Archive for Innovations in sports

INNOVATIONS: Why Not Set National Benchmarks so that Athletes Can See How They Match Up?

In today’s column, I’m going to make a strong suggestion and try to make a case that perhaps there’s a better way to raise our kids in sports than what we’re currently doing.

Now, admittedly, this is something of a radical approach. I’m the first to admit that.

But the truth is….

I just don’t see any end or improvement to what’s happening now in the world of sports parenting. I don’t see any evidence that things are getting better.

You know the headlines: helicopter sports parents everywhere are over-involved…HS  coaches are under siege and getting burned out and quitting…travel teams continue to be unregulated and travel coaches and teams don’t have to be certified by any local state or federal laws.

Kids everywhere feel they have to specialize in one sport at an increasingly early age….travel team tryouts add constant agonizing pressure to parents and kids.

We all know these realities….and yet…we don’t seem to have any ability to come up with a new or creative solution to any of this. It’s just become the hard-faced reality of youth sports in this country. In my opinion, we need to start focusing on how to change this. 

Let’s face it, every year, there’s a new crop of sports parents who come onto the sporting scene, all of them hoping that their 5 or 6 year old is going to be something really special in sports. But for those parents who aren’t well versed in the sport, or aren’t educated in travel team mentality, they – and their kids – seem to be placed at an immediate disadvantage.

Parents look for answers and guidance everywhere — but of course, there are no guidelines. Parents assume that tryouts for travel teams are about all equal opportunity, not knowing that pretty much the entire roster has already been pre-selected by the coaches.

What about hiring a private coach? Sure. But how do you know which coach to hire? Just through word of mouth? Remember, Mom and Dad, you’re paying for this.

Meanwhile, every kid and their parents are hoping that maybe….just maybe…they will develop into that rare athlete: the one who stars in HS and on travel teams and gets that golden ticket to play in college.

But the bottom line is that for those very, very few and very rare athletes who DO get that golden ticket, all the others kids and their families will come away disappointed. They THOUGHT being on a travel team would make them good enough. They ASSUMED that being All-League made them special.  They BOUGHT into the private coach telling them how good they were.

But of course, it just doesn’t work that way.

So….here’s a suggestion:

NATIONAL ATHLETIC BENCHMARKS

Suppose we had national athletic benchmarks for kids at age 10, 13, and 16?

These benchmarks of athletic ability would be totally objective standards that basically say to parents, that  if your kid can’t perform at these very high levels, then the reality is that you need to know there’s almost zero chance of them getting a scholarship or turning pro.

In other words, compared to other kids the same age from around the country who are also chasing that same golden ticket, these standardized athletic tests show that your kid is just not projecting to be good enough.

Very simple. Very straightforward. No reason to sugar coat this. Let the youngster know he or she – when compared to other athletes their age – they simply don’t match up as compared to all the other kids their same age nationally who are pursuing the same goals.

These physical aptitude tests could consist of 6 to 8 basic tests: A kid’s jumping ability….their speed in a 60- yard dash…how good is their visual acuity (most major leaguers have 20-15 vision, not just 20-20)….overall strength in terms of weight lifting…one’s balance….eye-hand coordination….a kid’s current height….and weight…you get the idea.

Now, let be clear about this….the national scores they would be matching up against are NOT the AVERAGE or ACCEPTABLE physical abilities for a kid their age. We’re talking about the superior athletes and how they match up at the same age as your kid at age 13, or 16.

To do this, we would ask the medical experts and athletic trainers to come up with national standards in these kinds of athletic abilities, and then – just as kids take SAT or ACT standard tests for college admission , they can see how their athletic abilities compare with real college scholarship athletes.

That is, when a HS student takes the SAT or ACT tests, those are standard, universal scores that help inform the kid and their parents how they stack up against all the other HS students in the country. And of course, these scores go a long way in determining where they can get into college.

What does this all of accomplish in athletics? Well, for starters, it helps to give the parents a much clearer understanding of just how difficult it is for any athlete to compete at the highest levels.

That is, we keep telling parents that less than 4% of all HS varsity athletes will ever make any kind of sports team in college at any level. The problem is, of course, that the parents look at their own athlete and naturally assume that he or she is one of those 4%.

 

But by having these national standard numbers posted everywhere in schools, the parents will have to come to grips with the harsh reality that while their youngster is indeed a very big athletic fish in their local community, their community is just another small pond – and that there are thousands of comparable small ponds around the country.

