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DANGERS OF LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL: What You Need to Know About the New Rule Changes

LITTLE LEAGUE CHANGES THE GAME WITH NEW RULES, ESPECIALLY AS TO BATS

                                                                     By Steve Kallas

Little League baseball has instituted several new rules for the 2017 Little League season.  But the biggest change is with respect to a virtual total revamping of Little League bats, which will go into effect on January 1, 2018 and, in virtually all cases, will require the parent of a Little Leaguer to buy a new, often times expensive, Little League bat for the 2018 season.  Since the new bat rules are probably the biggest change, we will deal with those first.  (To view the new bat rules and the new 2017 Little League play rules, go to littleleague.org.)

HERE COME THE NEW BATS….EXCEPT THAT YOU CAN’T BUY ONE YET

Beginning on January 1, 2018, Little League Baseball is revamping baseball bats to be used in all leagues except Tee Ball and Senior Leagues.  That is, Little League is adopting the so-called USA Baseball bat standard, which is supposed to mandate the use of non-wood bats which are supposed to be similar to wood.

To begin with, as Rick Wolff and this writer have argued for years, if you’d like to have kids play with a wood-like bat standard, then simply have the kids use wood bats.  Despite Little League’s protestations on their website that wood is “scarce,” it is submitted that having kids play with wood would develop them as better hitters and be safer.  While Little League has insisted for years that the aluminum, alloy and composite bats are not more dangerous than wood, virtually anybody who has coached, watched or played Little League baseball can obviously see the difference.

While it’s better than it once was, non-wood bats are still more dangerous than wood bats, in the opinion of this writer and many others.

SO, WHAT’S THE CHANGE?

Beginning in 2018, if you play in the Little League Minors, Majors or Junior division, you will need to have a bat that has the new USA Baseball mark.  This mark is a new invention intended to make non-wood bats more like wood bats in terms of ball speed off the bat.

The only exception to this rule is, if you used an accepted one-piece wood bat in 2017, you will be able to use that one-piece wood bat in 2018 (believe it or not, there are multiple two-piece wood bats that must have the USA Baseball mark to be used in 2018, which basically means you have to buy a new bat).

Likewise, EVERY aluminum, alloy and composite bat MUST be replaced for the 2018 season.  To this day, you can still buy 2017 bats (at discounted prices in many instances as stores try to get rid of their inventory) that become “garbage” (in terms of one parent’s comment at JustBats.com) as of January 1, 2018.  In addition, most, if not all, of these bat sales do not tell you that the bat you bought in 2017 (or the bat you still may be inclined to buy for fall ball in a few months) is worthless and cannot be used in Little League in 2018.

As of this past June, according to JustBats.com, no bat manufacturer had instituted any kind of trade-in of a 2017 bat for a 2018 bat.

Very sad – and a terrible rip-off.  To get a true sense of what many parents are thinking, go to JustBats.com and look at the 45 or so questions/comments pages where many parents let their feelings be known.

To recap: other than an accepted one-piece wood bat, every other bat used in Little League in 2017 is unusable in 2018.  To make matters worse, there are currently no 2018 bats on the market today.  You can’t buy one now.

Most estimates are that the new bats for 2018, which have that mandatory USA Baseball mark, will begin to be sold in September of 2017.

Finally, and this is for another time, Little League has approved two different barrel sizes for Little League bats – 2 and 1/4 inches and 2 and 5/8 inches.  This, and an additional part of the new rule that eliminates drop limits on these new bats, raises additional questions.

A BRIEF PRIMER OF 2017 NEW LITTLE LEAGUE RULES

There are other rules, new for 2017 that should be looked at:

 

  • SPEEDING UP THE GAME – KEEPING ONE FOOT IN THE BATTER’S BOX

Little League is attempting to speed up the game by implementing a rule that states that a batter must keep one foot in the batter’s box during his/her at-bat.  While an interesting idea, which was tried in three games during the 2016 Little League World Series, the rule raises a potential can of worms.

For starters, there are eight (count them, eight!) exceptions to the rule.  Given how much is already put on the plate of an umpire, this, in and of itself, could cause problems.

For example, one exception is when a batter checks his swing.  If he does, he’s allowed to step out of the box.  Another exception occurs when a play is “attempted.”  OK, so a lefty batter is up and a runner on first goes to steal second.  If the catcher (almost always a righty) throws down to second, the batter had better get out of the way.  But what about if a catcher fakes a throw – is that a “play?”  The rules are unclear. And how does the plate umpire watch all of this?

In any event, the umpire warns the batter after one violation and then calls a strike on the batter for any additional violation of the rule.  Remember, the umpire has to go through eight exceptions in his mind before he can issue a warning or call a strike.

Interestingly, a good umpire can move the game along without this rule.  He can simply encourage kids not to step out of the box, to hustle in and out between innings.  Or, he can leave it to the coaches to tell their teams what is expected both in the box and in hustling in and out between innings.

To dump all of this on an already overloaded umpire (including complaints from both teams parents and coaches, etc.) is asking a lot of, often times, volunteer umpires.

This rule is optional for local leagues (they vote on whether to implement it or not) but will be mandatory in the Williamsport tournament.

