Archive for July, 2017

LEARNING FROM ADVERSITY: Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts on Sportsmanship

Chief Justice Roberts on Lessons Learned from Adversity

By Doug Abrams

 This is a brief guest column. The guest is John G. Roberts Jr., Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Much has been written lately about “helicopter parents,” mothers and fathers who strive to shield their children from all adversity in sports and other activities. Tom Izzo, Michigan State University’s successful head basketball coach, expressed concern in a radio interview earlier this year. The recent Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee said that, “We’re creating a system that we’re never teaching a kid how to fight through [tough times].”

Last month, Chief Justice Roberts spoke at his son’s ninth grade commencement at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, New Hampshire. His text has appeared in various media outlets. Here is what the Chief Justice told the graduates about how experiencing, and learning from, adversity builds character:

“From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”

The Washington Post is right: “The best thing Chief Justice Roberts wrote this term wasn’t a Supreme Court opinion.”

Sources: Chris Vannini, “Tom Izzo: We’re Creating a System Where Kids Don’t Learn to Handle Adversity,” http://coachingsearch.com/article?a=Tom-Izzo-Were-creating-a-system-where-kids-dont-learn-to-handle-adversity (Apr. 13, 2017); Katie Reilly, “’I Wish You Bad Luck.’ Read Supreme Court Justice John Roberts’ Unconventional Speech to His Son’s Graduating Class, Time, July 5, 2017; Robert Barnes, “The Best Thing Chief Justice Roberts Wrote This Term Wasn’t a Supreme Court Opinion,” Wash. Post, July 2, 2017.

 

DANGERS OF LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL: What You Need to Know About the New Rule Changes

LITTLE LEAGUE CHANGES THE GAME WITH NEW RULES, ESPECIALLY AS TO BATS

                                                                     By Steve Kallas

Little League baseball has instituted several new rules for the 2017 Little League season.  But the biggest change is with respect to a virtual total revamping of Little League bats, which will go into effect on January 1, 2018 and, in virtually all cases, will require the parent of a Little Leaguer to buy a new, often times expensive, Little League bat for the 2018 season.  Since the new bat rules are probably the biggest change, we will deal with those first.  (To view the new bat rules and the new 2017 Little League play rules, go to littleleague.org.)

HERE COME THE NEW BATS….EXCEPT THAT YOU CAN’T BUY ONE YET

Beginning on January 1, 2018, Little League Baseball is revamping baseball bats to be used in all leagues except Tee Ball and Senior Leagues.  That is, Little League is adopting the so-called USA Baseball bat standard, which is supposed to mandate the use of non-wood bats which are supposed to be similar to wood.

To begin with, as Rick Wolff and this writer have argued for years, if you’d like to have kids play with a wood-like bat standard, then simply have the kids use wood bats.  Despite Little League’s protestations on their website that wood is “scarce,” it is submitted that having kids play with wood would develop them as better hitters and be safer.  While Little League has insisted for years that the aluminum, alloy and composite bats are not more dangerous than wood, virtually anybody who has coached, watched or played Little League baseball can obviously see the difference.

While it’s better than it once was, non-wood bats are still more dangerous than wood bats, in the opinion of this writer and many others.

SO, WHAT’S THE CHANGE?

Beginning in 2018, if you play in the Little League Minors, Majors or Junior division, you will need to have a bat that has the new USA Baseball mark.  This mark is a new invention intended to make non-wood bats more like wood bats in terms of ball speed off the bat.

The only exception to this rule is, if you used an accepted one-piece wood bat in 2017, you will be able to use that one-piece wood bat in 2018 (believe it or not, there are multiple two-piece wood bats that must have the USA Baseball mark to be used in 2018, which basically means you have to buy a new bat).

Likewise, EVERY aluminum, alloy and composite bat MUST be replaced for the 2018 season.  To this day, you can still buy 2017 bats (at discounted prices in many instances as stores try to get rid of their inventory) that become “garbage” (in terms of one parent’s comment at JustBats.com) as of January 1, 2018.  In addition, most, if not all, of these bat sales do not tell you that the bat you bought in 2017 (or the bat you still may be inclined to buy for fall ball in a few months) is worthless and cannot be used in Little League in 2018.

