Archive for June, 2017

ACCOUNTABILITY: HS Athletes Who Put Integrity Ahead of Winning

“When No One Is Watching”: Two Stories of High School Athletes’ Integrity

By Doug Abrams

With national and international crises and discord dominating the news these days, it takes something special for a youth sports story to reach a major metropolitan newspaper’s editorial page. On June 2, the Minneapolis Star Tribune saluted 16-year-old high school junior Kaylee Gossen, a varsity golfer whose story provides a welcome respite from news accounts of the troubles that sometimes mar the games that children and adolescents play.

Kaylee reminded us that integrity counts in youth sports, and that people respect spirited competitors who take the high road. Without diminishing her will to win, the Marshall, Minnesota golfer delivered the timely reminder when the personal stakes counted the most.

“I Needed To Do the Right Thing”

In late May, Kaylee Gossen was disqualified from sectional competition, the last step on the road to the Minnesota state high school golf championship tournament. She signed a scorecard that reported her round at 82, but she quickly realized that something was wrong. After conferring with her parents and coach, she realized that she had taken seven strokes on the 16th hole, not the six that her scorecard recorded.

If Kaylee had kept quiet, no one would have known. An 82 or an 83 would each have earned her another trip to the states, but she self-reported the error. Tournament rules mandated her disqualification for signing an inaccurate scorecard.

“I realized I needed to do the right thing, losing my shot at going to state,” she told the Star Tribune. “I knew I was going to be disqualified, but it was the right thing to do. . . . Integrity goes a lot [further] than state.”

“I Did Not Deserve the State Record”

In MomTeam.com a few years ago, I wrote a similar story about sophomore Bram Miller’s act of integrity at the Alabama state high school track and field championships. When Bram received his gold medal for winning the Class 1A state high jump title, the public address announcers told the crowd in Selma Memorial Stadium that he had set a new state record by clearing 6 feet, 8 inches.

But Bram knew that meet officials and the public address announcer had made a mistake. He and two other competitors had each cleared the bar at 6 feet, 6 inches, and he won the title on fewest misses. All three missed at 6-8, though he came close. He also missed at 6-6 1/2, which would have erased the existing record of 6-6 1/4.

“The Right Thing to Do”

The Alabama High School Athletic Association said later that if Bram Miller had remained silent, his “record” would have stood and no one would have known the difference. But Bram rejected silence because he knew the difference. He told MaxPreps that when an official at the victors’ podium congratulated him for clearing 6-8 and breaking the record, he responded, “No sir. I got 6-6.” Then he told his coach about the officials’ mistake and requested correction, which the state Association made the next morning.

Bram’s explanation? “I did not deserve the state record because I didn’t set it. I had to tell someone. It was the right thing to do.”

“When No One Is Watching”

The Alabama High School Athletic Association’s director of communications said it best. When athletes in Bram Miller’s position choose the high road, he told MaxPreps, “we act surprised but we shouldn’t be. Kids have much more integrity than we give them credit for.” The sentiment also fits Kaylee Gossen.

The Kaylee Gossen and Bram Miller stories share at least two common denominators for parents, coaches, and players. First, both young athletes wanted to win, but their honesty underscored the guideline delivered years ago by the British Association of Coaches: “Sport without fair play is not sport, and honours won without fair play can have no real value.”

Second, by rejecting unfair advantage that would have gone unnoticed, both young athletes reaffirmed the often-stated essence of “integrity,” in athletic competition and elsewhere: “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”

 

Sources: A Minnesota High School Golfer Wins Our Admiration, Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 2, 2017 (editorial); Paul Klauda, Marshall Golfer Was Headed Back to State, Then ‘Did the Right Thing,’ Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 2, 2017; Doug Abrams, Youth Sports Hero of the Month: Bram Miller (Falkville, Ala.), http://www.momsteam.com/blog/douglas-abrams-jd/youth-sports-hero-month-bram-miller-falkville-ala (June 2, 2014); Dave Krider, High Jumper Bram Miller Shows Honesty After Being Mistakenly Credited With State Record, http://www.maxpreps.com/news/uePVhOorNEK_L2eI-kCulQ/high-jumper-bram-mil… (May 8, 2014); AHSAA, Falkville High Jumper Points Out Scoring Mistake, http://al.milesplit.com/articles/127870-falkville-high-jumper-points-out-scoring-mistake

SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY SECRETS: What Sports Parents Need to Know

As sports parents, we worry so much about our kids learning the correct physical technique or mechanics in their sports…but about their mental approach?

