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Running Up The Score: Time to take a stand

It’s very simple…there’s really no reason at all to ever humiliate an opponent by allowing your kids to run up the score. Sure, coaches can make all the excuses they want…”How can I tell my second and third stringers not to score?”…”We really weren’t trying to score a lot of points”…and so on. But if your team is trouncing the other team, it’s incumbent upon you — the coach — to make sure the score remains reasonable.

Some HS athletic associations allow a winning team to let the clock run in a lopsided game. Or in baseball, many states have a 10-run “mercy” rule. In Connecticut HS football, if a team wins by too many points, an investigation is started by the governing HS body.

My point is this: every HS league or conference should have a rule in place that teams (read: coaches) who run up the score on opponents will be investigated before being allowed to coach in their next game. Discussions will take place with the losing coach and the refs/umps who worked the game. In other words, let’s get these coaches to pay attention to what’s going on.

In short, this is one aspect of sportsmanship we can control. So, coaches, let’s do it.

“In Your Face” Coaches: Where do we draw the line?

As evidenced by the recent firings of top college football coaches such as Mike Leach of Texas Tech, Mark Mangino at Kansas, and Jim Leavitt at the Univ of South Florida, clearly the parameters are changing.

That is, there is no more tolerance for coaches who, in order to motivate their players, have to reach into the world of physical and verbal abuse to get them to raise their game. This is to be saluted. After all, you would think that a college coach who is making millions in salary AND is supposed to be a master motivator could come up with a better way of prodding their players.

After all, coaches like John Wooden and Joe Torre and Phil Jackson don’t have to do this — so why do other coaches feel the need?

And by the way, watch for the trickle-down effect of all this. HS coaches, travel coaches, and youth coaches will all be under the microscope now for the way in which they treat the athletes on their teams. Again, as noted, this is all for the good.

Good coaches know how to get kids to play better. You can do it with the right words – -no need for verbal (or physical) abuse.

2010 Sports Parenting Predictions

With a new decade upon us, I thought I’d run through a bunch of predictions regarding the field of sports parenting. Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts:

1. A new kind of football (and ice hockey) helmet will be introduced that dramatically reduces concussions (the most promising is called the Xenith, which works with air pressure pads). The research is very exciting.

2. More lawsuits will be filed against aluminum bat manufacturers. Thanks to the favorable decisions in recent months (such as the Brandon Patch case), more parents will look for damages for their kids hurt by line drives off metal bats.

3. LL Baseball will continue to fluster parents with their rules regarding pitch counts, days of rest, etc. In my opinion, they’ll even try and say that throwing curves is okay for young kids.

4. More and more colleges and universities will cut back on non-revenue producing sports, which in turns means fewer college scholarships. This is due to the lingering recession.

5. Unfortunately, we’ll continue to see more hazing incidents, as well as parents getting in the face of coaches. This just has to stop!

6. On the positive side, we’ll continue to see a rise in kids who understand sportsmanship and doing the right thing and as such, the kids who actually play sports will draw more from their experiences that we parents give them credit for.

7. And don’t be surprised if President Obama starts to put together some sort of meaningful Presidential Commisison on Youth Sports in this country. This would be of great help to coaches and parents everywhere who are looking for guidance in this increasingly complicated area.

All in all, let’s hope for the best in 2010! Happy New Year!

Agassi Autobio: A Tragic Case of Sports Parenting?

No question that the Andre Agassi autobiography is going to be a major bestseller. Agassi is extremely honest, forthcoming, and candid about his tennis career.

But what concerns me is that he openly says that he hated played tennis for 30 years – -that he was merely trying to appease his father who pressured him to play and succeed, and that along the way, he looked upon his life at Nick Bollitieri’s tennis academy as a kind of forced prison for tennis. In short, Agassi seemed to lead a very unhappy life. It got so bad that he turned to drug abuse to help escape the pressures.

What’s the takeaway from this? To me, this is a classic case of sports parenting gone wild. At least Andre was able to survive and succeed….but what about all the other kids who are pressured by their parents to win in sports — not just in tennis, but in all the other sports.

Bottom line: OPEN should serve as a modern-day cautionary tale for ambitious sports parents who are convinced they ought to push their kids to becoming great athletes.

LL Finally Gets It Right!

Well, isn’t this interesting? After several years of allowing a major disservice to young pitchers and the safety of their arms, LL is now announcing that, starting in spring 2010, every 11, 12, and 13-year-old will have to sit out four full calendar days before he or she can pitch again.

This is, of course, just common sense. Especially with kids whose tender arms are still growing in their pre-adolescent years, why take a chance once they have tossed 60-85 pitches in a game? But those of you who have followed my WFAN show over the years know that LL has kept the days of rest at three….except in the Williamsport playoffs where kids can pitch on only TWO days of rest.

I have to assume that somewhere along the way, Dr. James Andrews, the noted orthopedic surgeon and who is on the LL Board, must have said something to the LL brass about the dangers of abusing young arms. Again, that’s only speculation on my part, but it’s hard to come up with any other reason for LL to change.

Bottom line? This is a good start. Now, if we can only get aluminum bats and curve balls banned from LL baseball, we’ll be making some real progress!

Should Modified Sports Become Extinct?