It also sends a similar message to the athletes — that this is how your national competitors are checking in — and that maybe, just maybe, you might want to start thinking about another back-up passion in life besides playing sports.

My sense is that we have to start thinking proactively as to what and how we can change our current system. Or at least do something to better inform parents and their kids about what the future has in store for them.

HOW WOULD THIS WORK?

 

You could have benchmarks for such easily measured elements as:

Speed in a 40-yard sprint.

Visual accuity

Jumping ability.

Physical strength (e.g. how much can a kid lift?)

Balance

Eye-hand coordination

Height and weight

For example, let’s take simple speed. By the time most college football wide receivers are, say, 16, — and I’m making these numbers up – I’ll bet they are very, very fast. Maybe the average speed for D-I wide receivers in a 40-yard dash is 4.4 or 4.5 seconds.

Okay….so your son is 16 and plays wide receiver on his HS team. What is his time in a 40 yard dash? Clearly if it’s not 4.5 or better, then it would appear he’s not going to be competitive in a sprint with all the other HS wide receivers – all of whom want football scholarships as well.

In other words, let’s start to develop some meaningful numbers along a range of athletic measurements so kids and parents and coaches know what the truth is.

Won’t this have the effect of just discouraging kids from competing? No, to me, it will have just the opposite effect. That is, kids will play sports SIMPLY because they’re fun to play….for the pure joy of playing….which is something we did a generation ago. We played sports because they were fun, no because we were chasing a college scholarship.

It will also send the message to parents and kids that while it’s great for your son or daughter to play, they had better realize that maybe there’s no real money in their future as an athlete. Yes, it will help them on their college application to be All-League or a team Captain in their sport, but that may simply help them get into a better academic college….NOT get them an athletic  scholarship.

“But my kid has the heart of a lion,” I can hear parents saying, “And you can’ measure a kid’s heart.”

Well, that’s true. But unfortunately, if your boy is 5-11, 180, and plays linebacker in HS, there’s just zero chance of his being heavily recruited by any D-I schools. Even if he has great speed, his physical size is going to eliminate him. Why? Because college football coaches can find linebackers who are 6’3, weigh 225, and run with tremendous speed. Plus these kids also are blessed with great determination.

So, there’s no need to recruit a smaller and slower kid.

My point? Better to let this smaller linebacker know the truth while he’s 16 or 17, so that he can focus on developing other parachutes in life….AND he can still compete in HS football because he enjoys it – not because he’s thinking he’s going to play in college.

And what about travel programs and private coaches?

Well, the same rules apply. Your kid may be a talented travel player, but regardless of whether they play on an elite travel program or have a private coach who assures him he’s doing great and is on the fast track, the national benchmark numbers are going to be very hard to dismiss.

Look, kid, you’re really good….but you’re just not fast enough, or big enough, or strong enough to make the big jump to the next level.

What do you think? Is this approach a good idea? Or do you have another idea to educate sports parents and kids on the realities of competitive sports? Otherwise, the current issues we face today in sports parenting are just going to continue. And that’s what concerns me.

INNOVATIONS IN SPORTS: Using Technology To Help You Be a Better Sports Parent

Four Tips to Help Sports Parents Stay Sane

 By Kathleen Burke, TeamSnap

As sports parents, you have a lot on your mind. From safety concerns on the field to getting your kids to practices on time to juggling family responsibilities, it’s easy to understand why many parents often feel overwhelmed during each sports season.

Take a deep breath and keep these four tips to help you stay sane during times of stress, both on and off the field.

The Right Gear

Be sure your child’s safety gear is in good shape and doesn’t need to be replaced. If you are concerned about safety, conduct regular spot checks to be sure your child’s helmet, shin guards, face mask, elbow pads or any sports equipment they use are up to speed. Give yourself some peace of mind before the game even starts with the knowledge that your child’s protective gear will do the job it’s meant to do.

Try to Empathize

We all know that youth sports can be emotional for everyone. It can be tempting to fly off the handle at a coach or a ref when you don’t like the call or want your kid to have more playing time. At those times you have to remember that it’s not personal, and that most coaches and refs are volunteering their time for your child. If you have a legitimate concern, wait at least 24 hours after the game is over so that emotions can cool. You can then approach the coach in a respectful manner. Always bear in mind that your kids are just kids. Youth sports by their nature are full of ups and downs. You need to accept that. Try to see the game from the coach’s or ref’s perspective, and that will give you more of a perspective.

