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SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY SECRETS: What Sports Parents Need to Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Many of the Somers parents continue to be outraged.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me give you an analogy:

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

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

You get my point.


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

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

In other words, you had to EARN your letter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

TRENDS IN SPORTS: Have Video Games Now Become a Real Sport for our Kids?

More About Whether Playing Video Games Is Exercise: The New Johns Hopkins University Study

By Doug Abrams

Constructive dialogue sometimes emerges when, close in time to one another, the media reports a pair of developments that offer contrasting perspectives. For youth sports parents, coaches, and community decision makers, such a pair appeared within a week in early May. The contrasting perspectives carry implications important for public health and for youth well-being.

“Big Dividends”

The first development came from the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins University. In the journal Health Affairs, the Center published a research study that detailed the harmful effects of childhood physical inactivity for the nation and for children themselves. Led by Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, the Center’s executive director, researchers found that “encouraging exercise and investing in physical activity such as school recess and youth sports leagues when kids are young pay big dividends as they grow up.”

Many of the dividends are financial. Under the headline “Overweight Kids Are Costing America Billions,” USA TODAY summarized key findings from the Johns Hopkins study: “[I]f half of America’s children age 8 through 11 exercised for 25 minutes, three times a week, there would be 340,000 fewer overweight and obese children, saving $21.9 billion in lifetime lost wages and medical bills. If all children followed the same plan, 1.2 million children would avoid becoming obese or overweight, enough to save $62.3 billion.”

For children themselves, regular physical exercise pays dividends by opening the door to healthier lives. The John’s Hopkins researchers cite reduced risks of obesity and associated chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer throughout adulthood.

Among other recommendations, the research team urges adults to “get your kids to play sports, even if they won’t become stars.”  Dr. Lee and his colleague Dr. Marie Ferguson observe, however, that trends are moving in the wrong direction. Children today spend “too much time on smartphones, computers and television,” coupled with “declining participation in sports.”


Early May’s second development came barely a week after the Johns Hopkins research study appeared. The Chicago Tribune carried a thoughtful article by John Keilman under the headline, “Video Gaming: The Next High School Sport? Competitive ESports Gain Traction.” The story was about a video game competition among Chicago-area high schools. Keilman reported that as more and more high schools establish competitive e-sports teams based on fantasy professional leagues, the Illinois High School Association might sanction e-sports as an interscholastic sport sometime soon.

Keilman tested the limits of the video game competition’s analogies. “Did the competitors put in many hours of practice? Yes. Did they possess physical and mental gifts? Affirmative. Was teamwork a crucial ingredient for success? Absolutely.” But one element was missing — “perspiration.” “It’s hard to break a sweat when you’re sitting in a climate-controlled room moving little more than your fingers.”

The 2015 Research Reports 

Last month’s Johns Hopkins study and Chicago Tribune article recall two reports published in June, 2015. In the first report, nearly a quarter of surveyed children between the ages of five and 16 told Britain’s Youth Sports Trust that they consider playing computer games with friends to be physical activity. Among seven- and eight-year-olds, the percentage was nearly a third.

The children said that they play sports or otherwise engage in exercise about 30 to 40 minutes a day (often in mandated school physical education programs), but that they spend nearly three hours a day playing with technology. The Trust predicted that today’s younger generation risks becoming “hostages to handheld devices.”

The second 2015 report, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, estimated that more than two-thirds of Americans over the age of 25 (nearly 75% of men and nearly 67% of women) are now either overweight or obese. For the first time, more American adults are obese than overweight (67.6 million vs. 65.2 million). The percentages are the highest ever, substantially higher than ones reported 20 years earlier.

Meanwhile, National Public Radio estimated that more than a third of American children are overweight or obese, a troublesome number because (as former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher said in 2001) “adolescents who are overweight are at high risk of becoming overweight or obese adults.”

JAMA researcher Lin Yang told American Health Line that technology has “changed the dynamic of our lifestyle.” As accelerating technological advances contribute to overweight and obesity, Dr. Yang sounded a “wake-up call” for action in “multiple sectors.”

“Increase Team Sport Participation Among All Students”

One of these sectors is community youth sports programs. In 2012, Pediatrics (the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) featured a study that measured the positive effects on children’s health of various forms of physical exercise. These forms included active commuting to school (such as by walking or biking), regular participation in school physical education classes, and participation in team sports.