 

  • SPEEDING UP THE GAME – INTENTIONAL WALK

This rule is for the Minor and Major divisions of Little League.  Like Major League Baseball, you can now walk a batter intentionally without throwing any pitches.  One interesting sidelight to this rule is that four pitches will be added to the Little League pitcher’s pitch count, even though he/she doesn’t actually throw a pitch.

As with MLB, in this writer’s opinion, the no-pitch intentional walk rule saves merely seconds or a minute in a game – not a very long period of time.  But, in Little League, where both hitter and pitcher are trying to learn how to play the game, this could hurt both sides.

For example, you might want to walk the big kid or the great hitter more frequently.  You don’t risk a wild pitch or anything like that.  You take the bat out of the hands of a kid who is trying to improve as a hitter.

Yes, we know that, for many coaches (unfortunately), winning is everything, something that you can’t totally eliminate from Little League baseball.  But to take the bat out of a kid’s hands simply because he’s a good hitter is sad at the 8, 10, 12-year-old level.

As for the four pitches added to the pitch count without pitching, presumably this was done so a manager can’t keep his pitcher in longer and, maybe, will be a deterrent to actually intentionally walking people.  But these smart managers might just bring in a pitcher to walk a guy intentionally, thus nullifying the (maybe) intention of the rule.

 

  • STEALING AND RELAYING OF PITCH SELECTION AND LOCATION

In 2017, stealing and relaying of pitch selection and location to alert a batter is deemed unsportsmanlike behavior.  If the umpire believes this is happening, both the player and the manager may be ejected from the game.

This is another difficult rule to implement and it places another burden on the umpire.  While stealing signs is a part of baseball, you’d like to think that 10-year olds, et al, are not going to be taught by managers to steal signs.

On the one hand, it’s “part of the game.”  On the other, it’s probably best to wait until these kids are older before they start to steal signs.  Having said that, is it OK to steal the third base coach’s bunt or steal sign (as opposed to pitch location)?   Again, interesting issues arise.

This rule is optional for local little leagues but will be mandatory in the 2017 Williamsport tournament.

 

  • ON-FIELD ALTERCATIONS

In 2017, Little League is giving guidance to help umpires with respect to fights and physical altercations.  According to this language, a manager, coach or player shall not leave wherever they are on the bench or field during a fight or physical confrontation.  If one does, and, in the umpire’s judgment, he/she does it to prevent a fight or restore order, this would not be a violation.

Again, like virtually all of these new rules, although perhaps well-intentioned, it would be hard for any coach or manager to stand still if there’s a fight going on.  More pressure on the umpire to determine what the coach/manager is thinking/doing and you can bet that the coach who runs down from third base with every intention of breaking up a fight may have a different reaction if/when he gets pushed or punched.

Frankly, you might need more than an umpire to break up a real physical altercation and, often-times, tempers run high among coaches the older the kids playing are – you won’t see the intensity in a tee ball game that you will see in a Majors game.

It would be shocking if a coach literally did nothing and stood in a coach’s box when a fight breaks out.  Again, more pressure on the ump and a call to all coaches to be right-minded, no matter what the perceived “stakes” are in that particular game.

CONCLUSION

While all of these rules have good intentions, they should be reviewed at the end of the season and tweaked where necessary.  While everybody, for example, should hail the mandatory criminal background checks instituted in 2017 which eliminate participation of potential coaches with respect to crimes involving or against a minor or minors, one wonders whether that should be expanded to all crimes, especially felonies, that don’t involve a minor or minors.

And while the new USA Bat mark is being instituted by many leagues other than Little League, it has been poorly implemented, with many parents correctly upset that they just spent hundred(s) of dollars on a 2017 bat that will be worthless in a few months.

While some will argue it was well-publicized, all parents should have been told about this directly long before this season started.  In any event, it would be nice if Little League and other leagues put some pressure on bat manufacturers and retail bat sellers to have a trade-in policy for the old bats and/or a discounted price policy for the new ones to help less fortunate people and even others who paid a small fortune for a bat this year.

COPYRIGHT 2017 BY STEVE KALLAS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: Calculating the Hidden Costs to Our Kids’ Sports Programs

 What Parents’ and Coaches’ Abuse of Referees Costs Families

By Doug Abrams

In the past few weeks, the Washington Post featured two thoughtful articles that shine the spotlight on a growing problem that plagues youth sports from coast to coast. Under the headline, “Verbal Abuse From Parents, Coaches is Causing a Referee Shortage in Youth Sports,” writer Nick Eilerson explains that in high schools and community youth leagues alike, the lion’s share of abuse stems from “a deeply cutthroat sports culture, one that often holds amateur referees to a professional standard.”

In the second article, Post writer Matt Bonesteel says that growing numbers of seasoned high school referees hang up their whistles each year, frustrated with “parents and coaches screaming for your head while you do a job that isn’t exactly going to make anyone rich.”

The referees’ frustration is not fanciful. As I coached youth hockey and watched other teams’ games over the years, I heard parents in the stands and coaches behind the bench hurl insults at referees that no self-respecting adult would hurl at the family dog. Physical confrontations with referees, instigated by parents or coaches, were less common but did happen.

