Archive for Coping with Adversity

LEARNING FROM ADVERSITY: Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts on Sportsmanship

Chief Justice Roberts on Lessons Learned from Adversity

By Doug Abrams

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

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

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

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

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

Sources: Chris Vannini, “Tom Izzo: We’re Creating a System Where Kids Don’t Learn to Handle Adversity,” (Apr. 13, 2017); Katie Reilly, “’I Wish You Bad Luck.’ Read Supreme Court Justice John Roberts’ Unconventional Speech to His Son’s Graduating Class, Time, July 5, 2017; Robert Barnes, “The Best Thing Chief Justice Roberts Wrote This Term Wasn’t a Supreme Court Opinion,” Wash. Post, July 2, 2017.


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).



As a sports parent, what do you say to your youngster who has just experienced “the agony of defeat” for the first time in their very young career?

That kind of parental experience  inspired sportswriter Sam Weinman to write a new book with the provocative title, WIN AT LOSING: How Our Biggest Setbacks Can Lead to Our Greatest Gains. The father of two boys, 11 and 8, Sam starts his book talking about how one of his young boys had a meltdown after losing in a tennis match. Sam gave his son some time to feel the sharp pain of the defeat, but then after a few hours and after his son had calmed down, Sam tried to explain to him that the best way to deal with a defeat is to try and take away what part of your game needs to be worked on, what you need to improve on.

Without those significant takeaways, one will be stuck at the same level in sports, never really making progress to get to the next level. That’s the key in terms of winning at losing. Ironically, suffering a defeat can actually prove to be much more beneficial in one’s long-range career because if a youngster is so gifted early so that he or she lose, then they sometimes don’t learn to fully their game. That is, any possible weakness in their game is masked by their wins, and as such, they don’t feel the need to go out and work on their game.

But when you lose….well, that’s the wake-up. Young athletes begin to realize that they need to improve their game. They start to go out on their own and practice, practice, and practice. It might be working to develop their dexterity in dribbling a basketball with either hand. Or learning how to skate faster backwards. Or whatever the skill may be, the youngster who just flat-out decides to improve their game by having that inner drive to go out and work is key.


I have always felt – but certainly can’t prove it  – that having that inner drive to push oneself to get better in sports is perhaps a genetic trait. That is, some kids seem to be born with that kind of drive. Most others simply don’t. They are okay with their skill level, and see no reason to work any harder at it. But if you see your son or daughter at age 8 or 10 or 12 going outside – without any push from you – to work on their athletic skills on their own, you can rest assured as a parent that your child has been blessed with that inner drive to succeed.

To my way of thinking, there is no better barometer of a kid’s desire to want to get better – not just in sports – but in life in general.

But back to Sam’s book. He recounts a number of stories of how individuals dealt with setbacks, and only a handful deal with sports. He writes about entrepreneurs who cope with start-up issues, business executives, health and injury comebacks, and so on. One of the more poignant stories deals with the Columbia University football team which, back in the late 1980s, didn’t win a game for four season. That’s right – there were football players who never won a game in college.

Sure, they came close a few times. But in the end, they never had the joy of a celebratory locker room. Sam writes about these dedicated football players and how they bonded together, and how so many of them took away the hard-earned discipline they developed at Columbia to become successful doctors, lawyers, Wall Street types, and so on.


The beauty about sports, of course, is that as much as we love to win, we all celebrate the underdog’s achievements – especially that individual who had to overcome setbacks.

Everybody know s about Michael Jordan being cut from his HS team. But did you know that Derek Jeter made 56 errors in his first year of pro ball in just 126 games?  Yet he seemed to overcome that terrible fielding average and do okay. Pat Eilers, a wide receiver who transferred to Notre Dame from Yale even though his football coach at Yale told him “he would never even make the team at Notre Dame” ended up scoring the winning TD in the famous Catholics v. Convicts game between Miami and Notre Dame. Hall of Famer Steve Young went from 8th stringer at BYU and didn’t even dress in uniform for home games to All-American in three years.

In short, adversity is the stuff of sports. It happens everyday. The real question is: how will your son or daughter react to it when it hits them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I happen to agree with him.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


COPING WITH ADVERSITY: What’s the Best Way to Give Feedback to Young Athletes (…and their Parents)?

One of the basic fundamentals that all coaches embrace – whether at the youth, travel, or HS level – is that a coach has to give feedback to one’s athletes.

