Archive for August, 2017

HEROIC ATHLETES: The Magic of Kids Who Know No Boundaries

Another Youth Leaguer Who Overcomes Physical Challenges

 By Doug Abrams

Youth sports headlines these days sometimes seem calculated to make many readers cringe. Stories about parental sniping and even violence. Stories about coaches who cut young kids in tryouts and bench young kids who make the roster. Stories about referees under siege. Stories about financially strapped families unable to afford escalating costs of participation.

But every so often, a news story captures the essence of wholesome athletic competition. The story shines the spotlight on what youth sports can be – a powerful, perhaps unique, vehicle for enriching children’s lives on and off the field.

On September 25, writer Ian Frazer profiled 12-year-old Jack Coggin in the Forsyth County (Ga.) News. The headline tells the story: “Lambert Youth Football Team Embraces Teammate With Cerebral Palsy.”

A few moments after each game, the teams line up, Jack in uniform gets the ball, his Longhorns teammates block for him, opponents clear the path, and he runs for a touchdown. The idea of enrolling Jack came initially from the Longhorns’ coach, and the team’s parents (including Jack’s mother and father) are supportive. “I’ve had one parent say they were upset about their kid’s playing time,” the coach told Frazer, “and after seeing Jack score and how happy he was, it kind of put things in perspective.”

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ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: HS Baseball Player Sues Coach Due to Lack of Playing Time

Every so often, something so bizarre pops up in the world of sports parenting that I just feel compelled to present it to you.

And this week something came across my desk that I thought was quite distressing.

About a week or so ago, it was revealed that out in California, a HS baseball player and his parents are suing the boy’s varsity coach because the coach wasn’t playing him.

That’s right….a lawsuit based on a youngster’s lack of playing time. The lawsuit claims that the player became a victim of harassment and bullying by the coach because the coach wouldn’t play him.  The youngster and his parents are looking for $150,000 in damages.

Here’s the story.

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BOOK REVIEW: An Insider’s Guide for Aspiring Baseball Players

The title of the book is JUST BASEBALL: A Guide to Navigating the World of Baseball Recruitment for Players and Parents.

And playing off the title is the author’s name, Mike Just, who was a star player at Liberty University before embarking on a career in professional baseball in the independent professional leagues. That  background suggests to me that Mike received a first-rate education at how college and professional baseball operate when it comes to scouting and signing talent.

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CONCUSSION PREVENTION: New Protective Catcher Helmet is Finding Support

First, an important disclaimer. Let me just say that this is not a commercial endorsement. Askcoachwolff.com does not receive any compensation from Force3 Pro Gear, nor do we have any relationship with the company.

That being said, if your son or daughter plays baseball or softball, and is a catcher, or for that matter, an umpire, you might want to check out the Force3 Defender mask as a marked improvement in protecting them from concussions. The mask has been adopted by pro and amateur several leagues, including the South Atlantic Baseball League and Babe Ruth baseball and Cal Ripken Baseball.

What makes the Force3 Defender mask different from traditional masks is that any blow to the mask, such as from a fouled pitch, is strongly cushioned by strong and resilient coils. It’s worth taking a look. Check out the website at www.force3progear.com.

 

TWO TEENAGE DISASTERS: Both Could Have Been Prevented

There were two most unfortunate incidents this past week in youth sports, and the sad part is that both could have easily been prevented if only a little forethought had been present.

The first occurred with the Little League Softball championship playoffs, or Junior League Softball World Series as it’s called.

A Snapchat photo that went viral caused tremendous embarrassment to all concerned, and it resulted in a team being disqualified for the national championship game. The photo featured 6 girls (ages 12-14) from the Atlee, VA, team posing, with all of making an obscene gesture (middle fingers raised),in a kind of threat against their next opponent, Kirkland, WA.

This took place just as Atlee was about to square off with the tournament host team (Kirkland). By all accounts, it was a heated and tense game. And when the game was over, Atlee emerged as the victorious team.  That meant they would advance to the championship game the next day, a game that would be televised nationally by ESPN.

But there was the matter of that awful photo, which, to be sure, was the essence of poor sportsmanship.

The head coach of the Virginia team didn’t even know about this photo, but as soon as he did, he immediately reprimanded the players who were involved – it was not his entire team – only about 5 or 6 girls. And he insisted the players apologize to the host team in person.