In the past few years, the Washington Post and several other media sources have reported the results. Youth sports programs have had a tough time recruiting new referees, many of whom drop out after about a year or two because they too grow unwilling to endure abuse from parents and coaches. Chronic shortages of referees have reportedly caused some youth leagues and high school conferences to postpone or reschedule games, or even to cancel some games.

In a recent column, I discussed how continuing attrition in the refereeing ranks can endanger player safety in high school and community youth league play, particularly in collision and contact sports. When veteran referees tired of running the gauntlet quit in droves each year, some games are left to less seasoned replacements who might not yet be ready to maintain the game control essential for player safety. That column appears at http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2017/04/02/abusive-sports-parents-epidemic-finding-refs-officials-work-youth-games-continues/

This column focuses on community youth leagues and not high schools. Adults’ chronic abuse of referees can hurt youth leaguers in two additional ways unrelated to player safety. Both ways concern money.

First, unstemmed abuse of referees from parents and coaches may indirectly limit the access of some children to community sports programs by increasing registration fees beyond what some families feel they can pay. Second, this abuse can require families, once they register, to divert money that they could otherwise spend more fruitfully on their children in other pursuits.

Limiting Access

First, access. . . . In high school sports, coaches and referees are typically paid for their service, which is only fair because most high school coaches are paid for theirs. As part of the curriculum, interscholastic sports receives funding from taxes or private tuitions.

In community youth leagues, however, coaches typically volunteer but referees typically get paid. Unless time is more valuable to referees than to coaches, why the difference?

The answer may affect the access of many children to community sports in the first place. In my community youth hockey leagues over the years, referees’ fees accounted for a quarter or more of a family’s annual registration fee; only ice-time rental typically accounted for more. The percentages allocated to referees’ fees can probably be even higher in sports such as baseball or soccer because field time is typically not so expensive.

We are talking here about a few hundred dollars per family for each player, which is not pocket change for many families. Particularly in sports with high start-up costs for equipment and uniforms, I wonder whether more children would be able to enroll in community programs with volunteer referees.

Parents juggling the family budget typically seek savings where they can, so why don’t more community youth leagues reduce registrations fees by encouraging volunteer referees? Perhaps much of the answer is that most prospective referees will not volunteer to bear the brunt of verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse from parents and coaches. Parents and coaches pay for their misconduct. Even referees who are motivated primarily be a desire to remain active with sports and kids, and not by a desire for extra income, would think twice about donating their time for bitter returns from hostile adults.

Many parents nowadays struggle to assure their children’s participation in sports by sacrificing elsewhere in the family budget. Volunteerism might be a real option if more parents and coaches would treat referees as who they are — public-spirited citizens who help bring sports into children’s lives — and not as error-prone antagonists.

Savings

Second, avoidable expense. . . . More and more youth leagues now require parents and coaches to attend pre-season meetings aimed at educating the adults about civility, respect, and sportsmanship. Here is another potential agenda item: By helping attendees understand how expensive their lack of self-control can be, community youth leagues might be able to help contain registration fees by enlisting volunteer referees if they enlist volunteer coaches. If a community’s sports culture were ever to displace crudity with civility, parents could spend the annual savings on their children in more constructive ways.

Sources: Nick Eilerson, Verbal  Abuse From Parents, Coaches Is Causing a Referee Shortage in Youth Sports, Wash. Post, June 16, 2017; Matt Bonesteel, Are We Running Out of High School Referees?, Wash. Post, May 19, 2017.

 

DISCIPLINE ISSUES: An Ongoing Issue for Parents, Coaches, and Kids

This is a topic that doesn’t seem to be discussed all that much these days. And yet, it’s an issue that continues to be a real concern for coaches, athletic directors, parents, and of course the athletes.

I’m talking about the art of disciplining athletes, especially HS and travel team athletes.

What do you do if you’re a parent…or if you’re the coach…of an athlete who does something that he or she shouldn’t have done? How do you dole out a punishment? How do you even figure out the right punishment?

More importantly, how do you teach the youngster a sense of right from wrong – so that he or she doesn’t make the same mistake again. And ideally, their teammates will learn from the mistakes of their peer.

Now, I know we live in a high-tech, app-driven world these days, and our kids are all about embracing the latest technology and adopting new trends in sports. And imposing discipline is most definitely Old School.

But unfortunately, as the Parent or the Coach, you have to lay down the law AND enforce the punishment.  It’s not easy and it’s not fun. But it’s important to teach life-long lessons that go far beyond the playing fields.

The problem is – -discipline and subsequent punishments are often complicated. That is:

If you punish your star player before a big game, and decide to bench him…..is that fair to the rest of the kids on the team who desperately need him to help win? Should that even be a consideration?

What about using alternative punishments? That is…okay, I’m not going to bench you or suspend you…but you will have to perform community service…or run extra laps….or something else as your punishment. But you can still play in the big game.

Does that kind of alternative punishment have the right and desired impact….or is it missing the mark?

There were a number of excellent calls this AM. Several of them made it clear that the coach has to be consistent and strong in meting out tough punishments. If a kid violates the team’s or school’s rules, and the right punishment is to be benched, then the coach needs to do that even if it means missing the biggest game of the year.

