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LEGAL CONCERNS: Why are Artificial Turf Fields Falling Apart So Quickly?

Over the last couple of weeks, Matt Stanmyre and his colleague Chris Baxter of NJAdvanceMedia (NJ.com) unleashed a series of investigative columns examining why so many hundreds of HS, college, and local park and rec fields — all covered with beautiful lush green artificial turf – is seemingly falling apart within a year or two of being installed.

According to Matt  who was a guest on my show this AM —  FieldTurf, which is the company that sold the turf to hundreds of school districts all over the country, had originally made it clear to its clients that this “was the best stuff one could buy, that it should last at least 8-10 years, and more likely a lot longer than that.”

Problem is, in many, many cases, the strands of fake grass in the turf are fraying and unraveling within only a year or two of use. The turf is literally falling apart. And since these fields cost anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000, school districts are up in arms about this alarming development.

FieldTurf, which apparently, is the leading company in this industry, is already facing lawsuits from schools from as far away as California, and Matt mentioned on the show that the Newark (NJ) school district has started a class action suit because of the faulty fields. In its defense, FieldTurf says that a few years ago, when they became aware of this growing problem, they sued their supplier of the turf material, called Duraspine, and that the supplier and FieldTurf reached an out of court settlement because of the shoddy material.

But noted Matt, there is allegedly some strong evidence that FieldTurf continued to sell its Duraspine fields to schools without even acknowledging that there had been a problem with the composition of the fields. That practice apparently has now caught the eye of key legislators in NJ who want to do a more thorough investigation and find out more about what’s going on with FieldTurf’s business practices and promises to its customers.

One caller this AM, Jim Madden, a councilman from New Providence, NJ, disagreed with all of this, and claimed that he and his community had been very satisfied with FieldTurf and that the turf had been long-lasting and there were no problems at all. But that call was clearly in the minority. As Matt and Chris’ research showed, there are numerous instances where these fields are just not living up to expectations in a very short period of time.

THE TELLTALE SIGNS

So what can you to investigate your son or daughter’s field? First, be aware that even though it looks fresh and lush from a distance, be sure to go down and actually inspect the turf up close. For those fields that have defective turf, you will note that your shoes or sneakers will be picking up blades of grass — just as though as you were walking through a yard of freshly-mowed grass. Needless to say, with an artificial turf field, that shouldn’t happen.

And note on the turf fields where there are lines that are painted in red, brown, white, or other colors. It’s been noted that the premature wear-and-tear of the field happens on the painted lines at an accelerated pace.

According to Matt, the general response to the series of articles has been astounding. If you like to read them, simply go to NJ.com/FieldTurf, or check out the links below.

Sweeping calls to hold FieldTurf accountable:

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2016/12/lawmakers_call_for_investigation_class-action_laws.html#incart_river_home

Newark schools file class-action lawsuit:

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2016/12/newark_schools_file_class-action_lawsuit_against_f.html#incart_river_home

School boards coordinate legal effort:

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2016/12/nj_schools_to_coordinate_legal_action_against_fiel.html

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HEROIC FANS: Giving Back to the Kids in a Most Unusual Way

 Donating to Youth Before the End of the Year

By Doug Abrams

Headlines and commentary report adult excesses in youth sports with unfortunate regularity, but sometimes a positive story stays with readers for its inspiration. The staying power may last for years.

In 2011, the Simcoe (Ontario, Canada) Reformer reported the death of Boston Bruins fan Ron Shepherd at 63. Readers likely expected nothing extraordinary from a story about the passing of a family man who had lived his life outside the public spotlight. But to share his love of hockey with the younger generation, the Shepherd family made a novel request. The family asked that each visitor to the funeral home bring a new hockey stick, and not flowers that would wilt at the curb awaiting trash collection within a week.

The family donated the 75 new sticks to the local youth hockey association for free distribution to players in the youngest age group. “My dad would be so happy to see the kids playing with the sticks,” said Shepherd’s daughter.

Human-interest stories like this one do more than simply highlight one person’s generosity that might otherwise go unnoticed. Individual generosity can also remind readers to consider making their own modest tax-deductible donations to worthy causes that help improve the lives of children. Because the tax year does not end until December 31, this timely reminder is the purpose of this column.

The Best Judges

Charitable impulses depend, of course, on personal financial circumstances and obligations to the family. Many adults receive more charitable solicitations than they can satisfy, and many adults must manage the family budget closely these days. But in and out of sports, adults seeking worthy causes that serve youth do not have far to look.

Their child’s youth sports association, or the local parks and recreation department, may accept donations toward fees or equipment for families that might otherwise be unable to keep pace with escalating costs of participation. Private local donations may also help bring state-of-the-art safety equipment such as automated external defibrillators.