Dr. Keith M. Drake and his research team found that active commuting to school has some residual positive effect on a student’s body weight, but that participation in high school physical education classes does not.  But there was more.  The researchers found that “[t]eam sports participation had the strongest and most consistent inverse association with weight status.”  The study estimates that overweight and obesity would “decrease by 11% and 26% respectively, if adolescents played on at least 2 sports teams per year.”

The researchers’ antidote? “Obesity prevention programs should consider strategies to increase team sport participation among all students.”

Good News and Bad News

Taken together, these recent studies demonstrate that inclusive community youth sports programs can enhance the public health by improving children’s lives. But recent accounts, appearing in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, suggest that youth sports enrollments appear to be declining in many parts of the nation.

On the positive side of the ledger, an estimated 35 million children — nearly half of all American youngsters — join at least one organized sports program each year.  But on the negative side, about 70% of these youngsters quit playing organized sports by the time they turn 13, and nearly all quit by the time they turn 15.  Indeed, the dropout rate begins accelerating as early as age 10.

A Role for Video Gaming?

In prior columns, I have written about how much work remains to be done before community youth sports systems become all that they can be. Also honing the national dialog about national health needs and youth well-being are such leading voices as my friends Rick Wolff, Bob Bigelow, Positive Coaching Alliance, the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, and the MomsTEAM Institute of Youth Sports Safety.

As work continues on the youth sports front, what role might exist for interscholastic video gaming?  A generation or so ago, competitive television quiz shows such as “It’s Academic” and “The College Bowl” won loyal followings by encouraging excellence from high school and college students. The competitions inspired board games for home play, the closest analogues to what we call interactive media today. No one (in John Keilman’s words) ever “broke a sweat.” For participants and viewers alike, traditional interscholastic sports competition suited many students, but not all students.

In the 21st century, interscholastic sports-based video game competitions may similarly hold promise for students who do not want to play traditional organized sports. Similar to other school-based non-athletic extracurricular activities, these interscholastic competitions may also hold promise for students whose skills do not readily permit such play. Growing numbers of colleges and universities reportedly offer scholarships to accomplished competitive video gamers.

High schools can teach teamwork, dedication, dexterity, and similar skills through extracurricular activities that take place off the playing field. But video gaming, competitive or otherwise, provides no substitute for physical exercise. Whether through organized competitive sports or more informal individual exercise, encouraging lifestyles rich in physical activity remains a public health imperative for children and adolescents who also follow other pursuits.


Sources: Modeling the Economic and Health Impact of Increasing Children’s Physical Activity in the United States, Health Affairs, p. 902 (No. 5, 2017); Sean Rossman, Overweight Kids Are Costing America Billions, USA TODAY, May 1, 2007;  Future Foundation, The Class of 2035: Promoting a Brighter and More Active Future For the Youth of Tomorrow; John Keilman Video Gaming: The Next High School Sport? Competitive Esports Gain Traction, Chicago Tribune, May 12, 2017; Bruce Y. Lee & Marie Ferguson, More Physical Activity Among Children Will Save America Billions, STAT (May 2, 2017);  Hannah Richardson, BBC News, Youths Becoming Hostages to Handheld Devices, Says Charity (June 23, 2015); Lin Yang & Graham A. Colditz, Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity in the United States, 2007-2012, JAMA Internal Medicine, June 22, 2015; Am. Health Line, Study: Significant Uptick in Overweight, Obese U.S. Residents, June 23, 2015; U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Services, The Surgeon General’s Call To Action To Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity (2001); National Public Radio, Morning Edition, Childhood Obesity (July 1, 2015); Keith M. Drake et al., Influence of Sports, Physical Education, and Active Commuting to School on Adolescent Weight Status, Pediatrics, vol. 130, p. e296 (Aug. 2012); HealthDayNews, Increased Physical Activity  For Children May Save Billions, Study Says (May 2, 2017); Mike Brennan, LTU Offers $600,000 in Scholarships to Video Gamers,  (May 23, 2017).

PARENTS VS. COACHES: Why Parents Feel Compelled to Meddle

A most interesting conversation with Bob Cook from Forbes Magazine this AM. Bob, who writes a youth sports column entitled Your Kid’s Not Going Pro, was talking about why so many parents feel empowered – almost entitled – to meddle with their coach’s HS or travel coach.

Of course, most coaches have rules in place regarding parents. That is, no talking with the coach for at least 24 hours after a game…or parent can set up a formal office appointment with the coach….and in some cases, the coaches insist that the youngster himself or herself talk with the coach and not the parents.