Get on the Same Page with Your Son or Daughter

 Hopefully, your child is eager and enthusiastic about the sport they’re playing. Nut if you’re not sure how they feel, set aside some quiet time to talk to them about it. Sometimes, especially at the younger ages, kids will surprise you and say that they would prefer to play a different sport from the one they’re currently engaged in. It pays to be an active listener to what your child is saying.

Make Things Easier On Yourself

Don’t be afraid to share the load! Rotate driving duties with other parents, make the kids do their  laundry with their uniforms, order take-out for dinner, and if you take video of the games, have a video party to show highlights. And use the latest technology to remember when it’s your turn to  bring game refreshments  and follow along with the game when life gets in the way of you being there.

Want more tips and stories from the world of youth sports? Check out the TeamSnap Youth Sports Podcast and Blog for everything a coach, manager or sports parent needs!

 

About the author: Kathleen Burke writes for TeamSnap, a web and

mobile app used by 9 million coaches, parents, team managers and players to tame the logistical nightmare of wrangling schedules, practices, equipment and volunteers, providing up-to-the-second info on where everyone needs to be and what they need to bring.

 

 

 

 

 

INNOVATIONS IN SPORTS: How to Be at the Game When You Can’t….

3 Ways to Show You Care When You Can’t Make it to the Game

By Kathleen Burke, TeamSnap

Between the time it takes readying kids for school, helping with homework, keeping the family fed and, oh yeah, going to work, sometimes no matter how hard you try to plan ahead, getting to your child’s sports game just doesn’t happen.

It’s okay. No one can do everything all the time. The fact that you can’t physically attend some games does not mean you’re not interested in and supportive of your child. Though it may sometimes seem like it, parents can’t be everywhere at once! Here are a few tips to stay involved even if you can’t make it to the field for every game.

Follow Along From Afar

Although we can’t be in two places at once, technology can make it feel like we are. During those times when you can’t make it to the sidelines, there are tools you can use to keep up with the game remotely. If you can squeeze in a peek at your phone, you can keep up from the office, the house, the hotel room, or anywhere. When you get game updates in real-time, you can stay involved and cheer for your child through each play. If you have a smartphone, you can even get pictures and video as the game happens. When you talk to your child later, he or she will feel special that even though you weren’t physically there, you were able to follow along from a distance.

Ask Thoughtful Questions

Anyone can ask “How was the game?” and get the just as thoughtful response of “Good.” To avoid those lame exchanges, make an  extra special effort to ask specific questions of your child. Questions like, “What was your favorite part of the first half?”,“What was the best play you made?” and “What would you do differently if you could play the game again?” will garner more detailed responses from your kids, and can even open the conversation up to discussions on broader topics such as sportsmanship and work ethic. The point is, always allow your child to tell you about their experiences, rather than go into lecture mode.

Let Your Child Know You’ll Be There Next Time

With scheduling tools at your fingertips, hopefully you can plan ahead and attend every game, but even if you can’t make it to all the games, (hey, schedule conflicts happen!) make an extra effort to plan something special where you can spend some quality time with your son or daughter. It could be something as simple as tucking a handwritten note of support and encouragement into a lunchbox or backpack or as elaborate as hosting the end of the year team bash at your home for all the kids and parents. Chances are, if you take extra steps where you can to show your love, the feelings of appreciation will stick with them long after the season ends.

Want more tips and stories from the world of youth sports? Check out the TeamSnap Youth Sports Podcast and Blog  for everything a coach, manager or sports parent needs!

About the author: Kathleen Burke writes for TeamSnap, a web and mobile app used by 9 million coaches, parents, team managers and players to tame the logistical nightmare of wrangling schedules, practices, equipment and volunteers, providing up-to-the-second info on where everyone needs to be and what they need to bring.

 

 

 

INNOVATIONS IN SPORTS: Are We Handing Out Too Many Awards at the End-of-Season Banquets?

This may seem like an odd topic….but I’ve been wondering about it for a long time, and judging from the response to today’s show,it seems as though a lot of other sports fans/parents have been wondering about this growing trend as well.

With the end of school year upon us, and with spring teams ending their seasons, it’s the time for student-athletes to be lauded with awards, honors, plaques, and banquets in their honor.

Now…we have debated endlessly the issue of whether kids who are just starting out in sports – those kids who are 6 or 7 or 8 – who all receive a trophy at the end of the season, regardless of whether they were stars, or even if they rarely showed for the games. If your kid registered, then they get a trophy.