National youth sports governing bodies typically maintain charitable initiatives devoted to equal opportunity and outreach to under-served youth. Because hockey is my sport, the USA Hockey Foundation, maintained by USA Hockey, comes to mind.

A parent or coach concerned about advancing player safety nationally may support leading organizations, such as the MomsTeam Institute of Youth Sports Safety.

Outside of sports, the parent or coach might have a favorite national, state, or local charity with a youth focus.  For example, children’s hospitals serve sick and injured boys and girls from modest-income families, and typically accept donations not only for equipment and other direct medical needs, but also for amenities such as toys and games that make a young patient’s hospital stay more bearable.

A local hospital may serve as an indigent-care facility for families that cannot easily afford these amenities. When their child’s hospitalization happens suddenly, other families frequently overlook touches like toys and games, at least for a while as they adjust to the new family situation.

This list is meant to be illustrative, not exhaustive. Private philanthropy matters, and individual adults are the best judges of where their dollars can do the most good.

Filling Buckets

“But would my $25 donation really matter? Or would it simply be a drop in the bucket?”

“Every dollar makes a difference,” says former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, “and that’s true whether it’s Warren Buffett’s remarkable $31 billion pledge to the [Bill and Melinda] Gates Foundation, or my late father’s $25 check to the NAACP.”

In his fable, The Lion and the Mouse, Aesop put it well more than two thousand years ago: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Maya Angelou reminds us today that (as Ron Shepherd’s daughter experienced in Simcoe five years ago) donations serve both the recipient and the donor: “Among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”

Buckets that collect seemingly small acts of kindness can fill up quickly when thoughtful adults take the initiative and pitch in.

 

Sources:  Barbara Simpson, Gift in Memory of Ron, Simcoe Reformer (Ontario, Canada), Apr. 18, 2011, p. 8; National Philanthropic Trust, Philanthropy Quotes, https://www.nptrust.org/history-of-giving/philanthropic-quotes/ (quoting Bloomberg and Angelou); Aesop, The Lion and the Mouse, Aesop’s Fables: A Classic Illustrated Edition, p. 38 (1990).

 

 

SOCIAL MEDIA CONCERNS: The Inherent Dangers of Social Media for Young Athletes

Tom Pincince is a long-time assistant director of athletics at Central Connecticut State University. A former three-sport athlete and college football player, he has been involved in sports for much of his life.

But along the way – especially because he has three young daughters 0  he has quietly carved a niche for himself as an expert on social media, and how vital it is for parents and coaches to educate young athletes about the dangers of social media. Over the last several years, Tom has done presentations to dozens of schools throughout Connecticut, and his website (TakeThisPlayOff.com) has become quite popular.

A generation ago, terms like Twitter…Facebook…Vine…Snapchat…Instagram….and so on just didn’t exist. And yet today, all of these media outlets are everywhere AND the younger generation is not only well aware of these social media outlets, but are fluent with them. Problem is, too many young people – especially middle school and HS athletes — will post upsetting comments online without really thinking through the potential consequences. That is, for example, a young athlete might post something on Twitter that voices his or her displeasure or unwanted comments, and think that only their close friends are reading it. Then the athlete finds out that when you post on Twitter, it’s akin to standing on a mountain top and shouting to the rest of the world your inner-most thoughts and sentiments.

ONCE IT’S OUT THERE…IT’S TOO LATE

There are countless examples of top athletes who have lost college scholarship offers due to misguided tweets. There’s a famous case of a college football player from Elon who tweeted how unhappy he was with his lack of playing time, and made some other terrible comments about his coach, and that went viral. Not good.

Because once something is online, it’s there forever. And too few teenagers or college kids seem to understand that a social media posting can really come back to haunt them when applying to college, or for a job, or whatever.

Pincince makes the analogy that parents give kids a cellphone when they are young and simply say, “Go have some fun.” Says Tom: “But you wouldn’t give the keys to the family car to a young kid without first training them on how to operate the vehicle, make sure they have plenty of safety training, and so on. So how come we don’t do the same thing with our kids and cellphones and social media?”

He makes a most valid point. I have personally turned down job applicants a few years out of college who, once I checked out their Facebook page, realized this was someone I didn’t want to be associated with. Kids need to know just how public all of their posting is.

I know being a sports parent these days is becoming more and more complicated, but please take the time to talk with your kids about social media and explain to them how to be very, very careful when posting anything at all via social media.

 

ACCOUNTABILITY: What Would You Do?

AS A SPORTS PARENT….OR AS A COACH….WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF….

You’re an adult attending a HS basketball game between two rival high schools, The game is close….the stands are packed…a lot is riding on the outcome of the game.

You notice that a group of students begin to start to shout and make less than flattering comments about the visiting team, and also about the ref’s. Their comments get even worse after a close and debatable call is made.

And then, in the second half, as some of the visiting players are fouled and go to the free throw line, just as each player begins to focus on their free throw, those same rowdy HS kids become extremely loud and obnoxious and try to distract the opposing player.

