Archive for September, 2017

COMMUNICATING WITH THE PARENTS: Part II of Doug Abrams’ Experiences as a Youth Hockey Coach

 Using Email to Communicate With the Team’s Parents (Part 2)

By Doug Abrams

Part 1 of this three-part column urged community youth league coaches to consider using email to share observations and explanations with parents before, during, and after the season. The Part provided emails that I, as head coach, wrote and sent during pre-season practice sessions to the parents on our 9-10-year-old Squirt hockey team a few years ago. The team played in the “house gold” league (the higher Squirt house league) against seven St. Louis-area house teams. The season ended with playoffs and a State Championship Series.

Part 2 now provides emails (again in italics) that the coaching staff sent to the parents during the regular season. Next time, Part 3 will provide the coaches’ emails to parents during the playoffs and the championship series.

The Regular Season: “‘Teaching Opportunities’ Ahead”

Our team lost the regular season’s opening game, and the coaches sent the parents this email two days later after the next practice session:

“We can draw valuable lessons from Sunday’s loss because athletes at any level can sometimes learn more from losing than from winning.  Quite frankly, if our team goes 9-1 in the first ten games, it is better to lose the first game than the tenth. In the long run, the team will be better off if the players learn about skills and temperament sooner rather than later.

Here are lessons that the coaches and players discussed briefly in the locker room before last night’s practice:

1)         It is no embarrassment to lose to a strong team when you give your best effort. We lost to a strong team Sunday, and all our players gave 100%. Every day of the season across North America, half of all youth hockey teams lose the games they play. Every losing team returns to skate another day.

2)         Learning how to ‘win like a winner’ can be easy, but learning how to ‘lose like a winner’ can be tough. We told the players that they played like winners – intense, skillful, clean, and sportsmanlike. But we also mentioned that once we started losing, a few players began complaining about the referee or criticizing teammates from the bench. The complaints and criticism were not strident, but they did happen.

The coaches stressed that when you start complaining about the referee, you signal that you are giving up because losing teams focus on the ref. A team wins hockey games only by strong defense and strong offense – by keeping the puck out of the team’s net and by putting the puck in the opponents’ net. When players on the bench complain about the referee, they are not concentrating on what they must accomplish during their next shift on the ice.

The coaches also stressed that “TEAM” means all players supporting one another. Criticism leads to bickering that divides the team. Players who criticize teammates from the bench may make mistakes on the ice a few minutes later, and the critics will want and need their teammates’ full support. 

Both problems – complaining about the ref and criticizing from the bench – are issues at all levels of youth sports, and even in the pros. These problems are predictable because they occur on almost every youth hockey team at one time or another. The players understood what we coaches were talking about.” 

* * * *

In our second game, we faced the team that would finish in first place at the end of the regular season. We lost that game too, and the post-game email (sent after the team’s next practice, acknowledged that the parents and coaches still had “teaching opportunities” ahead:

“Here are the lessons that the coaches briefly discussed with the players before last night’s practice:

  • Hold your head high when you lose to a strong team after giving your best effort. In the locker room after the post-game handshakes, the coaches told the team that when players try their best (as we did), they should skate off the ice with their heads held high so that a casual spectator who just walked into the rink cannot tell whether the team won or lost.

2)         Hockey is only half physical; the other half is mental. For the past month, the coaches have told the players that the mental half of the game is as important as the physical.

We have a young team (mostly first-year Squirts), and the players were understandably nervous before the first two games, as they should have been. Before the game, the coaches told the players that if they try their best and have fun, the scoreboard will take care of itself. Of course, telling players to take a deep breath is easier said (by adults) than done (by kids).  Because much nervousness disappears once a player hits the ice for the first shift, the coaches kept the first few line shifts especially short so that every player could taste game action as quickly as possible.”

* * * *

Losing streaks can leave players and parents anxious, so the coaches wanted the parents to understand their central role in guiding the players from game to game, particularly through defeats. After our first two losses, the coaches sent parents this email:

“As the team improves each week and seeks to break into the ‘win’ column soon, we adults need to say and do the right things before, during, and after each game because the players remain alert to our verbal and non-verbal cues. Sports is important to these players. Words hurt, and the wrong words today can hurt for a long time. The players are more likely to remain enthused if they see enthusiasm in their parents and coaches. Parents play important roles because they spend much more time each week with their player than the coaches do.”