Now, the general consensus is that the kids really don’t pay much attention to the inexpensive plastic trophies…they end up on a shelf and after a number of years, find themselves in a cardboard box headed to the attic or basement or trash. Kids really don’t seem to take much pride in them….they serve more as a reminder that for one year, they played soccer or baseball or basketball.

But what about the awards, honors, and trophies that are handed out a few years later when the athletes are in HS?

Have they become just as meaningless to the kids as the cheap plastic trophies?

No, of course not. In this case, each HS award signifies some sort of athletic achievement. It usually means that the youngster accomplished something noteworthy through dedication and hard work.

But consider this: When I was in HS….and I could be wrong…but it seemed that there were a lot fewer athletic awards handed out.  That is, for a varsity team, the big award – and perhaps the only one – was the MVP award. There were no awards for “Most Improved” or “Best Sportsmanship” or “Best Team Player” or anything else.

Yes, if a kid were lucky enough to make the All-League team or All-County team, that was indeed quite an accomplishment. But there were no second or third teams for All-League or All-County….just one team.

I also don’t recall kids being named Honorable Mention either. Either you made the top All-Star team, or you didn’t.  As a result, being named All-League or All-County was a most unique and special honor.

But these days…not only do HS programs give out lots of awards to their players…but with All-County and All-League teams, there are usually 3 levels, and dozens of more kids who are named Honorable Mention.

So my question is this….is this a good trend? Or like the plastic trophies, is this diluting the impact of making an All-Star team?

Are we giving out TOO many awards then as well?

Coaches these days know that they have to be extremely careful….why? Because if a kid and his parents fully expect to be named All-League or All-County – and somehow they aren’t selected – it’s the head coach who is going to be held responsible.

How many times have I heard a parent say, “Well, his HS coach is a good guy…but he’s just not very aggressive in making sure his players receive all the recognition they deserve”  TRANSLATION: My kid didn’t make the All-Star team because his coach didn’t push for him hard enough.

If you, as a coach, have ever been in a selection meeting for All-League or All-County meetings, you know how difficult it can be sometimes to convince the other league coaches to vote for your guy or gal, especially if they have a strong player of their own at the same position.

And coaches of course point to stats….well, who knows if the stats are accurate? Especially in baseball, where they are all sorts of judgment calls on hits and errors….and besides, who’s keeping the books?

In other words, it’s all a very dicey proposition….and yet the players and their parents are most eager to be pleased.

This is, of course, why more and more All-League and All-County teams have second and third teams…and if your kid doesn’t make one of those squads, they are honorable mention, which for the kid who expected first or second honors, HM seems like a slight of sorts, as in, “I only made honorable mention…”

Yes. Such awards make your kid feel good. And as a parent, you are proud.

And yes, such citations always look good on a college application and in one’s scrap book.

But at the end of the day, with the proliferation of all sorts of trophies and plaques being handed out, do they still carry the same kind of impact that such awards carried years ago? I’m just not so sure. It’s almost as though every HS now assumes they were be given some sort of award…and I’m not sure that’s the real message we want to send.

INNOVATIONS IN SPORTS: How Do You Prepare A Survey of A Coach’s Performance?

From time to time, I receive emails from frustrated parents who feel that their son or daughter’s coach is non-communicative with either the kids or the parents. The coach basically says, “I don’t want to deal with the Moms and Dads. If you have a problem with that, take it up with the athletic director.”

Now, although I personally feel that kind of attitude is both outdated and non-productive, there are still lots of coaches, especially at the HS and travel team level, who maintain that approach. And the truth is, coaches are still entitled to maintain that firewall from the parents, unless their AD instructs them otherwise.

Nevertheless, parents ask me all the time about setting up a coaching survey, of which I happen to be an advocate. In fact, my sense is that most coaches, who take their job seriously, would welcome ANY kind of feedback from their players and the parents, so long as it’s presented in a professional and non-aggressive manner. True, the coaches may not like some of the negative comments  — who does? – but if they’re serious about becoming a better coach, this kind of objective feedback can only help them.

HOW DOES ONE SET UP A SURVEY?

If you would like to put such a plan into action, I would keep these basic parameters in mind:

If the team is part of the public high school, then you must work in conjunction with the school AD. You can’t, and shouldn’t, do a survey of the coach on your own.

If the team is a travel team, then you need to inform the person who owns or runs the travel team of your intention.