As an adult spectator, would you step up and say something to these obnoxious kids, and tell them to exhibit some better behavior?

Or do you just sit back and assume that this kind of behavior is normal and accepted these days? Or assume that either a security guard or the athletic director will come by and tell the kids to behave?

In other words, what would you do if you found yourself in this kind of situation?

When I asked this hypothetical question to the audience at the Yogi Berra Museum a few weeks ago, their response was divided. Some said they would bring this rowdy behavior to the attention to the authorities in the hope that appropriate actions would be taken. of the AD.

Others, however, said that this is just part of our American sports culture these days, and not only are the students in the stands – and their parents —  accepting of it…but somewhat surprising (at least to me) so are the players on the court.

What do you think?

The majority of my callers on my radio show said that either they had stood up and chastised the obnoxious kids….but that the key to getting the kids to behave was to reprimand them politely and with respect, and most importantly, with a sense of authority. Each caller said that when those key components were part of the equation, the kids would back down right away.

One caller did suggest that no, there’s no need to make the kids behave. After all, he wanted his young kids to learn how to deal with obnoxious crowds as they got older. But that was the one caller who had a dissenting opinion. Everybody else made it clear that kids today need to conform to social convention, and if they get out of control, then either the refs can stop the game and demand the kids be ushered out, or that the AD or security can make sure the kids leave.

In other words, the kids have to be held accountable for their outlandish actions.

THE NEXT HYPOTHETICAL

You’re the head coach, and your HS team is playing a cross-town rival in basketball and your team really needs a win. Problem is, you’re playing one of the league’s leading teams so you know it’s going to be an uphill battle.

The opposing team – which has a first-year coach who may not know the rule book — comes out for the opening tip wearing some really sharp, very stylish uniforms. They’re wearing them for the very first time. And these uni’s are totally different from the traditional or standard look with the HS name or mascot name on the front, with numbers on front and back.

But as the head coach, you actually know the league rule book cold. And you know that these new uniforms worn by the other team simply do not conform with the league’s very strict regulations on team uni’s.

Under league rules, you also know you are entitled to a forfeit because the other team probably didn’t clear their new uniforms with league officials. And today, the opposing team didn’t bring any other uniforms they could change into.

As the head coach who knows the rules, what do you do? Just overlook the mistake and play the game?

Put the game under protest with the refs, but still play?

Or bring out the rule book, show where your team is entitled to a forfeit and claim it, without playing the game? Remember, your team really needs this win.

The people who responded today said they would definitely put the game under protest with the refs….but then play the game. It wouldn’t be fair to either team just to call for a forfeit just because of a technicality with the rule book. That being said, if the protest is upheld a week later, and the league decided to award a forfeit, then that’s on the first year coach (and his AD) who either didn’t know the rule or didn’t care.

Either way, they are to be held accountable. If you’re going to coach a HS team, make sure you take the time to read the book in full.

 

YOU READY FOR THE NEXT ONE? TURNING TO BASEBALL

You’re the head coach, and your star pitchers is in the middle of a tie game. It’s late in the game, and there’s a close play at home….as an opposing runner tries to score from third with the go-ahead run, your pitcher is covering the plate, receives a throw from the catcher, and the pitcher attempts to tag the runner.

It’s a very, very close play..and the umpire, who is right on top of it, signals the runner out!

The other team goes nuts…and as the opposing coach argues loudly with the umpire, your pitcher – who is now off to the side – quietly tells you that the runner was actually safe…that he swiped at the runner with his glove but he missed the tag.

As the head coach…what do you do..or say…if anything?

The listeners this AM felt universally that even if the ump missed the call, and even if the pitcher says he missed the tag, it’s not upon the coach to “confess” to the umpire. Such a move would be viewed as disrespectful by the umpiring crew. Remember, there’s no replay in HS sports, and whatever the umpire, or ref, or official rules, well, that’s the call – for better or worse.

Long-time good HS coaches warn their players that each game will be full of good calls and not so good calls. But in the end, the players accept the call on the field and move on. There’s no need to “reveal” to the ump what happened.

Can you discuss later on? Sure. But during the game, the call stands.

I’ll come back to this subject in later columns. In the meantime, as a sports parent, feel free to try out these situations on your athletes and see how they react.

 

LEGAL CONCERNS: It’s Time to Review the HS Transfer Rules

If you happened to have heard last Sunday’s show or heard the podcast on WFAN.com, you will recall that we were talking about a most unusual situation in NJ regarding the Wayne Hills HS football team.

The team ended their regular season with a record of 8-1 and seeded number one in their regional playoffs.

But then less than two weeks ago, the team was suddenly informed by the NJSIAA, the state’s athletic governing body, that there was some sort of residency violation involving involving three brothers on the Wayne Hills team. The three kids happen to be stars on the Wayne Hills team. Even more astounding was that the tip came from the superintendent of the Wayne Hills school district.