As of this past June, according to JustBats.com, no bat manufacturer had instituted any kind of trade-in of a 2017 bat for a 2018 bat.

Very sad – and a terrible rip-off.  To get a true sense of what many parents are thinking, go to JustBats.com and look at the 45 or so questions/comments pages where many parents let their feelings be known.

To recap: other than an accepted one-piece wood bat, every other bat used in Little League in 2017 is unusable in 2018.  To make matters worse, there are currently no 2018 bats on the market today.  You can’t buy one now.

Most estimates are that the new bats for 2018, which have that mandatory USA Baseball mark, will begin to be sold in September of 2017.

Finally, and this is for another time, Little League has approved two different barrel sizes for Little League bats – 2 and 1/4 inches and 2 and 5/8 inches.  This, and an additional part of the new rule that eliminates drop limits on these new bats, raises additional questions.

A BRIEF PRIMER OF 2017 NEW LITTLE LEAGUE RULES

There are other rules, new for 2017 that should be looked at:

 

  • SPEEDING UP THE GAME – KEEPING ONE FOOT IN THE BATTER’S BOX

Little League is attempting to speed up the game by implementing a rule that states that a batter must keep one foot in the batter’s box during his/her at-bat.  While an interesting idea, which was tried in three games during the 2016 Little League World Series, the rule raises a potential can of worms.

For starters, there are eight (count them, eight!) exceptions to the rule.  Given how much is already put on the plate of an umpire, this, in and of itself, could cause problems.

For example, one exception is when a batter checks his swing.  If he does, he’s allowed to step out of the box.  Another exception occurs when a play is “attempted.”  OK, so a lefty batter is up and a runner on first goes to steal second.  If the catcher (almost always a righty) throws down to second, the batter had better get out of the way.  But what about if a catcher fakes a throw – is that a “play?”  The rules are unclear. And how does the plate umpire watch all of this?

In any event, the umpire warns the batter after one violation and then calls a strike on the batter for any additional violation of the rule.  Remember, the umpire has to go through eight exceptions in his mind before he can issue a warning or call a strike.

Interestingly, a good umpire can move the game along without this rule.  He can simply encourage kids not to step out of the box, to hustle in and out between innings.  Or, he can leave it to the coaches to tell their teams what is expected both in the box and in hustling in and out between innings.

To dump all of this on an already overloaded umpire (including complaints from both teams parents and coaches, etc.) is asking a lot of, often times, volunteer umpires.

This rule is optional for local leagues (they vote on whether to implement it or not) but will be mandatory in the Williamsport tournament.

 

  • SPEEDING UP THE GAME – INTENTIONAL WALK

This rule is for the Minor and Major divisions of Little League.  Like Major League Baseball, you can now walk a batter intentionally without throwing any pitches.  One interesting sidelight to this rule is that four pitches will be added to the Little League pitcher’s pitch count, even though he/she doesn’t actually throw a pitch.

As with MLB, in this writer’s opinion, the no-pitch intentional walk rule saves merely seconds or a minute in a game – not a very long period of time.  But, in Little League, where both hitter and pitcher are trying to learn how to play the game, this could hurt both sides.

For example, you might want to walk the big kid or the great hitter more frequently.  You don’t risk a wild pitch or anything like that.  You take the bat out of the hands of a kid who is trying to improve as a hitter.

Yes, we know that, for many coaches (unfortunately), winning is everything, something that you can’t totally eliminate from Little League baseball.  But to take the bat out of a kid’s hands simply because he’s a good hitter is sad at the 8, 10, 12-year-old level.

As for the four pitches added to the pitch count without pitching, presumably this was done so a manager can’t keep his pitcher in longer and, maybe, will be a deterrent to actually intentionally walking people.  But these smart managers might just bring in a pitcher to walk a guy intentionally, thus nullifying the (maybe) intention of the rule.

