Author Archive

PITCH COUNTS: A Few More Thoughts on this Topic…

As has been outlined by the National Federation of High Schools, starting this spring every state in the country will have set up and put into place various pitch limits for all public high schools at the varsity, junior varsity, freshmen, and modified levels.

The idea, of course, is to ideally prevent teenagers from ruining their arms from overpitching and subsequent serious Tommy John injuries.

So far, this all sounds good. But the more I reflected on this move, and the more I discussed it with my colleague Steve Kallas, the more I did a 180. Specifically:

Is it even possible that there’s a HS baseball coach anywhere in this country who doesn’t know about the concerns of injuring a kid’s arm from having him throw too many pitches? I mean, pitch counts have been in the news for well over a decade now. And if you’re a varsity baseball coach, and aren’t aware of these concerns, I would suggest that you probably aren’t a good candidate to coach baseball.

Moving on, why are individual states being allowed to come up with their rules on pitch limits? That is, if you don’t know this yet, every state has its own regulations regarding pitch limits, how many days of rest are mandated, how many pitches can be added to the overall game total in playoff games, and what the punishments are for violating these rules.

Even worse, not only are these pitch count rules hard to follow, but they differ substantially from one neighboring state to the next.

And there’s no probationary time. That is, these rules are in force for this season, and in some southern states where the games are already being played, there are already concerns about implementation and monitoring pitch counts. Among other concerns, if a coach is found in violation of the pitch limits, the punishments range from having the game forfeit, to the coach being suspended and fined for his actions.

ARE THESE REALLY NEEDED?

I have three suggestions:

Why not make the 2017 season just a probationary, experimental season where these pitch count rules can be put in place, but only on a trial basis? Let’s see how they work in real game situations, and then after the season is over in June, the state boards can determine what worked, and what didn’t, and then make corrections.

In addition, why have the rules vary from state to state? Just come out with one universal standard set of rules for everyone. That’s just common sense. I’m not sure why the individual states need to have their own rules.

And finally, do we even need these pitch counts in the first place? If you have an experienced HS baseball coach, then he should already be more than familiar with making sure that his ace pitcher doesn’t ruin his arm by throwing too many innings, or is being used too many times. And if the coach doesn’t know these parameters, or is too hell-bent on winning a league championship, even if it means risking his top pitcher’s arm, well, it’s up to the kid’s parents to step and intervene. But again, I would find it very hard to believe that there’s a HS pitcher these days who isn’t aware of the risks of having a HS kid throw too much.

Bottom line? Pitch counts may be a good idea, and every coach needs to be aware of them. But enforcing them in a hard-and-fast way seems too much too soon.

GUEST COLUMNIST: The Essential Value of Positive Self-Esteem in Sports

Editor’s note: As you might imagine, I receive a great deal of email from readers and sports parents from all over. And occasionally, I read something that is so spot on this topic that I feel compelled to post it and share it. Rick Wolff

For the Love of Kids

by Christopher M. Meuse

The purpose of the following article is to express my beliefs related to the importance and value of promoting the development of positive self-esteem in children at home, in schools, through sports and in every walk of life.  I will attempt to show the significance of positive coaching and parenting in developing happy, confident, successful and fulfilled individuals who are capable of reaching higher levels of human potential.

I recently published the book, “Hockey, Kids & Positive Coaching”, an inspiring story about a young boy whose love for the game of hockey is affected by the pressures placed on him by the adults in his life. It demonstrates the value of love and how a child’s growth and development are enhanced when guided by people who are more concerned about feelings of self-worth than numbers on a scoreboard. The story illustrates that the journey to true peak performance in life is eased through guidance and education that go beyond skills. A quality education which is focused on issues of self-worth will help to create the healthy conditions necessary for children to reach their greatest potential.

There are many theories and techniques that can be used to teach, coach and educate children. Some include strict discipline, tough love, the promotion of aggressive behavior, acceptance and love, or a combination of all of these methods. The value of developing a strong sense of self-worth, or self-esteem, in a child cannot be over-   emphasized. The application of principled behaviors supported by empathetic listening, understanding and compassion can help parents achieve greater positive results when guiding their children on their journey through life is emphasized in this article through excerpts from the book.

I was motivated to write “Hockey, Kids & Positive Coaching” by  negative behavior that I witnessed being displayed in arenas where children play hockey – behavior which adults probably used with a positive intent, but which often negatively resulted in diminished peak performance. The joy of playing the game was also greatly decreased for all involved.  Negative comments and criticisms children experience – not only in sports, but in their lifetime – can be extremely disempowering and often lead to the formation of blocks or barriers to learning and performance.

It has been scientifically proven that negative thoughts and comments result in decreased strength and performance. I have witnessed very talented players become totally confused and disorientated on the ice after being yelled at by adults. The players were then further criticized after the game for their poor performance, the adults not realizing how their conduct actually contributed to the players’ poor performance. We cannot empower children to do their best through negativity, whether in sports, at home, in school, or society in general. This belief is demonstrated through the story and experiences of the book’s central character, Michael.

Several years ago I was listening to an interview with the renowned basketball coach, John Wooden.  He exhibited many great character qualities as a coach, but also as a father, husband, and educator. The host introduced him as “a coach of love” who cared more about his players as individuals than he did about them as basketball players. Apparently, at the time of the interview, Wooden’s teams won more consecutive games and conferences than any other team in U.S. basketball history — an amazing result from a coach of love, who apparently never used the word “win” in the dressing room. Why? His explanation seemed to suggest that on a mind/brain (or neurological & psychological) level, a player can only perform at the highest level when focusing all of his/her energy on his/her own performance. He believed that any percentage of energy that is used to focus on the thought of winning, or on scoreboards, or referees, etc. is energy removed from one’s ability to play at one’s best. Therefore, Wooden emphasized intrinsic motivation focused on one’s desire to play his\her best. Yes, his players practiced hard and played hard, but the enjoyment aspect of the game was always emphasized. He never wanted playing basketball to be a chore. The players’ challenge was with themselves. If they played their best than they were winners, despite what the scoreboard indicated.  Obviously, Wooden’s record is a valid indication that his players usually played their best.