Sure enough, within a matter of hours, the Wayne Hills team was suspended and forced to sacrifice all of its wins this year due to the infraction. And of course, no playoffs. In effect, Wayne Hills was done for this season.

The team and the parents of the kids on the football were understandably outraged. they protested, got a lawyer, and appealed to the NJ Commissioner of Education, who agreed that the family in question hadn’t been given due process to prove their case that the three brothers were legit, e.g that they were living legally within the school district. In short, the Wayne Hills football program got a temporary break. But they had to go through a formal decision process.

But it was until late Tuesday of this past week when that final hearing was heard and the Wayne Hills football was fully reinstated and allowed to go back and play football in the playoffs. You can just imagine the sense of relief for everybody in that school: the superintendent (who, by the way, was obliged to report any perceived rules violations, the athletic director, principal, coaches, and so on).

According to Patrick Lanni of NJ.com, who was covering this case, the key evidence turned on the fact the three brothers have been living in a one-bedroom apartment with their father for the last two years. It’s a rented apartment within the school district, and they had the paperwork to show that rent had been paid. And although it sounds more than a little cramped with four guys living in a one-bedroom, it was ruled to be legitimate.

No question this was a major hassle for everyone involved. But let’s take a step back. There was a time when HS students transferred because their entire family moved to a different town or locale. And the kids in the family enrolled in the local school. Or perhaps a family enrolled a child in a private or parochial because they wanted a different kind of education for their kid.

But let’s be candid. These days, I would venture that most of the transfers that occur are done by kids (with the full support of their parents) to find a better opportunity in order to showcase their athletic skills. In short, it’s less about the education and more about the athletic opportunities. Even worse, state governing bodies just don’t have the manpower to keep track of all these kids, many of whom not only transfer once but two or three times in their HS career.

ENOUGH ALREADY!

The time has come to sit down and to review and rewrite the transfer rules. In preparing for my show this week, I checked on the rules in California and Florida. Trust me, the rule books are incredibly opaque and difficult to read. And there are plenty of exceptions to each rule.

So here’s what I suggest we do:

Go back and rewrite the transfer rules so that anyone can understand them.

Sounds obvious, but in most states, you need a law degree to figure these rules out.

Put the responsibility on the school districts to check on all the athletes on their teams and make sure they are all legit. 

You can’t expect the state’s governing body to check on each and every transfer. But the school should. That would include the coaching staff, the guidance department, and the athletic department. Make the effort to make sure each kid is actually living full-time in the district. If you don’t, then you bear the full responsibility.

Put real teeth into punishing the kid’s parents. 

No HS kid is going to transfer into another school without his or her parents’ support. If it appears that the parent is simply trying to advance their kid’s athletic career AND the parent is working through loopholes with a transfer, punish the parent! Levy a major fine or consider some other kind of serious penalty. Remember, if their kid is caught in a lie, then the entire team is reprimanded harshly. Let that hard punishment start with the parent.

Is this easy?

No, of course not. But as more and more sports parents try and position their kid for a college scholarship by changing HS via a transfer, it’s time to cut through all the clutter and make the system functional and fair for everyone.

LEGAL CONCERNS: Residency Rules in School Districts Need to be Crystal Clear

What in the world is going on with the Wayne Hills HS football program over in NJ?

For those of you in NJ who already follow HS football, chances are you already know the story. But for everyone else, let me see if I can summarize this briefly.

The Wayne Hills football team — which is a large high school and a perennial powerhouse in the state – finished their regular season with a record of 8-1, and were seeded number one in their New Jersey HS playoff bracket in North 1, Group 4.

Three of their better players happen to be brothers – the Hayak brothers – and they had transferred from St. Joe’s to Wayne Hills in the fall of 2015 – over a year ago. They claim that they filed the appropriate residency paperwork with the school district before they played for Wayne Hills last year. That’s what you’re supposed to do when transferring, and the three boys did in fact play.

Fast forward to this season. Wayne Hills goes 8-1, and the three brothers are an integral part of the team’s success.

But earlier this week, an investigation by the NJ Scholastic Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), based on a tip that came from the Wayne Hills school superintendent, it was concluded by the NJSIAA that these kids had violated the residency rules and were immediately ruled ineligible.  You should know that in NJ, the superintendent is obliged to report any suspected wrongdoing to the NJSIAA, which is what the superintendent did.

You should also know that the superintendent also overseas Wayne Valley in HS in the same town, and Wayne Valley and Wayne Hills are bitter rivals. As one caller suggested this AM, there are strong rumors that somebody from Wayne Valley blew the whistle on the three Wayne Hills players.