One coach related the story that he found an alternative punishment for one of his star players just so the kid wouldn’t miss the big game…and the move totally backfired. The kid had missed practice before a big game due to a senior prom a few days earlier. The coach said he learned the hard way from not sticking to his guns. The following year, not one but 8 of his players blew off practice before a big game, claiming they were still exhausted from prom night a few nights earlier.

As I discussed this coaching nightmare with this caller, I also heard from Coach Tom. Tom is from North Arlington, NJ, who is a loyal listener and always has great insights, and he made it clear that coaches have to be consistent with their decisions, they need to run big punishments in advance with the AD so that the AD is not caught off-guard, and that the coach needs to have the courage to follow through. I couldn’t agree more.

HERE’S A TYPICAL CASE….

Now, there are lots and lots of examples to choose from, but I was recently made aware of a situation that occurred this past March. According to a variety of police reports, the New Canaan HS baseball team decided to have a beer party a few days before their season opened.

Of course, buying alcohol in CT is illegal unless you’re 21, and even though the beer was served in one of the player’s homes….well, that doesn’t make this any better. In addition, there were other disturbing events that occurred at that party. But I just want to focus on what happened to the baseball players.

Once the police arrived on the scene, the party of course was broken up. And the young man, an 18-year-old, who had purchased the beers for his buddies and had the party in his home, well, he and his Dad were charged.

But here’s the part I don’t get: Although it was pretty clear what had happened at this get-together, and that a number of varsity ballplayers were drinking, nothing happened to them in terms of immediate punishment. I’m guessing that the New Canaan parents said that since the party had become a police investigation, there was no need to discipline the kids. And of course, nothing happened until very late in the baseball season, so the kids just practiced and played.

That is, they simply played the season with no suspensions or benching.

Yes, in late May, as the team was in the playoffs, it was then decided that the kid who had bought the book and hosted the party would be suspended for the rest of the season. But from what I can tell – and I could be wrong – but no punishment such as a suspension or benching was handed down to the players.

All that happened at the end of the season was the kids and their parents agreed to participate in some sort of training sessions of the perils of alcohol.

At the other end of the spectrum, one caller. Jason Beim, chimed in and said that former NFL player Keyshawn Johnson had instituted his own kind of discipline on his own son, Keyshawn Jr, who is a freshman on the University of Nebraska football team. When the older Johnson heard that his kid had stashed marijuana in his dorm room, Keyshawn didn’t wait for the college or the football coach to hand out discipline: Keyshawn jumped in himself and yanked his kid out of school for the fall semester. The irate father imposed his own parental punishment.

Sounds harsh? Perhaps. After all, kids make mistakes. We all know that. But kudos to Keyshawn Johnson for laying the law down on his son.

These days, I wonder how many other sports parents would have done the same thing?

 

INTRODUCING OLD SCHOOL NEW SCHOOL: A Different Kind of Sports Podcast

Dear Friends of Ask Coach Wolff:

I wanted to tell you about a new and different kind of podcast. It’s entitled “Old School v. New School” and it features my new son-in-law, Noah Savage, and myself. Noah is a 31-year-old 6-7 former All-Ivy League basketball player at Princeton, and I think it’s safe to say that he represents a new and different way of looking at the world of sports. He is most definitely “New School.”

And as for me, I’m considerably older than Noah, and of course, my views on sports tend to be a little more on the conservative side. Thus, I’m “Old School.”

In any event, Noah and I take on timely and controversial topics in sports, and we discuss our views in a new podcast series. It’s a lot of fun and clearly different in scope.  I would urge you all to sign up (see below – it’s easy), and then tell all your friends to listen in as well.

There’s several ways to listen:

ON THE COMPUTER

It’s available on Itunes and you can listen by clicking this link http://oldschoolnewschool.libsyn.com/

ON IPHONE by searching “Old School New School” on your podcast app on your Iphone. (It is the purple icon that says “podcast” on it) If you subscribe then the newest episodes will update each time you open that app and click “feed.”

Please click “Subscribe” then rate and review it!

We will release a new episode every Friday morning so that you can power through that last workday of the week.

Here’s a quick description:

Old School / New School is a new podcast where two sports broadcasters- Rick Wolff and Noah Savage – debate today’s most controversial and pressing sports issues from two very different perspectives – most notably that Wolff, in his 60s, is definitely “old school” whereas Savage, 31, is clearly “new school.”  Oh, and Noah happens to be Rick’s son-in-law.

Enjoy!

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: What are the Biggest Concerns Today?

It’s a fairly straightforward question that I asked this AM on my radio show. And as I suspected, the responses were plentiful and all over the sports parenting landscape.

As I jotted down notes from the callers, we had lots of opinions. Specifically:

Too much specialization in one sport at an early age.

The increasing cost of travel teams in all sports.

The fear of exposing one’s kids to concussions in football and other contact sports.

The monetization of youth sports as private coaches, camps, and travel teams become everywhere.

The loss of athletes who play 2 or 3 different varsity sports.

HS Coaches who insist that their players do not listen to instruction from outside experts.

The age-old debate about “trophies for everyone.”