 

  • STEALING AND RELAYING OF PITCH SELECTION AND LOCATION

In 2017, stealing and relaying of pitch selection and location to alert a batter is deemed unsportsmanlike behavior.  If the umpire believes this is happening, both the player and the manager may be ejected from the game.

This is another difficult rule to implement and it places another burden on the umpire.  While stealing signs is a part of baseball, you’d like to think that 10-year olds, et al, are not going to be taught by managers to steal signs.

On the one hand, it’s “part of the game.”  On the other, it’s probably best to wait until these kids are older before they start to steal signs.  Having said that, is it OK to steal the third base coach’s bunt or steal sign (as opposed to pitch location)?   Again, interesting issues arise.

This rule is optional for local little leagues but will be mandatory in the 2017 Williamsport tournament.

 

  • ON-FIELD ALTERCATIONS

In 2017, Little League is giving guidance to help umpires with respect to fights and physical altercations.  According to this language, a manager, coach or player shall not leave wherever they are on the bench or field during a fight or physical confrontation.  If one does, and, in the umpire’s judgment, he/she does it to prevent a fight or restore order, this would not be a violation.

Again, like virtually all of these new rules, although perhaps well-intentioned, it would be hard for any coach or manager to stand still if there’s a fight going on.  More pressure on the umpire to determine what the coach/manager is thinking/doing and you can bet that the coach who runs down from third base with every intention of breaking up a fight may have a different reaction if/when he gets pushed or punched.

Frankly, you might need more than an umpire to break up a real physical altercation and, often-times, tempers run high among coaches the older the kids playing are – you won’t see the intensity in a tee ball game that you will see in a Majors game.

It would be shocking if a coach literally did nothing and stood in a coach’s box when a fight breaks out.  Again, more pressure on the ump and a call to all coaches to be right-minded, no matter what the perceived “stakes” are in that particular game.

CONCLUSION

While all of these rules have good intentions, they should be reviewed at the end of the season and tweaked where necessary.  While everybody, for example, should hail the mandatory criminal background checks instituted in 2017 which eliminate participation of potential coaches with respect to crimes involving or against a minor or minors, one wonders whether that should be expanded to all crimes, especially felonies, that don’t involve a minor or minors.

And while the new USA Bat mark is being instituted by many leagues other than Little League, it has been poorly implemented, with many parents correctly upset that they just spent hundred(s) of dollars on a 2017 bat that will be worthless in a few months.

While some will argue it was well-publicized, all parents should have been told about this directly long before this season started.  In any event, it would be nice if Little League and other leagues put some pressure on bat manufacturers and retail bat sellers to have a trade-in policy for the old bats and/or a discounted price policy for the new ones to help less fortunate people and even others who paid a small fortune for a bat this year.

COPYRIGHT 2017 BY STEVE KALLAS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: Calculating the Hidden Costs to Our Kids’ Sports Programs

 What Parents’ and Coaches’ Abuse of Referees Costs Families

By Doug Abrams

In the past few weeks, the Washington Post featured two thoughtful articles that shine the spotlight on a growing problem that plagues youth sports from coast to coast. Under the headline, “Verbal Abuse From Parents, Coaches is Causing a Referee Shortage in Youth Sports,” writer Nick Eilerson explains that in high schools and community youth leagues alike, the lion’s share of abuse stems from “a deeply cutthroat sports culture, one that often holds amateur referees to a professional standard.”

In the second article, Post writer Matt Bonesteel says that growing numbers of seasoned high school referees hang up their whistles each year, frustrated with “parents and coaches screaming for your head while you do a job that isn’t exactly going to make anyone rich.”

The referees’ frustration is not fanciful. As I coached youth hockey and watched other teams’ games over the years, I heard parents in the stands and coaches behind the bench hurl insults at referees that no self-respecting adult would hurl at the family dog. Physical confrontations with referees, instigated by parents or coaches, were less common but did happen.