For example, what should you say to your youngster if they’re getting visibly nervous or moody before a game?

Is it okay if they develop certain rituals or superstitions as part of their pre-game prep?

Dan McGinn, who is a sports parent himself, has written a new book entitled PSYCHED UP: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed, and I was eager to interview on my radio show this AM. Dan serves as a senior editor at Harvard Business Review, and has a real passion for sports psychology, which as most of you know, is a long-time passion of mine as well.

Dan’s book touches on a number of competitive fields, whether it be sports…or business…or in the performing arts. But the main theme that underlies all of his stories and insights is what do successful individuals do in order to assure that each performance is a good one. And Dan underscores some of the important myths and misconceptions of pre-game psychological preparation.

For example, he suggests that parents can help their athletes get ready for a game by simply reminding them of previous successful games they have enjoyed in the past. Kids love to reflect on happy times, and the more specific you can be in your jogging their memory, the better. “Hey, John, remember that game last year when you made that nifty move late in the game, and you ended up scoring a key goal?” Bringing back those wonderful moments not only makes your child feel good, but it also lifts their sense of self-confidence.

And if you have video of some of their better games, playing that for them also reinforces the good vibes.

TRYING TO PROTECT YOUR CHILD’S EGO?

Dan confessed that he used to follow a pattern of “definitive pessimism” with his own kids. That is, in an attempt to soften or damp down possible disappointment, Dan would tell his kids: “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself for this tryout…that is, there will always be more tryouts if this one doesn’t go well.” This kind of pessimistic approach set his kids up to expect failure, rather than to prepare for success. It’s clearly something that while you might be tempted to say, you want to instead pump them up to succeed.

 

He also talked about pre-game jitters and anxiety. He and I both agree that it’s up you, as the parent, to assure your son or daughter that being nervous or anxious before a game is not to be avoided but to be embraced. Being full of adrenaline is your body’s way of telling you that it’s ready to perform at a peak level. And that, of course, is a good thing.

So, instead of trying to repress one’s nervousness, tell your youngster to look forward to it…that it’s actually a key advantage.

One more major point: Superstitions and pre-game rituals DO work. Let your athlete wear the same pair of socks, or eat the same meal, or whatever. Allowing them to go through the same pre-game pattern allows them to psychologically focus on the task at hand, and to experience a sense of comfort as they get ready. What they DON’T want is to be placed in a setting where they are so busy focusing on different outside distractions that they can’t prepare for their best performance. That also includes their choice of music in the car on the way to the game!

So, if a superstition or ritual is something they do, don’t worry about it. Just embrace it!

Again, the book is entitled PSYCHED UP: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed, by Daniel McGinn. It’s available in bookstores everywhere or order a copy from Amazon. I heartily recommend it to all sports parents and coaches.

PS – I have my own book on sports psychology secrets coming forth in January 2018. That book attempts to explode many of the myths and misconceptions of what really works with top and elite athletes – -and what doesn’t. I’ll be writing more about my book in the weeks to come. 

 

SPORTSMANSHIP: HS Boys Lax Team Intrudes on Visiting Girls Before Playoff Game

Well, what happened the other day in Yorktown, NY?

Depending on who you talk to, there was some sort of dust-up between the members of the Yorktown HS boys lax team…and the Somers HS girls lax team that clearly ruffled some feathers – especially on the Somers side.

Many of the Somers parents continue to be outraged.

From most accounts, here’s what happened. A couple of weeks ago, on May 25th, the Somers HS girls lax team travelled to Yorktown to play the Yorktown girls’ lax team in a championship playoff game. The winner would not only take home Section One honors, but the win would qualify to compete in the NYS lax tournament.

As is often done with visiting teams, the Somers girls lax squad was ushered into the Yorktown boys locker room in order to change and prepare for the game. This was done because the girls’ locker room was being used by the host team, the Yorktown girls.