But most parents feel – especially after they have invested a lot of time and money in their kid’s sports education – that the HS coach needs to be doing everything he or she can to promote the kid’s talents so that he or she can shine on the varsity, be named to All-Star teams, and ideally put together a stellar athletic resume that will attract college coaches.


So if the kid is not getting enough playing time, or is playing the wrong position, or is not named as a team captain or All-League, then the parent begins to develop a growing unease that he needs to talk with the coach and to “enlighten” him or her as to just how talented their son or daughter is.

Bob agreed, and took this step one further: basically, by the time your is 16 or 17, they probably already know whether they’re one of the top stars on the team. And they also know what their realistic odds are of playing in college.

Problem is, the parents don’t pick up on any of this. They see their kid as being one of the best, if not the best, athlete on the team, and as a consequence, with a little extra boost or promotion from the coach, the youngster should be attracting college scholarships.

But of course, it doesn’t work out that way. As we know, very few HS kids are good enough – or for that matter, even have the desire – to play at the next level. And as a result, the real disappointment ends up with the Mom or Dad who have been the last 10 years hoping and spending their way to help insure their kid gets one of those golden tickets.

Invariably, it’s the parent who feels that their dreams are being crushed….not so much their child’s.

Too often, this is a sad and disappointing outcome, but unfortunately, it happens all too often.


SPECIALIZATION: Some Thoughts to Ponder…

Just a quick note regarding young athletes and specialization.

Parents always ask me all the time about whether it’s a good idea to have their youngster specialize in one sport.

And yes, for a young sports parent, this is always one of the first decisions that they will face with their child. I personally feel it’s not necessary for a 6 or 8 year old or even an older youngster to just play one sport.

And to that end, listeners to my WFAN Sports Edge show continue to send me more and more examples of top athletes who DID NOT specialize. To wit:

Sports Edge listener Tom Smith points out that Utah Jazz All-Star Gordon Hayward was a much more accomplished tennis player in HS in Indiana than in basketball — mainly because he was only 5-9 in HS. He didn’t expect to grow much more because both of his parents are under 6 feet. But then he did grow, and grew to be 6-8 and became a star at Butler University and is now an All-Star in the NBA….again, he didn’t specialize, and in fact, was more proficient in tennis in HS than in hoops.

And Sports Edge listener Gregg Barry from LI adds these fascinating insights: 

Baseball Hall of Famer Carl Yaz had the Suffolk County (NY) scoring record in basketball.

Baseball Hall of Famer Craig Biggio who was Suffolk County Player of the Year in football but not baseball.

Football NFL MVP and WFAN colleague Boomer Esiason was Suffolk County Player of the Year in baseball but not football.

Basketball All Star Wally Szczerbiak was All Suffolk County in baseball.

Football Pro Bowler Steven Boyd was All County in lacrosse.

And then, of course,  there’s Jim Brown from LI who starred in both football and lacrosse in HS and college.

And don’t forget current Cincinnati Reds pitcher Amir Garrett who was drafted and signed out of HS in Vegas. But the Reds allowed Amir to play basketball, which he did at St. John’s University for two years as a 6-5 guard.

In short, there are countless examples of athletes who didn’t feel the need to specialize in just one sport…

Again,  it’s something to consider if you’re a parent.

And by the way, my thanks to the Sports Edge friends who sent these notes along.



PITCH COUNTS: Are They Really Working…or Resulting in Too Many HS Forfeits?

Now that we’re most than halfway through the HS baseball season, I thought it would be smart to review whether the state-by-state rules regarding pitch counts and limits are actually having a positive impact.

And overall, I do think it’s very fair to say that the pitch count rules have – if nothing else – have finally made baseball coaches — and hopefully parents — aware of the dangers of having young arms be overly taxed during their teenage years.

And that’s all to the good.

But in order to achieve this goal, there have been a lot of extra rules and regulations put into place, and seemingly done so in a rushed fashion. The end result has been a startling number of HS games forfeit due to pitch count violations, as well as more and more coaches trying to work a sense of gamemanship into their strategy. As a result, the bottom line is that the pitch count rules have to be viewed as very much a work still in progress.

As my guest Steve Kallas pointed out, there have games forfeit all over the country, including New Jersey, Illinois, North Carolina, Idaho – pretty much everywhere. For example, in Illinois, in one game, one team was up 13-3 and there was really no need for the starting pitcher who had the lead to go out and pitch another  inning. But his coach apparently lost track of how many days of rest the kid had, and the game ended up as a forfeit.

In fact, there have been at least 11 forfeits in Illinois this year alone. 