* * * *

Our third game was a tie, a step in the right direction. No victories yet, but the kids felt great afterwards. The coaches sent parents this email:

“The players should be proud of this morning’s 6-6 tie because we reached back for that ‘something extra’ every time we needed it. Pros and youth leaguers alike sometimes shut down mentally when the other team builds a lead, but we came from behind four times to earn the tie.  At the bench between the second and third periods (when we were down, 4-2), the coaches told the players to ‘show what we are made of’ in the third period and the team responded with four goals. 

After the game, we talked to the players about an incident that happened late in the third period. An opposing player evidently said something derogatory to one of our players. (Not worth repeating here.) The coaches told the players that we cannot control what opponents say or do, but we can control what we say or do. The coaches said that we must exercise self-discipline, even after misbehavior by opponents. We stressed that our team plays and behaves right, win, lose, or draw.

The parents and coaches can help by continuing to set the example that we want the players themselves to set on and off the ice. We adults watch the kids play in practice sessions and games, but (whether we realize it or not) the kids also watch us. And children ‘learn what they watch.’

Ethics begins at home, and football coach Knute Rockne was right that “one person practicing good sportsmanship is far better than 50 others preaching it.”

* * * *

Future games produced some wins and some losses. By the last month of the season, we seemed headed for a fourth-place finish in the eight-team league. From the beginning, the coaches told the parents that the players would carry the team as far as their abilities permitted. The players were proving the coaches right, but our email reminded the parents that the players had not done it alone:

“You may have noticed that we have near-perfect attendance at every practice and game. Near-perfect attendance does not happen by accident, and it is quite unusual on many youth sports teams. Kids do not have to play unless they want to. Sustaining  the ‘want’ is a primary responsibility of parents and coaches.

By this time late in the season, some players might look for reasons to skip practices or games if their parents browbeat them about hockey at home, or on the ride to or from the rink. Or if the coaches browbeat the during practices or games. We adults compliment the players with praise for their hustle, but the players also compliment us with their continued enthusiasm.

In a way, it is a shame that rules prevent us from having a different parent join us on the bench each period. You would be thoroughly impressed if you could watch the players’ faces. The players care, and the parents deserve the lion’s share of the credit.

For the rest of the season, we will probably win some games and lose some games, as every youth league team does. Achieving full potential signals success, and we adults should be proud of the players as we ‘keep the fires burning.’”

* * * *

Just when fourth place looked like a lock, we lost 9-2. This email followed:

1)         Hockey is only half physical; the other half is mental (again). When we fell behind 3-1 early in the second period, the mental half began to unravel, as it often does even in the pros. The coaches reminded the team that giving up the first few goals does not assure defeat. Sometimes the easiest time to score is when the opposition relaxes right after they score, and mentally strong teams can sometimes overcome an early deficit (as we did a few weeks ago when we came from behind four times to gain a tie). Our coaches will remain patient because NHL coaches earn hefty salaries for reminding their multi-millionaire players about the very same things. 

2)         During the game, the coaches tried rearranging some of the lines. A few forwards wondered why they were asked to play on a different line, or to play defense; a few defenders wondered why they were asked to play forward.

Tomorrow night we will remind the players that hockey is a team sport, not an individual sport. The coaches know which players prefer skating forward and which ones prefer defense, and we try to let players do what they feel most comfortable doing, consistent with their experience. But we will also remind the players that no team succeeds for long when everyone expects to get everything they want all the time. The kids will belong to teams (in sports, employment, and otherwise) for the rest of their lives; squirt hockey provides an early chance for adults to explain the need for mutual sacrifices.”     

* * * *

What are the sometimes overlooked rewards for parents and coaches? Consider this email:

“After yesterday’s game, the opposing coaches told me how much they enjoyed playing our team this season. We won both games, but the coaches said that the games were clean and sportsmanlike. ‘The way youth hockey should be played,’ one said. I extended the same compliment to their team.

Too often nowadays, we hear about parents, coaches, and players who spoil games because they cannot play with class, win, lose, or draw. Our players showed the same class during our early-season defeats as they did during this weekend’s victories. The opposing coaches gave us a genuine compliment yesterday, and we coaches wanted to share it with the parents, who have worked with us all season to teach the right lessons on and off the ice.