In the past few years, the Washington Post and several other media sources have reported the results. Youth sports programs have had a tough time recruiting new referees, many of whom drop out after about a year or two because they too grow unwilling to endure abuse from parents and coaches. Chronic shortages of referees have reportedly caused some youth leagues and high school conferences to postpone or reschedule games, or even to cancel some games.

In a recent column, I discussed how continuing attrition in the refereeing ranks can endanger player safety in high school and community youth league play, particularly in collision and contact sports. When veteran referees tired of running the gauntlet quit in droves each year, some games are left to less seasoned replacements who might not yet be ready to maintain the game control essential for player safety. That column appears at http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2017/04/02/abusive-sports-parents-epidemic-finding-refs-officials-work-youth-games-continues/

This column focuses on community youth leagues and not high schools. Adults’ chronic abuse of referees can hurt youth leaguers in two additional ways unrelated to player safety. Both ways concern money.

First, unstemmed abuse of referees from parents and coaches may indirectly limit the access of some children to community sports programs by increasing registration fees beyond what some families feel they can pay. Second, this abuse can require families, once they register, to divert money that they could otherwise spend more fruitfully on their children in other pursuits.

Limiting Access

First, access. . . . In high school sports, coaches and referees are typically paid for their service, which is only fair because most high school coaches are paid for theirs. As part of the curriculum, interscholastic sports receives funding from taxes or private tuitions.

In community youth leagues, however, coaches typically volunteer but referees typically get paid. Unless time is more valuable to referees than to coaches, why the difference?

The answer may affect the access of many children to community sports in the first place. In my community youth hockey leagues over the years, referees’ fees accounted for a quarter or more of a family’s annual registration fee; only ice-time rental typically accounted for more. The percentages allocated to referees’ fees can probably be even higher in sports such as baseball or soccer because field time is typically not so expensive.

We are talking here about a few hundred dollars per family for each player, which is not pocket change for many families. Particularly in sports with high start-up costs for equipment and uniforms, I wonder whether more children would be able to enroll in community programs with volunteer referees.

Parents juggling the family budget typically seek savings where they can, so why don’t more community youth leagues reduce registrations fees by encouraging volunteer referees? Perhaps much of the answer is that most prospective referees will not volunteer to bear the brunt of verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse from parents and coaches. Parents and coaches pay for their misconduct. Even referees who are motivated primarily be a desire to remain active with sports and kids, and not by a desire for extra income, would think twice about donating their time for bitter returns from hostile adults.

Many parents nowadays struggle to assure their children’s participation in sports by sacrificing elsewhere in the family budget. Volunteerism might be a real option if more parents and coaches would treat referees as who they are — public-spirited citizens who help bring sports into children’s lives — and not as error-prone antagonists.

Savings

Second, avoidable expense. . . . More and more youth leagues now require parents and coaches to attend pre-season meetings aimed at educating the adults about civility, respect, and sportsmanship. Here is another potential agenda item: By helping attendees understand how expensive their lack of self-control can be, community youth leagues might be able to help contain registration fees by enlisting volunteer referees if they enlist volunteer coaches. If a community’s sports culture were ever to displace crudity with civility, parents could spend the annual savings on their children in more constructive ways.

Sources: Nick Eilerson, Verbal  Abuse From Parents, Coaches Is Causing a Referee Shortage in Youth Sports, Wash. Post, June 16, 2017; Matt Bonesteel, Are We Running Out of High School Referees?, Wash. Post, May 19, 2017.

 

DISCIPLINE ISSUES: An Ongoing Issue for Parents, Coaches, and Kids

This is a topic that doesn’t seem to be discussed all that much these days. And yet, it’s an issue that continues to be a real concern for coaches, athletic directors, parents, and of course the athletes.

I’m talking about the art of disciplining athletes, especially HS and travel team athletes.

What do you do if you’re a parent…or if you’re the coach…of an athlete who does something that he or she shouldn’t have done? How do you dole out a punishment? How do you even figure out the right punishment?