When young children are expected to play like pros, and are criticized for making mistakes, the results are seldom positive. The game becomes work and the “play” and fun aspects are lost far too early. As Joseph Chilton Pearce writes in his excellent book, “Magical Child”: “through the function of play, the work takes place, and creativity unfolds … play is the only way the highest intelligence of mankind can unfold.”

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of being sincere in conversation with our children; positive reinforcement must be more than idle words. There is great value in not merely using positive words in an attempt to manipulate children so that they will perform in a way that adults believe they should. It is important to be positive and compassionate simply because this is what children need and deserve. In the end, children and adults will have greater respect for each other while achieving greater levels of excellence.

The excerpts contained in this article are explained in much greater detail in my book: “Hockey, Kids & Positive Coaching”. Detailed information and reviews related to the book can be found on the following Blog & Website: http://lofeexpublishing.blogspot.ca/

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/home/search/?keywords=christopher%20meuse

PITCH COUNTS: Brand New Pitch Limits Start This Spring All Over the Country: Be Forewarned!

PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL PITCH COUNTS TO GO INTO EFFECT THIS SEASON

By Steve Kallas

In July 2016, the National Federation of State High School Associations (“NFHS”) announced that, beginning with the 2017 spring baseball season, each state member would have to institute a pitch count rule for high school baseball.  Now, virtually every state has made up its own rules and, while well-intentioned, there are already issues depending on the state.

THE HISTORY OF LITTLE LEAGUE PITCH COUNTS

For those who have listened for years to Rick Wolff’s “The Sports Edge” show over the years (Sunday mornings at 8 on WFAN radio and wfan.com), you will remember that a similar issue came up with Little League Baseball about ten years ago when they instituted a pitch count based, allegedly, on the work of Dr. James Andrews, the foremost authority in the world on young pitchers and protecting their arms.

Back then, as now for high schools, Dr. Andrews suggested pitch count ranges along with proscribed days of rest to help protect young arms.  Little League adopted the pitch counts but, without telling Dr. Andrews, lowered the days of rest for pitchers who threw 85 pitches from four days (the Andrews’ suggestion) to just three days (for the regular LL season) and then to an incredible just two days of rest (for the Williamsport tournament).

While literally thousands of articles were written at that time praising Little League for its “innovative” pitch limits, Rick Wolff and I wrote two articles strongly criticizing the days-of-rest change, which legally allowed 12-year-olds to throw more pitches (260) in a nine-day span than virtually every major league pitcher. One youngster, Kyle Cotcamp, actually threw 267 pitches over a nine-day period in the LL World Series in Williamsport in 2007. He underwent Tommy John surgery just a few years later. During that same LL World Series, three other kids threw at least 230 pitches in seven days.

After several years passed, it took interviews with Little League President Steve Keener and Dr. Andrews (who was finally told of the change in the change of days of rest) to eventually have Little League “correct” its mistake.

NOW FROM LITTLE LEAGUE TO HIGH SCHOOLS

The NFHS has instituted the pitch count rules to begin in the 2017 season, but has left it up to each individual state to set their own rules.  We will focus on New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to point out the rules and their unique differences.  It is disappointing to note that, while Dr. Andrews recommends that a 17-18 year old pitcher should have four full days of rest if he throws more that 81 pitches in a game, none of the above states will implementing that approach. 

NEW YORK STATE

The New York State pitch count rules are probably the most troubling.  That’s because, as with Little League many years ago, New York has changed the days of rest.  How are they doing that?  By saying that, when a pitcher pitches on a Tuesday afternoon, Tuesday night (as opposed to Wednesday) is his first “day of rest” (or, more appropriately, “night of rest”).

Thus, for example, under the New York new varsity pitch count rules, a pitcher who throws between 96 and 105 pitches needs four days of rest.  So a pitcher who throws 105 pitches on Monday, under the (until now) way everybody else in baseball considers days of rest, the youngster could not pitch again until Saturday (with Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as his four days of rest).

However, under the New York definition, according to Ed Dopp, the New York State baseball chairman, Monday night (in the above example), and NOT Tuesday, is the first “night of rest.”  So therefore, the pitcher who throws 105 pitches on Monday can pitch again on Friday, not wait until Saturday (as all major league pitchers would).  (For an excellent article on the New York days of rest issue, see Vincent Mercogliano’s article at lohud.com on January 27,2017.)

Thus, New York pitchers can throw more pitches in a five-day span than any major leaguer will (barring the extreme rarity of an MLB pitcher pitching on three days of rest during crunch time, usually late in the season or in the playoffs).

By definition, that New York rule is a bad rule.

Here are the varsity numbers in New York: 1-30 pitches, 1 day of rest; 31-65 pitches, 2 days of rest; 66-95 pitches, 3 days of rest; 96-105 pitches, 4 days of rest.

But understand that, in New York, if a pitcher throws 30 pitches on Monday, he can then pitch on Tuesday (because of the new “night of rest“ rule – that is, Monday night is the one day of rest).  If a pitcher throws 65 pitches on Monday, he can pitch again on Wednesday (yes, that’s two days of rest).  If he throws 95 pitches on Monday, he can pitch again on Thursday (again, outrageous.  No major leaguer would pitch again until Saturday).

If the purpose is to try and protect kids’ arms, this is scary stuff.

Furthermore, in New York, once the HS playoffs start, the top limit is moved from 105 pitches to 125 pitches.  Why?  So coaches can ride their top pitcher 20 pitches more?  In a much more (generally-speaking) tense game?  With much more at stake?