Now that opposing coaches are giving our team well-deserved praise, perhaps the parents should take a moment to give themselves well-deserved praise for setting the right example. At the pre-season parents meeting, the coaches warned that throughout the season, we would sometimes feel tempted to scream at the referees, or otherwise to vent our frustrations during games. The parents and coaches promised to set a wholesome example for the players by resisting temptation, and we have kept that promise all season.

Acting right is much more difficult than talking right. Mark Twain put it well: ‘Action speaks louder than words, but not nearly as often.’ It is no surprise that other teams’ coaches have praised our players for sportsmanship this season. A proverb says that ‘the apple does not fall far from the tree.’”

* * * *

The regular season ended on a high note:

“Saturday morning’s 7-2 victory guarantees us a winning record this season. Success in youth sports, however, has many indicators. After this morning’s victory, I talked with a squirt parent who made a thoughtful point. The parent said that our team’s greatest success is that the players, parents, and coaches genuinely like one another and get along so well. Camaraderie makes a solid place in the standings seem that much more worthwhile.

With more achievement ahead as we prepare for the playoffs, we hope that each family already views the season with a sense of satisfaction. Well-earned satisfaction is a sign of accomplishment.”

* * * *

We did finish the regular season in fourth place. The next stop was the single-elimination playoffs for all eight teams, climaxed by the State Championship game and its surprises. Part 3 of this column will provide the coaches’ playoff emails next time.

DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: New Study Targets Long-Range Effects on 6-12 Year-Olds

This past week, new research out of Boston University revealed that kids under the age of 12 who play tackle football have a tendency in later life to develop  behavioral, cognitive and depression issues.

Now, we have heard endlessly in recent years about the dangers of concussions from playing tackle football. And of course,  there’s the latest headline about Aaron Hernandez and the severe amount of CTE found in his brain. He was only 27 when he committed suicide. Who knows how many hits he suffered to his head starting at an early age? And his behavior was clearly out of control to have done the horrible acts he committed.

Along these lines, this new Boston University study comes forth, and concludes that young kids age 6-12 who play tackle football are lining themselves up for problems later in life.

I’m certainly not suggesting there’s a direct correlation between Aaron Hernandez and the BU study. But then again, it does make you ask questions.

And if sports parents needed to pinpoint a reason why their kids SHOULDN’T play football, they can point to this study.

I asked Ken Belson, the NY Times sportswriter who wrote the article, to join me this AM as I had several questions about what this study really means. And he was very upfront that this research, although it looked at a small group of only 214 individuals, definitely suggested that when kids are young, their brains are very, very soft and any kinds of hits – even hits that seem innocuous in youth football – could have a lasting impact. In fact, there was a study last year at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine that studied young kids for a year who played tackle football, and the number of hits to each kid’s head was in the thousands.

Since it’s been established that it’s the repetitive hits to the head that lead to serious concussion issues, the combination of these new studies from BU and Wake Forest are very troubling.

TIME TO SHIFT TO FLAG OR TOUCH FOOTBALL

Belson pointed that more and more youth football programs, even in football-crazed Texas, are taking these studies seriously, and offering flag football programs instead of tackle for young kids. I personally think that’s an excellent alternative. As one caller mentioned, for young kids who love football, it’s a lot more fun to play touch or flag football. Not only do they develop their athletic skills more, it just keeps them more fully engaged and in better shape.

The NFL, by the way, which has been relatively silent on this issue due to its legal battles with former NFL players and concussions, has quietly been encouraging kids to play flag football as well. That way, by the time they’re in 9th grade, they can then learn proper tackling techniques from well-trained HS football coaches.

These kinds of studies, while certainly frightening, at least provide sports parents with some better direction for their kids. And that’s of course good.

But that being said, there’s something still very troubling when more and more college programs and even the Canadian Football League now have rules in place NOT to have any physical contact drills during the week. That still reinforces the reality that contact sports, like football, carry a real risk regarding concussions.