This was one of those shows where I could have easily filled up three hours with discussion from the callers. Seemingly, everybody has an opinion, and a strong one, when it comes to youth sports today.

What about Having Fun?

Yet of all the calls that came in, there was one observation that DID NOT come in. And that surprised me.

That is, whether our kids today have as much fun or draw as much enjoyment from playing sports as we did when we were growing up. When today’s parents (or even grandparents) reflect on their own childhoods, there was very little parental involvement or organized leagues. Kids were allowed to enjoy their fun and recreation without the constant rush and need to accelerate one’s skills to a higher level. Not having try outs for travel teams at ages younger than 12 or 13 allowed kids to have the freedom to master athletic skills at a more leisurely, and presumably, more fun pace.

I fully understand those days are long gone. But judging from the number of issues that were discussed this AM, and the fact that there are so very few answers or solutions, it sure would be nice to find a way to allow the next generation of athletes to first develop a sense of joy and elation from playing sports….and then wait a few years before exposing them to the endless struggle to develop, win, and get to that next level of competition.

I see this all the time with baseball these days. Kids with talent focus so much time, energy, and money on travel baseball, private instruction, and so on that it’s always surprising to me that when a ballplayer finishes playing the game on his HS varsity, or even in college, more often than not he usually just walks away from the sport. Amateur and semi-pro baseball teams — which used to be plentiful and full of kids in their 20s and 30s who loved playing baseball – are now drying up everywhere and are fast becoming extinct.

What happened to all those top baseball players?

That suggests to me that all those kids who grew up working so hard to develop and master their ability in baseball — well, perhaps they didn’t really actually have a passion for the sport. Maybe they just felt a sense of obligation to their parents to play. And when the dream ended, they no longer had any desire to keep playing.

That may be the legacy of today’s sports parents.

 

ACCOUNTABILITY: HS Athletes Who Put Integrity Ahead of Winning

“When No One Is Watching”: Two Stories of High School Athletes’ Integrity

By Doug Abrams

With national and international crises and discord dominating the news these days, it takes something special for a youth sports story to reach a major metropolitan newspaper’s editorial page. On June 2, the Minneapolis Star Tribune saluted 16-year-old high school junior Kaylee Gossen, a varsity golfer whose story provides a welcome respite from news accounts of the troubles that sometimes mar the games that children and adolescents play.

Kaylee reminded us that integrity counts in youth sports, and that people respect spirited competitors who take the high road. Without diminishing her will to win, the Marshall, Minnesota golfer delivered the timely reminder when the personal stakes counted the most.

“I Needed To Do the Right Thing”

In late May, Kaylee Gossen was disqualified from sectional competition, the last step on the road to the Minnesota state high school golf championship tournament. She signed a scorecard that reported her round at 82, but she quickly realized that something was wrong. After conferring with her parents and coach, she realized that she had taken seven strokes on the 16th hole, not the six that her scorecard recorded.

If Kaylee had kept quiet, no one would have known. An 82 or an 83 would each have earned her another trip to the states, but she self-reported the error. Tournament rules mandated her disqualification for signing an inaccurate scorecard.

“I realized I needed to do the right thing, losing my shot at going to state,” she told the Star Tribune. “I knew I was going to be disqualified, but it was the right thing to do. . . . Integrity goes a lot [further] than state.”

“I Did Not Deserve the State Record”

In MomTeam.com a few years ago, I wrote a similar story about sophomore Bram Miller’s act of integrity at the Alabama state high school track and field championships. When Bram received his gold medal for winning the Class 1A state high jump title, the public address announcers told the crowd in Selma Memorial Stadium that he had set a new state record by clearing 6 feet, 8 inches.

But Bram knew that meet officials and the public address announcer had made a mistake. He and two other competitors had each cleared the bar at 6 feet, 6 inches, and he won the title on fewest misses. All three missed at 6-8, though he came close. He also missed at 6-6 1/2, which would have erased the existing record of 6-6 1/4.

“The Right Thing to Do”

The Alabama High School Athletic Association said later that if Bram Miller had remained silent, his “record” would have stood and no one would have known the difference. But Bram rejected silence because he knew the difference. He told MaxPreps that when an official at the victors’ podium congratulated him for clearing 6-8 and breaking the record, he responded, “No sir. I got 6-6.” Then he told his coach about the officials’ mistake and requested correction, which the state Association made the next morning.

Bram’s explanation? “I did not deserve the state record because I didn’t set it. I had to tell someone. It was the right thing to do.”

“When No One Is Watching”

The Alabama High School Athletic Association’s director of communications said it best. When athletes in Bram Miller’s position choose the high road, he told MaxPreps, “we act surprised but we shouldn’t be. Kids have much more integrity than we give them credit for.” The sentiment also fits Kaylee Gossen.

The Kaylee Gossen and Bram Miller stories share at least two common denominators for parents, coaches, and players. First, both young athletes wanted to win, but their honesty underscored the guideline delivered years ago by the British Association of Coaches: “Sport without fair play is not sport, and honours won without fair play can have no real value.”