More importantly, how do you teach the youngster a sense of right from wrong – so that he or she doesn’t make the same mistake again. And ideally, their teammates will learn from the mistakes of their peer.

Now, I know we live in a high-tech, app-driven world these days, and our kids are all about embracing the latest technology and adopting new trends in sports. And imposing discipline is most definitely Old School.

But unfortunately, as the Parent or the Coach, you have to lay down the law AND enforce the punishment.  It’s not easy and it’s not fun. But it’s important to teach life-long lessons that go far beyond the playing fields.

The problem is – -discipline and subsequent punishments are often complicated. That is:

If you punish your star player before a big game, and decide to bench him…..is that fair to the rest of the kids on the team who desperately need him to help win? Should that even be a consideration?

What about using alternative punishments? That is…okay, I’m not going to bench you or suspend you…but you will have to perform community service…or run extra laps….or something else as your punishment. But you can still play in the big game.

Does that kind of alternative punishment have the right and desired impact….or is it missing the mark?

There were a number of excellent calls this AM. Several of them made it clear that the coach has to be consistent and strong in meting out tough punishments. If a kid violates the team’s or school’s rules, and the right punishment is to be benched, then the coach needs to do that even if it means missing the biggest game of the year.

One coach related the story that he found an alternative punishment for one of his star players just so the kid wouldn’t miss the big game…and the move totally backfired. The kid had missed practice before a big game due to a senior prom a few days earlier. The coach said he learned the hard way from not sticking to his guns. The following year, not one but 8 of his players blew off practice before a big game, claiming they were still exhausted from prom night a few nights earlier.

As I discussed this coaching nightmare with this caller, I also heard from Coach Tom. Tom is from North Arlington, NJ, who is a loyal listener and always has great insights, and he made it clear that coaches have to be consistent with their decisions, they need to run big punishments in advance with the AD so that the AD is not caught off-guard, and that the coach needs to have the courage to follow through. I couldn’t agree more.

HERE’S A TYPICAL CASE….

Now, there are lots and lots of examples to choose from, but I was recently made aware of a situation that occurred this past March. According to a variety of police reports, the New Canaan HS baseball team decided to have a beer party a few days before their season opened.

Of course, buying alcohol in CT is illegal unless you’re 21, and even though the beer was served in one of the player’s homes….well, that doesn’t make this any better. In addition, there were other disturbing events that occurred at that party. But I just want to focus on what happened to the baseball players.

Once the police arrived on the scene, the party of course was broken up. And the young man, an 18-year-old, who had purchased the beers for his buddies and had the party in his home, well, he and his Dad were charged.

But here’s the part I don’t get: Although it was pretty clear what had happened at this get-together, and that a number of varsity ballplayers were drinking, nothing happened to them in terms of immediate punishment. I’m guessing that the New Canaan parents said that since the party had become a police investigation, there was no need to discipline the kids. And of course, nothing happened until very late in the baseball season, so the kids just practiced and played.

That is, they simply played the season with no suspensions or benching.

Yes, in late May, as the team was in the playoffs, it was then decided that the kid who had bought the book and hosted the party would be suspended for the rest of the season. But from what I can tell – and I could be wrong – but no punishment such as a suspension or benching was handed down to the players.

All that happened at the end of the season was the kids and their parents agreed to participate in some sort of training sessions of the perils of alcohol.

At the other end of the spectrum, one caller. Jason Beim, chimed in and said that former NFL player Keyshawn Johnson had instituted his own kind of discipline on his own son, Keyshawn Jr, who is a freshman on the University of Nebraska football team. When the older Johnson heard that his kid had stashed marijuana in his dorm room, Keyshawn didn’t wait for the college or the football coach to hand out discipline: Keyshawn jumped in himself and yanked his kid out of school for the fall semester. The irate father imposed his own parental punishment.

Sounds harsh? Perhaps. After all, kids make mistakes. We all know that. But kudos to Keyshawn Johnson for laying the law down on his son.

These days, I wonder how many other sports parents would have done the same thing?