to be very, very careful when posting anything at all via social media.