Archive for Sport Safety

SPORT SAFETY: Physical Therapy When Coming Back from an Injury…

This is a given. If your son or daughter plays competitive sports, at some point in their career, they’re going to get hurt.

It might be an ankle sprain, a bump on the head, a jammed neck. Or it might be more serious, such as a sprained MCL, broken leg, etc.

The good news is that if your kid gets hurt, chances are they will first see a doctor for a diagnosis, and then be referred to a local physical therapist who will work with the athlete and guide them back to being healthy again and ready to compete.

Now, a little background. Back in August, I had an operation to repair my hip. The procedure is called hip resurfacing, which is in the same ballpark as hip replacement, but not as extreme.

After Dr. Edwin Su of the Hospital for Special Surgery worked on me, I knew I would be headed for several weeks of physical therapy.

And to that end, I attended ProClinix in Armonk, NY, where Dr. Brian Dombal is one of the principals and a terrific therapist. Brian, along with his colleague Dr. James Cassell, did an amazing job in literally getting me back on my feet and jogging and working out within a matter of a few months. These days, I’m happy to report, I’m back to my regular running schedule 3 or 4 times a week, whereas last year at this time, I could hardly stand up for more than 5 minutes. And running was simply out of the question.

Because I was so impressed with Brian and his staff at ProClinix, I asked Brian to come on my radio show this AM, because he sees young athletes every day in his practice, and he knows first hand  the worries that the kids have, as well as their parents.

Brian made some important points: first and foremost, it’s essential that there a clear line of communication among the physical therapist, the parents, the school coach, and the school’s trainer. In other words, there should never be any possibility of misunderstanding of how well the injured athlete is progressing, and what is his or her timetable to return.

Brian also made it clear that each athlete has to work at their own pace. That is, the physical therapist has to listen carefully to the athlete regarding their progress, and never give in to the pleadings of the parents or the coach who is eager to have the youngster return to action. Coming back too soon to play runs a serious risk of aggravating the original injury.

Along those lines, the issue of repetitive use injuries came up. “I see kids who are literally playing two or three sports in the same season,
Brian explained. The chances for injury when repeating the same actions over and over again is substantial. Problem is, kids these days are so eager to keep up and compete with their peers that they don’t want to take any time off from their sports, even if their body is telling them they’re hurt.

“That’s a real concern,” Brian points out. “Kids need to understand that, sometimes, they have to back off and let their body rest.”

But psychologically, that’s not always easy to do as kids don’t want to fall behind the others. And with only so many weeks in a season, the idea of sitting out is difficult for any kid.

At the other end, if a youngster is coming off a serious injury which involved surgery, it’s often on the physical therapist to help guide the individual and reassure him or her that they’re healed and ready to go. “This decision has to be made in direct consultation with the physician,” says Brian. “But to me, the key is whether the athlete clearly is able to run and perform at 100 percent. If there’s any holding back or gingerness, then he or she is not ready to go out.”

Here’s the bottom line: there was a time not long ago when physical therapists were around but not really a major part of the sports scene. The good news is that these days, they are. Be proactive. Before your son or daughter – or even yourself — need to find a physical therapist, do your homework now and find someone in your area who is well regarded.

Trust me, if you and your family are involved in sports, at some point you will need a physical therapist.


SPORT SAFETY: Getting an Insight on Kids’ Vision

Dr. Don Teig is a Florida-based eye doctor who has dedicated his career to not only providing top-flight eye care to professional athletes in a variety of sports, but has also tried to be on the leading edge of technological advancements with sports and eyesight.

In his new book, HIGH PERFORMANCE VISION: How to Improve Your Visual Acuity, Hone Your Motor Skills, and Up Your Game, Dr. Teig presents a number of easy-to-implement vision drills, all designed to help any athlete’s ability with their eyes. Among the various drills we discussed on the radio show this AM, Dr. Teig talked about one exercise for baseball and softball players which will help them develop a quicker reaction time to pitches. In effect, each pitched ball should have a distinct letter painted on it, and the batter is instructed to not only see the pitch but of course, to try and read the letter on the ball.

This kind of focus helps the batter not only see the pitch better, but also trains one’s eyes to see the pitch even longer to the plate. We all know that a typical hitter has less than half a second to determine whether or not to swing at a pitch. This kind of drill allows the batter to really improve their focus and quick reaction time to seeing the ball.


