Archive for March, 2017

SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY SECRETS: Are Cell Phones a Blessing or Curse?

Dr. Jarrod Spencer, a sports psychologist who runs Mind of the Athlete in Bethlehem, PA, had an interesting observation on my radio show this AM.

When I asked him what, in his opinion, was the most pressing concern in the world of sports parenting in terms of sports psychology, he surprised me when he said that he felt it was the growing reality that too many young athletes seem to be addicted to their cell phones, so much so that when they go to bed a night, they can’t seem to be able to put the phone down and get some sleep.

As a result, by staying awake to all hours of the night tracking social media, these youngsters don’t get enough needed rest, and that has a serious carryover effect into their next day at school and in practice and in games. Dr. Spencer feels that this is a growing epidemic, and the reason why so few parents are able to intervene with their kids is because the parents themselves are doing the same thing!

One or two callers agreed with Jerrod – that indeed kids seem to be addicted to cell phones in much the same way as a generation ago, people were addicted to cigarettes. And of course, both addictions are not healthy.

Jarrod felt that the only way to counteract this problem was for schools, coaches, and parents to educate kids today about this issue, and if nothing else, get them to understand what kinds of negative impact this addiction can have on their academics and athletic performance.

A DIFFERENT SPIN

I had mentioned along the way that some college coaches actually prohibit their athletes from using their cell phones during the season, mainly because they don’t want their athletes to make any embarrassing mistakes on Twitter. I know Geno Auriemma at UConn hoops limits his players from using cellphones during the winter season. Other coaches do the same thing.

But I was not aware that kids and cell phone usage late at night was becoming so disruptive.

I did point out that perhaps today’s young athletes use their cell phones as a way to break the constant and grinding pressure that comes from playing on a highly competitive schedule in sports – -that kids look upon cell phones as toys, or as a way to break away from the growing expectations in sports.

Indeed, the more I reflect on that, the more I think that theory might make sense. By the time a young athlete is in HS, playing a competitive sport can often become totally consuming and overwhelming, both in terms of the time commitment as well as the constant pressure to keep succeeding and to win. By the time the kid gets home and is ready for bed, playing on one’s cell phone offers a much wanted emotional break from the rigors of sport.

As noted, it’s an interesting observation and theory.

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TRENDS IN SPORTS: The Two Fundamental Keys to Athletic Success

I tell ambitious sports parents all the time that in order for their child to become a top professional athlete, they need only two ingredients:

God-given talent, and a superior drive to compete.

While that may sound overly simplistic, the truth is, in my experience in sports, you can often find a youngster who has the drive and passion to succeed, but sadly doesn’t have the size or speed or talent.

Likewise, there are lots of highly gifted athletes who just don’t seem to care that much about taking advantage of their ability. That is, they’re just happy to play their sport and let their God-given ability take them as far as they can, but without putting forth any extra effort.

Think I’m wrong? Consider superstar athletes like Michael Jordan, who could jump over the moon and even in his 50s, he’s still known as a fierce competitor who hates to lose. He’s typical of those rare, great athletes who burn with a competitive drive AND were born with great skills.

I mention all this because I was reading in Sports Illustrated the other day about a HS kid who hails from Australia. A newcomer to American football, Daniel Faalele is one imposing young man, standing 6’9 and weighing a rock-solid 400 pounds. No, I’m not making that up. Think Tim Tebow, only even bigger (a lot bigger) and on steroids.

Sensing that he may have a future in college football and the NFL, Faalele left Australia and is now attending the IMG Academy in Florida which has become a major breeding ground for Division 1 football prospects. By all accounts, now only is this young man physically imposing and strong, but he also has quick feet. And thanks to growing up in Australia where he played rugby, he also loves hitting people.

True, Faalele is just learning the basics of football, including blocking and tackling. But if he has the inner drive and determination to succeed, it’s pretty clear that he has that God-given physical ability. Only time will tell how far he will go.

And in the meantime, if he doesn’t have what it takes at 6’9, 400 pounds, maybe his little brother Taylor. He’s already 6 feet tall and 260 pounds…and he’s only 11.

TRAVEL TEAMS: Sports Parents Need to Have the Courage to Speak Up and to Ask the Tough Questions

I continue to receive lots of queries and questions regarding issues with travel teams, or as they’re sometimes called by different names, such as elite, premier, or just club teams.

But no matter what they are called, they all basically work from the same premise: that they offer a higher level of competition for your son or daughter, and in exchange for this opportunity, your youngster has to first try out. If he or she makes the team, then there’s usually a substantial fee to be on the squad.