COMMUNICATING WITH THE PARENTS: The Magic – and Power – of Email from Coaches

Using Email to Communicate With the Team’s Parents (Part One)

By Doug Abrams

 Community youth sports programs and their coaches increasingly seek to maintain open lines of communication with parents before, during, and sometimes even after the season. The term “transparency” is in vogue in politics lately, and transparency also remains essential in community sports. Without substituting for ongoing face-to-face communication with parents individually or as a group, email can provide coaches a convenient, effective way to share explanations and observations.

This column presents several of the emails that I, as head coach, sent to the parents on our mid-Missouri Squirt hockey team for 9-10-year-olds a few years ago. We played in an eight-team “house gold” league (the higher Squirt house league) against St. Louis-area house teams. The season ended with playoffs and a State Championship Series.

Before the first pre-season practice session, I told the parents that I would email them a day or so after many practices and games to report what the coaches said to the players in the locker room, on the ice, and on the bench. I sensed that the parents would reinforce our messages about teamwork, fair play, 100% effort, and similar values if we coaches took the lead.

Email or other written mediums enable coaches to maintain a wholesome team environment, but a coach’s messaging with parents comes with two commonsense ground rules. First, the coach should make certain that the email distribution list contains only the parents’ email addresses, and not the players’. I urged parents to share the emails with their player if they wished, and I believe that they did share most messages. Whether to share, however, was up to the parents in their own homes.

Second, the coach should not send parents any message that would prove embarrassing if a player or any unintended third party reads it. Emails can quickly be forwarded far and wide, as one soccer coach of pre-teen girls learned to his distress a few years ago when his lame attempt at humor at some families’ expense went viral within a few hours. Humor and sarcasm often fail when words appear only in writing on the computer screen, unpunctuated by a friendly tone of voice or a wink or smile.

This column comes in three parts. Part One presents below (in italics) some of the coaches’ emails to our Squirt parents during pre-season practice sessions. Next time, Part Two will present several of our regular-season emails. Part Three will conclude the trilogy with several emails sent during and after the post-season playoffs and State Championship Series. The emails appear in their entirety, except that I have deleted names, passages that relate only to routine housekeeping matters, and passages that would repeat an earlier email’s content.

I hope that this collection of season-long emails portray a team whose parents and coaches put the players’ interests first. The coaches’ emails helped set the tone from the first pre-season practice session, through the regular season’s ups and downs, and climaxed by a surprise ending in the playoffs and State Championship Series.

Pre-Season Practice Sessions: “A Great Way to Start”

For many players and their parents, our Squirt house team was their first experience in hockey, and perhaps their first experience in organized sports. We coaches wanted every player to love hockey and participation in sports generally. Even before the first parents’ meeting, we sent this email to the parents:

 “Last night’s opening practice was a great way to start. These are good kids, they really want to play, and they get along with one another.  These three building blocks – goodness, desire, and camaraderie — signal a team that will achieve everything we are capable of achieving.

 The coaches would like each practice session and game to be a learning experience. As the players hone their hockey skills, we also want them to learn the lasting lessons that thoughtful adults teach in youth sports. With periodic emails after practices and games, the coaches will explain what we told the team and will enlist the parents’ help in reinforcing the lessons at home. Last night, the coaches conveyed three lessons:

 1)  “Mistakes.” We told the players that they must be ready and willing to make mistakes on the ice because making a mistake is the best way to learn.  Try a skill you find difficult, fall down, and then get up and try it again. At any age, some players want to practice only the skills that they think they have already mastered. They hesitate to work on more difficult skills because practicing strengths is more comfortable than practicing weaknesses. Complete players practice both.

 2)  The coaches made a “deal” with the players. If the players give 100% effort in practices and games, the coaches will support, encourage, and teach. Players will not be criticized, ridiculed, or yelled at for trying their best and doing something incorrectly. Performance suffers when players fear the reactions of coaches and teammates when something goes wrong.

 3)  The coaches told the players that a team succeeds best when all teammates are friends with one another. No cliques and no favorites. When we paired off for drills last night, some players immediately (and predictably) paired off with a friend they already knew. The coaches stopped the drill, explained why the team suffers when players favor their friends and overlook other teammates. We required each player to choose a different partner each time.”

* * * *

After the first practice, the coaches wanted to introduce our core values to the parents. This introduction came a few days before the first parents meeting, whose full agenda would include discussion about how the parents should behave in the stands at practice sessions and games. The coaches sent the parents this email:

 “A generation ago, the British Association of National Coaches captured the essence of athletic competition: ‘Sport without fair play is not sport, and honours won without fair play can have no real value.’ ‘Fair play’ surely means the sportsmanship that our coaches and parents will display all season, but fair play also means much more than that.