This all seem certainly seems counter-intuitive.

One final New York note:  the NFHS does not govern New York City; the Public School Athletic League (“PSAL”) does (for public schools).  The PSAL has had pitch count rules in effect since 2011.  As far as I can tell, the PSAL counts days of rest the way the rest of the world does; for example, if a public school pitcher in New York City throws 91 to 105 pitches on Monday (105 being the limit), that pitcher needs four full days of rest and cannot pitch again until Saturday.

NEW JERSEY

Of the three states discussed here (for a complete list, see the article in baseballamerica.com by J.J. Cooper from February 10, 2017), New Jersey has done the best job but still falls short compared to the Dr. Andrews recommendations.

Here are the varsity numbers in New Jersey:  1-30 pitches, 0 days of rest; 31-50 pitches, 1 day of rest; 51-70 pitches, 2 days of rest; 71-90 pitches, 3 days of rest; 91-110 pitches, 4 days of rest.  Keep in mind that New Jersey counts days of rest the way everybody does; that is, if you throw 110 pitches on Monday, you can’t pitch again until Saturday.

But New Jersey has added some additional rules that can only be viewed as positive for young pitchers.  For example, a pitcher cannot pitch on three consecutive days, even if he only throws less than 30 pitches the first two days.  In addition, a pitcher who pitches on consecutive days cannot throw more than 50 pitches (so if he throws 30 pitches on Monday, he can only throw 20 the next day).

CONNECTICUT

The strangest part of the new Connecticut pitch count rule is the fact that there appears to be no upward limit.  That is, based on the rules as currently written, it seems a pitcher can throw 110, 130, 150 or even more in one day.  While common sense would dictate that this won’t happen, you never know if you have a coach in an extra-inning playoff game or a coach who wants to win at all costs or a coach (very rare) who really doesn’t look out for a pitcher’s best interests.

Here are the varsity numbers in Connecticut: 1-25, 0 days of rest; 26-50, 1 day of rest; 51-75, 2 days of rest; 76-110, 3 days of rest; more than 110 pitches (with no limit), 5 days of rest.

Connecticut is troubling for two reasons: the lack of a top limit, discussed above, and the fact that a pitcher can throw 110 pitches on Monday and pitch again on Friday (again, no regular major league starter would pitch again until Saturday).

PARENTS BEWARE!

While the overwhelming majority of HS coaches do a good job managing their pitchers to protect their arms, the theory here is that, given the explosion in Tommy John surgeries in the last 15 years or so, something had to be done.  Many of the coaches correctly point out that these state rules won’t stop a kid from pitching for his high school during the week and then pitching on the weekend for a travel team or at a showcase, where he will throw as hard as he can (to impress college or major league scouts).

While a good point, this is where the intelligent parent(s) has to step in and protect their son.  When your child is an excellent young pitcher, many people will try to take advantage of that.  While there are many well-qualified travel coaches, you probably should not let your child pitch on two teams at once; if you do, than it is up to you – the parent and not the coach —  to regulate your son’s pitch count.

Travel coaches are also in the business of winning.  The best approach, in this writer’s opinion, is to avoid pitching for multiple teams at the same time.  If you do, keep your own pitch count, not per team, but for your son as an individual.  If he has the talent to go to a showcase, talk with one or both coaches to set up a proper rest period both before and after a showcase.  Or, don’t go to a showcase at all (which admittedly would be tough under today’s system).

I would strongly suggest that you follow the pitching guidelines for pitches AND days of rest set forth at pitchsmart/pitching/guidelines.  These have recommendations for all ages.  If you can adhere to these recommendations (or, at least, get close to them if they don’t seem realistic to you), this will give your son a better chance (no guarantees) that he can avoid the epidemic of arm injuries that is spreading across the country now.

ONE ADDITIONAL ISSUE FOR ALL STATES

The obvious issue is: who’s going to count the pitches?  The new rules talk about having each side count the pitches and check with the other side after each half-inning.  If there is a discrepancy, the home team’s pitch count rules.

Uh-oh!  That could be a problem if the count goes up a pitch or two (or three) per inning against the visiting team’s star pitcher.  Could that happen?  Well, in the (again) overwhelming majority of situations, it won’t.  But, mistakes are made and, on (rare) occasions, someone may try to get the upper hand.

New Jersey has an additional rule that states that the home team has to provide an “independent adult” pitch counter, but, if they can’t, the home team’s count is the official count unless the umpire has “definite knowledge” that the count is wrong.  High school umps (and there are often only two per game) have more than enough on their plate to have “definite knowledge” of a pitcher’s pitch count.

Connecticut states that the pitch counter does not have to be an adult.  Well, again, mistakes can and will be made, especially if the pitch counter happens to a younger HS student who is just volunteering to help out.

Also, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.  Apparently games can (and will?) be forfeited if pitch count mistakes are made.  That raises a number of issues: what if it was an honest mistake?  How do you prove it (absent a video of the game, which may now occur more)?  Is a game forfeit too big of a penalty?

The PSAL rule is that the coach is suspended for one game on the first violation.  After that, more serious punishment, including forfeiture of a game, is considered.

The latter rule seems more reasonable.

CONCLUSION

While well-meaning, the various rules from the various states can (and will) lead to issues.  While these new rules are an improvement on the past (believe it or not, the prior rule in New York State allowed a pitcher to pitch a maximum of 12 innings (yes, 12) per day and no more than 18 innings in a six-day period), they have to be carefully monitored and looked at during this season and changed when necessary (like the strange definition of days of rest in New York).

Obviously, the strange definition of days of rest in New York should be fixed immediately and the pitch count counters in all states have to be looked at carefully (and improved).