Problem is, it’s rare for a coach to be trained at any level on how to do this. In short, it’s just sort of “assumed” that coaches know how to do this. But anyone who has had a youngster play for a bunch of different coaches know that giving feedback is rarely standard or universal in nature.

A generation ago, coaches were considerably more gruff and tough in their demeanor. That doesn’t mean they were mean or sarcastic; it just means that it was hard to please them. I can recall vividly how difficult it was to get my HS football coaches to get them to smile just a little bit on a well-executed block or tackle. I remember how I could live for a full week on cloud nine if I ever got a pat on the back from the head football coach for a job well done.

But of course, times change. These days, it seems the tables have turned dramatically, almost 180 degrees, to the point where every coach lavishes constant praise on the athletes, and does so regardless of youth, travel, or HS level. Every kid, it seems, is “making tremendous progress” or “is just doing great” or “I couldn’t be happier with their skill level.”

But of course, if every kid on the team is receiving this kind of glowing feedback, how is it that some kids end up playing a lot whereas others are on the bench?

That’s a real dilemma. And invariably, it leads parents to wonder what’s going on. As in, “if my kid so good, why is he not starting?”

Good question. And most coaches can’t answer that.

Lost in this shuffle is the element of adversity. The vast majority of parents instinctively tend to shield their kids from adversity – to keep them protected from the cold, cruel world. But in the world of sports, such protection isn’t always the right thing. And it doesn’t help when the coach keeps heaping glowing praise on the kid.

Adversity is a major part of ANY athlete’s experience. Ask any top pro or college star and they were all tell you that they faced some sort of adversity in their career that they had to overcome. It’s just the way it is in sports.


Ian Goldberg, who has two young daughters who play softball and soccer, started to think about the feedback process. He was so moved by the lack of real and meaningful feedback at the youth level that he developed an online program (which is free) to aid and assistant youth coaches in giving real feedback to kids.

In effect, it’s similar to a report card from school. But the key is that, depending on the sport and the athlete’s age, the coach provide true observations on a kid’s progress, i.e. needs to learn how to control the  soccer ball effectively with both feet, needs to see the entire field better in terms of passing, etc. By pinpointing both the strengths as well as weaknesses, the youngster gets a much better feel as to what they need to work on.

Ian also points out that for travel team tryouts, it would be extremely helpful if the coaches posted precise criteria on their website as well. Just saying “We’re going to select the best athletes from the kids who try out” doesn’t do much to help alleviate the pressure on kids and parents. By being specific as to what they’re looking for can only help.

In any event, if you’d like to find out more, check out Be sure to look for the app to get you going on your critiques.

COPING WITH ADVERSITY: What Do You Say to Your Athlete When They Have A Bad Game?

You know what’s hard to do if you’re a parent?  When your athletic son or daughter has a tough game. And afterwards, you want to say just the right thing to boost their spirits.

But finding the right words, or knowing the right time to say something, is very, very hard.

Now — and this may sound incredibly obvious to many of you — but for starters, it’s really quite difficult to sit in the stands or to stand on the sidelines and watch your son or daughter perform during crucial moments of the game.

To be sure, if you’re like most Moms and  Dads, it’s both thrilling as well as totally nerve-racking to watch your son or daughter get up to bat in a baseball game in a close game…or go to the free throw line in a close game….or to be the goalie in a soccer match where the score is tied and the other team is threatening to score.

Of course, many parents simply release their anxiety by cheering loudly for their kid to do well. Or by saying quiet prayers that their kid will come through when the pressure is on.

Others, though, have a very hard time, They simply stand off to the side from all the others, and do their best to swallow their nervousness. They’re nervous for their child.

Of course, lots of former top professional athletes have noted over the years that it’s a lot tougher to be a parent and to watch one’s kid play — than to have played as an athlete themselves.

I feel the same way.

When I was a kid, I loved played sports. I was competitive. And I had success. But I got nervous before I played in games. Yet once the game started, I was able to turn the pre-game jitters into a focused drive to compete and play well. I felt confident of my skills during close games probably because I had devoted so much time to practice and more practice that I had built up a sense of inner confidence in my game.

But watching as a parent? Well, that’s tough. Whether it’s watching your kid compete in sports, or giving a speech in a school auditorium, or performing a key role in the school play, or giving a solo performance in a concert….you instinctively hold your breath, try to smile bravely and look positive, and hope that your son or daughter comes through.

And most times, they do. We then exhale, we smile, and we celebrate.

But what do you when they misfire?