Dr. Teig also talked about dominant eye theory. And again, using baseball or softball as an illustration, he explained how too many batters may be right eye dominant, but when they get into the batter’s box as a right-handed batter, they often don’t turn their head enough to see the pitcher face on. As a result, their right eye is actually shaded by one’s nose, and that means that not only is the batter looking at the incoming pitch with their weaker eye, but they’re not even seeing the pitch in a three-dimension, stereoscopic manner.

I noted that a lot of young hitters focus so much on their legs and hands and arms that they often don’t realize that they have to face the pitcher with both eyes, not just one. (If you don’t believe me, the next time you watch a major league game, note how all the hitters view the pitcher fully with both eyes).

In short, learning how to approach every pitch with both eyes on the ball will greatly enhance your hitting.

Other tidbits from Dr. Teig: are there certain foods that are good for eyes? Kale and spinach, and yes, carrots. Carrots have beta-carotene, which is good for your retina.

Women tend to have better eyesight than men do.

Performance enhancing drugs may improve eye sight, but there are no studies that prove that either way.

One topic that I didn’t have enough to get to was his thoughts about how athletic trainers can detect concussions in athletes. I will try and get that information and post it.

All in all, the topic of eye sight in sports continues to explode in terms of advances. Dr. Teig referred listeners to his website, Highperformancevision, if you would like more information. And his book is definitely worth ordering from Amazon.

SPORT SAFETY: Has HS Football Become an Endangered Species?

The last few years have been a rocky time for HS football players – and for their parents as well.

So far this season, eight HS football players have died while participating in the sport. Clearly, no one ever wants to go through the heartache of watching a teen-aged son collapse  — and die — when playing a sport he loves. What an absolute nightmare.

Then, of course, there’s the ongoing troubles about the lingering effect of concussions on kids who play football. Despite the growing awareness of this issue, the reality is that no one has invented a football helmet yet that can truly claim to prevent concussions. Minimize the impact of concussions, yes. But prevent or eliminate them? No, that hasn’t happened yet.

All over the country, the numbers of kids playing HS football continue to spiral downward. In most states, the numbers are down by 10 percent. Many HS programs with a long-standing tradition of having plenty of players are now realizing that their ranks are dwindling.

There are all sort of explanations for this, but most football coaches and AD’s suspect it’s the worry about concussions, and in some cases, the fact that a few kids die each year from playing the sport.

The Double Whammy of Death and Concussions

I asked the question on my radio show this AM: What do you think is the future of HS football? Will it eventually go away due to health concerns?

What was surprising is that I received several calls from Dad’s who said that yes, they loved football, they played HS and college football, and they are doing okay these days without any medical or memory issues. But they also said that they had deep concerns about letting their son play the same sport. You could hear the worry in their voice. On one hand, they knew all about the positives of playing the sport, but when they saw their 9-year-old suffer a hit to the helmet, or a 14-year-old suffer a concussion in a game, they worried about whether  – as a parent – they were doing the right thing in allowing their kid to keep playing.

Other Dads pointed to the fact that other alternative sports, like soccer, basketball, or even lax, all had similar issues with concussions. That is, just telling your son to play a different sport may not be the answer.

In terms of football deaths, I did point out that, statistically, HS football is much safer than it was than, say, in the 1960s, when in a typical year, you had 20-30 HS football players die. In recent years, it’s more like 12 deaths on a yearly basis. (I guess that’s somewhat comforting, unless of course, it’s your son who has collapsed on the gridiron.) And the deaths can be from any number of causes: heat stroke, broken spine, ruptured spleen, severe concussion, aneurysm, and so on.

What’s the right response?

So what do you do if your young son comes to you and says that he want to play tackle football? There is one of the toughest questions that any sports parent will ever face.

There is, of course, no one tried-and-true answer. But there are some things to consider:

> Esteemed neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Cantu, who is an expert on NFL concussions, says that kids shouldn’t start playing tackle football until they’re at least 14. Why? So that their neck muscles have developed enough strength to help prevent concussions.

> Emphasize to your son that he has to first learn the basics of how to tackle properly. This is essential. Leading with one’s head on a tackle is extremely dangerous.

> Explain to him what a concussion is, what it feels like, and most importantly, to have the guts to tell the coach that you think you just had your bell rung. We all know that most football players refuse to come to out of a game after a hit to the head. That mentality has got to change.

> And finally, explain to your son that if he incurs 3 or more concussions during his HS football career, then no matter how good he is and how much he loves playing the football, the time has come to walk away from the sport.