Regardless, the NJSIAA edict had an immediate and devastating impact. Because the three football players were ruled to be ineligible, that meant all the victories this year were now thrown out and the entire season was to be forfeited. And of course, with no wins, there are no playoffs.

Outraged, the parents of the Wayne Hills football team challenged this ruling through legal action, and on Thursday, just a couple of days after their season had been forfeited, the ruling was overturned by the Commissioner of Education in NJ.

Why? The Commissioner of Education in NJ said that the kids and their family weren’t given enough of an opportunity to make their case — in effect, there was a lack of due process here, and thus the forfeits were suspended – at least temporarily.

As a result, Wayne Hills returns to playing football, plays its first playoff game on Nov. 19th assuming that this new ruling isn’t overturned in the next week or so. That final ruling will be handed down this coming Tuesday, once the Hayak family has a chance to show their residency paperwork.

As you might imagine, there is lots and lots of emotion on this unusual case. Video shows angry parents yelling and screaming at school officials. And of course, those parents feel vindicated that they got the initial ruling overturned.

But still, we’ll have to wait and see what happens next.

As Patrick Lanni, sports writer for NJ.com said on my show this AM, there are all sorts of other impacts this mess with Wayne Hills is having. For one, all the other HS teams in the playoffs have had to immediately do a re-set on their game preparation because the teams they thought they were playing have now all changed. And that could all change again depending what happens this coming week when a final decision is handed down.

SOME QUESTIONS REMAIN

Every state has its own rules and regulations regarding athletes who transfer. But in the sports hot bed of NJ, in my opinion, there tend to be all sorts of questions and loopholes, and questions remain:

Why not make the residency rules as tight as possible, so that athletes are less tempted to make a move.

There needs to an effective way in which to check on these athletes to make sure they are, in fact, living legally within the school district.

There needs clarification on rules regarding kids living with a divorced parent in town….or if they are living in town with a member of an extended family, such as an uncle….or a legal guardian…or whether the kid is living in a rented apartment so he or she can attend that school.

And in this case, why is this challenge to these three brothers being brought up now? The facts are clear they have been in Wayne Hills all of this year and last year as well, and nobody protested. Shouldn’t there be some sort of statute of limitations on this?

In any event, theoretically, all of this will be resolved this coming Tuesday afternoon. Stay tuned….we live in interesting times.

 

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: Kids Pay the Price When Adults Are Out of Control…

 Idaho Youth Football Program Cancels Games Because of Adult Misconduct

 By Doug Abrams

Late last month, the Coeur d’Alene Junior Tackle League canceled the season’s remaining football games against Post Falls, its nearby Idaho rival. The two leagues each outfit several teams, and the cancellations sidelined about 325 players in the fifth- through eighth-grade age brackets.

No media report suggested that the kids had played dirty. Or that the kids had violated league rules or shown disrespect to opponents, coaches, or officials. The wholesale cancellations stemmed instead from misconduct of both leagues’ parents and coaches.

Coeur d’Alene’s president told KREM about “parents arguing with the refs themselves. Coaches arguing with the refs. Out of line behavior up and down the sidelines.”

“We don’t want a YouTube video of a melee,” the president explained to the Bonner County Daily Bee, adding that many referees were unwilling to officiate the overheated games and absorb the abuse.

Regardless of the circumstances that drove this particular case, the Idaho cancellations invite a renewed look at parental and coaching misconduct nationwide – and at how this misconduct can deprive the players, who are, after all, the ultimate beneficiaries of Youth Sports.

The Familiar Script

The script was written years ago: Most problems at youth league games are triggered by people over the age of 18 because many players display sportsmanship and respect better than some parents and coaches do. This turnabout stains the game because adults, not children, are supposed to set the example.

In 2014, the Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports program released a nationwide Sportsmanship Survey conducted by ORC International. Sixty percent of respondents reported either witnessing or participating in negative or abusive sideline behavior by parents or youth coaches. Twenty-six percent of parents said that they had witnessed a verbally abusive coach, and 16% of parents said that that they had witnessed a physical confrontation between parents. Fifty-five percent of coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at officials or their own children, and two in five coaches said they had experienced parents yelling negatively at other children.

Liberty Mutual’s survey reaffirmed results of a similar survey that the Responsible Sports program had commissioned a year earlier. In the 2013 survey, 40% of youth coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at other children. Fifty-five percent of the coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at their own children. Forty-four percent said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at officials, and 39% said that they had experienced parents yelling at them.

The Liberty Mutual sportsmanship surveys are not outliers. For example, in an earlier Survey USA poll in Indianapolis, Indiana, 55% of parents said that they had seen other parents engaging in verbal abuse at youth sports events; 21% said that they had seen a physical altercation between other parents. In a Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission survey, 45.3% of youth leaguers said that adults had called them names, yelled at them, or insulted them while they were playing; 17.5% said that an adult had hit, kicked or slapped them during a game; and 8.2% said that they had been pressured to harm opponents intentionally.