At first the boys locker room was locked, but then a door was opened, and the Somers girls went inside. They played some music, got taped up, and mentally starting getting focused on the big game.

But as they were getting ready, apparently several members of the Yorktown boys lax team entered that same locker room. They had just finished their practice session for the day, and apparently weren’t aware that a visiting female team was in their locker room. There were no signs posted suggesting that the boys locker room was being used by a visiting girls team. Nor were there any coaches or supervisors outside the lockerroom warning boys not to go in.

As the Yorktown boys entered and encountered a girls’ team, the boys turned off the music and made some typically dumb adolescent comments to the Somers girls – stuff like “I’m going to get naked” and “I’m going to spit in your mouth” and there was also some profanity involved.

Again, depending on who you talk to, the comments – although certainly inappropriate – were made in jest, and were not overly threatening – or at least that’s how it was reported. But technically, these comments could be classified as “sexual harassment” since the comments were of an unwelcome sexual nature. The good news is that there was no physical contact or pushing or shoving from either side.

AN INVASION OF PRIVACY ?

But apparently a number of Somers HS girls and their parents did feel that these verbal comments were not only called for, but the boys’ unexpected intrusion DID violate the girls’ sense of privacy and definitely bordered on sexual harassment.

And of course, the Somers girls  – who were understandably focused on the upcoming game – were disturbed from their pre-game preparation, and ultimately left the locker room angry and upset. Not the best way to get ready for a big game – a game, by the way, that they lost.

Since that incident, the Somers parents have been extremely outspoken, have complained strongly to their school Superintendent, and this incident is apparently not going away.

I asked Tony Fiorino, who has been on the Sports Edge several times in the past, to come on this show. As luck would have it, not only does Tony and his family live in Somers, his daughter Sophia is a senior at Somers HS and is one of the star players on the lax team, and she was in the lockerroom.

The first question I asked Tony was how was it possible that no one from either Yorktown or from Somers was not present, guarding the doors? Tony was just as bewildered as I was, because clearly the posting of a coach or supervisor at the lockerroom would have easily prevented this from occurring.

As far as his daughter was concerned, Tony said that Sophia wasn’t all that concerned by the episode, but also added that there were apparently some Somers’ players who were upset. And Tony was quick to point out even if only one girl was offended, that was enough for an apology from Yorktown.

And to that end, I ended the show by asking why wasn’t an apology forthcoming? Even if no one was at fault here, the simply reality was that Yorktown was the host team for the game, and as such, by allowing the boys lax players to innocently walk into the lockerroom when a visiting girls team was there has to fall upon Yorktown’s shoulders.

A straightforward and sincere public apology from Yorktown to Somers would have probably put an end to this incident. But no such public apology was forthcoming, and that allows the Somers’ parents to continue to be angry. Finally – and I find this somewhat curious – it was the Somers Superintendent (not his counterpart from Yorktown) who issued a statement saying that the incident had been investigated and there was nothing more to be said or done.

And that’s how the episode ended, although judging from the hefty amount of media attention this incident received, this moment between Somers and Yorktown won’t soon be forgotten. Both schools, which border each other, have a long and proud history of athletic competition, and certainly they will compete again in sports in the fall.

And when they do, it might be a good idea to have the lockerrooms monitored by outside supervisors.

TRENDS IN SPORTS: Should Varsity Letters Be Awards to HS Students Who Compete in Non-Athletic Pursuits?

On my WFAN radio show last Sunday we had a spirited discussion on whether videogames – or e-games as they are known – should be considered as a new kind of HS sport.

Most of the debate centered on whether these very popular games should be classified as a sport…or simply as an activity.

The main point that was debated back and forth was whether to be a sport, there needed to be a real element of perspiration in the mix. After all, one of the underlying concerns about our kids playing videogames for hours on end is that a lack of physical exercise and exertion lends itself to all sorts of health issues as the kids get out of shape and heavier.

Personally, I felt there was a real growing wariness about sanctioning e-gaming as a legitimate HS sport when, in fact, this so-called sport not only does nothing for the youngster’s physical conditioning, —  but can actually be very detrimental to their health.