Tough love? Perhaps. But in the long run, you may be saving his life.

SPORTS SAFETY: Let’s Not Give Up on Youth Football Too Quickly

In Praise of Youth Football

Guest Column from Wayne Mazzoni

Listening to Coach Wolff’s show this past Sunday morning, but not having the time to call in, I feel compelled to add to the conversation on youth football.  Having been a part of youth sports as a player, coach, and parent, I can tell you nothing equals the experience you get from youth football.

Just the way the sport is, you get an amazing balance of toughness and teamwork you just don’t get from other sports.  In fact, even players who consider a sport besides football as their primary sport will always tell you that the lessons learned from playing football made them a much better person and player in their main sport.

Certainly as kids get older, the more likely they are to sustain injuries, concussions specifically.  But the fact remains just about every other sport has its risks as well.  And of course, so does life.  How many people die from cars, trains, and planes? Yet the last time I looked, all these modes of travel were pretty crowded.   The fact is, without proper policing, training, and awareness, concussions can become a big problem.  But with all the research and attention being paid to this topic, youth coaches are now being trained to be very cautious when it comes to any type of head injury.  Very simply we always err on the side of caution.

I live and coach football in Fairfield County in Connecticut, generally considered one of the wealthiest counties in the country.  I see youth football alive and very well in these towns.  Greenwich, New Canaan, Darien, Westport, Fairfield, Ridgefield, Wilton, and the rest have thriving youth football leagues and excellent high school programs.  The parents of these kids are well educated and successful people, who still understand that so much is to be gained from youth football.  While any youth sport gets kids off their tablets and phones, football creates a family, a toughness, a team spirit that really cannot be replicated in almost any other facet of life.

Coach Wayne Mazzoni is the pitching coach at Sacred Heart University. He also coaches youth football with the 6th grade Fairfield Wildcats. 

SPORT SAFETY: How Do We Keep Our Athletes Calm and Under Control?

When Intense Games Spiral Out of Control

 by Doug Abrams

Before Friday night, September 4, John Jay High School’s football team likely attracted few followers outside the local San Antonio, Texas area. But national anonymity ended literally overnight, when two John Jay players allegedly assaulted a referee in the final moments of a road game that the Mustangs lost to Marble Falls High, 15-9.

As the Marble Falls quarterback took the snap and handed off, one John Jay defensive player blind-sided the unsuspecting referee, and his teammate quickly speared the official after he fell to the ground. Inadvertent collisions between players and officials sometimes occur, but these hits appeared orchestrated and deliberate. The video played on television from coast to coast, and it quickly went viral, with more than 11 million YouTube views so far.

The two players said afterwards that a John Jay assistant coach had in effect ordered the action, by telling them on the sidelines that the referee “needs to pay for cheating us” (or something similar)  with calls that had gone against the team. The two players also claimed that the referee had passed racial slurs earlier in the game, a charge the referee denied. Pending further investigation, the school district suspended the two players, placed them in an alternative school, and suspended the assistant coach. Reportedly the assistant coach initially admitted targeting the referee and then left the team.

“That’s Where the Leadership Starts”

The University Interscholastic League, which administers Texas high school athletics, continues its investigation and factfinding. The book remains open, but one UIL executive committee member’s early comment caught my attention because its importance transcends football and any one game.

According to the Associated Press, the committee member questioned whether John Jay’s coaches “should have done more to calm emotions in a tense game.” He described “punches thrown, late hits and ejections” before the incident that gained national attention. “The only thing our kids really have is our coaches,” the committee member said, “That’s where the leadership starts.” The AP reported that the committee member called the September 4 game “a time bomb waiting to happen. And it did.”

Youth league and interscholastic games frequently feature intensity stoked by what former NBA player Bob Bigelow calls “the hot blood of emotions.” This column concerns the responsibilities of coaches and parents before, during, and after games when the adults can reasonably anticipate “time bombs.” Rivalries do not fester, and emotions usually do not spiral out of control, on the spur of the moment.

“That’s What You Get for Messing”

Safety may be the downward spiral’s first casualty. The John Jay football incident recalls a suburban Chicago junior varsity ice hockey game that ended tragically in November, 1999. With only seconds remaining on the clock, New Trier High School was comfortably ahead of its bitter rival, Glenbrook North High School, 7-4. It was the teams’ first faceoff since Glenbrook North had edged New Trier, 3-2, for the Illinois state junior varsity hockey title the prior season.