These days, the vast majority of Moms and Dads understand how this system works, and at the local, grassroots level, when kids are as young as 6 or 7, the parents are often eager to have their little athlete try out and be selected for that local travel team.

Obviously, making a travel team is often viewed as being prestigious; indeed, it’s become something of a status  symbol in one’s community that my kid has been deemed or viewed as a talented athlete – someone who is well above the average.

And from the parent’s perspective, sure, the travel program — no matter what sport it may be – is going to cost a lot more than being on the local rec sports program. But for the parent who dreams about college scholarships for their kid, it’s certainly well worth it.

But it’s then usually two or three years later, when the travel program begins to ratchet up the intensity, that the sports parents begin to worry and quietly begin to wonder if this was the right move for their child.

That is, questions begin to rise regarding a child’s playing time…or playing a preferred position….or whether actual instruction of skills is the top priority – especially at the younger ages – or is the travel team coach all about winning all the time? After all, by this point, the parents now realize that with practices being held three a times a week, and usually two games on the weekend, this is becoming something of a part-time job.

And invariably, there are also questions about a kid’s commitment to the program. Specifically, what’s the team’s policy about missing a practice or two? Or about even missing a game? If the travel team goes from Labor Day to Easter, this is getting to be serious in terms of time and money.

By the way, as noted, it makes no difference what the sport is…soccer, baseball, softball, basketball, ice hockey, lax, you name it…if it’s a travel program, then you first need to understand the basics of how these programs function and operate.

Because so many parents tend to be naïve about these matters, especially if it’s their first time through the process as a sports parent, let me start with the basics.

A QUICK PRIMER

In short….a rec program – short for recreation – is usually run by one’s local town or community or neighborhood. All kids are allowed and invited to participate, regardless of their level of talent or ability or commitment. These rec programs may carry a small fee to register, or in some cases, they are free. Regardless, there’s usually a program person who oversees the workouts and games. There is usually some instruction on the skills needed to play the sport.

But overall, rec programs are low key. Generally, there’s no travel involved, but if there is, it’s a very short ride to a neighboring town or two. All kids get lots of playing time, and in many ways, rec programs are close to what old neighborhood pick-up games used to be; that is, neighborhood kids playing sports with their friends in a low-key environment.

The next step after rec programs are organized teams. Now, these are often run by nationally-known youth programs, like AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) or Little League baseball. And at the youth levels, these teams are open to anyone who signs up and pays a fee. All kids who sign up make a team, get a uniform, and there are usually some rules on minimum playing time.

Bear in mind that, with programs like LL Baseball, at the end of the regular season, the league coaches will get together and will select an All-Star team. And that All-Star team of the best players will form the squad that will go on and compete in the LL playoffs in order to get to Williamsport.

In other words, by the time your child is 9 or 10 or 11, if he or she wants to compete at a higher level – meaning on a travel team….this is where the stakes start to get higher….and where parents start to wonder whether this makes sense, and whether their faith in the coaches and travel program is warranted.

UNLIKE MIDDLE SCHOOL TEAMS OR HIGH SCHOOL PROGRAMS — where the coaches work for the school district and not for themselves —  and there’s no fee to try out for a school team, or to be on the team…TRAVEL TEAMS are totally independent and have nothing to do with SCHOOL DISTRICTS. They are run strictly for profit as money-making ventures for the organizers and the coaches. They can set and charge any fee they want. They do not report to any state or federal body. In short, they can do pretty much whatever they want. And that’s where unexpected issues can pop up which affect your child.

For example, if the Dad who runs a travel program decides that he wants to have his son on the team, as well as some of his son’s friends team on the team, they can certainly do that – and they don’t have to tell you why. That happens a lot with travel programs, and the other parents are not often informed.

Because of these kinds of unexpected developments, parents need to have the courage to ask tough questions before you pay your money.Why? Because if things go sideways during the season, and unfortunately, they can, you need to know there’s not much you can do in terms of making an appeal. It’s really a situation of caveat emptor.

WHAT I LEARNED AS A SPORTS PARENT

As most of you know, I’m a sports parent, and over the years, I learned many of these lessons about travel teams the hard way myself:

—-I can recall my youngest daughter going through AAU tryouts for basketball with dozens of other girls, and my having the very distinct sense that the coaches had already pre-selected the team, and were now just looking to see if there were anybody else they may have missed. In other words, all the kids who were trying out and paid their money and were hopeful to make the team. But the team was already pretty much selected ahead of time.