In Colorado, a HS which won a game 8-4 saw that win turn into a loss when they had to forfeit the game.

In North Carolina, the AD of the winning HS team reported his baseball coach’s mistake regarding a pitch count to the league board and that ended in a forfeit

Closer to home, in NJ, the Carteret  v. Perth Amboy game a couple of weeks ago ended with a pitch count dispute. The outcome of that game is still in dispute.

As the calls poured in, it was clear that HS coaches were now finding ways to use the pitch count as a weapon against the opposing team. For example, instructing one’s batters to take as many pitches as possible in order to push the pitcher’s count higher late in the game. Other coaches were throwing their ace only 30 pitches on one day, then allowing him to come back the very next day for another 30. Then, having him rest a day, and coming back to throw 50-60 pitches the next day. In many states, that’s very legal, even though it’s probably not very healthy for the kid’s arm.

Others complained about why it’s the home team that has the ultimate verdict on pitch counts. That is, if there’s a discrepancy between the home and visiting team, it’s the home team whose count wins. Umpires clearly do not want to get in the middle of these disputes.

And on and on the conversation went. It was clear to Steve and myself that this is an issue that needs to addressed and modified and reworked in the off-season. And the first issue to start with is – -why is the game totally forfeit? That seems like a draconian punishment for all concerned. There has to be a better – and fairer – way to protect kids’ arms via the new pitch count limits.



COPING WITH ADVERSITY: Are Sports Parents Shielding Their Kids Too Much?

 Teaching Youth Leaguers to Overcome Adversity:

Perspectives From a Hall of Fame Coach

By Doug Abrams

Tom Izzo, Michigan State University’s successful head basketball coach, sat for a lengthy interview last month on “The Drive With Jack Ebling.” The recent inductee into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame said that, “We’re creating a system that we’re never teaching a kid how to fight through [tough times].” Izzo sees the system’s fruits with collegiate players, but “creation” begins ripening earlier during the youth league years.

Coach Izzo’s commentary invites reexamination of how parents and coaches react to winning and losing in youth leagues. Fighting through adversity takes many forms, but teaching young players how to cope with defeat ranks high on the list.

No Winners Without Losers

First, a few preliminaries. . . . Too many youth league parents and coaches fear defeat, which the adults liken to failure. But youth leaguers need no shield because losing games is a natural, inevitable, and ultimately healthy part of growing up. Few youth teams go undefeated for very long. Every day of every season, at least half the children competing in America lose.  Each one returns to play another day.

Only one team can win each game, and only one team can finish in first place.  Youth-league standings typically show between five and ten “losing” teams for every first-place team. Some meets and tournaments create even greater disparities by guaranteeing 25 or more “losers” for every first-place finisher. One way or another, youth sports would have no “winners” without lots of “losers.”

Learning How to Lose

A colleague once told me that youth leaguers must learn how to lose gracefully before they can win with dignity. He said that most great professional athletes learned how to lose when they were young, and that the lesson helped make them stronger.

My colleague hit the target because, with guidance from their coaches and parents, young athletes can learn plenty from losing. In the short term, players on a winning streak can lapse into complacency and begin taking success for granted.  But when the team drops a few games, players may begin asking themselves, “What are we doing wrong, and how can we do better next game?”

Short term learning, however, is not the central point here. The central point concerns the longer term. Losing provides parents and coaches valuable opportunities to teach strength and resilience in the face of adversity. Youth leaguers benefit from learning how to rebound after setbacks because, like it or not, frustration and thwarted ambition will occur throughout adulthood.  For most adults, losses in life happen more frequently than victories. Youth sports provides exposure to the sting of setback when the stakes are not nearly as high as they will sometimes be later on.

Deflecting Responsibility

Let’s be honest – winning is preferable to losing. Youth sports depends on competitors who each strive to win every game within the rules, and athletes unconcerned about the score should not play. Except at the youngest age levels when scores should not matter, parents and coaches should want their children to win within the rules. But adults serve the children best by also delivering lessons from defeat.

In my years as a youth hockey coach, I watched some parents routinely deflect responsibility from their own children when the team came up short. Blame was cast on others. “We lost because of the coach” or (fill in the blank) “the referees,” “teammates who had an off-day,” or simply “bad luck.”

Child psychologists warn that by shielding their children from setbacks, parents such as these can leave the children ill-prepared to meet challenges of adulthood. Parents naturally want their player to succeed — to win more often than they lose — but young players also need adults who use defeats as “teachable moments,” opportunities to deliver supportive lessons about how to manage when things do not go right.