International Perspectives

In 2010, Reuters News and the market research company Ipsos conducted a sportsmanship survey in 22 nations. The survey ranked parents in the United States as the world’s “worst behaved” parents at children’s sports events. Sixty percent of U.S. adults who had attended youth sports contests reported that they had seen parents become verbally or physically abusive toward coaches or officials. Runners-up were parents in India (59%), Italy (55%), Argentina (54%), Canada (53%), and Australia (50%).

“It’s ironic that the United States, which prides itself in being the most civilized country in the world, has the largest group of adults having witnessed abusive behavior at children’s sporting events,” said an Ipsos senior vice president.

Winners and Losers

We should view these “eyewitness” surveys in context. The National Alliance for Youth Sports has estimated that about 15% of youth league games involve at least one confrontation between a parent and a coach or official. Assuming this estimate, it matters little whether in the typical sports association, only a relatively small minority of adults cross the line into misconduct; that minority can ruin the experience for other families, including ones who find the misconduct distasteful or otherwise contrary to the atmosphere and values they seek from the association.

Last month’s Idaho game cancelations left no winners, only losers. Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls league administrators each recognized that the brunt fell most heavily on the youngsters, who simply wanted to play football.

Beyond northern Idaho, many shortsighted adults overlook the central role that youth league sports can play in strengthening family bonds. When teenagers begin seeking independence from their parents and resisting their influence, organized sports still enables parents to share wholesome activities with their children who wish to play. Most teens want their parents and siblings to attend the games, root for them, and share their experiences. But instead of embracing this opportunity to bring the family together, some parents misbehave in ways that drive their teenagers either to wish that the parents would not attend, or to quit playing altogether.

Youngsters would play just as well, and perhaps better, if their parents and coaches cheered hard for the team, without jeering or taunting one another. And if the adults let the referees or umpires do their jobs free from verbal assault. If officials can hear profanity and other verbal abuse directed at them by parents or coaches, the players on the field can also hear it. Adults should not shout anything from the stands or bench that they would be embarrassed to say in front of the youngsters off the playing field.

Teachable Moments

Wise parents and coaches seek out “teachable moments,” opportunities to educate youth leaguers with positive lessons drawn from negative events. But sometimes the adults can learn as well as teach.

The Idaho youth football cancelations provide yet another reminder that adults can do better for their young athletes who strive to win and perform their best in youth leagues from coast to coast. In a talk reported in the Biloxi (Miss.) Sun Herald earlier this summer, former all-star outfielder Darryl Strawberry delivered this lesson drawn from his 17 seasons in Major League Baseball:

“We need to get back to letting kids have fun and enjoy themselves.  Parents need to chill out. Don’t go to games yelling. Let them play. We just have to get back to understanding that the game is fun. . . . It’s fun. Fun. Remember, fun.”

 

 

Sources: KREM, Taylor Viydo, N. Idaho Football League Cancels Games Due to Parent Behavior (Oct. 21, 2016); Ryan Collingwood, CA’A Cancels Youth Football Games with PF (Oct. 21, 2015); Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports, New Survey Identifies Decline of Sportsmanship in Youth Sports According to Parents and Coaches, https://www.libertymutualgroup.com/about-lm/news/news-release-archive/articles/new-survey-identifies-decline-of-sportsmanship-in-youth-sports-according-to-parents-and-coaches;  (June 2, 2014 press release); Parents and Coaches Express Conflicting Opinions Regarding Priorities in Youth Sports, https://www.libertymutualgroup.com/about-lm/news/news-release-archive/articles/parents-and-coaches-express-conflicting-opinions-regarding-priorities-in-youth-sports; US, India Parents Seen as Worst Behaved at Kids’ Sports, Reuters, Apr. 7, 2010; Jeanie Tavitas-Williams, Play Ball (Not Brawl): Adults Often Forget To Be Good Sports, San Antonio Express-News, Apr. 27, 2004, p. 1C; Douglas E. Abrams, Player Safety in Youth Sports: Sportsmanship and Respect as an Injury-Prevention Strategy, 39 Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, p. 1 (2012); Patrick Ochs, Darryl Strawberry Has the Best Advice For Baseball Parents, Biloxi (Miss.) Sun Herald, June 28, 2016.

 

COPING WITH ADVERSITY: How do You Cuts Kids from Teams During Tryouts?

I want to talk about the age-old concern about getting cut from a team. I want you to consider this potentially life-changing event from the vantage point of the coach, from that of the athlete, and from the perspective of the parent as well.

As long as there has been competitive sports and teams, the truth is, there are usually too many kids who want to be on the team. And as a result, the coaching staff has to make cuts. This could be at varsity, JV, freshman, modified, or travel team.

This process is not easy for anyone. Every coach will tell you that cutting players is the hardest part of their job.

