Archive for November, 2017

TRENDS IN SPORTS: What Parents Need to Know about Youth Hockey

I really can’t recall the last time I did a WFAN show on the sport of youth and travel team hockey. Which is curious, because for years, ice hockey was the poster child for everything that was wrong about over-the-top and obnoxious sports parents…concerns about a kid’s playing time…travel team tryouts…the expense of travel team play…concussion worries….and on and on.

But the good news is that instead of trying to downplay or deny that these were real concerns, USA Hockey  — the governing body of youth and amateur hockey in this country –  stepped up and started to address these issues head on. And they did so with a sense of real commitment.

Unlike some other national youth sports organizations, which have either shunned critically important issues or stuck their head in the sand, USA Hockey has become a real leader when it comes to putting its priorities in order.

To that end, I asked Mike Bonelli, who has been involved in youth hockey for years and is the East District Coach in Chief for USA Hockey in NY (covering Long Island, Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess counties) since 2012 and oversees the education for over 900 coaches each year in that district to be guest this AM to talk about the proactive approach of USA Hockey. Here were a few of the highlights:

1 – A reminder that fighting in all youth, HS, and travel team hockey is strictly forbidden.

Too many NHL games are still marred by fights on the ice. Players drop their gloves and bang away at each other like prize fighters until they run out of steam. Problem is, the number of these players who suffer serious concussions from these confrontations continues to grow, and unfortunately, they too often lead to mental issues and presumably the build-up of CTE in their brains. Dementia and even suicide has become too common with these players who make their living with their fists instead of their skates.

Bonelli emphasized that not only is fighting not allowed in amateur hockey, but that kids grow up these days understanding that if they do get in a fight, they are not only disqualified from that game, but also for the next game and sometimes more games beyond that.

For enthusiastic hockey players, the idea of being banned for a couple of games usually deters them from fighting. That, of course, is a good — and safe — thing.

2 – Let’s talk about travel hockey and tryouts

How does USA Hockey view tryouts for their youth programs….what’s the best way to run these tryouts?

With hockey becoming more popular, most programs DO offer A or B or even in-house teams where kids can continue to play….

In my experience, kids – especially young kids – just want a place where they can get out on the ice, learn skills, and get a chance to play in games – it really doesn’t matter at what level.

Tryouts still exist, but USA Hockey is doing more to give feedback.

As one of the callers said today, tryouts in sports are inevitable. And kids are disappointed if they don’t make the “A” team. But as Mike Bonelli pointed out, USA Hockey does not want kids to walk away. That’s why more and more youth programs are offering B and C teams, and if necessary, house leagues where any kid who has the desire to keep playing hockey can do so.

Just like in other sports, the world of hockey has lots of examples of young players who were cut at an early age but who kept playing and eventually blossomed into a top player. Dom Chara, the 6-9 defenseman, was once cut in his youth league program. But he wanted to keep playing, and along the way, he grew another 10 inches which of course helped.

But more importantly, USA Hockey coaches are encouraged to provide real feedback to young skaters – to let them know what their strengths are, and more importantly, what they need to work on in order to develop. That’s a great plus.

3 – Getting up real early for hockey practice?

It used to be common place for young skaters to have practice and games at 6 AM or earlier. The good news is that’s becoming less and less of a standard routine as more rinks are popping up all over.

Trust me, for any hockey parent who has had to brave frigid temps to drive their kid to a rink in pre-dawn hours, this is very welcome news.

As Mike pointed out, “You don’t do much to encourage kids to play hockey when they have to get up at 5 AM to go to the rink. And the parents don’t like it either.”


4 – No need to specialize at an early age.

Turns out that Mike not only played hockey as a kid, but also baseball, soccer, tennis, and so on. As such, while he does believe it’s important for a youngster to learn how to skate at a young age (simply because it’s so much harder to develop that skill later on), it’s always a good idea for a kid to play a variety of sports.

Only when a youngster is around 15 or 16 should he or she start to think about just specializing hockey. We’ve heard the same advice from other coaches in other sports as well, i.e. not need to specialize at too young an age.

I recall a chance encounter with Marcel Dionne, the NHL Hall of Famer, whose son was playing on a mite team with my son some years ago. I asked Marcel about when he was growing up in Canada, did he play hockey all year round, which many hockey parents still think is the right path for their kid.

Marcel looked at me and patiently explained in his French Canadian accent that “In the fall we played either football or soccer, then in winter we played hockey, and then in the spring, we played baseball. Nobody played hockey all year round.”

5 – A sport for life.

One last note. Of all the sports, there’s something about ice hockey that seems to attract players for their entire lives. Whether it’s the thrill of going fast on the ice, or of handling the puck, or just playing pond hockey with your buddies on a cold wintry day, there’s something about this sport in particular that keeps players coming back for years and years.

It’s hard to explain why, but anyone who has played ice hockey just seems to get that bug into their veins and it lasts for a lifetime. My son John is 34 and has been skating for most of his life. In fact, I have a sense he’s going to keep skating for the next 34 years of his life.



DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: How State Laws Are Mandating Adult Education on This Important Issue

A New Study on Adult-Education Mandates In State Concussion Laws

By Doug Abrams

 Between 2009 and 2014, amid heightened public awareness about the serious consequences of concussions suffered in youth sports, every state and the District of Columbia enacted laws designed to promote prevention and treatment of these traumatic brain injuries. Such legislative unison is rare in today’s partisan times that divide blue states and red states, but this flurry demonstrates public support for effective measures designed to make life better for the nation’s youngest athletes.