Second, by rejecting unfair advantage that would have gone unnoticed, both young athletes reaffirmed the often-stated essence of “integrity,” in athletic competition and elsewhere: “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”

 

Sources: A Minnesota High School Golfer Wins Our Admiration, Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 2, 2017 (editorial); Paul Klauda, Marshall Golfer Was Headed Back to State, Then ‘Did the Right Thing,’ Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 2, 2017; Doug Abrams, Youth Sports Hero of the Month: Bram Miller (Falkville, Ala.), http://www.momsteam.com/blog/douglas-abrams-jd/youth-sports-hero-month-bram-miller-falkville-ala (June 2, 2014); Dave Krider, High Jumper Bram Miller Shows Honesty After Being Mistakenly Credited With State Record, http://www.maxpreps.com/news/uePVhOorNEK_L2eI-kCulQ/high-jumper-bram-mil… (May 8, 2014); AHSAA, Falkville High Jumper Points Out Scoring Mistake, http://al.milesplit.com/articles/127870-falkville-high-jumper-points-out-scoring-mistake

SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY SECRETS: What Sports Parents Need to Know

As sports parents, we worry so much about our kids learning the correct physical technique or mechanics in their sports…but about their mental approach?

For example, what should you say to your youngster if they’re getting visibly nervous or moody before a game?

Is it okay if they develop certain rituals or superstitions as part of their pre-game prep?

Dan McGinn, who is a sports parent himself, has written a new book entitled PSYCHED UP: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed, and I was eager to interview on my radio show this AM. Dan serves as a senior editor at Harvard Business Review, and has a real passion for sports psychology, which as most of you know, is a long-time passion of mine as well.

Dan’s book touches on a number of competitive fields, whether it be sports…or business…or in the performing arts. But the main theme that underlies all of his stories and insights is what do successful individuals do in order to assure that each performance is a good one. And Dan underscores some of the important myths and misconceptions of pre-game psychological preparation.

For example, he suggests that parents can help their athletes get ready for a game by simply reminding them of previous successful games they have enjoyed in the past. Kids love to reflect on happy times, and the more specific you can be in your jogging their memory, the better. “Hey, John, remember that game last year when you made that nifty move late in the game, and you ended up scoring a key goal?” Bringing back those wonderful moments not only makes your child feel good, but it also lifts their sense of self-confidence.

And if you have video of some of their better games, playing that for them also reinforces the good vibes.

TRYING TO PROTECT YOUR CHILD’S EGO?

Dan confessed that he used to follow a pattern of “definitive pessimism” with his own kids. That is, in an attempt to soften or damp down possible disappointment, Dan would tell his kids: “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself for this tryout…that is, there will always be more tryouts if this one doesn’t go well.” This kind of pessimistic approach set his kids up to expect failure, rather than to prepare for success. It’s clearly something that while you might be tempted to say, you want to instead pump them up to succeed.

 

He also talked about pre-game jitters and anxiety. He and I both agree that it’s up you, as the parent, to assure your son or daughter that being nervous or anxious before a game is not to be avoided but to be embraced. Being full of adrenaline is your body’s way of telling you that it’s ready to perform at a peak level. And that, of course, is a good thing.

So, instead of trying to repress one’s nervousness, tell your youngster to look forward to it…that it’s actually a key advantage.

One more major point: Superstitions and pre-game rituals DO work. Let your athlete wear the same pair of socks, or eat the same meal, or whatever. Allowing them to go through the same pre-game pattern allows them to psychologically focus on the task at hand, and to experience a sense of comfort as they get ready. What they DON’T want is to be placed in a setting where they are so busy focusing on different outside distractions that they can’t prepare for their best performance. That also includes their choice of music in the car on the way to the game!

So, if a superstition or ritual is something they do, don’t worry about it. Just embrace it!

Again, the book is entitled PSYCHED UP: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed, by Daniel McGinn. It’s available in bookstores everywhere or order a copy from Amazon. I heartily recommend it to all sports parents and coaches.

PS – I have my own book on sports psychology secrets coming forth in January 2018. That book attempts to explode many of the myths and misconceptions of what really works with top and elite athletes – -and what doesn’t. I’ll be writing more about my book in the weeks to come. 

 

SPORTSMANSHIP: HS Boys Lax Team Intrudes on Visiting Girls Before Playoff Game

Well, what happened the other day in Yorktown, NY?

Depending on who you talk to, there was some sort of dust-up between the members of the Yorktown HS boys lax team…and the Somers HS girls lax team that clearly ruffled some feathers – especially on the Somers side.

Many of the Somers parents continue to be outraged.

From most accounts, here’s what happened. A couple of weeks ago, on May 25th, the Somers HS girls lax team travelled to Yorktown to play the Yorktown girls’ lax team in a championship playoff game. The winner would not only take home Section One honors, but the win would qualify to compete in the NYS lax tournament.

As is often done with visiting teams, the Somers girls lax squad was ushered into the Yorktown boys locker room in order to change and prepare for the game. This was done because the girls’ locker room was being used by the host team, the Yorktown girls.

At first the boys locker room was locked, but then a door was opened, and the Somers girls went inside. They played some music, got taped up, and mentally starting getting focused on the big game.