‘Fair play’ also means that coaches must treat their own players fairly. Ours is a house league team competing against other associations’ house teams, and every player is important to the whole. Everyone will play in every game. No benchwarmers.

When coaches try to win by taking the fun out of the game in practice sessions or games, the coaches either overlook the hurtful effect on players, or else wake up in the morning wishing for a do-over. Forgetting that the players come first does not bring honor (or, as the Brits spell it, ‘honour’), nor does it bring coaches much lasting satisfaction.”

* * * *

A few weeks later, the opening game approached:

“After practicing for more than a month, the Squirt team will play our first league game this Sunday afternoon.

1)  Ever since the first practice, we have told the players that they are responsible for leaving the locker room as clean as when they arrived. This responsibility means picking up their own tape, candy wrappers, and so forth. On the road or at home, rink employees should not have to clean up after the players. In this and other ways, our players will set the example.

2)  We will have rotating tri-captains this season, with a different three players having the opportunity each game. At this young age, being a captain is part of the leadership education that sports should teach. Each player will get three or four opportunities to be a tri-captain throughout the season. The tri-captains will help prepare the team in the locker room and then assemble the team at the net after pregame warmup, outside the coaches’ earshot. Parents can help by talking with their players about the roles of team leaders.”

* * * *

The coaches’ emails, already well received by the parents, continued during the regular season (Part II of this column), and then during the post-season playoffs and State Championship Series (Part III). More to follow next time. . . .

TRENDS IN SPORTS: New Study Suggests Fewer Kids Are Playing Sports

A new study was just released this past week which  suggests that fewer kids between the ages of 6-12 are participating in sports. In fact, the number of kids playing organized team sports has dropped by a stunning 8 percent over the last decade.

Now, if this is really true, that is quite a drop off. And it’s very troubling.

The study comes from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association and the Aspen Institute. They claims that back in 2008, 45 percent of kids ages 6-12 played in team sports. But in 2017, that number has dropped down to only 37 percent.

Why the decline? The leading theory put forth by these two groups is that because travel teams have become so well accepted as the vehicle for kids to get ahead, it’s now become a case of  financial “haves and have nots”when it come to youth sports.

“Sports in America have separated into sport-haves and have-nots,” said Tom Farrey, executive director of Aspen’s Sports & Society program. The group released its research at its annual Project Play Summit on Wednesday in Washington and it was reported in the Washington Post. “All that matters is if kids come from a family that has resources. If you don’t have money, it’s hard to play.”

The conclusion that they are putting forth is that because youth sports have become so expensive in this country, that it’s increasingly becoming strictly the domain of the affluent. That is, that unless a kid comes from a household which makes at least $100,000 a year, it’s going to be very difficult for a youngster to pursue sports on a travel team.

As a result, kids from poorer families are just giving up team sports.

First off, I sure hope that isn’t the case. And let me just say this: while there might be a grain of truth in that theory, in my opinion, it’s a very small grain. If anything, in my observations, kids from less fortunate economic families are even more eager to make a travel team and to chase their dreams in sports than kids who come from more comfortable backgrounds and have other options. In effect, sports is exceedingly important to gaining that college scholarship or to go pro.

Furthermore, many travel programs like to boast that one’s economic status shouldn’t be a concern – that if a family needs some financial help, the travel program will waive fees and the like. In other words, if the kid is a really good athlete, then the travel team will somehow come up with the finances for that kid to be on the team.

So, in short, I don’t know if that theory of haves and have-nots really is the reason why the enrollment numbers are shrinking. True, one caller this AM said he has two boys playing on separate travel baseball teams, and the total cost runs more than $5,000 a year. That’s indeed an issue, and one that squarely needs to be addressed by travel team programs who can pretty much charge whatever they want for a kid to participate.

AN ALTERNATIVE THEORY

Here’s another theory which I propose: Do you think that kids today are walking away from sports at increasingly younger ages because the kids realize early on that they are not the ones chosen first, or who aren’t a lock to make the travel team? And as a result, rather than play on the local rec team, they just give up and walk away from sports.

