Archive for November, 2017

ACCOUNTABILITY WITH ATHLETES: What’s the Right Punishment for the 3 UCLA Hoopsters Caught Shoplifting in China?

Here’s a pop quiz for you.

What’s the appropriate punishment for the three freshman UCLA basketball players who were caught shoplifting in China?

Now, they all said the right things at their recent televised press conference…that they will learn from this experience….that they apologize…and what they did was not who they really are – not the way they were brought up.

They even thanked the President and the United States Government.

Okay. This was all good AND was to expected. And UCLA has handed them an indefinite suspension.

My question to you:

Should it be for a few games?

Should they be allowed to return and play in the Pac-12 conference games later this season?

Should they be suspended for the entire season?

Should they be kicked out of school entirely?

Should they lose their athletic scholarships?

Should they do some sort of community service?

Now, before you answer, a few facts to consider:

Fact number one: In China, stealing is considered to be a most serious crime, When Trump said that these kids – who apparently shoplilfted merchandise not from one store, but from three were looking at 10 years in jail in China, that wasn’t fake news…that’s real news.

Theft in that country is a big, big deal. There is total zero tolerance for this kind of behavior, regardless of whether you’re a Chinese citizen or a visiting basketball player.

Fact number two: What would a college do with a typical or regular student who was caught shoplifting? Chances are the school probably would not get involved at all. Being arrested wouldn’t interfere with their student status, but the kid would have to deal with the judicial system on his or her own. That is, no one from the university or a coach or the President of the US would get involved.

But this case is, of course, different….why?

Because when you are a representative of your university and are travelling in a foreign country, it’s no longer just about you. As a representative of the university and the team, you are fully expected to behave in a manner that is respectful and honorable.

So, if you’re UCLA, or Coach Steve Alford – a former star player and protégé of old school Coach Bobby Knight at Indiana — what’s the right message to send here? Alford has said that the three players – LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill – will have to earn their way back to playing time. But he wasn’t more specific than that, or what they would have to do to earn their way.

GIVE THE KIDS A SECOND CHANCE?

Or do you subscribe to the theory that all teenagers make dumb mistakes, and as adults, we need to accept their miscues, forgive them, and move on. Apparently, in China, this theory doesn’t hold much sway.

Remember a few weeks ago, we were discussing teenage accountability — about learning to take responsibility for one’s mistakes…learning how to think ahead of the consequences of one’s actions BEFORE you commit them?

Well, this case is Exhibit A. And the callers this AM on my radio were fairly outspoken. The vast consensus was for harsh punishment – to either kick them out of college or to suspend them for the year. There wasn’t much compassion for giving these kids a second chance and to let them compete again this year.

One young caller — who was 23 — said that he had encountered a similar situation a year or so ago when he was a member of a D-I college swim team. On a team trip to Puerto Rico to compete in a meet, two of the team’s top players were caught drinking which was against team and school rules. They were summarily dismissed from the team. The caller said that losing their two top competitors hurt the team’s chances during the year, but no one on the squad disagreed with the punishment. The two swimmers knew the rules before they left for Puerto Rico, and they knowingly broke them. They thus has to face the consequences.

Many of the callers today felt the way. It was assumed that either Coach Alford or someone from UCLA sat down with the entire basketball team before they embarked for China, and said, “Look, you’re going to be representing UCLA and our athletic program in a different country which has a much difficult culture and different laws. Be respectful and don’t do anything stupid.”

Bottom line? These three kids are lucky to be back in the US. But mark my words: I won’t be surprised if they are back playing in games before Christmas. Let’s just hope this “teachable moment” has some real effect on their young lives.

 

GETTING CUT FROM A TEAM: What Parents — and Coaches – Need to Know

FOR THE PARENT….

I want to discuss difficult moments in an athlete’s life when – as the Mom or Dad – you find yourself on the spot to have to say the right thing – to find the precise words – to talk with your son or daughter when things aren’t going their way.