The survey needs to be short, to the point, and totally anonymous. To be effective, the responders’ identities need to be protected at all costs. Otherwise, there’s always the risk of retribution by the coach.

Write the instructions fairly and right down the middle. DO NOT make it sound like this is your chance, as a parent, to really “get back” or “unload” criticism at the coach. That’s really not the purpose of this exercise.

In terms of the actual questions, you can make them a combination of True/False or a scale of 1-5, where 1 is one extreme and 5 is the other. Questions should be direct, and address specific issues.  You do not want essays here.

Here are some samples below:

Did your youngster feel that he/she enjoyed playing on the team?

Overall, was it an enjoyable experience for your son/daughter?

Did they feel that the coach handled the issue of playing time fairly?

Did your youngster feel they benefitted from the coaching, in terms of skill development? That is, did your youngster feel the coach improved their game?

Did your youngster feel that the coach was too demanding or too tough in practice?

Did your youngster ever feel that they were picked on, or humiliated by the coach?

Did the coach use extreme profanity, or verbally abuse the players?

Was there any physical abuse, such as grabbing of players by the jersey?

Did the coach always show good sportsmanship?

You get the idea. Come up with no more than 10-15 questions, make the AD approves, and then ideally the AD will distribute them to the parents to fill out.

Remind the parents NOT to write a long essay, and to NOT sign their name. Remind them again that this is to be totally anonymous, and their feedback will be helpful to insure a solid program.

Finally, too many parents figure a survey like this is the perfect way to build a case against a coach in order to get him or her fired. While that may indeed happen, that decision is strictly under the realm of the athletic director or the individual who runs the travel team. You need to always bear that in mind.

 

 

 

 

 

INNOVATIONS IN SPORTS: How to Pay Amateur Athletes – Including Little Leaguers – Without Jeopardizing Their NCAA Eligibility

HERE’S HOW TO (LEGALLY) PAY MO’NE DAVIS, LITTLE LEAGUERS (AND OTHERS)

                                                        By Steve Kallas

 

Much was made during this year’s Little League World Series (“LLWS”) back in late August about the fact that Little League participants, mostly 12- and 13-year-olds, should somehow be paid for being in the LLWS.  The arguments were particularly strong this year since ESPN, which was finishing up an eight-year, $30.1 million deal with Little League to televise the LLWS, had just signed a new eight-year deal, but this time for $76 million.

The financial boon to Little League is obvious: next year, and for the seven years after that, Little League, a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit corporation, will literally have almost $6 million more per year than they had this year.

With the increased pressure on Little League for making millions of dollars on the backs of young kids, and in light of the recent O’Bannon decision by a lower federal court to set aside $5,000 per year for certain college athletes to collect after they leave college, the time is right for youngsters to be given financial consideration for making it to the LLWS.

The question is: how to do it?

The answer is that a program already exists to do just such a thing.

Little Leaguer Mo’Ne Davis, who garnered instant fame during this year’s LLWS, has transcended Little League by doing a national car commercial shown numerous times during the World Series.  The program discussed below could also be tailored to allow young people like Ms. Davis to receive monies for her efforts (without the NCAA having to jump through hoops to allow it).

 

HOW DOES THE ‘SMART’ PROGRAM WORK?

Welcome to the world of youth bowling, where thousands and thousands of young bowlers earn scholarship money for post-high school education by participating in bowling leagues and tournaments throughout the country.  According to the United States Bowling Congress, over $6 million annually is earned by young bowlers between the ages of five and 21.

So, how does this program, called the Scholarship Management and Accounting Reports for Tenpins (known as the “SMART” program) work?  Originating in 1994, the SMART program automatically opens a trust account in the name of any young person who participates in any approved bowling league or tournament and wins scholarship money in a league or tournament.  The participants must pay an entry fee to participate and, depending on the tournament or league, youth bowlers can win anywhere from $50 or so all the way up to $10,000 in scholarship money (that $10,000 was the highest prize in the national Junior Gold tournament which takes place every July).

Scholarship money is awarded as points. That is, every point equals five dollars.  So, the winner of this year’s Junior Gold in the oldest boys division received 2,000 points in his trust account.

 

IS THE SMART PROGRAM ACCEPTED BY THE NCAA?

 The SMART program is in compliance with the NCAA, so a bowler with scholarship money can participate in any NCAA sport in college and not lose his/her eligibility.  Part of the reason for this is that the scholarship money is virtually never given directly to the student (if it is, the student cannot play an NCAA sport).  The check is made out to the institution where the scholarship winner attends his/her post-high school education.