I hate to even suggest that, but I think that might explain the so-called drop off in kids playing sports.

In other words, if the kid senses that they are not going to be a star, why bother? And their parents – also recognizing that their kid is only average in athletic ability — they allow their youngster to walk away from sports. I mean, why spend all that time, money, and effort with your 1o or 11 year old if they’re not going to become a top player?

That might sound strange, but I fear that’s the kind of philosophical approach more and more sports parents are taking. And if true, what a shame. Kids under the age of 12 haven’t gone through adolescence yet, they haven’t had a chance to learn about the key and essential “life lessons” that team sports can offer, e.g. learning from adversity, learning how to be on a team, and so on. These are vital lessons.

But if the kids are walking away, those lessons are lost to them. What a shame.

 

 

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: Why Don’t Parents Trust HS Coaches More?

On this morning’s show on WFAN, now that our kids are all back to school, and all of the fall school sports programs are in full practice and games, I wanted to spend some time talking about HS coaches. And specifically, just how complicated coaching kids in school has become in recent years.

That is, I want to remind parents that being a HS coach these days is a lot different from when they were growing up in school, and that, once I review some of the responsibilities and pressures that coaches have to confront, well, I’m hoping that  today’s Moms and Dads might have a moment to reflect on just how tough these jobs are.

But in thinking about the overall relationship between coaches and our kids, I think the overriding and pressing question is this:

As sports parents, why don’t we trust our kids’ coaches more?

Now, I recognize that’s a very bold and accusatory question. But the truth is, for too many sports parents, there’s a general uneasiness or wariness that our kids’ HS coaches are somehow not doing a good enough job, or that they are not sharing our own perspective on how talented your kid is, or that even the HS coach places too much emphasis on the team’s success and can jeopardize your kid’s health in order to win.

These are serious concerns, to be sure. But based upon the outreach of calls this AM, this is a topic of pressing interest, especially from coaches. In fact, let’s go over a job description for a typical HS coach:

1. Coaches have to organize every practice session…have to spend time preparing game plans for the upcoming opponent….have to, in many cases, read scouting reports of the opposing teams, or spend copious amounts of time watching videotape of opponents as well as of their own players.

2 -They of course have to be with their athletes at all of the practices and games or events…which usually is after school hours or on weekends…

3 – They have to know the rules of their sport intimately as well as recent rule changes..they have to know the various game strategies….they have to know the basics of first aid, such as CPR, concussion protocol, and so on.

4  -They have to not only get to know each of their athletes well, but they also have to literally teach, or coach, each kid on the finer points of their game. That’s the essence of coaching.

5- Along those lines, the coach needs to develop a kind of rapport with each youngster, as in, some kids need to be given total positive feedback, others respond better to sharp criticism, and so on. It’s up to the coach to learn how to handle each youngster’s psyche.

6-And coaches have to remind their players about good sportsmanship and then enforce it….remind players about adhering to the school’s Code of Conduct…remind them constantly about the dangers of social media….remind them to keep their studies in order and in good shape.

7-And of course, the coach is constantly evaluating the kid’s talents on a daily basis…as in, do I have the best kids as starters? Are they playing the right positions? Or are there other kids on the team that I have overlooked? Do some of these kids perform better in game situations than in practice?

8-And yes…there’s one more thing on the coach’s docket….his team is supposed to win…maybe not necessarily a league championship every year, but certainly be over .500.

9- The coaching salary? For all of this hard and endless work, maybe the coach earns a few thousand dollars for the season. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less. But certainly HS coaches are not making the kinds of extraordinary salaries that college coaches earn.

In short, you would be hard pressed to come up with a “part-time” job that is more time-consuming or more demanding than being a HS coach.

“IF I TELL YOU THE TRUTH ABOUT YOUR KID, WILL WE STILL BE FRIENDS?”

One of the callers today, who is a long-time HS coach, said this question is at the core of every coach/parent interaction. That is, coaches are hired to be objective about each kid’s talent, and rarely does the involved sports parent see his or her child in the same way as the coach. And that’s where the problems begin. Several coaches noted today that parents are so invested with their athlete’s progress, e.g. travel team play, travel team coaches telling kids and their parents how much progress they have made, how  they could play in college, and so on that what that kid tries out for the varsity and finds him or herself not even starting or having to share time, this is where the friction begins.