But the coach also didn’t think it was fair for his entire team to be bounced out of the championship game due to this momentary lapse in teenage judgment. In short, this was another case of social media announcing teenage stupidity where none of those 6 girls thought ahead about the consequences of their actions.

Little League Baseball intervened, and decided to disqualify the entire Virginia team. They were not allowed to play in the championship game due to their inappropriate behavior. Atlee was dismissed, and LL Baseball decided to promote the losing Kirkland team to the championship game instead.

Joe Heinzmann, who’s an attorney and who’s been long involved in LL coaching and administration, was my guest this AM, and he pointed out how unfair this solution was. He first said that there were at least 6 or 7 girls on the Atlee team who were not in the photo, and that it wasn’t fair to ruin their dreams of playing for a championship because some of their teammates were short-sighted dunces. Joe suggested that LL Baseball might have ruled that Atlee play those other 7 girls, and play the offending girls as minimally as possible in the championship game.

The other concern was that the Kirkland team had sportsmanship issues of their own. In their game against Atlee, the Kirkland coach and a player had been ejected from the contest by an umpire for trying to steal signs from Atlee. But apparently, that lack of sportsmanship and etiquette didn’t matter to LL Baseball; Kirkland was allowed to overlook that —  as well as their loss to Atlee -and advance to the championship affair. They lost, by the way, 7-1.

C’mon, LL Baseball, you’ve got to do better than that. Or, just have the guts to tell ESPN that neither of these two teams had the right to advance to the championship game because neither squad exhibited good sportsmanship.

After all, good sportsmanship — isn’t that what LL Baseball/Softball is all about?

TRAGEDY IN FOOTBALL CAMP

At least with the softball incident, no one was killed.

Josh Mileto, 16, a junior football at Sachem HS East (NY) was not so fortunate.

The details are still coming forth, but apparently he was subjected to a drill in a summer football camp in which a very heavy log – something like a telephone pole – is carried by several players over their heads. The purpose, from what I understand, is to not only to build arm and shoulder strength, but also to build a sense of team trust, that is – for players to learn how to work and trust your teammates in a unified act.

Apparently, this drill is adapted from a similar drill that NAVY Seals do in their training.

But all that being said, clearly something totally disastrous took place.  During the drill, the 400 pound pole fell on Josh and killed him.

Obviously, this was an accident. But the outrage and anger has been palpable. Questions such as: was the drill supervised by adult coaches? And if so, couldn’t they see that the pole was going to be too heavy? Bear in mind that Josh was small by football standards: 5’6 and 135 pounds. And how many other teammates were carrying the pole? Safety experts have said that you need at least 8 strong bodies to do this.

From what I have read in the media, this drill is not all that popular with football coaches, simply because of the risks involved. But those concerns are moot now, as this boy was killed.

Again, wouldn’t a little advance forethought worked here? Couldn’t someone in charge recognize that this was going to be a bad, and dangerous, idea?If someone had, then I wouldn’t be writing about the death of a 16-year-old football player.

This has nothing to do with sports and assumption of the risk of getting hurt. That has to do with plain old common sense.

Legal liability? As Joe Heinzmann made clear on the show, the Sachem School District will have to confront this accidental death. None of the coaches will be held personally liable.

But of course, no amount of money will bring this youngster back to his family and friends.

BOTTOM LINE

As a parent or a coach, if you teach the power of thinking ahead and the consequence of one’s actions, that may be the most important lesson of all.

 

GAME OFFICIALS: The Shortage of Refs and Umps Continues to Climb

An Update On the National Referee Shortage:

Abuse, Frustration, and Alarm

By Doug Abrams

Nearly every week brings another news article about youth league and interscholastic sports programs that struggle to maintain game schedules and promote player safety despite diminishing numbers of referees. In many communities from coast to coast, referee shortages worsen with each season.

The steady stream of news articles identifies various barriers that challenge efforts to replace seasoned officials who retire. Pay remains relatively low, for example. Family commitments may deflect potential recruits who are raising young children. Younger recruits may soon move away to pursue career opportunities elsewhere. Weekday afternoon games may interfere with full-time employment.

These barriers are real, but the news articles identify another barrier that stands out above the rest. Large numbers of new referees soon quit, frustrated by the incessant verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse routinely dished out by parents and coaches. In earlier columns, I explained why local sports programs feel alarm about the potential impact of acute referee shortages. http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2017/04/02/abusive-sports-parents-epidemic-finding-refs-officials-work-youth-games-continues/; http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2017/07/04/abusive-sports-parents-calculating-hidden-costs-kids-sports-programs/.