And remember, parents, it’s up to YOU, more than anyone (including right-minded coaches), to protect your son and his arm.

© COPYRIGHT 2017 BY STEVE KALLAS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

COACHING TIPS: How to Get Athletes to Perform at Their Best during the Heat of the Game

I have had the good fortune to have known Rick Peterson for well over 20 years. And in the world of professional baseball, there is no one who is more respected when it comes to working with the top pitchers. Rick has studied not only the inner mechanics of how to pitch, but over the years, what impressed me was how he understood the complex impact a pitcher’s psyche has on his ability to pitch, and to pitch well, in a tight game.

An extremely busy guy who is much in demand in the baseball and the corporate world for his insights on performing well under pressure, Rick finally found time in his busy schedule to write a book entitled CRUNCH TIME: How to Be Your Best when it Matters Most. It’s a terrific and fast-paced read. Excellent insights along with entertaining stories. The book is written with Judd Hoekstra, who’s a VP with the Ken Blanchard Company. The book is published by Barrett-Koehler, and is in stores or available from Amazon now.

There are a number of excellent observations in the book, but overall the main takeaway is one of how a pitcher can learn to re-frame, or re-set their approach during crunch time. For example, I think every baseball fan watching from the stands or watching on TV has often wondered what does a pitching coach actually say to his pitcher when he’s a tight jam in a close game. That is, we see that coach going out to the mound to add a few words of inspiration to the pitcher.

So, what does the coach say? What are the magic words he delivers to his pitcher? Especially if the game is at a very tense moment, aka crunch time?

In short, Peterson first gets to know his pitchers so well during the course of a season that he instinctively finds a way to get them to relax by often injecting a sense of humor. This is no (pardon the pun) no joke. By finding a way to release the tension by getting the pitcher to smile and laugh for a few moments, that often releases the tension just enough for the pitcher to have a chance to re-frame their current predicament. It’s as though all the built-up pressure is let go, the pitcher can mentally re-group thanks to a good laugh, and can then go back and re-focus on the task at hand.

‘MY LEGS ARE NUMB”

Peterson tells the story of former All-Star closer Jason Isringhausen who was caught in a very tight and unexpected game. Nothing seemed to be working for him that day, and as the tension rose, Jason felt as though the wheels were truly coming off. After giving up another hit, Peterson was summoned to the mound.

“Rick,” Izzy started with real anxiety, “I don’t know what’s going on. I…I can’t feel my legs. It’s like they’re all numb.”

Recognizing that Izzy was experiencing a bit of a minor panic attack, and that he needed to blow off some steam and re-frame, Peterson added the perfect quip to get his ace closer to relax.

“Well, that’s okay about your legs,” Peterson said with a straight face, “Because we don’t need you to kick a field goal to win this game. We just need you to go and throw normally.”

A moment of pure laughter and the tension was broken. Izzy went back to work, re-framed his approach with that burst of humor and was able to regain his confidence and finish the game.

IS HUMOR THE ANSWER?

If you like that story and different kind of insight into alleviating tension, then you will enjoy CRUNCH TIME. Funny thing is, over the years as sports psychology has become more and more accepted, I have found that a lot of my colleagues insist that the best way to cope with the tension is by taking deep breaths, or by simply thinking positive thoughts. In my years of working with the Cleveland Indians and in coaching top college players, I never found that kind of approach to be all that effective. But humor, as Rick Peterson points out, is extremely powerful at getting the job done.   A well-planted line allows the athlete to laugh, to have fun, to step back, and to re-frame the situation, and go on to re-group and to re-attack the moment at hand.

There are other lots of other very applicable solutions in the book as well. For example, there’s some terrific observations on how we, as a society, always want our athletes to “go out and try harder” if they want to win. Especially during crunch time, you need to really push yourself and make a superior effort to push your game to a higher level.

Peterson makes a case that when athletes actually try and do that, e.g. a pitcher tries to throw even harder, then the result is a negative one. The pitcher often ruins their easy flow on the mound, and screws up their mechanics. In short, if anything, you shouldn’t try hard….you should try easy.

Pretty interesting observations. CRUNCH TIME,which features endorsements from Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics as well as from MONEYBALL author Michael Lewis is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores now.

 

 

 

LEGAL CONCERNS: Can A HS Basketball Coach Be a Legal Guardian to Six of His Players?

This very unsettling story centering on Eastside HS boys basketball in Paterson NJ is just hard to believe.

But then again, perhaps in this day and age of amateur sports going off the tracks, maybe it isn’t.

That is, where there’s such pressure — and such a desire — to find and to develop top basketball prospects, perhaps what’s been happening at Eastside HS was inevitable. Even worse, chances are this kind of situation is not just happening in that school, but it’s probably happening all over the country.

Here are the very simple details. Eastside HS is currently 14-2, and is ranked 17th in New Jersey. It’s considered one of the premier powerhouse programs, and is in line for a top seeding for this year’s playoffs.

But according to some extraordinary reporting this past week from Matt Stanmyre and his colleague Steve Politi at Advanced Media.com, it turns out that the head coach at Eastside High – Juan Griles – has as many as 5 to 6 players living with him in his condo. Three of the players are from Puerto Rico….two or three are originally from Nigeria, including a kid who is a 7-footer. Griles says that he is legal guardian for several of the players, but so far has not produced any legal paperwork to document that.

And apparently all of these players, including Griles, live together in Griles’ relatively small 2-bedroom apartment. The kids attend Eastside, and play basketball on the varsity team.

DOES THIS SOUND EITHER RIGHT…OR FAIR?

If all of this is true, then this of course flies in the face of just about every possible sense of fairness that you can muster in HS basketball – especially public HS basketball.  We have become accustomed to private and parochial schools bringing kids in from all over the US, and from foreign countries. That’s routine. The students usually live with a host family, or in a dorm on the school’s campus. And their tuition, room, and board is paid either by their families or by the school.