But yet, invariably it has to be done. And coaches, whether you like it or not, you need to step up and own the cut process. That is, you can’t just tell everyone how hard it is and then put yourself  in a position where you are detached from it. You need to communicate, and communicate with a great deal of sensitivity and compassion.

This is why I used the phrase “potentially life-changing” because depending on how the youngster reacts to being let go, being cut from a team can have a seminal impact on a kid’s life. Indeed, several of the callers this morning on my radio show said how they remembered how cruel it was back when they were in HS to see that the coach just listed the final roster on a wall. He used player’s ID numbers instead of their names, but there was no appeal, no chance to reach out to the coach to see whether a kid had come close to making the team, or whether he or she should try out again next year.

As one caller said, “I recall going home and telling my Dad I had been cut, and my Dad asked why….and I had no answer for him.” This kind of no-explanation cut just leaves a deep hole within the individual with no closure. This is why the caller said that as a HS coach himself these days, whenever he makes cuts, he makes it a point to explain to each kid and explain why he didn’t make the team. Yes, this takes a great deal of time, but to the coach, it’s the way the job needs to be done.

I happen to agree with him.

HOW CRUEL CAN YOU BE?

Another caller was incensed that his 9-year-old had been told by his travel team coach that those kids who had the team will receive an email. Those who don’t receive an email should just assume they didn’t make the team.

How cruel is that? Making kids wait for an email that is not going to arrive? Coaches, have the guts to do the right thing and talk with the kids who get cut.

Another caller -this one from Philadelphia – was quite proud of his extensive youth basketball program – which has thousands of kids in it. But when I probed about tryouts and cuts, he admitted that only the final rosters were posted on the league website. That is, if you didn’t see your name, you were cut. I asked him, “Nobody gets an explanation? Why not at least put up a phone number where if a kid or a parent wants to call and find out why they didn’t make the team, they can find out why.”

He agreed that was a good idea. I sure hope he implements it.

My point is this…it falls upon the coach – the so-called grown-up – to do the right thing with kids who have dreams of making the team. Getting cut from a team in sports – especially when you’re in HS- is one of the most painful and frustrating experiences that anyone can go through.

It’s also very hard for one’s parents, friends, and yes, even the coach.

For most of us who play sports seriously, you can vividly recall the real and visceral hurt and disappointment when you didn’t make the team….even if it took place 10 – 20- 30 years or longer, you can still remember the sting.

Think about it. If your youngster loves basketball, and he’s been working his tail off to try and make the varsity team…..only to find out he’s not going to be one of the selected few….that can often force the youngster to make a critically important decision in his young life. Specifically:

Am I just going to redouble my efforts with hoops, and work even harder to make the team next year? Or does the kid say to himself, “Y’now what…I gave this my best shot, and I wasn’t good enough. Time to look for – and to pursue — some other passion in life.”

That’s a tough moment for any kid to be sure. Some kids decide to keep working hard and keep chasing their dream. Many others pack it in.

How does one know? And wow does a parent handle this?

DO THE RIGHT THING

This is very delicate territory. And every youngster responds differently. But it all starts with the coach, and what he or she has to say to the kid.

But if the coach doesn’t even a word, or give any kind of feedback, don’t expect any kid to want to come back and try to make the team next year. My point? Coach, making cuts is tough – we all know that – but do the right thing and take the time to talk with each kid and explain why.

 

TRENDS IN SPORTS: The Joy (and Benefits) of Running

Next Sunday morning is the 40th anniversary of the running of the NYC Marathon, and in what has become something of an annual tradition on my radio show, I like to spend at least one Sunday each year talking about the sport of running.

The truth is, among all the various athletic endeavors you should definitely introduce your son or daughter to, clearly the simple act of running is one of the most important.

Why? Because it’s so healthy for them including their physical and mental health…because they can do it for the rest of their lives once their other HS and college athletic careers in their other sports are over…running or jogging is relatively inexpensive compared to many sports….and in a world of highly competitive team sports where kids have to try out and are cut from teams, pretty much anyone can run for their school team and be competitive. In other words, there are so many really good things to be gained about when it comes to running that I feel strongly that all sports parents should encourage their kids to simply enjoy running.

I will tell you that when I was a kid, I loved to run sprints…40 yards, 60 yards and 100 yards…..and I was pretty good at them too. But long-distance running was not something I enjoyed doing.

And yet, as I’ve gotten older, I have found that I look forward these days to just go out and jog. To be able to go out and run 2 or 3 miles, or even just to walk fast for an hour, that’s become a real joy.

About a year ago, when I having issues with my right leg and had to have my hip operated on, I found myself becoming jealous – envious – of seeing people of all ages out for a jog. Why? Because my leg hurt so much that I couldn’t run any more. And I missed it greatly. Thankfully, my hip surgery went well, and I’m back to my routine of jogging several times a week. And it’s great.

