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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.”

Opening Doors

Jack Coggin’s love for football — and his acceptance by teammates, parents, and opponents — demonstrate that sports can make a difference for physically challenged boys and girls who otherwise might be cast aside. To the maximum extent possible, teams and leagues should encourage children with physical challenges to participate if their parents approve, their abilities permit, and participation does not change the character of the game or compromise safety. Worthwhile programs, such as Little League’s Challenger Division or USA Hockey’s Sled Hockey, serve children whose conditions make integrated play inadvisable or impossible.

The media regularly reports about children with Down syndrome, amputations, or other conditions who earn their teammates’ acceptance, support, and respect. Some of these children  see regular game action; others may serve as team manager, perhaps seeing symbolic action late in selected games, or near the end of the season. One way or another, the Longhorns youth football squad shows that well-crafted encouragement, driven by empathy and understanding, can open doors.

Sports done right enables children with disabilities to learn, enjoy healthy lifestyles, hone their social skills, and develop self-esteem. As they fulfill their needs and desires, these children teach valuable lessons about surmounting barriers through sheer perseverance and determination. A few years ago Sami Stoner, a blind Ohio high school cross country runner who competed accompanied by her guide dog, delivered teammates and opponents a lesson that extends beyond the race course: “Even if you have a disability or you don’t think you can do something, there’s almost always a way.”

Excellence and Adventure

Journalist George F. Will is right that, “Sports serve society by providing vivid examples of excellence.” Experience in sports, concurred writer James A. Michener, “enlarge[s] the human adventure.”

Excellence and the human adventure extend beyond the scoreboard. Not reflected by any posted numbers, few examples of excellence emerge more vivid than examples set by athletes who overcome physical barriers to play to their best. And the human adventure assumes sharper focus when athletes who set the example, and team members and even opponents who support them, have not yet left their teen years.

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden explained the core stimulus basic in athletic and non-athletic endeavors alike: “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” In public schools and youth leagues, the impulse to include, rather than exclude, children marks youth sports at its best.  Inclusion is good for young athletes with disabilities, good for their teammates and opponents, and good for America.
Sources: Ian Frazer, Lambert Youth Football Team Embraces Teammate With Cerebral Palsy, Forsyth County (Ga.) News, Aug. 24, 2017; Douglas E. Abrams, Youth Sports Heroes of the Month: Wakana Ueda, Sami Stoner, Doug Wells and Taylor Howell, (2012).


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.

Out at Los Altos HS, Robbie Lopez was a three-year starter on his HS team. But during his senior year this past season, the head coach – Gabriel Lopez, but no relation to the kid – didn’t play him at all.

Now, the details are very sketchy, but the boy and his father claim that the coach was, in effect, bullying and harassing the kid mainly because the boy had refused to play in a fund-raising game earlier in the season. Why the boy didn’t play in that fundraiser is not known. But somewhere along the line, the Dad complained to the HS AD about the coach and the fundraising game, and since then, the coach just didn’t play him.

The Dad insists that this is a kind of retribution or payback to punish his boy. But neither the coach or the school district has commented about the lawsuit.

This kind of legal action raises some serious concerns. Of course, it perhaps could have all been avoided if the coach had come forth early in the season and simply said to the boy, “Look, I’m the coach, and in my opinion, there are better players on the team than you” well, the truth is, the coach is entitled to say that. After all, he’s the head coach, and he’s being paid by the school district to make those kinds of evaluations.

But apparently, that kind of conversation didn’t take place

In addition, it would be hard to believe that after being a three-year starter that suddenly the youngster isn’t good enough as a senior to merit a few at-bats or start a game here or there.

But then again, maybe the kid or his Dad had been a  chronic pain in the neck to the coach, or maybe they promised the coach that the youngster would play in that fundraising game, and then reneged.