Lasting Dividends

These lessons can resonate when players move on with their lives long after their last youth league game. In my 35-year career as a law professor, I have seen students struggle to master their coursework, maintain their grades, and prepare for their chosen career. Law school paves a tough road. The curriculum is demanding. Despite the uninterrupted string of prior high school and undergraduate successes that gained them admission, most law students do not finish at or near the top of the class. Even the most talented law students have at least one course grade on their transcript that they wish was not there, and many law students have more than one.

When I see law students hit occasional barriers such as these, I sense that ex-athletes are often better equipped than their classmates to persevere because ex-athletes have learned how to lose, get up off the floor, and bounce back. Resilience and resolve in the face of adversity are lasting dividends of youth league competition.

Source: Chris Vannini, “Tom Izzo: We’re Creating a System Where Kids Don’t Learn to Handle Adversity,” (Apr. 13, 2017).


DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: New Study Suggests More Concussions in Girls Soccer than in HS Football

There was a recent study published headlined by a medical professor at Northwestern University who says that girls who play HS soccer suffer a much higher incidence of concussions than boys do – even those boys who play HS football.

As you might imagine, I was somewhat stunned by this. After all, the vast majority of attention in recent years has been paid to the long-term concerns regarding the health of football players. Sure, it’s well known that concussions can occur in any sport, but this new study shifts the focus to girls’ soccer, and that caught my eye.

In the study, which looked at 41,000 injuries to HS athletes in 9 popular sports between 2005-2015,  6,400 concussions were tabulated.

And during that time span, the concussion rate for girls’ soccer was higher than in football – and especially in the years from 2014-2015.

Now, if you’re a sports parent of a daughter who plays soccer, what does this mean? Suddenly, you may be having some of the medical misgivings about soccer as the parents of football players do. Of course, as I have noted over the years, concussions are part of all sports, and accidents do happen. I would daresay that it’s rare to find a kid who hasn’t suffered at least one concussion during their playing career.

But that being said, concussions do come in different degrees, and athletes and parents and coaches have to be careful about the handling of serious concussions. And medical doctors caution about repeated concussions; that is, one hit to the head can be treated, but if the youngster returns to action too soon, and receives another concussion, that’s where long-term concerns come into play.


In any event, I asked my listeners this AM as to what’s causing the spike in female concussions?  Is this due to excessive heading of the ball in soccer? Or heading being done incorrectly?

Should the girls in soccer be wearing more protective headgear? I know some girls wear protective headgear AFTER they suffer a concussion….but should they all be wearing headgear as a precaution as well?

And of course, is there just too much physical contact during the game?

Not surprisingly, the responses ranged from too much heading, and that it’s taught incorrectly at the younger ages when the most damage can be done to a developing brain. Head gear is also now receiving more and more attention as a protective measure. And finally, one caller suggested that the refs have to do a better job in controlling the physical action on the field in order to minimize physical contact. Kids falling to the turf and hitting their heads on the ground is a major source of concussion.


In addition, I know there’s been a lot of talk in recent months about girls lax and girls being told to wear headgear to protect them from concussions.

But from what I can tell, while some schools make such headgear mandatory, this protective trend isn’t really taking off in a big way – even though I can personally tell you from the years of watching my two daughters play lax in HS that there’s no question that getting hit in the head by a stick or errant pass is alarmingly routine in games.

Yet in discussing this issue with my daughters, they both felt strongly that protective headgear in lax would be a mistake – that it’s just not needed, and that it would indeed make the game much more aggressive as players would take more liberties in attacking opponents on the run and using their sticks.

Remember that traditionally, girls lax has been considered a non-contact sport. To me, though, and perhaps you share my views, I have never believed girls lax to be a non-contact sport. And if you have even seen a HS girls lax game recently, I’m sure you feel the same way. It is hardly a non-contact sport, and the fact that the girls do have to wear mouth guards and eye goggles and carry sticks and throw around a heavy hard rubber ball makes it a dangerous activity.

So where do we go from here? For starters, both in girls soccer and lax, more than ever it’s incumbent on parents and coaches to make sure that kids are well taught about how to head a soccer ball, and how to play a competitive game but not doing so in a physical manner. Same goes for lax. Learn how to use the lax stick as a tool, but not as a weapon. Learn how to control the ball and learn how to pass it correctly.

No, sadly, concussions are not going away. But we really do need to adopt protective measures at the youth level to make sure our daughters are protected.