But with public school, that’s a little different. Public schools depend on taxpayers to pay the bills, and obviously, it’s unusual to say the least that 6 kids from out of town are going to school and playing on the basketball team when their parents are not paying taxes for their education. In my mind, that’s probably where this investigation is going to start.

And of course, Coach Griles or his assistant Alberto Maldonado have to come up with some convincing evidence as to how they became legal guardians of these kids. In addition, who is paying for these kids’ food, health bills, clothing, and so on? And what role, if any, do their real parents have in all of this?

Matt Stanmyre was my guest on WFAN this AM, and the calls came quickly. Lots of listeners had real concerns about all of this, including how could this happen, who in the administration department at Eastside HS could allow this, what about all the other home-grown kids in the school who were displaced by these “imports” and so on. Most of all, callers were outraged by this blatant attempt to win at all costs.

Curiously, no one from Paterson, NJ called in. Perhaps they were too embarrassed by what has transpired, or perhaps this is something they have become accustomed to. Either way, it just seems – at least on the surface – to be outrageous. It’s as though the HS coach was recruiting top players from Puerto Rico and Africa to play on the local HS basketball team.

This investigation is going to continue over the next couple of weeks, so I’ll be eager for more details. The NJ HS playoffs don’t begin until the end of February. But in the interim, there are going to be lots and lots of questions.

Meanwhile, who are the real victims? To me, the real losers are going to be the 5-6 kids who were living with the coach. I’m sure the NJ HS Athletic Assn. will immediately ban them from playing any more games, and it will be curious if they will be suspended from school as well. Where do they live then? And what happens to their basketball dreams?

All in all, a real lose-lose for everyone involved.

 

TITLE IX ISSUES: The Untapped Power of Moms Who Coach

 Women as Youth League Coaches

 By Doug Abrams

 With planning for spring youth league seasons underway in many communities, Renee Moilanen contributed a thoughtful article late last month in The Daily Breeze (Torrance, Calif.). The theme was that sports programs serve players best by assuring qualified women opportunities to coach. Her reminder is timely and right.

Moilanen reports that dads “dominate” youth sports coaching ranks nationwide, with moms comprising only 13% of soccer coaches and 6% of baseball coaches. Many youth leaguers, said NorthJersey.com writer Kara Yorio two years ago, finish their playing days without ever having a female coach.

Overcoming the nationwide under-representation of women in youth league coaching benefits boys’ teams, girls’ teams, and mixed teams. In the short term, many women today bring equal or greater knowledge and experience to the playing field than many men. In the longer term, playing for talented female head coaches or assistant coaches teaches youth leaguers lifelong respect for gender equity. This column discusses both the short-term and longer-term benefits.

Knowledge and Experience

First, the short term benefits. . . . Forty-five years after Congress enacted Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, many of today’s young and middle-aged women grew up playing sports in youth leagues and beyond. Their playing experience stacked up well to that of their male classmates. Today qualified women, like qualified men, can teach boys and girls plenty because individual skills and team strategies are gender-neutral.

Rick Wolff once told me about a particularly fruitful season that his son spent in youth hockey as a ten-year-old more than two decades ago. “He played for a female hockey coach for a year when he was a squirt,” Rick said, “and Joyce was one of the best coaches he ever had. She knew hockey, she could skate and stick handle, and she could communicate.” In just one sentence, Rick pinpointed three markers shared by effective coaches, male or female.

In his book, It’s All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth Sports (2009), Michael A. Messner found that gender stereotypes still lead some sports programs to steer men and women down different paths, even when a woman’s athletic experience equals or surpasses a man’s. “The head coach—nearly always a man—is the leader and the public face of the team; the team parent—nearly always a woman—is working less visibly behind the scenes, doing the ‘housekeeping’ support work; assistant coaches—mostly men, but including the occasional woman—help the coach on the field during practices and games.”

Players’ skills development is bound to suffer when the board of directors appoints a less experienced head coach – male or female — over an applicant with greater experience. Players are the losers when their sports program overlooks qualified women or consigns them to cheer from the stands. Or channels qualified women into roles as “team moms” who arrange postgame snacks, organize road trips, and perform other similar important but auxiliary chores that can be done equally well by mothers or fathers who do not seek to coach.

As Messner intimates, gender stereotypes do not influence only appointments to head coaching slots. On most of the youth hockey teams I saw in 40 years or so, coaching staffs included inexperienced or less experienced male assistants, including fathers who began paying attention to the game only when their own children enrolled. The assistants were not ready for head coaching, but most contributed by helping to conduct practice sessions, supervise the team, and lead on the bench. After a season or two, some of these assistants assumed head coaching positions. Many inexperienced or less experienced female assistant coaches can make similar contributions before perhaps graduating to head coaching later on.

Gender Equity

Now for the longer-term benefits of naming qualified women as youth league coaches. . . . Youth sports competition teaches youngsters not only game skills, but also citizenship lessons, including lessons about gender equity. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette urges programs to “acclimate all kids to women coaches from a young age” because “a more diverse mix of men and women coaching . . . would help change assumptions that tend to form early.”

With about 35 million children playing each year, sports is a prime engine for influencing assumptions of boys and girls destined to collaborate with one another as adults in the workplace and the community. Behavioralists and child psychologists debate the relative influences of biology and social environment on children’s emerging attitudes. But these professionals generally agree that “nature” and “nurture” can each affect socialization by shaping early perceptions.

Nicole LaVoi is right that “when females occupy coaching positions it provides evidence, for boys and girls, that women can succeed and be powerful.” Children are more apt to develop these perceptions when their sports programs appoint (as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Matthew J.X. Malady advises) “the right coach, not the right gender.”