— I can recall my son being told by a veteran hockey coach that he couldn’t play on both a travel hockey team and his HS hockey team at the same time because that was against NYS rules. My son was devastated. But a couple years later, I found out that there is no such rule in NYS because NYS schools don’t have any jurisdiction over travel hockey.

— I can recall another travel soccer program for one of my daughters where she was thrilled to make the team, but then disheartened to discover there were a total of 24 girls on the squad, which meant that playing time was going to be an issue. And the coach – who was such a wonderful and easy going guy during tryouts – turned out to be an intimidating yeller and screamer at the girls during the games. Not good.

You get the idea…

 

These are essential questions that all parents of travel team kids need to know…and this includes ALL travel programs….including AAU baseball and basketball, USA ice hockey, AYSO soccer, US Soccer Academy, Cal Ripken Baseball, LL Baseball and quite frankly, any kind of travel program where your child has to try out and if he or she makes the team, you have to pay a fee to be on the team.

By the way, when your kid makes a travel team and you note on the schedule that there are games several hours away by car which involves a lot of overnight stays, meals, and gas, understand that the travel team DOES NOT pick up those extra costs….you do!

Now, I just want to make this clear: I AM NOT trying to put down ALL travel teams programs. The truth is, there are many travel programs where the coaches are all about the kids, offer great instruction, and are very understanding of the parents’ concerns.

But unfortunately, there are lots of others which are all about simply winning AND making money.

In sum, some of the basic issues you as a parent need to be aware of include, and need to check on ahead of time:

PLAYING TIME….if my kid makes the travel team, how much actual playing time will he or she get?

WHAT IS THE TEAM’S TOP PRIORITY….are the coaches all about winning every game? Or is there a sense that real instruction and even having fun is in the mix? Too many coaches will tell you that the instruction is only done at practice…and that kids only have fun when the team wins.

WHAT ABOUT MISSING AN OCCASIONAL PRACTICE OR A GAME? This will probably fall on deaf ears. Travel coaches don’t want to hear about your kid needing to miss a practice because he’s got a big math test the next day. Nor do they care that there’s a cousin in your family getting married on the weekend, and your kid needs to miss a game.

When travel coaches start hearing stuff like this, they will tell you that the consequence is that if your kid misses practices or games, that will probably have a real impact on their playing time. Why? Because all the other kids on the team are not missing practices or games, and thus should garner more playing time.

WHAT IS THE COACH LIKE DURING GAMES? In short, is he a firebrand? A yeller and screamer? Better find out because of kids hate playing for coaches who breathe fire during the games.

IS THE COACH ACCESSIBLE? Meaning is he or she available to be contacted during the week in case there’s an issue or concern? Sounds obvious….but you need to find out.

Again, much of this advice is for those sports parents who have never encountered travel teams before. But even if you’re a veteran of these wars, always keep in mind that, at the end of the day, it’s the parents who are paying for these travel programs.

REFLECTIONS: A Breath of Fresh Air When Kids Lead the Way…..

The Last Shot: High School Basketball Pride in the Heartland

By Doug Abrams

In the past few weeks, headlines have carried stories about disturbing conduct by high school sports fans. The Herald-Standard reported, for example, that throughout a basketball game in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, some students in the stands chanted “Build that wall! Get them out of here!” and other racial slurs at opposing African American players.

The Mendham-Chester Patch reported that similar student chants, leveled at black and Hispanic opponents, marred a high school basketball game in suburban New Jersey. The Huffington Post reported that a Missouri public school superintendent publicly apologized after students in the stands collectively turned their backs on opposing high school basketball players during pre-game introductions, apparently a school tradition that no one had ever questioned.

“Everyone Will Remember”

Students refreshingly bucked this descent in Nebraska late last month at a basketball game between Columbus High School and Kearney High School. Kearney held an 11-point lead with less than 30 seconds remaining on the clock. Both teams’ fans began enthusiastically chanting, “We want Kyle! We want Kyle.”

Kyle Anderson, the team’s manager, had suited up for his first game and had yet to see action. The popular senior was no ordinary substitute. WOWT 6 News reported that ever since being diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer five years ago, the Eagle Scout and former Homecoming King has undergone several chemotherapy treatments and surgeries. He volunteered as manager when his condition kept him from trying out for the team.

Columbus’ coach put Kyle in the game according to plan, and the manager responded by hitting a layup in the final seconds. The Columbus Telegram described the drama: “No one will remember the final score; everyone will remember Anderson’s layup.”

