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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. http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2017/04/02/abusive-sports-parents-epidemic-finding-refs-officials-work-youth-games-continues/; http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2017/07/04/abusive-sports-parents-calculating-hidden-costs-kids-sports-programs/.

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?

GOING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION?

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.

91% OF HS STUDENTS RECEIVE EITHER AN A OR B

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.

DADS AS SPORTS PARENTS: Everything I Learned About Youth Sports I Learned from My Father

My Dad —  Hall of Fame Sportscaster Bob Wolff – passed away two weeks ago at the age of 96.

My father was one of those rare individuals who knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He loved sports, and he loved talking about them on the air. And he not only had the good fortune to call a bunch of famous games in his life (e.g. Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, the Colts-Giants 1958 overtime NFL championship game, the NY Knicks only two NBA championships, etc) but he set a record along the way recognized by Guinness that he was the longest running sportscaster of all time. Dad broadcast sporting events from 1939 when he was a sophomore at Duke on the local CBS radio station in Durham, NC, right up until June of this year. That’s a run of 78 years.

But for the Wolff family, Dad always made it clear that as much fun as he had broadcasting professional and collegiate sporting events, nothing gave him more satisfaction than watching his own three kids play competitive sports. My older brother Bob was a highly successful pitcher in HS and at Princeton in the late 1960s before going on to a distinguished career as a pediatric neurologist. My sister Margy may have been the best natural athlete in the family, and starred in HS basketball. She would have been a three-sport star except that she was in school just before Title IX was passed.

And most of you know of my own background as a record-setting wide receiver and shortstop in HS before going onto play at Harvard and then drafted and signed by the Detroit Tigers after my junior year.

In short, it was my father who taught me everything I know about youth sports. On my radio show this AM, I tried to pay tribute to him by asking listeners what kinds of life-long lessons had their own Dads pass onto them. The response was substantial.

 

When I was a kid – like any youngster – I wanted to learn how to hit a baseball well…how to shoot a basketball….how to throw a spiral with a football…how to run a pass pattern…how to play pepper with a bat and ball….and so much more.

I also wondered about the intricate rules of the sports I played….like the infield fly rule…or why football teams always punted on fourth down….or how to set up an effective zone defense in basketball…or better yet, how to break a zone defense.

And like kids everywhere, I found out that cheating in sports just wasn’t accepted or allowed….and that being a good sport when you lose is not easy.

But all of these lessons – -and many, many more – didn’t come to me naturally or instinctively.

Rather, they all came from conversations from my father. Perhaps you’re a Dad now yourself…what kinds of lessons are you imparting to your kids?

What are your top priorities? How do you teach them?

How do you react when things aren’t going well for them?

Are you a sideline yeller and screamer?

My suggestion is to give some serious thought as to what kind of impact you’re having on your son and daughter.

THE POWER OF PARENTAL PRAISE

 

My Dad was all about praise…that is, long before I had ever heard of John Wooden, my father would use praise and more praise in order to motivate me.

If I had a bad day at the plate, rather than castigate me or belittle me, my father would take just the opposite approach, and point out how tough the pitcher was….or that I was actually making good adjustments, and if only I had gotten one more at-bat, he was certain I would hit a line-drive double.

Somehow, those words of encouragement kept me going.

I recall playing in a college summer league game one hot, Sunday afternoon. I was a right handed batter, and I was facing a kid who wasn’t all that big and he didn’t throw all that hard. But he had a tremendous curve ball.

As much as I tried to make adjustments at the plate, he struck me out 4 times in a row. Mind you, I was 19 at the time…and I had never looked so bad in a game in my life! I was convinced that any chance of playing pro ball was now gone.

But on the long car ride home, my Dad pointed out that the pitcher did indeed possess a really good deuce…and that while I needed to learn how to slap the pitch the other way, that I shouldn’t be that tough on myself. He was calm…patient…and encouraging.