Challenges and Opportunities

When it names a woman coach, the youth league’s board of directors may face skeptics at first, particularly on boys’ teams. The selection process begins with advertising and other outreach that welcomes both men and women to coach in accordance with their qualifications.

The next, and sometimes equally challenging, step is to maintain an environment that supports every coach’s effort to succeed with players and their families, including some who may initially be wary of a female head or assistant. Brooke de Lench, executive director of MomsTEAM Institute of Youth Sports Safety, writes about how she overcame skepticism and wariness several years ago to lead her sixth- and seventh-grade boys’ soccer team to a nearly undefeated season marked by sportsmanship and fair play. It was “simply a joy,” she says, “to see the power that sport has in bringing people together.”

Two generations after enactment of Title IX, old ideas sometimes fly below the radar screen. When Messner conducted interviews for his book just a few years ago, most male youth coaches said that they had never thought about how sometimes subtle, but nonetheless formidable, barriers can channel qualified women away from youth coaching to seats in the stands or service as “team moms.”

As our nation continues to make strides toward gender equity on the playing field and beyond, youngsters and their families are better off when sports programs do think about these barriers. And when programs appoint the most qualified men and the most qualified women to coach the boys and girls whose short-term and longer-term betterment the programs seek to advance.

 

Sources: Renee Moilanen, It’s Time For Women To Step Up To the Plate — For the Sake of Their Little Leaguers, Daily Breeze, Jan. 27, 2017; Kara Yorio, North Jersey Women Defy the Notion that Only Men Can Mentor Youth Teams (Sept. 27, 2015), http://archive.northjersey.com/news/north-jersey-women-defy-the-notion-that-only-men-can-mentor-youth-teams-1.1419598; Michael A. Messner, It’s All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth Sports (2009); Matthew J.X. Malady, Why Don’t Any Women Coach Big-Time Men’s Sports? And Why Don’t We Care?, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 7, 2012; Nicole M. LaVoi, Occupational Sex Segregation In a Youth Soccer Organization: Females In Positions of Power, Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, vol. 18, p. 25 (Sept. 2009); Brooke de Lench, A Mother’s Touch: Coaching a Boys’ Soccer Team: One Mom’s Story, http://www.momsteam.com/team-parents/coaching/women-as-coaches/a-mothers-touch-coaching-a-boys-soccer-team.

 

DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: Will New Guidelines for Youth Football Make A Difference?

Ken Belson of the NY Times did a wonderful article this past week about a new initiative from U.S.A. Football, the nation’s governing body when it comes to amateur football, to do something to stop the dropping numbers of HS students who are deciding not to play football. Belson reports that since 2009, HS football numbers have declined by as much as 20%.

That’s a significant percentage, and of course, most of it can be attributed to rising concerns about concussions. Despite a tremendous upsurge in research on how to prevent or diagnose concussions, the hard truth is:

o There is still no football helmet on the market today that will prevent a concussion. True, the more advanced helmets can do a lot to soften the blow to the head, but no helmet can claim to prevent concussions from happening.

o And while there are medical protocols in place for a suspected concussion, there is still no definitive method to determine if a football player has suffered a serious hit to the head. Doctors can only determine real damage to one’s brain only in an autopsy.

NEW GUIDELINES FROM U.S.A. FOOTBALL

U.S.A. Football, in an attempt to do what is can to modify and make the sport safer for kids who want to play tackle football between the ages of 6-12, have announced the following changes:

Reduce the number of kids on each team during the game to no more than 6 to 9.

Have the kids play on a smaller field.

No more run backs on kick offs or punt returns.

All players must start each play from a crouch position, not a three-point stance.

Will any of this help? Or more directly, will parents feel more assured about letting their kids plays tackle football? If today’s callers were any indication, the answer is a resounding no.

Most of today’s debate centered on whether kids would be better suited to simply bypass tackle football and opt for flag football instead – at least until they are 13 or 14. By that age, their brain is close to being fully developed, and their head has more strength and support from their neck and shoulder muscles.

Dr. Robert Cantu, the Boston University neurosurgeon,has long advocated this approach, and I must say, I agree. If young football players want to play the sport, they are much better served to play touch football or flag football in elementary and middle school. Then, when they reach high school, not only can they turn to tackling, but more importantly, they can learn the safe and fundamental way of how to execute a tackle properly without risking harm to their head.  At the HS level, there are plenty of well-qualified football coaches who can teach these essential basics to football players.

To me, in light of the reality that we are in this transition phase where we are still waiting for medical science to catch up with more insights on how to prevent concussions, as well as how to treat them, Dr. Cantu’s approach makes a lot of sense. And by the way, for more information, there’s an enlightening article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek  that ran this week about what’s happening regarding the latest research in this area, much of which is being sponsored by the NFL.

Sad to say, the medical experts still say there is no effective way to prevent  a concussion, and even worse, we are still 4-5 years away from having a simple blood test to determine whether a football player has had a concussion. In other words, we are still in the dark.

 

 

 

COLLEGE RECRUITING: Verbal Commitments versus Letter of Intent

I gets lots of queries all the time when it comes to the arcane world of college recruiting, and one question comes up all the time:

How can a college coach offer an athletic scholarship to a kid in 8th or 9th grade — is that offer really legit,or just some sort of publicity stunt? And in addition to that first question, others follow right away:

1 – Can the athlete count on that scholarship money being there when they graduate HS?

2- What happens if that college coach who made the offer has since moved on, or has been fired? Is the university and the subsequent new coach on the hook for the scholarship for the kid?

3 – And what about the athlete? Suppose they change their mind about going to that college which offered the scholarship….are they legally bound to go there because of what they decided when they were in 8th or 9th grade?