The earlier columns featured media commentary from across the nation. To provide an update with the fall sports season approaching, this column surveys some of the most recent news articles, ones that have appeared since early May. By now, these thoughtful articles recite a consistent formula — abuse, frustration, and alarm.

Abuse, Frustration, and Alarm

In the Journal Review (Crawfordsville, Ind.) just three weeks ago, writer Jim Johnson asked pointedly, “Are We Nearing Crisis Mode With a Shortage of Athletic Officials?” An Indiana high school activities association administrator told him that the “biggest issue is the way [referees are] treated . . . from coaches, players and parents.” Johnson sounded the alarm that unless civil, respectful treatment displaces abuse, “[t]he days when games are canceled or postponed because officials aren’t available could come sooner rather than later.”

“They’re Out! Umps, Refs Have Had Enough of Your Yelling.” Under this provocative Idaho Statesman headline, Michael Katz quotes a local volleyball commissioner who pinpoints mounting frustration at fan abuse: “Parents are getting worse. They are more mouthy, and they don’t care if they try to come down and get in [an official’s] face.” Katz says that “[a] few bad experiences . . . make it hard to sell someone on officiating a high school game, much less continuing at the youth level.”

The Washington Times’ Deron Snyder writes that parental and coaching “abuse is a major reason fewer young adults gravitate to officiating.” He says that “[a] nationwide shortage of high school referees is causing alarm for administrators.” “Organized sports,” Snyder warns, “would die without the men and women who don stripes or blue uniforms.”

Writing in the Daily Record (Wooster, Ohio), Mike Plant quotes a veteran local official who sounded the alarm about the potential impact of referee shortages on such sports as track and field, volleyball, and softball. “If we keep going at this pace, there won’t be any games in these sports because there won’t be any officials.”
Two recent Washington Post articles sum up the national portrait. Under the headline, “Verbal Abuse From Parents, Coaches is Causing a Referee Shortage in Youth Sports,” Nick Eilerson blames “a deeply cutthroat sports culture, one that often holds amateur referees to a professional standard.” Matt Bonesteel writes that more and more high school referees quit each year, frustrated by “parents and coaches screaming for your head while you do a job that isn’t exactly going to make anyone rich.”

Scheduling and Safety

What should youth sports advocates make of all this? Even casual observers grow alarmed when games are postponed, rescheduled, or even canceled for lack of available officials. Or when parents or coaches dish out abuse in front of their young athletes.

But another cause for alarm — heightened safety risks — can escape the untrained eye. Especially in contact and collision sports, chronic shortages of experienced officials summon alarm by increasing the risk of injury to players, including ones who compete by the rules. “To be effective for promoting safety,” says a recent medical study, a sport’s rules “must be enforced rigorously and consistently by referees and leagues.” Parents and coaches assume enforcement roles, but referees are the primary enforcers once the game starts. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports consensus among medical professionals that “[o]fficials controlling the physicality of the game . . . can . . . play significant roles in reducing contact injuries.”

This essential control can suffer when so many referees quit each year. Many replacement refs are simply not ready for the responsibilities cast on them. Without the premature departures of so many seasoned veterans, many of the replacements trying to control the game would not yet be on the field.

Most parents and coaches do not stoop to verbal or physical abuse of officials, but news articles uniformly point out the errant minority’s harmful influence. Actions have consequences. Parents and coaches often get the quality of officiating they deserve, and program vitality and player safety may depend on the outcome.

 

Sources: Jim Johnson, Are We Nearing Crisis Mode With a Shortage of Athletic Officials?, Journal Review (Crawfordsville, Ind.), July 26, 2017; Michael Katz, They’re Out! Umps, Refs Have Had Enough Of Your Yelling, Idaho Statesman, June 12, 2017; Deron Snyder, Youth Sports Have Everything, Except People Who Want To Officiate Them, Washington Times, July 31, 2017; Mike Plant, Officials Wanted, Needed, Daily Record (Wooster, Ohio), June 25, 2017; Nick Eilerson, Verbal Abuse From Parents, Coaches Is Causing a Referee Shortage In Youth Sports, Washington Post, June 16, 2017; Matt Bonesteel, Are We Running Out of High School Referees?, Washington Post, May 19, 2017; Charles H. Tator et al., Spinal Injuries in Canadian Ice Hockey: An Update to 2005, 19 Clin. J. Sport Med. 451 (2009); Chris G. Kouteres & Andrew J.M. Gregory, Injuries in Youth Soccer, 125 Pediatrics 410 (Feb. 2010).