Those institutions are broadly defined according to the USBC:  the scholarship money can be used at “universities, colleges, business schools, technical schools, trade schools and continuing educational courses.”  The actual funds can be used for “tuition fees, textbooks, meal plans, housing plans and required class supplies and equipment necessary for the successful completion of a course or program” at the institutions described above.

The above program is offered as an example of something that already exists within the structure of post-high school education and has worked successfully for many years.  While Little League can and should develop its own program, the point is that the time is now and the means of doing it are already in existence.

To compensate the 200 or so ballplayers at the LLWS at, say, $5000 per player, such an award could be put in a SMART-like trust fund until they are out of high school.  That would cost the Little League $1 million of the additional $6 million they will be receiving under the new ESPN deal.  Indeed, if they extended that to the players on the losing regional teams (those that miss going to the LLWS by one game), that would be an additional $1 million, still leaving Little League with $4 million more than they had this past year.

 

CAN A SMART-LIKE PROGRAM BE EXTENDED TO OTHERS?

 On the broader landscape, this type of program could possibly be extended elsewhere in the case of any group of young athletes who are the focus of programming where lots of money passes hands and the student/athletes get nothing.  For example, the high school football and basketball players that are often now seen on ESPN could be compensated via a trust account, even in smaller numbers than this proposed Little League trust fund (depending on the payment for such games).

WHAT ABOUT THAT MO’NE DAVIS CAR COMMERCIAL?

Well, for some reason, the NCAA felt that it had to jump through hoops to allow Ms. Davis to make money on a TV commercial and maintain her college eligibility.  Presumably, the trust account that the Davis commercial money was put into has SMART account-like principles.

The NCAA was criticized for allowing Ms. Davis to accept money – certainly by people who have no knowledge of the long-established SMART program.

Indeed, the NCAA should immediately discuss and allow implementation of, on a much broader basis, a SMART-like program for non-bowlers.

 

CONCLUSION

 

With respect to Little League, the time is now and the money is there.

With respect to others, it shouldn’t be too far away.

 

 

© 2014 BY STEVE KALLAS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

 

 

INNOVATION IN SPORTS: Why the NFL is Looking for College Graduates

What an amazingly simple yet stunningly way to select talented players for the NFL!

I think we all know that when it comes to scouting college football players and their potential to play in the NFL, all sorts of tests of physical skills are utilized. The NFL Combine puts potential draft choices through all sorts of drills, poking and prodding the prospects.

But the Philadelphia Eagles, under general manager Howie Roseman, are trying a new approach to find motivated and dedicated football players: they’re looking for college graduates.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal (5/21/2014), several top analysts in the league have noted that there’s a real correlation between players who are college graduates and their tenure in the league. Tony Dungy, the former NFL coach and now NFL analyst, points out in his research, players with college degrees were a lot more likely to earn a second NFL contract. Why? Because they’re motivated and driven when it comes to confronting challenging tasks.

Eagles’ head coach Chip Kelly agrees. He points out that the three teams in the league with the most college grads are the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos, both of whom played in last year’s Super Bowl. The team with the fewest college grads were the Jacksonville Jaguars.The Jags finished with a record of 4-12.

Of course, the physical skills (size, speed, strength, etc) are still very important, but looking for a simple criterion like whether the kid finished college is becoming a more and more important item. As Coach Kelly remarks, “It all has to do with their sense of commitment.” It also translates into intelligence, a sense of preparation, and the ability to set a goal and to accomplish it.

What a smart concept. Hard to believe that this simple approach hadn’t been used before in selecting talent.

INNOVATIONS IN SPORTS: A Look at HS Varsity Cheerleading

I don’t write much about cheerleading because, in truth, I really don’t much about this activity as being a competitive activity. That being said, I do know that it’s a most popular sport and has grown substantially all over the country over the last couple of decades.

And in fact, just this past week, New York State became the 35th state to officially bless cheerleading as an interscholastic sport at the HS level (CT and NJ haven’t made the sport official yet, but according to most local media reports, they aren’t far behind).

Some important notes regarding cheerleading becoming a varsity sport:

> The American Academy of Pediatrics reported in 2012 that of all female sports, cheerleading had by far and away the most catastrophic injuries over the last 25 years. In fact, 66% of all catastrophic injuries suffered by female athletes were due to cheerleading.