The November hockey game deteriorated from the start. In the stands, each team’s parents and students taunted the other’s fans and players. On the ice, players traded taunts and squared off in altercations unrestrained by their coaches. One coach reportedly even left the bench and strode onto the ice during the game to confront a referee. Glenbrook North’s coach allegedly targeted New Trier’s 15-year-old sophomore co-captain Neal Goss, whose three goals helped seal the victory. The referees called sixteen penalties, a particularly high number for a junior varsity hockey game.

At the final buzzer or within a second or two afterwards, a 15-year-old Glenbrook North player skated full speed across the ice, blind-sided Goss, and body checked him head-first into the boards. “That’s what you get for messing,” the player reportedly said as Goss lay prone on the ice, permanently paralyzed from the neck down.

Compromising Safety

With responsible control and supervision, coaches and parents could have scripted a safer ending to the suburban Chicago JV hockey game, whose final score seemed so important at the time but quickly faded from memory. For one thing, adults could have cooled tempers as game day approached. All that the adults needed to do was to listen to their players because trash talking and threats of violence do not arise by spontaneous combustion when players arrive to play.

Verbal and physical violence marred the hockey game itself for an hour or more, but no adult in the rink – no parent, coach, referee, or league administrator – had the ethical compass, emotional strength, or sheer common sense to stop the game, deliver a public address announcement requesting calm, instruct the players to regain their composure, or take any other constructive measures to move the teams back from the brink.

Responsible Training and Supervision

The lesson from the New Trier-Glenbrook North game is that when coaches or parents let raw emotion overcome their good judgment in the heat of competition, they increase the risk of preventable injury. The injury may be to a player, an official, a fan, or other bystander.

Parents and coaches who cringed as paramedics carried Neal Goss from the ice rink on a stretcher that cold November night doubtlessly wished that they could have set the clock back and done things differently. But by then it was too late because safety in youth league and interscholastic sports often depends more on 20-20 foresight than on 20-20 hindsight. Regrets and second thoughts cannot always make things right because injury offers no do-overs.

Maintaining composure and self-control throughout a tough game can test the mettle of players and adults alike. At any age, passions of the moment can easily overtake reason. But coaches and parents assume special responsibilities to maintain the safest possible environment whenever their youth leaguers play. If adults had fulfilled their responsibilities that night in November of 1999, Neal Goss would likely have walked out of the suburban Chicago rink because teens trained and supervised by responsible adults do not drive opponents’ heads into the boards at the end of a hockey game.

Nor do teens, trained and supervised by responsible adults, blind-side referees and cut them down on the gridiron.

Sources: Assoc. Press, Coaches’ Conduct Questioned in Hit on Texas Ref, Daily Journal (San Mateo, Calif.), Sept. 10, 2015; Douglas E. Abrams, Player Safety in Youth Sports: Sportsmanship and Respect as an Injury-Prevention Strategy, Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, vol. 39, p. 1 (2012).




SPORT SAFETY: New Federal Lawsuit Charges Pop Warner Football As Source of Concussions

Concussions have been making headlines across the country for several years now, but this past week, a new lawsuit was filed that pits the family of a former football player against Pop Warner football.

In short, this  focuses on a young man who played Pop Warner football for four years as a kid, but by the time he was 25, he had become seriously depressed and ended up committing suicide. The autopsy report found strong evidence of CTE, which of course is caused by blows to the head.

Joseph Chernach’s family in Wisconsin filed a $5 million federal lawsuit against Pop Warner football, alleging that Pop Warner “knew or should have known that tackle football was dangerous for children,and exposed children to head injuries, including dementia pugilistica (a kind of CTE).”

The lawsuit goes on to say that Pop Warner’s actions were “deliberate” – in effect, that Pop Warner knew, or should have known, that kids that young can easily suffer serious long-term brain damage from concussions.

The complaint says that even as long ago as 1997, there were medical protocols in place regarding concussions, but the Pop Warner  really didn’t follow those rules. Even more, they didn’t use the safest helmets for the kids, didn’t limit the amount of hitting and contact in practice, and so on.

Chernach played four years of Pop Warner as a running back and linebacker, and usually played every down of every game. He also played football and wrestled in HS. He also was a pole vauiter. He went to Central Mich Univ. By all accounts, he was a happy and outgoing young man during HS and into college.