But as they were getting ready, apparently several members of the Yorktown boys lax team entered that same locker room. They had just finished their practice session for the day, and apparently weren’t aware that a visiting female team was in their locker room. There were no signs posted suggesting that the boys locker room was being used by a visiting girls team. Nor were there any coaches or supervisors outside the lockerroom warning boys not to go in.

As the Yorktown boys entered and encountered a girls’ team, the boys turned off the music and made some typically dumb adolescent comments to the Somers girls – stuff like “I’m going to get naked” and “I’m going to spit in your mouth” and there was also some profanity involved.

Again, depending on who you talk to, the comments – although certainly inappropriate – were made in jest, and were not overly threatening – or at least that’s how it was reported. But technically, these comments could be classified as “sexual harassment” since the comments were of an unwelcome sexual nature. The good news is that there was no physical contact or pushing or shoving from either side.

AN INVASION OF PRIVACY ?

But apparently a number of Somers HS girls and their parents did feel that these verbal comments were not only called for, but the boys’ unexpected intrusion DID violate the girls’ sense of privacy and definitely bordered on sexual harassment.

And of course, the Somers girls  – who were understandably focused on the upcoming game – were disturbed from their pre-game preparation, and ultimately left the locker room angry and upset. Not the best way to get ready for a big game – a game, by the way, that they lost.

Since that incident, the Somers parents have been extremely outspoken, have complained strongly to their school Superintendent, and this incident is apparently not going away.

I asked Tony Fiorino, who has been on the Sports Edge several times in the past, to come on this show. As luck would have it, not only does Tony and his family live in Somers, his daughter Sophia is a senior at Somers HS and is one of the star players on the lax team, and she was in the lockerroom.

The first question I asked Tony was how was it possible that no one from either Yorktown or from Somers was not present, guarding the doors? Tony was just as bewildered as I was, because clearly the posting of a coach or supervisor at the lockerroom would have easily prevented this from occurring.

As far as his daughter was concerned, Tony said that Sophia wasn’t all that concerned by the episode, but also added that there were apparently some Somers’ players who were upset. And Tony was quick to point out even if only one girl was offended, that was enough for an apology from Yorktown.

And to that end, I ended the show by asking why wasn’t an apology forthcoming? Even if no one was at fault here, the simply reality was that Yorktown was the host team for the game, and as such, by allowing the boys lax players to innocently walk into the lockerroom when a visiting girls team was there has to fall upon Yorktown’s shoulders.

A straightforward and sincere public apology from Yorktown to Somers would have probably put an end to this incident. But no such public apology was forthcoming, and that allows the Somers’ parents to continue to be angry. Finally – and I find this somewhat curious – it was the Somers Superintendent (not his counterpart from Yorktown) who issued a statement saying that the incident had been investigated and there was nothing more to be said or done.

And that’s how the episode ended, although judging from the hefty amount of media attention this incident received, this moment between Somers and Yorktown won’t soon be forgotten. Both schools, which border each other, have a long and proud history of athletic competition, and certainly they will compete again in sports in the fall.

And when they do, it might be a good idea to have the lockerrooms monitored by outside supervisors.

TRENDS IN SPORTS: Should Varsity Letters Be Awards to HS Students Who Compete in Non-Athletic Pursuits?

On my WFAN radio show last Sunday we had a spirited discussion on whether videogames – or e-games as they are known – should be considered as a new kind of HS sport.

Most of the debate centered on whether these very popular games should be classified as a sport…or simply as an activity.

The main point that was debated back and forth was whether to be a sport, there needed to be a real element of perspiration in the mix. After all, one of the underlying concerns about our kids playing videogames for hours on end is that a lack of physical exercise and exertion lends itself to all sorts of health issues as the kids get out of shape and heavier.

Personally, I felt there was a real growing wariness about sanctioning e-gaming as a legitimate HS sport when, in fact, this so-called sport not only does nothing for the youngster’s physical conditioning, —  but can actually be very detrimental to their health.

True, I guess you can make a case that playing a contact sport like football or ice hockey or field hockey can lead to concussions, which can also lead to long-term health issues as well. But for better or worse, in today’s world, traditional sports are seen as doing wonders for kids to stay in shape, whereas sitting in front of a computer screen is as seen as being damaging.

At the end of the show last week, there was no real definitive consensus. But it did give us pause about whether we should embrace e-gaming as a sport.

Let me give you an analogy:

For example, in a few states in the Midwest like Arkansas, bass fishing is considered to be a legitimate varsity sport. Now, I must confess that I have never been to, or witnessed, a HS bass fishing contest, but my initial reaction is that when you go fishing, you pretty much sit in a rowboat waiting for a fish to nibble on your line.

I guess there’s some physical activity involved in trying to reel the fish in. In fact, Doug Abrams points out with a laugh that most likely it’s only the fish that gets a true workout in these competitions.  And yes, I don’t suspect that kind of physical activity for the HS fisherman is the same as, say, running up and down a soccer field on a hot humid day… or putting on a full-court press in basketball….or running 400 meters at full speed in a heated HS race.

You get my point.

EARNING THAT VARSITY LETTER IN HS SPORTS

But as a follow-up to this topic of  what truly constitutes a varsity sport, I also wanted to discuss the awarding of varsity letters in HS.Now, one of the great traditions in American HS sports is for a youngster to earn a HS varsity letter.