They strike out. They let in the winning goal. They miss the key shot.  

First, your heart, of course, aches. But then, what do you say or do? When the game is over, and your child comes over to you, what is your response? What do you say? How do give them the pep talk, the magical words, they desperately crave that will make them feel better?

Do you simply tell them to “shake it off” and promise them they’ll do better next time?

That it’s only a game..and not to sweat it?

Any other clichés that come to mind?

Or do you take a different approach. Do you talk about those other plays of their game in which they did well? Or do you zero in on where they failed, and how they can work to get better?

Or do you say nothing at all, and let them fight through the disappointment?

If you have a child who plays sports, I guarantee that you have had to encounter this kind of situation at one point or another in your life.

As a parent, what do you say? What do you do when things didn’t go their way in the game.

Lots of callers had superb suggestions this AM on WFAN when focusing on this issue. Here’s a quick recap which you might find helpful:

o Always remind your athlete to “do their best.” If they give their best effort on the field, then they’ll  be better off when coping with disappointment. But remind them that in order to do their best, they need to prepare with practice, practice, and more practice.

o Sometimes, you have to give “a tip of the cap” to the opposing player or team. Nobody wins every game they play, and sometimes, on any given day, the opponent is a little sharper in their game than you are. Please remind your son or daughter that this does happen, and when it does, you need to salute the other team.

o Explain to your child that losing is a major part of any competition. Yes, everybody focuses on winning, but losing is just as common.

o Tell your child that the best way to benefit from a loss is to learn from it. Try and distill why one didn’t prevail, and what can be done to learn from those mistakes.

o Most of all, right after the game, there’s really no need for words. Give your child a good, solid hug, let their tears flow, and then get in the car to give them some privacy and to allow them to feel their disappointment. But later on in the day, check on them, and see if they want to talk at all. If they do, let them lead the conversation — not you.

COPING WITH ADVERSITY: Disabled Athletes Who Rise To Succeed

Another Story About a High School Athlete

Who Has Overcome Physical Challenges

 By Doug Abrams


Every so often, a human interest story captures the true spirit of athletic competition. The story is especially worth savoring when the spotlight shines on an athlete who is not yet old enough to graduate from high school.

On September 25, writer Laura Kirschman profiled Emmanuel Hilton, a junior varsity soccer goalkeeper at Blackhawk High School in Beaver Falls, Pa. The Beaver Falls Times headline says what needs to be said: “Born Without Lower Legs, Congolese Soccer Player Finds a Home at Blackhawk.”

Soon after Emmanuel was born in the Congo, his mother abandoned him at night along the roadside (“thrown away” because of his condition, as he puts it). Kirschman reports that nighttime abandonment of newborns in that war-torn nation often means death or starvation, but Emmanuel was rescued and placed in an institutional orphanage.  Within a few years, he was adopted by an American couple, a Methodist pastor and his wife, who brought him to Chippewa, Pa. because they felt that he deserved a chance in life.

The reaction of Emmanuel’s Blackhawk High JV soccer teammates this past season? Coach Bryan Vitali told Kirschman, “He’s just such an inspiration to our team. . . .  It’s almost like a rallying cry for these guys. It’s just like, look at Emmanuel, look what he brings to the table everyday” as he guards the goal without wearing his prosthetics.

Emmanuel Hilton’s story reminds me of a similar captivating one that the media reported in 2005. After referees refused to allow senior Bobby Martin to play in a varsity football game, state officials ruled that he was eligible to play. Bobby Martin was born without legs. Like Emmanuel, he won his teammates’ respect.

Opening the Doors to Youth Sports

Emmanuel Hilton and Bobby Martin may present unusual cases, but their fortitude, and their teammates’ ready acceptance, demonstrate why sports should remain open to physically challenged boys and girls who otherwise would be stereotyped as incapable of participating. To the maximum extent possible, leagues and teams should encourage children with physical challenges to participate in sports with other children if their parents approve, their abilities permit, and participation does not change the character of the game or compromise safety.  Worthwhile programs, such as Little League’s Challenger Division, serve children whose conditions make integrated play inadvisable or impossible.

Striking a Balance

In early 2013, the U.S. Department of Education instructed the nation’s public school districts that federal law requires them to “provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate alongside their peers in after-school athletics.” The Education Department’s authority extends only to the nation’s public schools, but equal opportunity should also guide private youth sports programs that federal education law does not directly reach.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that public schools “may not exclude students who have an intellectual, developmental, physical, or any other disability from trying out and playing on a team, if they are otherwise qualified.” “While it’s the coach’s job to pick the best team,” he continued, “students with disabilities must be judged based on their individual abilities, and not excluded because of generalizations, assumptions, prejudices, or stereotypes.”