For those school districts that can afford to offer them, modified sports (school sports for kids in 7th and 8th grade) seem to present more problems than solutions. Routine concerns include: too many kids on a team…not enough playing or practice time….questions about whether winning is the top priority….the expense of coaches, refs, transportation, etc.

Ultimately, wouldn’t it make more sense for schools to simply offer after-school intramural programs? Not only would all the kids get  a decent amount of playing time, but you wouldn’t need to worry about cuts, coaches, and so on. Intramural programs are overseen by a teacher or two who observe the action just to make sure nothing gets out of hand, but invariably the kids run their own teams, whether it basketball, volleyball, soccer, etc.

In my mind, intramural programs are definitely worth considering. Too many middle schoolers and their parents go over the top when it comes to modified sports programs. At that age, it’s more about the kids playing and enjoying themselves. Winning becomes more of a top priority in high school, not at age 12 or 13. Agree? Disagree? Let me know.

Death by Aluminum Bat: On Trial in Montana

18-year-old Brandon Patch was pitching in an American Legion game in Helena, Montana in the summer of 2003 when he was struck by a line drive off an aluminum bat. He collapsed to the ground, was able to utter a few words to his Dad before passing out, went into convulsions, and died a few hours later.

The Patch family sued Hillerich & Bradsby, the manufactuer of the aluminum bat, and the case is supposed to go to the jury this coming week. If the bat company loses, there’s a good chance the jury will award a very large financial judgment to the family. And that verdict will send a very strong warning message to all those groups which use aluminum bats, including Little League Baseball, the NCAA, high school associations, and so on.

In effect, the trial is centering on whether or not aluminum bats are more dangerous than wood ones. For years, people like myself, Steve Kallas, and dozens of callers to WFAN have made it clear that balls off aluminum bats definitely jump with greater velocity and thus are much more dangerous.

We’ll be curious to see what the jury in Montana decides.

Concussions and athletes: A problem that won’t go away

There’s no scarier moment for any sports parent than to see your son or daughter bang their head during an athletic event. You hold your breath until your youngster finally gets up off the ground, and walks off the field in order to clear their head.

But that’s when the real decisions have to be made. As my brother, Dr. Bob Wolff, said on the Sports Edge, if your youngster gets a serious bop on their head during a game, there’s no way he or she should go back into the game until they are cleared by a physician. That might be a tough rule for a kid, but in the long run – -and let’s face it -that’s what we’re talking about — the long run of their life — there’s no reason to run the risk of a secondary concussion. Sports are fun, but there’s no reason to jeopardize one’s health.

Look around the sports world. How many of our favorite players have  suffered concussions and serious side effects? Steve Young…Tim Tebow…that poor young HS football player from Montclair, NJ who died last year after a series of concussions.

The bottom line? When it comes to your youngster’s health and welfare, if they suffer a serious knock on their head, they sit out until they are cleared — not by the coach or by you – but by the family doctor.

1) NCAA Clearinghouse: Start Planning Now 2) HS Baseball Coach and Strippers?

Pete Williams, a long-time guidance counselor at Mamaroneck HS, offered some great insights on the NCAA Clearinghouse rules for aspring college student-athletes. Basically, if your son or daughter has any dreams of playing sports in college, you have to make sure that they’re taking the right courses starting as freshmen in HS.

The rules for minimal GPA and SAT or ACT scores are pretty straightforward, but each year, there are lots and lots of college freshmen who don’t have what they need academically in order to try out or play on a college team. As such, please be sure to go to www.Eligibilitycenter.org to get more information about what your son or daughter needs to do to be cleared.

Also, regarding that HS baseball coach from New Mexico who paid for two strippers to entertain two of his players on a road trip to Denver — and then after he got fired from his coaching AND teaching job, he complained that he deserved a second chance — just like Rick Pitino and Bill Clinton.

Problem is – Pitino and Clinton were involved with sexual escaspades of their own – they were NOT accomodating two HS students. That’s a big difference. While I certainly don’t condone Clinton or Pitino’s acts – you would certainly expect better behavior from a famous coach and US president – in this particular case, what the coach from New Mexico doesn’t merit any kind of second chance.

Profanity in youth sports: An unavoidable reality?

I was curious to see what kind of reaction I would have with this topic, and was somewhat pleasantly surprised to hear from so many coaches and parents who feel that young athletes SHOULD be held accountable if they utter four-letter words in the heat of action.

That is, we all know that there are ups-and-downs in sports, and that it’s easy to lose one’s self-control when it comes to letting one’s tongue slip. But the vast majority of the callers this AM felt that kids clearly need to be cautioned by their parents and their coaches if they allow obscenities to be heard.

One caller, Gary from Staten Island, reported that he tells his players each year that swearing is just not acceptable on his team, and that he won’t stand for it. Other callers felt the same way. Personally, I thought it was a bit distressing that some said that the young kids just didn’t know it was poor form to cuss at games. Nobody had ever told them.

Again, it all comes back to what the kids hear at home, and what the kids assume is acceptable. And it falls upon the coaches to set the right tone for these kids. I know society evolves all the time, but this is something very jarring and disturbing about going to a kids’ game and hearing 11 and 12-year-olds curse openly like drunken sailors. Enough is enough!

PS –  I thought Dr. Vinod Somareddy’s comments about preventing ACL injuries in girls and women were fascinating and vitally important. If you have a daughter who plays sports, be sure to check out my interview with Dr. Somareddy on the WFAN.com website.