But during college, Chernach eventually stopped going to class and dropped out. He returned home, became withdrawn and a recluse, and refused all medical help from his family. Then, in June 2012, Joseph killed himself.

Brain tissue was examined by Dr Ann McKee, one of the top experts on CTE, and she concluded that there “were very serious changes in the brain stem” and “it’s the worst example of this in someone this young.” She was referring to the build-up of tau (which is the tell-tale sign of  CTE) in the young man’s brain.

And here’s another new case. This past week, the mother of a teenage water polo player sued USA Water Polo in federal court saying that the organization didn’t do enough to protect players from concussions.

I have talked on my radio show over the last couple of years that these kinds of lawsuits would eventually begin to pop up…and now they are.

I also imagine it’s only a matter of time before we’ll see a major lawsuit filed against HS football team and school district, claiming that a kid suffered concussions which led to serious medical problems or death.

In fact, there’s already a lawsuit out in Illinois that is built upon that very supposition.

All of this only adds more uncertainty to sports parents who have to decide whether they will allow their kids to play football and other contact sports, like lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, and ice hockey.

In addition, this also means that insurance companies everywhere are really going to take a hard look as to whether they want to be in the business of insuring contact sports. That is, at the end of the day, it’s the insurance companies that have to cover the cost of all these concussion-based lawsuits.


One can argue that in the Chernach case, it might be difficult to prove that his suicide was caused strictly by his play in Pop Warner. After all, the kid did play HS football, wrestled, and was a pole vaulter. Perhaps those activities also led to the brain damage. In fact, that’s been the immediate defense from Pop Warner.

But some legal experts point out that the Chernach family only has to show that playing Pop Warner led, in part, to the damage. That’s the key to see whether this lawsuit keeps going.

Steve Kallas, attorney and sports parenting expert, noted on the show this AM this is just the opposite of the former NFL players who have filed suit against the NFL. In its defense, the NFL has said that these individuals played pro football, college football, and HS football, and as such, it’s impossible to tell which caused CTE to erupt.

In this case, though, the Chernach attorneys are saying that despite the fact that Joseph played HS football, wrestled, and was a pole vaulter, it was the Pop Warner involvement that, for the most part, led to his demise.

There have been a couple of other recent cases where young athletes have taken their lives, presumably due to concussions. There was the young football player at Penn who hung himself at age 21. Owen Thomas, who by all accounts was well-adjusted, suddenly went through an emotional outburst before killing himself. An autopsy revealed a high level of CTE.


But let’s remember this: concussions weren’t invented just a few years ago. They’ve been around for a long, long time. I recall concerns about concussions when I played HS and college football. Of course, in those days, if a player was concussed, he was brought out of the game until he got rid of the cob webs and then was allowed to go back and play.

Only now have we seen so many former NFL players run into health troubles years after they have retired. But now we’re also seeing alarming trends with younger players.

There’s more and more evidence that when it comes to tackle football, you should NOT allow your kids to play full-contact under the age of 12.

This latest study comes from the prestigious medical journal Neurology, and features a study from Boston University which strongly suggests that if you let your son play tackle football under the age of 12, there’s a higher risk that he will develop memory and thinking problems as he’s  get older.

This study was conducted studying 42 former NFL players, ages 41-65, all of whom played tackle football at young ages.

In short, those former NFL players performed 20 percent less well than the group who didn’t play tackle football.

Concluded Dr. Robert Stern, who was the senior author of the study which comes out of BU School of Medicine: “The message is, the earlier you start playing tackle football, the more issues you may have.”

This comes after the work of Dr. Robert Cantu, the noted neurosurgeon, who has said that kids shouldn’t play tackle football until they are 14. Dr. Cantu says that the brain is still very much developing in those critically important years, and since the neck muscles aren’t strong enough yet, the brain and head wobble like a bobble-head and when struck, it can cause more damage than it might to an older athlete.

As I’ve noted many times on the show, Tom Brady didn’t play tackle football until he was 14. Perhaps the time has come to follow that example and not let our kids play tackle football until they’re in their teen-age years.

SPORT SAFETY: When On-The-Field Celebrations Turn Deadly Dangerous


Storming and Dogpiling:

Dangerous Uncontrolled Celebrations In Youth Sports

By Doug Abrams

 Earlier this season, tragedy struck at a third-tier soccer game in Mizoram, a state in northeast India. After scoring the tying goal in the 62nd minute, 23-year-old midfielder Peter Biaksangzuala tried imitating some prominent pros by celebrating with a somersault. He landed heavily on his head and back and was immediately transported barely conscious to a local hospital. After five days on life support, he died of severe spinal cord injuries.