Columbus High School will move into a new building next year, so the Kearney matchup was the final regular season basketball game played in the nearly 60-year-old gymnasium. Kyle’s layup was Columbus’ last varsity basket scored in the gym, a proud climax for both teams’ students whose resounding cheers saluted the manager as the game ended.

People Are Always Watching

Leading national voices promote sportsmanship and respect as hallmarks of vigorous high school athletic competition. In some high visibility sports today, however, fans’ trash talking, taunting, and rowdiness sometimes eclipse these core values.

The Peoria (Ill.) Journal Star offers this healthy perspective for students in the stands who feel tempted to stray from partisanship to vulgarity: “People are always watching everything you do, so respect visitors, guests, and the people you represent . . . with your actions. After all, high school sports are about bringing a community together to support the students and one another.”

Before the curtain closed on nearly six decades of tipoffs in Columbus High School’s gymnasium, the final act pointed in the right direction.

 

Sources: Alyssa Choiniere, Parents Say Uniontown Players Targets of Racial Comments at Connellville Game, Herald-Standard (Uniontown, Pa.), Feb. 10, 2017;  Katie Kausch, ‘Build The Wall’ Chants Cause Controversy At NJ Basketball Game, Mendham-Chester (N.J.) Patch, Jan. 31, 2017; Aaron Ferguson, Hoops Fan’s Heckling Was Embarrassing and Disrespectful, Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.), Dec. 8, 2016; Ed Mazza, White Students Hold ‘Trump’ Sign, Turn Backs On Black Basketball Team, Huffington Post, Dec. 14, 2016; Brandon Scott, During His H.S. Basketball Debut, the Crowd Goes Wild For a Columbus Teen Fighting Cancer,  http://www.wowt.com/content/news/The-crowd-goes-wild-for-a-Columbus-teen-fighting-cancer-during-his-HS-basketball-debut-414828033.html (Feb. 26, 2017); Kollin Miller, Anderson Steals Show in Final Home Game, http://columbustelegram.com/sports/high-school/anderson-steals-show-in-final-home-game/article_e0545408-281d-515e-8c43-7607cdb553d1.html (Feb. 17, 2017).

PITCH COUNTS: A Few More Thoughts on this Topic…

As has been outlined by the National Federation of High Schools, starting this spring every state in the country will have set up and put into place various pitch limits for all public high schools at the varsity, junior varsity, freshmen, and modified levels.

The idea, of course, is to ideally prevent teenagers from ruining their arms from overpitching and subsequent serious Tommy John injuries.

So far, this all sounds good. But the more I reflected on this move, and the more I discussed it with my colleague Steve Kallas, the more I did a 180. Specifically:

Is it even possible that there’s a HS baseball coach anywhere in this country who doesn’t know about the concerns of injuring a kid’s arm from having him throw too many pitches? I mean, pitch counts have been in the news for well over a decade now. And if you’re a varsity baseball coach, and aren’t aware of these concerns, I would suggest that you probably aren’t a good candidate to coach baseball.

Moving on, why are individual states being allowed to come up with their rules on pitch limits? That is, if you don’t know this yet, every state has its own regulations regarding pitch limits, how many days of rest are mandated, how many pitches can be added to the overall game total in playoff games, and what the punishments are for violating these rules.

Even worse, not only are these pitch count rules hard to follow, but they differ substantially from one neighboring state to the next.

And there’s no probationary time. That is, these rules are in force for this season, and in some southern states where the games are already being played, there are already concerns about implementation and monitoring pitch counts. Among other concerns, if a coach is found in violation of the pitch limits, the punishments range from having the game forfeit, to the coach being suspended and fined for his actions.

ARE THESE REALLY NEEDED?

I have three suggestions:

Why not make the 2017 season just a probationary, experimental season where these pitch count rules can be put in place, but only on a trial basis? Let’s see how they work in real game situations, and then after the season is over in June, the state boards can determine what worked, and what didn’t, and then make corrections.

In addition, why have the rules vary from state to state? Just come out with one universal standard set of rules for everyone. That’s just common sense. I’m not sure why the individual states need to have their own rules.

And finally, do we even need these pitch counts in the first place? If you have an experienced HS baseball coach, then he should already be more than familiar with making sure that his ace pitcher doesn’t ruin his arm by throwing too many innings, or is being used too many times. And if the coach doesn’t know these parameters, or is too hell-bent on winning a league championship, even if it means risking his top pitcher’s arm, well, it’s up to the kid’s parents to step and intervene. But again, I would find it very hard to believe that there’s a HS pitcher these days who isn’t aware of the risks of having a HS kid throw too much.