We’re talking about key or crucial conversations – and every sports parent has them.

For example, what do you say to your youngster when they don’t make the cut for a travel team?

What do you say if they just played a terrible game – maybe even let in the winning goal, or gave up a major turnover, or made a key error?

How do you handle these kinds of delicate situations – whether your kid is 8 or 18?

As a parent, do you simply say nothing – and just let your youngster vent?

Or if they’re saying nothing, should you try and get them to talk?

Do you try and minimize the impact – maybe even talk about something else on a different subject to just lighten the mood?

Or do you take a different tack – and express your anger – no, not at your kid, but rather at the coaches who ran the program and decided against your child?

Because while I know there is no specific right or wrong day to handle these kinds of delicate conversations, I do know that for a kid who loves sports, these are critically important moments in their young lives.

FOR THE COACH…

I’m also eager to find out more about how coaches implement their cuts these days.

Over the years, I have heard all sorts of complaints about how coaches give out the bad news to kids. Traditionally, back when I was in school, a coach would simply put the names of the kids who made the team on a roster and would post it on the bulletin board in the gym. I can still remember having my heart in my throat as I approached the list to see if my name were on it.

But these days, things have changed. Sometimes, the list is posted on a website, so that the youngster doesn’t have to feel  or experience the pain in public if he or she isn’t on the list. Some coaches feel that is somehow more humane.

And some coaches – especially at the youth level – will tell kids after try outs that they will receive a phone call that night if they made the team. That of course is most barbaric as a young kid will be waiting and waiting for a call that isn’t coming. And then it’s up the parent to console the child.

Other coaches will have all the kids who are trying out simply line up, and after a short speech in which the coach says something like “We had a lot of talented kids try out this year, but unfortunately, we are limited by the number of roster spaces, so if you don’t hear your name called out, thank you for your time and effort.” And then the coach proceeds to read out the names of the kids who did make the team. The others who didn’t hear their name are left to look around at each other, and just…leave.

Look –  there is NO one perfect way to cut kids from a team. But as a former coach myself, I always felt that if a youngster had worked hard in the tryouts and had been serious about making the team, if I had to cut him, I always took him into my office and explained to him why he wasn’t making the team, and gave him specific feedback on what he did well, and what he needed to improve upon.

These conversations didn’t last more than 10 minutes, but I felt a sense of obligation to give him a chance to ask questions and to react in private.

I was gratified to receive a number of calls from coaches this AM on my radio show who said that’s exactly what they do. They make the time to talk with each kid who is getting cut. The coaches find the kids respond better and that fewer parents call to complain.

Now, I recognize that as a coach, if you have dozens of kids trying out and only a handful will be selected, well, you’re not going to be able to talk to each kid who gets cut. But as you get deeper and deeper into the rounds of making the team – and the numbers winnow down – then yes, I do think it’s important to give the kids who get cut some positive feedback, a pat on the back, and some real instruction on what they need to work on.

THE NUMBER TWO COMPLAINT….

It won’t come as a surprise to you that the number one complaint that sports parents have is “my kid is not getting enough playing time.”

But the number two complaint is: ”My kid tried out and got cut….and it’s just not fair.”

That is one very difficult moment. For everyone involved.

It happens. It’s part of competitive sports. Not everyone can make the team and that’s the reality. But what do you say or do when it’s your kid?

The sports world is full of stories of top name athletes who got cut during their careers, but then, somehow, they rebounded and continued with their sports. So how do we as sports parents and coaches make sure these young people bounce back and are able to move on.

What did these parents and coaches say to these kids to encourage them to keep playing?

Just a quick refresher: Michael Jordan cut as a sophomore from his HS basketball team. Steve Young, the Hall of Fame QB, was 8th string at BYU, and didn’t even dress in uniform for home games as a freshman – and he certainly didn’t travel with the team for away games.