“Storming” and “Dogpiling”

The India soccer celebration gone wrong happened in adult competition, and death was a rare if not unprecedented outcome. But the incident offers another opportunity to alert youth league and high school sports programs about how swiftly unrestrained individual or team celebrations can morph into avoidable, and sometimes serious, injury. Both “storming” and “dogpiling” celebrations call for preventive measures by coaches, parents, and league administrators.

Storming the court or gridiron at the end of a game remains an unfortunate tradition in sports such as basketball or football, where no barriers typically separate fans from the field.  The Sporting News’ Dave Kindred has called storming “madhouse celebrations” fueled by “stampede pathology.” Flying objects can cause serious injury, and anyone who stumbles risks being crushed.

Even when no fans storm from the stands at the end of a game, the winning team’s own celebration after a score or a victory — commonly called “dogpiling” — holds similar dangers in sports such as hockey, baseball and soccer.  We have all seen pros and collegians pile on top of one another at the pitcher’s mound or the goal line, and youth leaguers are prone to imitate what they see.

“You Feel Like You’re Going to Get Killed”

Storming and dogpiling may seem like innocent fun, but press accounts report punches thrown, fans shoved to the ground, knee ligaments torn, skulls fractured, and other bones broken. Perhaps the worst high school basketball storming incident occurred on February 6, 2004, moments after 18-year-old Tucson High School senior Joe Kay scored the game’s last points with a two-handed slam dunk to upset an archrival.  About 200 frenzied fans stormed the court to celebrate the victory, and one tackled the 6’6” Kay, the class valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar who was headed to Stanford University on a full volleyball scholarship.  Kay suffered a broken jaw and a torn carotid artery, which caused a stroke that left him unable to speak and paralyzed on his right side. Joe Kay, wrote the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, was “the schoolboy hero one minute and the trampled victim the next.”

Former New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte describes fear from his teammates’ dogpiling.  “I’ve been on the bottom,” he told the San Antonio Express News, “and you feel like you’re going to get killed.  You’re screaming and trying to get people off you.”

Responsibilities to Youth Leaguers

Professional and intercollegiate leagues can set their own standards for their adult players. But storming and dogpiling warrant preventive responses in youth leagues and interscholastic sports programs conducted for the benefit of children.

In my own sport of hockey, storming is not an issue because the boards and glass separate spectators from the ice surface, but high school players and youth leaguers of all ages risk serious, avoidable injury when they dogpile after winning a game.  In the 5-8-year-old mites, 15 teammates amount to several hundred pounds on top of the goaltender and whoever else lands on the bottom. Fifteen high school teammates, each weighing as much as 150 pounds or more, can total more than a ton of weight on the players at the bottom. Even in sports whose players squirming for position do not wear skates with razor-sharp blades, that is a lot of weight.

“No Piling On”

Coaches, parents and league administrators sometimes tolerate storming and dogpiling as essentially harmless traditions sustained by healthy exuberance and partisanship. But neither celebration deserves tolerance because neither is healthy.

Interscholastic sports programs and youth leagues should prohibit fans from rushing the field or court after the game, should fully and candidly explain the reasons, and, if necessary, should arrange for security to assure enforcement. In sports that are prone to dogpiling, coaches should enforce a no-dogpiling rule for their own teams.

In our youth hockey association, coaches from mites to high school found the no-dogpiling rule easy to administer.  The coaches would discuss the rule with players and parents before the season.  Parents now understood why goalies destined for the bottom of the post-game dogpile would sometimes skate away from pursuing teammates. In the last minute or so of every game that we were going to win, the coaches would remind the players on the bench to “Congratulate the goalie, but stay on your feet.  No piling on.”

For fans and players alike, celebration is a big part of sports. But team and individual achievements mean just as much with prudence and an eye toward the future.