Those months when I couldn’t run made me very aware that I should never take the most basic skill of sports – running – for granted. And either should you. Or your kids.

Which brings me to the guest from my show this AM – Coach Joel Pasternack, one of the most respected running coaches in the New York City area.

He’s been running for 51 years…Joel is currently 66….and he’s based in Clifton, NJ.

In all those years he’s run 125,260 miles. In the 1974 Boston marathon Joel placed 28th in a time of 2 hours 25 minutes and three seconds…. In the 1976 NYC marathon he placed 25th in a time of 2 hours 27 minutes and 37 seconds. Overall, Joel has run a total of 16 marathons between 1971- 1991.

Joel has coached for 41 years at the youth, high school and college level. These days he’s coaching a middle and high school team, two adult running clubs, some town recreation programs and some private clients. You can go to joelrun.com web site if you’d like to find out more.

Joel always reminds parents to tell kids when they first start out to go at a slow pace. No need to sprint out to the front of the pack. Run at your own pace. He advises that if you’re running with a partner, you should be able to have a conversation with the other runner without having to huff and puff. If you can’t, then you’re running at too fast a pace.

He uses the comparison to the fable of the Turtle and the Hare. The Hare runs out fast, but soon runs out of gas. Meanwhile, the Turtle runs at a slow and steady pace, and eventually wins the race. Joel feels that’s a perfect lesson for any beginning runners.

He also says that kids just starting out should not run long distances more than three times a week. That sort of surprised me. But Joel made it clear that developing legs and joints should not be stressed early in a kid’s career.

But overall, the act of running is a wonderful exercise, and even if your son or daughter is not competitive at it, it’s still one of the best, and least expensive, sports that one can truly enjoy and benefit from. As Joel points out, when he first ran in the NYC Marathon in the 1970s, there were only 3,000 runners. These days, there are 50,000 runners and there’s a long waiting list. Clearly the sport has caught on in a big, big way. And it should be no surprise that the most popular sport in HS across the USA these days is NOT football or basketball or soccer – but track and field and cross country running.

GETTING CUT: What Today’s Parents Have to Keep in Mind

As we enter into the cooler months of the school year, that means that active try outs for basketball and ice hockey teams are looming. Both sports tend to be very competitive in terms of eager and hopeful kids who want to make the squad, especially in the middle school, travel team, or high school levels.

But here’s the problem. With both of these popular sports, making a team is extremely competitive simply because so few kids can play in a game at a time. In basketball, of course, only five can play. With ice hockey, there’s the goalie and five skaters. True, at least with ice hockey, skaters constantly go out and take the ice in short shifts during a game for a minute or two, but even then, very few hockey teams carry more than 15-16 players. And with power plays or penalty kills, it’s usually only the top or more talented players who grab the lion’s share of playing time. Everybody else on the bench sits and watches.

And with basketball, the coach usually plays his or her top five boys or girls in much the same manner. The other kids sit on the bench and wait, hopefully to get a few minutes of playing time.

Mind you – these are the kids who made the team. Every kid on the squad has talent, and had to perform well during the tryouts to be good enough to make the team. So while they’re focusing on what they can do in practice to gain the coach’s eye to get more playing time, at least they’re a member of the team.

But what about the kids who don’t even make it that far? What happens to them?

In other words, what happens to those who get cut?

KILLING DREAMS AT TOO YOUNG AN AGE

For some, especially at the younger ages, say 9 or 10, trying out for the team and not making it is disappointing, but perhaps not crushing. They like the sport, but they fortunately have other interests in life that they move on to.

But for many others, especially for those kids who love basketball or ice hockey, not making the team at an early age is not only devastating in its impact, but it often puts them in a difficult dilemma, e.g. do they keep on playing that sport? Do they just give up? What do you say, as a parent, that is the right mix of encouragement as well as reality?

And of course, how can it be fair for a kid at 10 years ago to be seen as not being on the fast-track, like one’s friends? So many kids go through adolescence and then go through a major growth spurt that it’s unconscionable (and unbelievable) when they’re 18 to think they were cut as a youngster. Even worse, sadly, too many kids, when cut at an early age, just decide to walk away from the sport and vow never to come back to it.

To me, this is all a horrible shame. And it’s something that never happened to aspiring athletes a generation ago, long before there were travel teams and modified teams. In those days, kids (and their parents) really didn’t have to deal with the excruciating agony of try outs until, perhaps, the kid reached 9th grade. By then, by age 14, most kids are pretty well versed in their self-assessment, and they can see for themselves how their athletic talents compare with their peers. But at age 9 or 10, kids just don’t have that cognitive ability.

It’s often observed that as time marches on, we make more and more progress in our society. But when it comes to youngsters in sports and seeing their dreams get crushed when they get cut at a young age, I really feel we’re going backwards.