So if a coach tells a parent the truth about an athlete — he’s not as fast as you think, or he’s not as gifted, or there are better players on the team – that’s when parents see red and any sense of trust in the coach immediately evaporates. And that, said several callers, is when the troubles begin. Even worse, when parents see red, it is very, very hard to get them to calm down or to try and see the athlete’s talents from the coach’s perspective.

And as one coach remarked, “What the individual parent doesn’t seem to realize that even though his kid played AAU ball all summer and improved their skills, so did most of the other kids on the basketball team  — and they all improved. As such, they ALL come into practice expecting – along with their parents – that they are going to be stars. And of course, that just can’t happen.”

In sum, this is where we are these days. And for any HS coach, it just gets tougher and tougher.

 

TRENDS IN SPORTS: TIME Magazine Cover Story Reveals Youth Sports is a $15 Billion Industry

Hard to believe, but true.

I grew up during a time when youth sports were not influenced by parents, travel teams, elite camps, the college recruiting of middle school kids, and so on. When you went outside to play with your friends, you found an empty field or sandlot, put down markers for boundaries, and depending on the season, you played touch football, baseball, basketball, soccer, whatever. Markers usually consisted on somebody’s jacket or a sweater to show where out of bounds were. There were no white lines. If your (wooden) baseball bat broke, you didn’t throw it away. Rather, you took it home, found some small nails to fix it, and taped it up so you could use it again.

I know, I know. This all sounds ancient and prehistoric. No youngster today could even imagine this kind of world. But of course, it did exist, and it existed not that long ago.

That’s why Sean Gregory’s cover story in this week’s TIME Magazine had such great impact. Why? Because it summarized the out of control parental obsession with their kids in sports, and even worse, that this obsession – and that’s what it is – not only shows no sign of letting up, if anything, it’s only accelerating. On my show this AM, Sean talked about 10-year-old Joey Baseball, a talented but smallish kid who travels all around the country to play baseball. He’s able to do this because his parents are affluent and they figure that since they have the financial means to do this, why not? But as Sean also cautioned, these parents know that everything might change when their son becomes a teenager, and he may no longer be the star that he is today.

JOEY BASEBALL?

Even worse, Sean writes about other parents of other promising athletes, and how they spend a fortune to make sure their kids play on elite travel teams. Problem is, these families are not as well off as Joey Baseball, but these Moms and Dads are hellbent on making sure their kid gets an athletic scholarship. But as you know, just because your kid is a star at age 10 or 12 doesn’t guarantee they will grow into being a star at age 18. And that’s the rub.

In short, travel teams and private coaching have become big, big business, and the article details how cleverAmerican entrepreneurs have tapped into this market and made millions. Witness the U.S. Specialty Sports Association, which used to run slo-pitch softball tournaments back in the day. They pivoted to now running youth sports tournaments in Florida, and business is booming. And because USSAA is a not-for-profit, not only do they enjoy the benefits of that status, but their CEO earns more than $800,000 a year. Before you become outraged or envious, you should know that this is all perfectly legal.

Same thing with LL Baseball. As a not-for-profit operation, they like to boast about all of their volunteers, including coaches, umpires, ushers, and so on. Of course, LL Baseball doesn’t talk about having $87 million in its cash reserves, or their multi-million TV contracts or corporate sponsors. And their CEO makes close to $500,000. How much do the kids and their families who make it to the playoffs in Williamsport? Well, they get the fun of making the trip, and that’s about it.

ARE TIMES CHANGING?

Personally, I do think we’re gradually reaching a turning point in youth sports. Parents will soon begin to figure out that it’s just too much money, time, and effort to expend on a kid who may or may not make a college team. Or, as Sean pointed out, we’re already seeing this become the domain of only wealthy families who can afford the “pay-to-play” mentality.

And of course, despite their having a fancy brochure or slick website, the simple truth is that no travel or elite teams or private coaches are regulated, certified, or overseen by any state or federal agency. As a result, it’s all caveat emptor.

Here’s hoping that someday soon that real guidelines and rules are finally put in place. I have preached for a long time that this would be a perfect opportunity for the President’s Council on Physical Fitness to jump in, but alas, that still hasn’t happened.