Bottom line? Pitch counts may be a good idea, and every coach needs to be aware of them. But enforcing them in a hard-and-fast way seems too much too soon.

GUEST COLUMNIST: The Essential Value of Positive Self-Esteem in Sports

Editor’s note: As you might imagine, I receive a great deal of email from readers and sports parents from all over. And occasionally, I read something that is so spot on this topic that I feel compelled to post it and share it. Rick Wolff

For the Love of Kids

by Christopher M. Meuse

The purpose of the following article is to express my beliefs related to the importance and value of promoting the development of positive self-esteem in children at home, in schools, through sports and in every walk of life.  I will attempt to show the significance of positive coaching and parenting in developing happy, confident, successful and fulfilled individuals who are capable of reaching higher levels of human potential.

I recently published the book, “Hockey, Kids & Positive Coaching”, an inspiring story about a young boy whose love for the game of hockey is affected by the pressures placed on him by the adults in his life. It demonstrates the value of love and how a child’s growth and development are enhanced when guided by people who are more concerned about feelings of self-worth than numbers on a scoreboard. The story illustrates that the journey to true peak performance in life is eased through guidance and education that go beyond skills. A quality education which is focused on issues of self-worth will help to create the healthy conditions necessary for children to reach their greatest potential.

There are many theories and techniques that can be used to teach, coach and educate children. Some include strict discipline, tough love, the promotion of aggressive behavior, acceptance and love, or a combination of all of these methods. The value of developing a strong sense of self-worth, or self-esteem, in a child cannot be over-   emphasized. The application of principled behaviors supported by empathetic listening, understanding and compassion can help parents achieve greater positive results when guiding their children on their journey through life is emphasized in this article through excerpts from the book.

I was motivated to write “Hockey, Kids & Positive Coaching” by  negative behavior that I witnessed being displayed in arenas where children play hockey – behavior which adults probably used with a positive intent, but which often negatively resulted in diminished peak performance. The joy of playing the game was also greatly decreased for all involved.  Negative comments and criticisms children experience – not only in sports, but in their lifetime – can be extremely disempowering and often lead to the formation of blocks or barriers to learning and performance.

It has been scientifically proven that negative thoughts and comments result in decreased strength and performance. I have witnessed very talented players become totally confused and disorientated on the ice after being yelled at by adults. The players were then further criticized after the game for their poor performance, the adults not realizing how their conduct actually contributed to the players’ poor performance. We cannot empower children to do their best through negativity, whether in sports, at home, in school, or society in general. This belief is demonstrated through the story and experiences of the book’s central character, Michael.

Several years ago I was listening to an interview with the renowned basketball coach, John Wooden.  He exhibited many great character qualities as a coach, but also as a father, husband, and educator. The host introduced him as “a coach of love” who cared more about his players as individuals than he did about them as basketball players. Apparently, at the time of the interview, Wooden’s teams won more consecutive games and conferences than any other team in U.S. basketball history — an amazing result from a coach of love, who apparently never used the word “win” in the dressing room. Why? His explanation seemed to suggest that on a mind/brain (or neurological & psychological) level, a player can only perform at the highest level when focusing all of his/her energy on his/her own performance. He believed that any percentage of energy that is used to focus on the thought of winning, or on scoreboards, or referees, etc. is energy removed from one’s ability to play at one’s best. Therefore, Wooden emphasized intrinsic motivation focused on one’s desire to play his\her best. Yes, his players practiced hard and played hard, but the enjoyment aspect of the game was always emphasized. He never wanted playing basketball to be a chore. The players’ challenge was with themselves. If they played their best than they were winners, despite what the scoreboard indicated.  Obviously, Wooden’s record is a valid indication that his players usually played their best.

When young children are expected to play like pros, and are criticized for making mistakes, the results are seldom positive. The game becomes work and the “play” and fun aspects are lost far too early. As Joseph Chilton Pearce writes in his excellent book, “Magical Child”: “through the function of play, the work takes place, and creativity unfolds … play is the only way the highest intelligence of mankind can unfold.”

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of being sincere in conversation with our children; positive reinforcement must be more than idle words. There is great value in not merely using positive words in an attempt to manipulate children so that they will perform in a way that adults believe they should. It is important to be positive and compassionate simply because this is what children need and deserve. In the end, children and adults will have greater respect for each other while achieving greater levels of excellence.

The excerpts contained in this article are explained in much greater detail in my book: “Hockey, Kids & Positive Coaching”. Detailed information and reviews related to the book can be found on the following Blog & Website: http://lofeexpublishing.blogspot.ca/

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/home/search/?keywords=christopher%20meuse