 

EVERYBODY GETS A TROPHY: Half of All Graduating HS Seniors Have an A Average?

There was an article that ran in USA TODAY recently that caught my eye, and I have to confess, it reminded me of the old “everyone gets a trophy” debate.

And what’s curious about this article is that it has nothing – at least on the surface – to do with sports or sports parenting in this country.

But the more I read it, the more I wondered whether this is somehow linked to our national epidemic of parents intervening on behalf of their kids when their kids are not achieving the results what the parents had hoped for.

Okay let me explain:

In short, the article said that half of all US HS senior now graduate with an A average….47% to be exact.

Now think about that. All of us grew up in a school system where the very best students received an A…then there were B grades….C meant average…D below average and so on.

But traditionally, the grading system was set up so that maybe the top 10 percent of the class received A’s.

And here’s the catch on this: because if it’s true that our students are now so smart that half of them are truly A students upon graduation, well, then, we really have something to crow about!

But the USA TODAY article goes on to explain that despite this rise in academic grading, the truth is that the objective standardized tests that our country uses…the SAT…well, those scores are actually going down.

That means that despite the fact the more HS students are getting A’s, the truth is that – according to their SAT scores — they’re really not doing as well  as a generation ago.

What does this mean? I mean, I know I’m old school, but to me, this study suggests that perhaps as more and more sports parents are intervening with their kids’ HS and middle school sports careers, maybe the same thing is happening with their academics.

That is, if a youngster comes home with a report card that isn’t covered with A’s, then the parents decide that the teacher is at fault, and they go battle the educator or threaten a lawsuit rather than sit down with their son or daughter to see why they’re not studying or reading more at home. And as several teachers said on my show this AM, rather than engage in endless squabbles with the parents or their kids regarding grades, the teachers often cave in – and give them what they want…an A.

In a day and age where seemingly every kid grows up and expects a trophy, are we reaching a point where every kid should also get an A?

I worry that perhaps that along the way, some of the more fundamental lessons of teaching a youngster a sense of work ethic….of how to study properly….of getting a real sense of what it means to put in solid effort and then being rewarded with a top grade….are we losing those valuable  lessons for our kids?

GOING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION?

Curiously, in 1998 – about 20 years ago –  only 39 percent of HS seniors had an A average. So clearly, at least on the surface, it would seem our kids must be getting smarter – because more kids are getting A’s.

Except….that the national average on SAT tests have actually gone in the other direction: they have dropped from a national average of 1026 out of 1600 to 1002!

Clearly if our kids were getting smarter, then the SAT scores would be going up, not down.

I am wondering if this trend is emblematic of our nation’s parental obsession with every kid gets a trophy mentality, and if more and more parents are meddling with their kids’ teachers in school to get better grades.

A few years ago, I recall reading where in a HS in Texas, the graduating class had 37 valedictorians…37! Apparently they all had straight A averages, and were all tied for having the best GPA in school. I mean, really? Is that possible?

Yes, I know getting into a top college is more competitive than ever these days…but if we’re at a point where half the graduating seniors have an A average, then perhaps the time has come to just focus on objective tests like the SAT or ACT.

Now, In terms of athletes, I wonder if this cultural mindset for excellence is affecting their approach to assuming that they’re going to make a varsity team…or will be good enough to play in college….or in general, just skew their attitude towards sports and personal accomplishment.

91% OF HS STUDENTS RECEIVE EITHER AN A OR B

I also want to point out from this USA TODAY article:

O The research strongly suggests that much of the grade inflation occurs in primarily white and affluent school districts

O That in private schools, the rate of inflation is about three times higher than in public schools

O And the percentage of HS students receiving an overall B average is at 44%….that means, if 47% of the kids are getting A’s, and 44% are getting Bs, only about 9 % of all HS students are graduating with a C average.

Again, this particular show was a bit of a stretch from sports parenting….but then, again, when it comes to sports parents and expecting their kid to succeed in both sports and in school, maybe this program was right on target.