Federal law strikes a healthy balance. “[S]chools don’t have to change the essential rules of the game,” Secretary Duncan explained, “and they don’t have to do anything that would provide a student with a disability an unfair competitive advantage.  But they do need to make reasonable modifications (such as using a laser instead of a starter pistol to start a race so a deaf runner can compete) to insure that students with disabilities get the very same opportunity to play as everyone else.”

Good for Young Athletes and Good for America

Youth sports paves a two-way street. The media regularly reports how children with Down syndrome, missing limbs, and other conditions win their teammates’ acceptance, support, and respect. Sports enables these children to learn, hone their social skills, and develop their self-esteem through competition. In turn, these children teach valuable lessons by surmounting barriers with uncommon perseverance and determination.

In public school districts and private sports programs alike, the impulse to include, rather than exclude, children marks youth sports at its finest.  Inclusion is good for the young athletes, and it is good for America.


Sources: Laura Kirschman, Born Without Lower Legs, Congolese Soccer Player Finds a Home at Blackhawk, The Times (Beaver Cty., Pa.),; USA TODAY, Football Player Without Legs Eligible to Play, (Sept. 20, 2005); U.S. Dep’t of Education (Jan. 25, 2013).

COPING WITH ADVERSITY: Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison’s Post-Game Comments Totally Disgraceful

Yes, I’m quite certain that Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison was angry, upset, and disappointed that his basketball team had just lost in the Final Four to a more talented, better coached, and more poised Wisconsin team. That loss, of course, ruined the Wildcats’ run to a perfect season.

But of course, that’s both the beauty as well as curse of athletics. It’s why the games are played.

So I understand that this loss – the first for Kentucky this season – must have been devastating. But all that being said, why in the world would he mutter under his breath – in front of an open microphone – a reference to Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky as “F*** that n*****.”

Why? Has Harrison never lost a game before? Or does he always react to losses with not only profanity,but also a racist comment?

Yes, it’s true that once the press conference ended, UK officials immediately had Harrison reach out to Kaminsky and apologize over the phone. He also tweeted his apology several times.

But still…

Teachable moment? This is no 13-year-old. This is supposed to be a young man in college who knows something about adversity. And speaking of college, where was Coach Calipari in all of this?

The last I heard, the University of Kentucky had issued a statement that they were still investigating the audio. Huh? By now, I’m quite sure millions of fans all over the country have seen and heard the nasty comment. So why is Coach Calipari taking so long to apologize on behalf of his star player, and by the way, Coach, what’s the punishment for your player? Or is the phone call to Kaminsky and a couple of tweets make it all good again?

Coach, here are some punishments: have Harrison write a national apology about what he said, and get it posted in USA TODAY or the Wall Street Journal. Or have him do some meaningful community service to help show that he fully understands the history of racism in this country.

All athletes know  – or should know – about coping with wins and losses. Adversity is the lifeblood of sports. It’s just incredible to me that an accomplished athlete like Andrew Harrison deliberately offended all basketball fans by making such a terrible and unnecessary comment.

What an awful way to end a terrific game. Classless. Totally classless.



ADVERSITY IN SPORTS: When’s the Right Age to Allow Competition for Kids?

I asked the controversial question on today’s show: At what age should we start to keep score in our kids’ games, and in effect, introduce them to competition, e.g winning and losing.

I was inspired to do this after reading the the founder of the Texas Youth Football League – the basis for the reality TV series, “Friday Night Tykes,” was of the opinion that introducing 6 and 7 year old tackle football players to winning and losing was suitable – that, in effect, the sooner we introduce our kids to the harsh realities of life, the better prepared they will become.

That TV show features little kids playing tackle football and being exposed to the relentless and often abusive taunts of their coaches (and sometimes their parents) as preparation to become mentally tough and better football players. Kids are seen crying, suffering concussions, and vomiting when they overextend themselves in the hot Texas sun.

It’s not an easy series to watch.


I used that show as a stepping off point for this discussion about what’s the right age to keep score, and I must confess I was not surprised that several callers agreed that there’s no reason to try and sugarcoat competition for kids, even at the earliest ages. As one caller said, “Look, the kids know who’s winning and losing. They’re not stupid. They can see the scoreboard.”