Legislatures enact standards to govern events and circumstances as they occur in the future. Recognizing that legislation is inherently predictive, prudent legislators monitor operation of their enactments to help assure that standards will work as anticipated, and to consider amendments in light of experience. In prominent matters such as youth sports concussions, laws once enacted remain works in progress.

In the December issue of the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), researchers published a study indicating that the recent state concussion laws are already fulfilling one of their primary missions — educating adults and players about prevention and treatment. After surveying these laws, this column discusses the early signs of the positive effects of this education. The column concludes by discussing the role of concussion education in guiding parents toward an informed decision about a matter not directly raised in the AJPH study, whether to permit their child to play a particular contact or collision sport at all.

State Concussion Laws              

Between 2009 and 2014, every state and the District of Columbia enacted statutes concerning traumatic brain injury in youth competition. By that time, leading voices were calling youth sports concussions “a true health crisis” and a “matter of public health.” Time reported the emerging medical consensus: “Concussions are an alarmingly commonplace injury, particularly among kids and most particularly among active, athletic ones.” With the stakes so high, said CNN chief medical correspondent, neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta, “we owe it to our . . . kids . . . to make them as safe as we know how to do, and we can do a lot better than we have been doing.”

The various state concussion laws show differences at the outer edges, but the laws share three common directives. First, nearly all these laws require that before each season, state education departments or local boards of education provide parents, coaches, administrators, and players with information and education about the nature and dangers of concussions, about how to recognize symptoms of potential brain trauma, and about how to help insure healthy recovery. Some of the statutes contemplate provision of written educational materials, and others specify face-to-face group presentations.

Second, most of the laws require that coaches immediately remove from a practice session or game any player who is suspected to have suffered a concussion.  Third, most of the laws require that the player may not return to action until a physician or other licensed medical professional clears the player and affirms that return is medically appropriate.

 The Beneficial Effect of Concussion Education

The new AJPH study found a significant nationwide increase in reports of new and recurrent youth sports concussions for the first two and a half years or so after the state laws went into effect. The research team concluded that the immediate increase “may be attributable to greater recognition and reporting of concussions by athletic trainers or athletes following implementation of concussion education requirements of these laws, rather than increased number of injuries.” The research team reasoned that mandatory education has “improved coaches’, athletic trainers’, parents’, and students’ knowledge of concussion signs and symptoms.”

Concussion Education and Parental Prerogatives

The AJPH study focused on the evident effects of parent education in preventing and treating concussions among youth leaguers. But this education may also play a central role in a parent’s decision whether to permit a child to enroll in a particular contact or collision sport in the first place. For example, youth football enrollment rates have fallen noticeably in many localities, while other parents educated about the risks and rewards of participation decide to enroll their children. Either way, parental choice here is a parent’s prerogative.

Quoted in Sports Illustrated this summer, Dr. Bennett Omalu said that no child should play football. “Someday,” he predicted, “there will be a district attorney who will prosecute for child abuse, and it will succeed.” He called youth football “the definition of child abuse.”

Dr. Omalu is trailblazer in raising public awareness and concern about concussions in football and other sports, but I believe he is wrong about child abuse. There is no room for prosecuting parents for allowing their child to enroll in youth-league or school football. The Constitution guarantees parents broad discretion to raise their children, so the law requires a strong showing to defeat parental decision making. Football safety concerns are real and medical experts and safety advocates should continue to speak out to educate parents and players. Parents commit no crime, however, when they decide to allow their child to play the nation’s most popular professional and amateur sport.

A child endangerment prosecution might be appropriate if, for example, parents expose their football player to specific health or safety consequences during play, such as by coaxing him to play with a concussion or other serious injury. But the initial enrollment decision depends on the parents’ informed judgment, backed by the sort of educational outreach mandated by the states’ new concussion laws and by educational commentary and reports widely available in the broadcast and print media.


Sources: Jingzhen Yang et al., New and Recurrent Concussions in High-School Athletes Before and After Traumatic Brain Injury Laws, 2005-2016, American Journal of Public Health, vol. 107 (Dec. 2017); Douglas E. Abrams, Confronting the Youth Sports Concussions Crisis: A Central Role for Responsible Local Enforcement of Playing Rules,  Mississippi Sports Law Review, vol. 2, p. 75 (2013); Lyle J. Micheli, Foreword, in William Paul Meehan III, Kids, Sports, and Concussion: A Guide for Coaches and Parents xi (2011) (“[a] true health crisis”); Alan Schwartz, High School Players Shrug Off Concussions, Raising Risks, N.Y. Times, Sept. 15, 2007, at A1 (quoting Dr. Robert Sallis, president of the American College of Sports Medicine); Jeffrey Kluger, Headbanger Nation, Time (Feb. 3, 2011); Tackling the Dangers of Concussions, Daily News of L.A., Jan. 26, 2012, at L1 (quoting Dr. Gupta); Scooby Axson, “Concussion” Doctor: Letting Kids Play Football is “Definition of Child Abuse,” Sports Illustrated,  (Aug. 8, 2017); Brooke de Lench, Letting Kids Play Football is Not Child Abuse, (Aug. 14, 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.

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


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.

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