Well…fast forward a few years…that righthanded pitcher I faced that afternoon? He was from St. John’s University – his name was Steve Ratzer – and Steve not only signed a pro contract, but he actually made it all the way through the minors to the bigs, all because of that great curve ball.

In other words, apparently I wasn’t the only opposing batter who had a hard time facing him. But again, it was my Dad who helped me get over that 4-strike out performance.

So praise and encouragement are high on the list…and they should be on yours as well – especially when your youngster has a tough day.

THE POWER OF PREPARATION AND HARD WORK

 

My Dad was a big believer in preparation and hard work...that is, if you wanted to shine in the classroom OR on the athletic field, you needed to prepare in advance so that you COULD shine. That meant working hard to get into top shape….to be ready at the drop of a hat…to show the coaches that you really COULD play and prove it to them.

Hard work and preparation….those two lessons have remained with me for my entire adult life – and go far beyond just trying to make the team in sports or trying to beat out the competition. These are truly life lessons….and I’m grateful that my father explained to me why this approach works. Because the truth is, they really do work.

THE POWER OF FAIR PLAY

 

My Dad used to explain to me as a kid that fair play is essential to making one’s victory have real substance and meaning.

That is, if the other team was short-handed, or didn’t have their top players on hand that day, or somehow their team wasn’t at their  best – well, it was nice to come away with a win….but in the end, a victory like that somehow didn’t feel as good as a win when you truly defeated that opponent when they were at full strength.

When you did that….that was something to be proud of.

The same philosophy applied to those tournaments where sometimes coaches try to navigate around a tough opponent in order to advance. My father never understood that approach – that is, if you want to be the best, then you have to BEAT the best.

These days, when I hear about coaches – and kids – sometimes looking for short cuts to advance, well, it’s not really cheating…but you do wonder about whether the win is worth boasting about. In other words, when you come away with a big win in sports, it means that much more knowing you beat the best.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Look, being a sport parent – as I have said many times on my show – is a lot more complicated and difficult these days than ever before….and not only is it a challenge for a parent to navigate all of this, it’s even more bewildering for a kid.

That’s why you really need to give some conscious thought as to what you want your son and daughter to take away from their years of playing sports.

AN IMPORTANT P.S.

The outpouring of love and support for my Dad has been overwhelming to both me and my family,and we are eternally grateful. The truth is, my Dad was a tremendously talented sportscaster who took great pride in his work and his work ethic. But as anybody will tell you who ever met my father, as good as he was a sportscaster, he was an even better human being.

 

LEARNING FROM ADVERSITY: Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts on Sportsmanship

Chief Justice Roberts on Lessons Learned from Adversity

By Doug Abrams

 This is a brief guest column. The guest is John G. Roberts Jr., Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Much has been written lately about “helicopter parents,” mothers and fathers who strive to shield their children from all adversity in sports and other activities. Tom Izzo, Michigan State University’s successful head basketball coach, expressed concern in a radio interview earlier this year. The recent Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee said that, “We’re creating a system that we’re never teaching a kid how to fight through [tough times].”

Last month, Chief Justice Roberts spoke at his son’s ninth grade commencement at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, New Hampshire. His text has appeared in various media outlets. Here is what the Chief Justice told the graduates about how experiencing, and learning from, adversity builds character:

“From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”

The Washington Post is right: “The best thing Chief Justice Roberts wrote this term wasn’t a Supreme Court opinion.”

Sources: Chris Vannini, “Tom Izzo: We’re Creating a System Where Kids Don’t Learn to Handle Adversity,” http://coachingsearch.com/article?a=Tom-Izzo-Were-creating-a-system-where-kids-dont-learn-to-handle-adversity (Apr. 13, 2017); Katie Reilly, “’I Wish You Bad Luck.’ Read Supreme Court Justice John Roberts’ Unconventional Speech to His Son’s Graduating Class, Time, July 5, 2017; Robert Barnes, “The Best Thing Chief Justice Roberts Wrote This Term Wasn’t a Supreme Court Opinion,” Wash. Post, July 2, 2017.

 

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