Common sense tells you why: kids falling off pyramids, breaking limbs, suffering concussions, or worse, and it’s not just the kids on top – those girls down below who get hit also suffer terrible injuries.

That being said, the Academy also reported that cheerleading was generally a very safe sport; it’s just that when injuries do occur, they tend to be devastating.

> As a varsity sport, this now means that all the coaches who are hired in NYS to serve as cheerleading instructors need to be licensed and certified by the state, with a heavy dose of how to prevent injuries.

It also means that school districts have to pick up the tab for coaching salaries, insurance, equipment, travel, game fees, and so on. For districts strapped for cash, these costs can add up.

> Also in NYS. For years, since cheerleading was not an official sport, girls could cheerlead at, say, HS football games during the fall, and then continue to play on the HS soccer or volleyball team. No more. Under NYS rules, you have to now choose just one sport to play per season.

As noted, I grew up in a time where cheerleaders were seen at football and basketball games, and for the most part, they were just decorative in nature. But competitive cheerleading has obviously grown and changed dramatically since I was in HS.

And I, for one, have said many times on my show that so long as your youngster plays a sport after school, I really don’t care what sport they play so long as there is real physical exertion and they stay in shape.

To that end, from what I can tell about cheerleading, it is a most competitive activity and clearly those who compete have to be in great shape. Bottom line? Three cheers for the cheerleaders!

 

INNOVATIONS IN SPORTS: The International Power of Silence in Sports

 

The Sounds of Silence

By Doug Abrams

 

For a few years now, a county-wide youth soccer association has tried various measures to control what a local newspaper calls “pushy parents and mouthy” coaches on its approximately 200 teams.  Nothing has worked. Even at the youngest age levels, games feature “parents verbally abusing their own children,” and “parents fighting and swearing at referees and young players” from the sidelines. Some coaches also step over the edge.    

Parents and coaches prone to verbal abuse, fighting and swearing are not the soccer association’s only “adult problem.” Earlier this month, a U-13 girls team coach told the local paper that, often with good intentions, some loud parents simply “take the game too seriously and it’s frightening the pressure they put their children under.” “We want parents, parents and adults to stay quiet, stop shouting and let the kids play,” says one association officer.

The youth soccer association’s latest effort to influence the behavior of parents and coaches was a “Silent Weekend” two weeks ago. Not much news here because “Silent Saturdays” and “Silent Sundays” have been with us for about 15 years. Ever since a suburban Cleveland, Ohio youth soccer association conducted a “Silent Saturday” in the late 1990s, leagues have tried the concept throughout the United States, particularly in sports such as soccer and basketball where no physical barrier separates boisterous, and sometimes belligerent, spectators from the game. Usually one game a season is designated as “silent.” 

The “Silent Weekend” earlier this month was different, however, because the local association, the Lancashire Football Association, is British and not American. (Lancashire is about 200 miles northwest of London.)  Nearly all Lancashire soccer clubs, from U-7 to U-16, participated.

Daily Telegraph columnist Jim White explained the ground rules: “[F]or one match at least, parents, spectators and coaches had to remain silent. . ., restricting their noise to applause in the event of a goal. The only people who were allowed to utter a sound were the players themselves, who could shout as much as they wished.”  

The weekend’s result on local playing fields? According to White, “a clatter quite unlike that which can be heard in similar places . . . every Saturday and Sunday. It was the sound of children’s voices; piping, clear and undisturbed by adult bellowing.” “Glorious,” he called it, a glimpse at the way kids played on sandlots and playgrounds before their games became “adultified” in the late 1960s.

The Lancashire Football Association does not expect overnight miracles from its Silent Weekend. But the association does hope that demonstrating an alternative, a silent game might lead parents and coaches to moderate overbearing behavior that it says induces players and referees to quit, discourages teens from training as referees, and stunts the development of players who do take the field.

Depressurizing the Games

For associations willing to try an innovative effort at positive change, “silent” games once or twice a season make sense because they teach adults and children that there might be a better way to conduct organized youth games. Perhaps when parents and coaches who see the difference between business-as-usual and greater self-restraint, they might loosen the reins on the players and, as silent-game supporter Cal Ripken Jr. puts it, “depressurize the games.”

Occasional silent games can actually enhance players’ skills development because kids (like adults) learn best by doing, and not simply by listening.  A columnist reported that during Silent Sunday in one central Illinois youth soccer association last year, “[l]eaders emerged on some of the teams and you could see the players understand some of the concepts they had been taught in practice.  The players were free to figure out what worked, and what didn’t.” 