However, another caller, a hockey coach, said that in his town’s league, they don’t post the game’s score until the kids are 9 and 10, and better able to handle winning and losing.

The calls were fairly even split, but towards the end of the show, the point was raised that each youngster tends to learn about the highs of winning and the lows of losing on their own, and at their own pace. However, that being said, it’s important that parents step up early on and explain gently that sports routinely have a winner and a loser – and that the only things that an athlete can control is:

1) that they have prepared for the game as best as they can, and

2) that they do their best in the game.

If a youngster feels good about those two criteria, then they will begin to understand that winning and losing is something that can be confronted and handled. Yes, there may be tears, but tears usually dry up quickly as a youngster moves beyond a loss and goes onto the next event of the day (of course, losing is not always as easy for the parents to absorb!)

But kids DO learn on their own how to cope when the score goes against them. It’s incumbent on parents to be supportive, and to make sure their kids are prepared for the invariable ups-and-downs of sports competition. And yes, you should talk to your child about preparation and making a full effort in sports when they are 5, 6, or 7. Again, explain to them that no matter the competition in life, sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. That’s the nature of sports.

COPING WITH ADVERSITY: What’s The Right Move When the Refs Flub a Major Call?

Okay, in this day and age of “instant replay” and “upon further review,” we’ve become accustomed – even expectant –  to seeing critically important calls in a game being overturned. And for the most part, we as sports fans understand if a ref’s call may have been decided wrongly. After all, they are forced to make a call in real-life time, without the benefit of slow-motion replays from different angles.

But that’s all in the heat of the moment.

What does a team do when a ref – or in this case, a team of ref’s – make a ruling that simply reveals their lack of knowledge of the rule book? And even worse, their lack of preparation ends up costing a HS football a big win in the state playoffs?

That’s precisely what happened a couple of weeks ago in a quarterfinal HS football game in Oklahoma. In short, Frederick A. Douglass HS scored the go-ahead TD with 1:04 left in the game on a 58-yard pass play. But during the play, one of Douglass coaches start running down the sideline, and accidentally obstructed with a ref. The official threw a flag.

But there is where things go off the rails. The ref met with his officiating colleagues, and determined that the infraction should result in wiping away the critically important TD, and bringing the ball all the way back to the line of scrimmage. Both teams were stunned: the Douglass team couldn’t believe their eyes, and the other team, Locust Grove HS, suddenly saw their prayers answered.

Instead of Douglass leading 25-20 with 1:04 to go, it was now 20-19 in favor of Locust Grove.

Problem is…the refs goofed. The penalty should have been assessed on the point after attempt, or on the ensuing kickoff, and it should have been 5 yards. But the go-ahead TD should have stayed on the scoreboard.

A day later, the Oklahoma State Athletic Association called the screw-up by the refs “inexcusable.” And the school district in which Douglass HS is located decided to sue  some sort of  relief  — to either pick up the game at the 1:04 mark, or totally replay the game from the beginning.

Jere Longman of the New York Times was my guest this AM on WFAN as he covered the bizarre chain of events, and pointed out there’s very little precedent for courts to get involved in these kinds of situations. However, there was one case in 1981 where the Georgia Supreme Court, in overturning a lower court’s decision, said that an important HS football game should not be replayed.

In this case, the judge in Oklahoma ruled that it’s understood by all HS athletes and coaches that once one agrees to participate in a HS sporting event, one tacitly agrees that the refs’ rulings will, in fact, serve as the final say. That suggests that even if the refs make a terrible call, as they did in this case,  the ruling will stand and cannot be appealed.

And so, that’s the end of the story. Douglass HS was deprived of its go-ahead TD in a state playoff game due to the ignorance of the football refs not knowing the rule book. Douglass saw its season come to an unexpected end. Locust Grove advanced because of the ruling, and in their semi-final game, they lost.

There’s hard to find any silver lining in any of this, except that one hopes that the lesson that is learned  here is that officials will take some time to really learn the rule book. It’s understood that most HS refs work games out of a love of the game, not to get wealthy. But you would hope that, especially with playoff games, the refs would double check everything. In some states, for example, they often have a supervisory ref assigned to playoff games just for this purpose. And of course, it would be a nice touch if somebody actually brought a HS football rule book to the game.

As for the kids on Frederick A Douglass HS, well, you can make a case that perhaps they will learn the hard way from this difficult outcome, that life is often full of unexpected downturn, that sometimes when you win, you really lose. But still…