Jose Altuve, when he went to try out for the Astros at a try out camp, was told he was just too small to ever get a chance to play pro baseball. NFL running back Danny Woodhead set all sorts of rushing records in HS in Nebraska but was told he too was too small to earn a scholarship at the Univ of Nebraska. He went to a D-II school instead where, yes, he set all sorts of rushing records.

Sure, we all tend to focus on those gifted athletes who are seen as being superstars by the time they are 10. But the woods are chock full of athletes who were cut….or told they weren’t good enough…or that they were too small.

But somebody along the way must have said something to these athletes to help them find their way.

Whenever my own kids got cut from a team,  I made a conscious effort to first give them some space and then, most importantly let them talk. Let them vent on about their frustration, how they thought the coach liked them, or how they felt were definitely better than other kids on the team.That’s okay….let them get it out of their system. You don’t have to say much. Just be sincere.

And then, after the angers and tears subside for a day or two, then I would ask if they still want to play that sport. If yes, I would make my task to find another league or outlet where my youngster could play. In the end, in my experience, it’s more that the youngster wants to play on a team and have some fun and feel good about themselves. I just always felt that I wanted my kids to determine when they would decide to walk away from a sport, rather than having as their last memory the sting of being cut by the coach.

As noted, the reality is that kids do get cut in sports. But if there is a way to soften the blow, I think that’s key for both the sports parent and the coach.

TRENDS IN SPORTS: Why Running Track is Good for Your Child in So Many Ways

In what has become something of a tradition on NYC Marathon Sunday, I like to spend an hour talking on the air with long-time running coach, Joel Pasternack who is based in northern New Jersey. Joel is a veteran of many marathons, having competed and done very well in his races back in the day.

I like to talk running with Joel because he always seems to touch upon topics that I, for one, would never think about. And if you’re a sports parent, and your son or daughter has shown some interest in running competitively, these are some key points that Joel made on the show this AM:

There are lots of studies that show that track and field is by far the most popular in HS all over the country.

When I asked Joel why, he immediately pointed out that, unlike the current national obsession to have kids try out for travel or club teams in other sports, when it comes to running track, there are no cuts from HS teams. That is, if your youngster wants to be on the team, then as long as he or she goes to the practices, then they’ll be able to compete in the races and meets.

Of course, they are timed by stopwatch and run against other runners, but in this day and age of super-competitive sports at increasingly younger ages, it’s reassuring that any youngster can still go out and be on the HS team.

Running is, of course, one of the least expensive sports. 

There have been a lot of reports recently that elite sports in this country are increasingly becoming more of a divide between families with money and those that don’t. But with running, the major cost is purchasing a pair of running shoes. There are no travel team dues or other major equipment costs.

Running can be a family sport.

Joel reports that one of the best ways to encourage your kids to run is by letting them see you run, and then inviting them to run with you. Start with short races – maybe just one lap around the track. But then start to encourage them to run with you in local 2.5 or 5 kilometer races. And if they can’t run or jog the entire distance, that’s okay. Let them know it it’s okay to slow down and walk when they get tired, and then to run again when they refreshed. As the parent, stay with them and encourage them along the way.

A caution about marathons and bucket lists.

Joel did say that for a lot of adults, being able to run a marathon is on a lot of bucket lists. He warns people that running a marathon is not only not easy, but it can be devastating to one’s body and legs and knees if you’re not fully prepared. To that end, Joel says it takes probably 3 years to progress to the point where you can run in a marathon and walk away unscathed. Too many people feel that they prepare in a just few months, and Joel feels that could be dangerous.

He also cautioned that kids under the age of 18 – even if they are in great shape – should also not run in marathons. His feeling is that they should wait until their 20s as their bodies are still too young and developing to deal with the punishment that a marathon means.

Get your kids involved at a young age.

Joel is a big proponent of getting kids into youth running programs, and the good news is that there are lot of them. To find such a program close to you, go to USATF.org and find the state in which you live for a complete listing.