My point is: if this lawsuit is allowed to continue, and let’s say the boy wins his case of being deliberately harassed and bullied by the coach by not playing in the games, this would pose a very serious problem for school districts and coaches. As many of the callers said this morning on my show, if a school district and a coach are held liable on this kind of lawsuit, then this has the real potential to change the landscape of coaching everywhere.

As one caller mentioned, this could lead to a pre-season meeting in which the coach makes the kids and parents sign a contract in which they promise not to sue the coach or the school district based upon their kid’s playing time. Sounds hard to believe, but that would seem like the next step.

Bear in mind that these lawsuits have been popping up more and more frequently, mostly because, I think, the angry parents want to retaliate on the coaches. I recall some years ago, a Dad – also out in California – sued the local HS basketball coach and school district because his son didn’t make the varsity team – and the father was convinced that this would result in his son not making it someday into the NBA.

As I recall, that lawsuit was dismissed by the court.

And there have been other comparable lawsuits A few years ago, a Dad sued a travel hockey league when his son was not named league MVP – even though the boy had led the league in scoring that season.  Furious and disappointed, the Dad sued the league because he felt this kind of slight would cost his son a college scholarship and perhaps a shot at the NHL.

Again, that suit was dismissed by the court.

One caller from Maplewood, NJ, this AM said that a lawsuit filed by an angry parent against the coach and school district due to a lack of playing time ended up with the coach not being rehired. But even though the boy has long since graduated and the coach is no longer there, the lawsuit still carries on in the court, and has cost more than $100,000 in legal fees to the school.


I honestly don’t know. But I do know this kind of legal recourse is becoming more and more in vogue, and it’s just another weight on the back of coaches and AD’s everywhere. And if this trend continues, we may get to the point where school districts simply throw up their hands and say enough and vote to stop offering sports altogether. That is, if your son or daughter wants to play competitive sports, then go find a travel program.


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.

And in his new book, Mike sets out to simply explain to any young and aspiring player what to expect in today’s new and unchartered jungle of travel teams, high school baseball, summer leagues, showcases, college baseball, and of course, trying to attract the attention of pro scouts. It’s a much needed guidebook; in fact, the only other book that comes close in terms of similar editorial direction is HOW TO MAKE PRO SCOUTS NOTICE YOU, written by Al Goldis, a Hall of Fame scout, with my son. But that book primarily focuses on pro baseball whereas Mike aims at the entire chronology of playing ball.

A generation of two ago, local part-time baseball scouts – known as bird dogs – were everywhere. I can recall always playing in front of scouts at American Legion games and, of course, in the legendary summer Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League. If you were a decent and serious player, you didn’t have to worry about scouts seeing you play. They found you. And the college coaches had a solid network with both bird dogs and high school coaches and high school umpires to seek out the best players to recruit.

But those days are all gone now, replaced by the internet, travel teams, recruiting services, and so on. The good news is that Mike’s book does a fine job at explaining how all of these new ventures work in terms of young ballplayers.

One of the most important chapters to read is Chapter 8 on getting an edge. This one deals with the tricky world of showcases and college camps. Each year, I receive all sorts of questions from sports parents about which baseball showcases are the best ones, and whether it’s a good idea for their son to attend them (showcases can be very expensive, and they make no guarantees about which college coaches will show up, if any). The other question is whether it’s a good idea to attend a summer weekend baseball camp at a college where you son is interested in attending.

The bottom line is this: even if you, as a parent, are a lifelong, diehard baseball fan, you really owe it to yourself and your son to read a copy of JUST BASEBALL. While the game of baseball may not have changed that much since you played, the truth is, the business of baseball has changed dramatically, and continues to change. And if your boy has hopes to keep progressing to the next level, JUST BASEBALL is a very solid guidebook.

JUST BASEBALL: A Guide to Navigating the World of Baseball Recruitment for Players and Parents, by Mike Just. Sports Publishing, Inc. $19.99.


CONCUSSION PREVENTION: New Protective Catcher Helmet is Finding Support

First, an important disclaimer. Let me just say that this is not a commercial endorsement. 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


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?


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.


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.;

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?


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.


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.