I thought it was relevant to explore this subject on the air, once and for all. But in truth, some of this discussion came up the other when a top HS football player in NJ was suddenly blindsided by the new football coach at UConn who told the kid that yes, the previous UConn head coach coach had promised you a scholarship as a verbal commitment, but that coach is gone now, and I’m the new coach, and sorry….but I don’t have that scholarship for you.

Or as the coach, Randy Edsall, put it, “We’ve decided to go in a different direction”….meaning that he wanted to offer that football scholarship to another player. Meanwhile, the kid who was counting on going to UConn was hugely disappointed.

Fortunately, the young football player (and his parents) learned a harsh lesson. The verbal commitment he made to UConn really didn’t amount to any kind of obligation from the university. All it really told other potential college football coaches was that the youngster was really set on going to UConn, and as such, they shouldn’t even bother to pursue him.

But when Coach Edsall delivered the bad news – that he had given his scholarship to another HS player – the NJ kid was the odd man out. And since this happened just a few weeks ago, it appeared that the football player was out of luck. Fortunately, as word got out about the kid’s predicament, some other college football programs contacted him, and now he’s looking at offers from other schools. But no, after being psyched to play for UConn, that dream went away, thanks to a short phone call from the UConn coach.

Even worse, this kind of thing happens more than you might think.

LEARNING THE ROPES FROM AN EXPERT

In any event, when it comes to athletic scholarship do’s and don’t’s, I always invite long-time Sports Edge contributor Wayne Mazzoni onto the show.

Wayne has been dispensing advice to scholar-athletes and their parents for many years, and he also serves as the pitching coach at Sacred Heart University.  (For more information about Wayne and his speaking engagements, go to his website: GetRecuited.net).

Wayne made it very clear that these so-called verbal commitments from college coaches to young HS athletes really have no legal binding whatsoever on the college or on the kid. Rather, it’s nothing more than a way for a college coach to basically “stake their turf” to announce to other college programs that “we really like this kid, and we want him or her to go to our school when they graduate.”  But beyond that, the college is not obligated to give the kid a scholarship, nor is the kid obligated to attend that college when he or she graduates.

So, in effect, it’s a nice boost to the kid’s ego, but beyond that, it’s not more than that.

Things change, though, when the kid is entering their senior year, and the deadline comes to sign a national letter of intent. This process is carefully monitored by the NCAA, and they make it clear to the university tendering the athletic scholarship that they are now officially locked in to giving the kid what has been promised. At that point, in most cases, the young athlete is thrilled to sign the letter, which formally acknowledges this is a done deal (however, I should point out that there are various loopholes when the letter of intent, for example, if the college coaches leaves for another program; this kind of thing happens all the time.)

But by and large, it’s that written letter of intent that binds the university to offer the scholarship to the kid. From what I can tell, it’s more binding on the school than the youngster, who retains the right to change his or her mind before actually matriculating at the school.

And just as a reminder: there are three divisions in the NCAA: D-I colleges, which can offer the maximum number of athletic scholarship by sport. Note that a D-I school doesn’t have to offer any scholarships, but they can if they choose to. D-II colleges are allowed to offer athletic scholarships as well, but at a much reduced level from D-I schools. And D-III colleges are not allowed to offer athletic scholarships at all.

It’s a generalization, but usually only football and basketball give out full rides, and that’s because thanks to attendance and TV contracts, they provide enough revenue for the college to do that. With other sports, like baseball, soccer, field hockey and so on, those athletic scholarships are usually sliced and diced considerably. For example, a baseball player usually receives only 1/4 full ride as compared to a buddy who is on a baseball team.

The point is, if your son or daughter is lucky enough to be recruited, you need to educate yourself on the rules and regulations. The NCAA handbook is a very thick and complex book, so before tackling that, you might want to check out GetRecuited.net.

 

ABUSIVE COACHES: There is Never Any Reason for a Coach to Grab or Shove a Player

If you hadn’t heard about this story, let me tell you about the Morehead State Men’s basketball coach Sean Woods. Up until a few weeks ago, Coach Woods had been at Morehead for several years, and had enjoyed success with the program; in fact, the school had recently renewed extended his contract through 2019.

Everything seemed to be working great.

Except that the coach apparently had a habit of showing his displeasure or frustration with his players by physically hitting or pushing them.

That is, according to several media reports over the course of this season and in previous years, Coach Woods has allegedly pushed, shoved, and even head-butted some of his players when he was upset with them or their play.

Recently, it reached the point where police were brought in and actually charged the coach with misdemeanor battery. And as a result, Coach Woods was then suspended from his coaching duties at Morehead.  Coach Woods is due in court on Feb. 9th  to respond to those charges.

And not surprisingly, along the way, the coach tendered his resignation to the university.

A CAUTIONARY TALE FOR COACHES WHO CAN’T CONTROL THEIR EMOTIONS

The history is this: There was a pushing incident involving Coach Woods with one of his players back in 2012, when Coach Woods shoved one of his players in a game against the University of Kentucky. It was caught on videotape, and Coach Woods was suspended for a game for doing that.

But now, these latest charges stem from two of his players this season, who claim that the Coach assaulted them during a game against the University of Evansville back in November, 2016. One player says the coach pushed him hard in the chest, and the other player says Coach Woods shoved him during, and after, the game.

Said one of the fathers of one of the players at the time of the incident: “This is not the first time the coach violated our trust because last year, during the season, he head-butted my son and turned around and asked him to forgive him, and he apologized. My son accepted his apology. The coach said he would never do it again. And as for the school, I’m still waiting for a response from them and to take corrective action. They say they are still investigating.”

But as noted, Coach Woods has since resigned. Morehead State now has an interim coach and will look for a new head coach at the end of this season.

For the life of me, I can’t understand how an adult coach could ever do this.  Oh, I know some coaches will claim that they have anger management issues….but to me, if you have anger management issues, then in my opinion, you really shouldn’t be coaching kids in the first place.