At the same time, however, once-a-year silent games can resemble Band-Aids, which may stanch bloodletting without actually treating the injury below the surface. If youth sports associations wish civility to coexist with spirited competition, they must do more than simply designate one game each year as “silent,” before parents and coaches resume their old ways the next game.

The most effective way to encourage what Ripken calls “depressurized games” is systemic change that produces a wholesome environment week in and week out. Like other organizations, youth sports associations develop cultures over time. Some associations tolerate or encourage adult misconduct and belligerence, and others stress responsible self-restraint and positive cheering from adults whose children try their best to win as they master the skills of the game. A wholesome group culture outlasts one day’s enforced silence.

Associations must also discipline the small minority of parents and coaches who cross the line during non-silent games. Codes of conduct are mere words on paper, and words to not enforce themselves.    

“These Sports Are All I Have”

Judging from newspaper coverage over the years, “silent” games meet with mixed reactions.  Some parents and coaches tell reporters that, even if only for one game, they favor letting players take charge of their own teams, free from distractions from the bench and stands. Adults who resent enforced silence, however, say that passionate parental involvement, and passionate coaching instruction, are central to the youth sports experience. Some players welcome freedom from loud adults, but other players say that they miss vocal support from their parents and coaches.

Former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Mark Knudson finds it “hard to argue with the concept of ‘Silent Saturday.’” It’s one game a season,” he reasons, “and it provides a lesson that could be taken to heart. The kids should be able to play the game without being shouted down and chastised for making a mistake.”  “The problem,” Knudson adds, “is that we as adults shouldn’t have to be told to behave ourselves at sporting events. It should go without saying that we don’t scream at the kids from the stands and expect them to play better just to make us look good.”

Opposition persists, however. In 2012, for example, the Pauls Valley (Okla.) Recreation Board debated whether to schedule one or two Silent Saturdays during its youth basketball season. One mother vehemently objected because “these sports are all that I have to cheer for my kids.”

The mother’s objection reminds me of a scene from “Coach Carter,” the 2005 drama starring Samuel L. Jackson as Ken Carter, the Richmond (Calif.) High School basketball coach who drew national attention in 1999 by benching his undefeated team, padlocking the gym doors, and threatening to cancel games because the players were failing their academic courses. 

Richmond’s principal ordered Carter to resume the season because basketball is all the players had.  “I think that’s the problem,” responded the coach.   

 

[Sources: Enjoy Football and the Sound of Silence, Blackpool Gazette (Britain), Mar. 10, 2014; Lancashire Football Parents Urged to Stay Quiet During “Silent Weekend,” Lancashire Telegraph (Britain), Feb. 19, 2014; Gary Sawyer, Players Learn Nuances of Soccer During Silent Sunday, The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.), Apr. 14, 2013, p. C3; Ezra Mann, “Silent Saturday on Hold,” Pauls Valley (Okla.) Daily Democrat, Jan. 23, 2012; Cal Ripken Jr., Together, Parents Can Set Limits on Unruly Adults, Baltimore Sun, Nov, 27, 2007 p. 1N; Mark Knudson, “Silent Saturday” Teaches Some Valuable Lessons, Fort Collins Coloradan, Feb. 25, 2007]

INNOVATIONS IN SPORTS: Preventing ACL Injuries in Female Athletes

Just a quick medical tip for those sports parents who have daughters who play sports.

According to a number of medical studies, female athletes suffer anywhere from 4 to 7 times more ACL tears than their male counterparts do. Many Moms and Dads aren’t aware of this painful reality, but it’s true.

That sounds not only extremely unfair, but also exaggerated. But it’s not. These days, it’s rare to go watch a girls’ HS varsity or travel team soccer game or lacrosse match or basketball game and not see any number of girls sporting knee braces. Sadly, it’s just become commonplace.

Why are women so much more prone to these injuries? It has to do with the way they are put together, in terms of their pelvis, legs, and knees. That is, it’s just the way women are physically structured.

But here’s the good news. There is more and more research coming forth that girls can do a lot to actually prevent these devastating injuries. To that end, I would strongly suggest you pick up a copy of a book entitled The ACL Solution by Dr. Robert Marx of the prestigious Hospital for Special Surgery in NYC.

Dr. Marx points to a number of exercises that girls can and should do before every practice and game that will strengthen the muscles around the knee. If you can’t find a copy of the book in your local bookstore, I would urge you to order a copy from either Amazon or BN.com.