I mean, this was a big, big deal when I was in HS, and from what I can gather, earning a varsity letter still remains something to honor and to cherish. You just don’t get a varsity letter for being on the roster. A youngster has have to log a certain amount of quality playing time – or at least that’s how it was set up when I was a kid.

In other words, you had to EARN your letter.

Now, I mention all of this because I came across a new law that was recently passed in NJ.

In short, the new law now says that any and all students who represent their HS in other extracurricular activities that compete against other schools should also be eligible to win a varsity letter for their efforts.

That could be for kids who are in the HS chess club…or competing in Robotics of the Mind….spelling bees….pretty much any extracurricular activity in which kids from one school are competing against kids from other schools.

In short, this expansion of eligibility for a HS varsity letter is a little different to be sure. Yes, I know that over the years that some school districts were giving out varsity letters on an ad hoc basis in order salute those kids who didn’t play sports but had talents in other areas and had obviously put time and effort into succeeding in these outlets.

Most of the calls this AM came in from those individuals who had been awarded varsity letters for anything from competing in history competitions to chess clubs to even ceramic competitions when they were in HS. They were indeed quite proud of their accomplishments, and felt strongly that this new law was not only a good move, but long overdue.

Other callers, however, asked poignant questions. To wit:

Is there a real and tangible difference between being on a HS varsity sports team….as opposed to being on a non-sports HS organization and being able to earn a varsity letter?

In other words, by opening the door to varsity letters for extracurricular activities, doesn’t that have the impact of cheapening or diluting the varsity letter?

In effect, does this new law in NJ simply add an extension of the age-old debate that “everybody gets a trophy” just for competing?

And what about the HS kids themselves? How do they feel about all of this?

Or is this just another case of trying to placate today’s parents who want to know how come their non-athletic (but talented) kids can’t earn a varsity letter?

For that matter, does achieving a varsity letter still carry the same feeling of singular accomplishment that it did, say, 15 or 20 years ago?

One caller, for example, said that he had graduated from Power Memorial HS back in the early 1970s when Power Memorial was a legendary school for athletics. He couldn’t make the basketball team (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was there then, as was Steve Kallas). So the caller went out for the school band, which, he pointed out, was quite a commitment as the band played all over NYC. In any event, in his senior year, after being in the school band for four years, he was awarded a varsity letter which was quite meaningful to him.

True, there was no competition against other schools, but the Power Memorial administration clearly wanted to salute him in some ways for his four years of dedicated commitment, and as such, I could see why giving him a varsity letter made a lot of sense.

Only the next few years will determine whether this new law will change things dramatically in terms of HS kids in NJ. In the end, it’s up to the HS kids and their parents whether earning a varsity letter in chess, or in science competitions, or in spelling bees is going to be a big deal for them.

 

 

 

TRENDS IN SPORTS: More Discussion of E-Gaming as Sport

Building upon Doug Abram’s superb column from earlier this week about the threat that videogames pose to our kids’ long-term health, I presented to the WFAN listening audience this straightforward question: knowing how popular videogaming has become in recent years with our kids, has it now reached a level where it can and should be considered as a real sport?

Not surprisingly, the general response was that no, it’s not a sport, but more of an activity. Something closer in scope to playing cards or throwing darts than. say, a traditional athletic pursuit like football, lacrosse, or baseball. The key criteria kept coming back to the dictionary definition of “sport” involving physical exertion causing perspiration.

But there was lots of debate. For example, is NASCAR a sport? Does driving a car, albeit fast, constitute real exercise?

How about bass fishing? After all, bass fishing is a sanctioned varsity sport in several states in the Midwest.

Yet the real takeaway from this AM’s discussion was the following: that no matter whether e-gaming is considered a sport or activity or just a pastime, there was true and genuine concern about kids spending hours and hours in front of a computer screen, seemingly addicted to games showing very violent themes. That is, in recent years, the medical association has warned over and over again that kids today need to remain physically fit in order to stave off long-term health issues regarding obesity, diabetes, and other concerns. In short, today’s generation of kids are running a real risk of having all sorts of illnesses, many of which could be prevented if they remained physically fit instead of being hooked on e-games.

IS THERE A SOLUTION?

Everybody pretty much agreed that e-gaming is only beginning to become more and more popular. Even the TV networks have picked up on this trend, and made e-gaming into a major event that generates decent TV ratings.

Because this is a not a temporary fad, parents are growing concerned about their kids who are spending more and more time in front of their computers.

In fact, several callers suggested that parents really need to step up and intervene and just don’t look the other way. No, not to forbid their kids from playing videogames, but to have a serious parent-to-child conversation about the dangers of this activity. Just in the same way that Moms and Dads need to talk with their kids about the inherent dangers about smoking or drugs, parents need to tell kids about the issues of spending too much time in front of the computer.

One caller suggested that parents should mandate that for every hour a kid spends playing a video game, he or she needs to spend at least an hour outside exercising in the fresh air and playing a real sport.

These are interesting suggestions, but one thing is clear. We’re going to hear and hear about e-gaming in the years to come, and it’s going to be incumbent on Moms and Dads to figure out a new way to handle a problem — like concussions — that is not going away.