Some of us remember Bobby Knight physically assaulting his players at Indiana, and that eventually led to his dismissal even though he had put together a tremendous winning record. Speaking of coaches with successful programs, how about Ohio State’s Woody Hayes punching out an opposing player from Clemson in a college bowl game on national TV Then more recently, Mike Rice at Rutgers was justifiably let go for grabbing his players, throwing basketballs at them, ripping them with profanity, and so on.

And yes, I know we have a forgiving society, and people deserve a second chance, but as a head coach? I mean, you are charged with leadership and with responsible behavior. That’s a fundamental part of the job. As such, I can’t imagine how a coach who does this to his players would really ever deserve a second chance. In my opinion, it’s just unconscionable.

Just as I feel sports parents need to be held to a zero tolerance standard, the same goes for coaches as well.  In other words, as a coach, you should just know better ALL THE TIME not to push, bully, grab, or assault your players. If you do, then you — just like your athletes – have to be accountable for your actions.

The callers on my show this AM all agreed with this, some of them remembering when a coach assaulted them many years ago. It left an indelible mark on their memory. Others praised coaches today who clearly draw the line between yelling at one’s players as opposed to grabbing or pushing them.  While I’m not necessarily in favor of verbal abuse (verbal abuse is right there with bullying), I was heartened to hear the coach in question didn’t resort to physical violence.

As to what would a parent should do if their son or daughter told them about a coach who was physical? No question this is a serious complaint and needs to be fully examined and investigated. Those basketball players at Morehead were right to have spoken about their coach.

We all hope and pray that this kind of abuse has been drastically reduced from a generation ago, when it was somewhat seen as a coach just being tough with his players. But it was unacceptable then, and still unacceptable today.

 

 

 

REFLECTIONS: Teaching Our Athletes the Right Lessons in Life

 More About Teaching Youth Leaguers Courtesy and Respect

By Doug Abrams

This column is about courtesy and respect, two virtues that parents and coaches can teach children through sports. The lessons do nothing to enhance physical prowess, and they will not help make a player a standout collegiate athlete or a pro. But sensitivity to these virtues can help make the player a better person, and citizenship education remains a central goal of youth sports programs.

Like other citizenship lessons that pass from parents and coaches to children, lessons about courtesy and respect pass most effectively from the adults’ actions and not merely from their words. The adults carefully watch the children compete, but children also carefully watch the adults. Children learn from what they see.

At Home and On the Road

In early 2012, I wrote a column about how parents and coaches should treat custodians and other local service staff. “Youth league and high school sports programs usually depend on custodians, maintenance staffs, grounds crews, security guards, grass cutters, and other employees who go to work every day but frequently toil in anonymity, routinely ignored by team members who do not even bother to learn their names. Sometimes these employees face outright insults and discourtesy.” Conferring respect on service staff who help sustain the team’s home schedule, I concluded, “is simply the right thing to do.”

This column resumes where the 2012 column left off. The discussion here concerns how parents and coaches, at road games, should treat custodians and other service staff they will likely never see again. Remember, the players are watching, and parents and coaches are on display all the time.

A Personal Experiment

One Saturday morning a few years ago, I tried an early-season experiment before a few of our hockey program’s home games. I was the program’s president and a law professor, but none of the visiting teams’ parents or coaches knew me. I “dressed down” – a flannel shirt, a baseball cap, an old sweater and windbreaker, and jeans. As the visiting teams arrived, I remained in the ice arena’s lobby pushing a broom.

For all that the visiting teams’ adults knew that morning, I swept the floors, emptied the waste baskets, kept the plumbing and heating operable, and performed similar tasks that often went unnoticed but made the ice arena a safe, clean place for them and their families.

Hockey people who knew me had always conveyed courtesy and respect, which I had always tried to reciprocate. But I wanted to see whether parents and coaches would react differently when I didn’t look or act the part of a league official or a professional.

As they asked me directions to the locker rooms or the pro shop with their children at their side, a few of the visiting teams’ adults punctuated their requests with “excuse me,” “please,” and “thank you.” Most did not. The interchanges had little eye contact, and little hint of the respectful tone of voice that I had heard from people who knew my roles in the league and the community. With her boy in tow, one mother even called me “Son,” though I was clearly older than she was.

The changed content and tone of voice seemed unfortunate because some of the visiting teams’ parents and coaches could have done better. The change was likely unwitting because these adults were nice people who meant no animosity from talking down, and they remained well behaved in the stands later as their teams played clean. With their children watching in the lobby, some of the adults simply missed opportunities to deliver a wholesome lesson through actions and words.

Watching and Learning

What is the lesson for youth leaguers? All persons are entitled to courtesy and respect as they perform their assigned roles, including persons who may never cross our paths again. This entitlement extends to strangers who cross our paths on road trips, such as restaurant waiters, hotel service workers, and retail store clerks. Each role has worth, and none should be taken for granted.

For someone perceptive enough to sense the other person’s circumstances, it doesn’t take special effort to treat the person with the same dignity that the person delivers in return. Road trips enable parents and coaches to send children the lasting message of “one standard for all.”

After my law school graduation, I served for two years as law clerk to New York Court of Appeals Judge Hugh R. Jones. Judge Jones taught his staff that a person can become a good lawyer only after becoming a good person. I think that the same order of priorities should prevail in other occupations. First things first.

Judge Jones reinforced his words with actions. Whenever someone approached his office while my attention in the outer room was diverted within earshot, I could not tell whether the visitor was the Chief Judge or the custodian who emptied the wastebaskets. The Judge’s high official position did not obligate him to give everyone the same courteous and respectful welcome, but he always did. He treated everyone right, and I watched and learned. Nearly 40 years later, I still remember the lesson.