True, I guess you can make a case that playing a contact sport like football or ice hockey or field hockey can lead to concussions, which can also lead to long-term health issues as well. But for better or worse, in today’s world, traditional sports are seen as doing wonders for kids to stay in shape, whereas sitting in front of a computer screen is as seen as being damaging.

At the end of the show last week, there was no real definitive consensus. But it did give us pause about whether we should embrace e-gaming as a sport.

Let me give you an analogy:

For example, in a few states in the Midwest like Arkansas, bass fishing is considered to be a legitimate varsity sport. Now, I must confess that I have never been to, or witnessed, a HS bass fishing contest, but my initial reaction is that when you go fishing, you pretty much sit in a rowboat waiting for a fish to nibble on your line.

I guess there’s some physical activity involved in trying to reel the fish in. In fact, Doug Abrams points out with a laugh that most likely it’s only the fish that gets a true workout in these competitions.  And yes, I don’t suspect that kind of physical activity for the HS fisherman is the same as, say, running up and down a soccer field on a hot humid day… or putting on a full-court press in basketball….or running 400 meters at full speed in a heated HS race.

You get my point.

EARNING THAT VARSITY LETTER IN HS SPORTS

But as a follow-up to this topic of  what truly constitutes a varsity sport, I also wanted to discuss the awarding of varsity letters in HS.Now, one of the great traditions in American HS sports is for a youngster to earn a HS varsity letter.

I mean, this was a big, big deal when I was in HS, and from what I can gather, earning a varsity letter still remains something to honor and to cherish. You just don’t get a varsity letter for being on the roster. A youngster has have to log a certain amount of quality playing time – or at least that’s how it was set up when I was a kid.

In other words, you had to EARN your letter.

Now, I mention all of this because I came across a new law that was recently passed in NJ.

In short, the new law now says that any and all students who represent their HS in other extracurricular activities that compete against other schools should also be eligible to win a varsity letter for their efforts.

That could be for kids who are in the HS chess club…or competing in Robotics of the Mind….spelling bees….pretty much any extracurricular activity in which kids from one school are competing against kids from other schools.

In short, this expansion of eligibility for a HS varsity letter is a little different to be sure. Yes, I know that over the years that some school districts were giving out varsity letters on an ad hoc basis in order salute those kids who didn’t play sports but had talents in other areas and had obviously put time and effort into succeeding in these outlets.

Most of the calls this AM came in from those individuals who had been awarded varsity letters for anything from competing in history competitions to chess clubs to even ceramic competitions when they were in HS. They were indeed quite proud of their accomplishments, and felt strongly that this new law was not only a good move, but long overdue.

Other callers, however, asked poignant questions. To wit:

Is there a real and tangible difference between being on a HS varsity sports team….as opposed to being on a non-sports HS organization and being able to earn a varsity letter?

In other words, by opening the door to varsity letters for extracurricular activities, doesn’t that have the impact of cheapening or diluting the varsity letter?

In effect, does this new law in NJ simply add an extension of the age-old debate that “everybody gets a trophy” just for competing?

And what about the HS kids themselves? How do they feel about all of this?

Or is this just another case of trying to placate today’s parents who want to know how come their non-athletic (but talented) kids can’t earn a varsity letter?

For that matter, does achieving a varsity letter still carry the same feeling of singular accomplishment that it did, say, 15 or 20 years ago?

One caller, for example, said that he had graduated from Power Memorial HS back in the early 1970s when Power Memorial was a legendary school for athletics. He couldn’t make the basketball team (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was there then, as was Steve Kallas). So the caller went out for the school band, which, he pointed out, was quite a commitment as the band played all over NYC. In any event, in his senior year, after being in the school band for four years, he was awarded a varsity letter which was quite meaningful to him.

True, there was no competition against other schools, but the Power Memorial administration clearly wanted to salute him in some ways for his four years of dedicated commitment, and as such, I could see why giving him a varsity letter made a lot of sense.

Only the next few years will determine whether this new law will change things dramatically in terms of HS kids in NJ. In the end, it’s up to the HS kids and their parents whether earning a varsity letter in chess, or in science competitions, or in spelling bees is going to be a big deal for them.