[Sources: Vivek Chaudhary, Indian Footballer Peter Biaksangzuala’s Death Leads to Fifa Proposal For Somersault Ban, The Independent, Oct. 24, 2014; Dave Kindred, A Stampede Isn’t a Celebration, The Sporting News, Feb. 23, 2004, p. 64; Brent Zwerneman, Mad Dogpiles, San Antonio (Tex.) Express News, June 30, 2004, at 1C (quoting Andy Pettitte); Steve Solloway, Storming the Court, and a Storm of Controversy, Portland (Maine) Press Herald, May 5, 2006, at D8]


SPORT SAFETY: Early Morning Practices/Games Can Bring Unforeseen Dangers


Early-Morning Practices and Games Raise Safety Questions

By Doug Abrams


Earlier this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reaffirmed that “chronic sleep loss and associated sleepiness are a serious threat to the academic success, health, and safety of our nation’s youth.” The Academy’s new report comes four years after the American Medical Association identified “adolescent insufficient sleep and sleepiness as a public health issue,” and advocated “education about sleep health as a standard component of care for adolescent patients.”

This month’s AAP report advances several causes for the “epidemic” of teen sleep insufficiency, including causes that relate to teens’ lifestyles and non-athletic pursuits. But a prime cause is early school start times (before 8:30 am). “A substantial body of research has now demonstrated that delaying school start times is an effective countermeasure to chronic sleep loss and has a wide range of potential benefits to students with regard to physical and mental health, safety, and academic achievement.”

Questions and Answers

I am not a physician, and I do not conduct medical research. Without further evidence from medical professionals, we should not reflexively apply emerging sleep-deprivation studies to school-affiliated and private youth sports programs. By emphasizing early school start times as a prime cause of juvenile sleep deprivation, however, these studies deserve notice from sports programs that regularly conduct early-morning weekday practice sessions or early-morning weekend games.

Sports programs need not await further research before contemplating the relationship between sleep and the increasingly demanding schedules that so many athletes maintain in school and community-based sports. Day in and day out, adults make decisions about children’s physical and emotional safety based on common sense and intuition, without consulting published research.

Decisions about the role of early-morning practices and games may be more complicated than the decisions initially appear. One the one hand, for example, schools and private sports associations frequently see little choice but to schedule early-morning events because everyone cannot play at prime time in crowded local ice rinks, basketball courts, swimming pools, and similar facilities. Adults also often say that their own youthful early-morning workout regimens taught dedication, commitment and self-discipline that lasted into adulthood. On the other hand, research suggests that before-school practice sessions (which typically begin an hour or more before the opening bell) can compromise academic performance and encourage absenteeism.

Finally, safety risks lurk when, depending on the mandates of the state’s graduated drivers’ licensing law, parents permit older players to drive themselves to early-morning sessions. Sleepiness, inexperience behind the wheel, darkness, and variable weather conditions provide an unhealthy combination.

Immediate Measures

At the least, emerging medical research about juvenile sleep deprivation should prod league administrators, parents and coaches to consider the wisdom of several safety measures, including these:

  • Avoiding early-morning practices and games where practicable in light of public demands on available sports facilities at school or elsewhere in the community.
  • In youth sports associations, allocating the burdens of early-morning practice and game slots among several teams where possible. I have known administrators who routinely schedule the youngest teams at the earliest weekend hours. A few administrators have told me that they resort to such unbalanced scheduling because teens and their parents might balk at playing so early. These administrators often wonder why the youngest players sometimes re-enroll at rates lower than expected the following year. Connect the dots.
  • Monitoring the school performance, attendance and overall health of team members who participate regularly in early-morning sports events.


One sleep-related safety measure should not wait further study. Regardless of what the state’s graduated drivers’ licensing law permits, teams should require that older players be driven to early-morning practices and games by their parents, a teammate’s parent, or other responsible adult. Much of the year, early-morning driving may mean traveling in darkness; in much of the nation, it may also mean traveling on icy, slick roads during the winter months. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that “adolescents are at particularly high risk of driving while impaired by sleepiness, and young drivers aged 25 years or younger are involved in more than one-half of the estimated 100,000 police-reported, fatigue-related traffic crashes each year.”

Priority One

Prudent measures to enhance player safety and well-being should remain first priority for youth sports parents, coaches and administrators. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association have given the adults cause to weigh a public health concern previously off the radar screens of most youth sports programs.


[Sources: Policy Statement, School Start Times for Adolescents, Pediatrics, vol. 134, p. 642 (Aug. 2014); Technical Report, Insufficient Sleep in Adolescents and Young Adults: An Update on Causes and Consequences, Pediatrics, vol. 134, p. 921 (Sept. 2014); American Medical Association, Resolution 503: Insufficient Sleep in Adolescents (2010); Technical Report, Excessive Sleepiness in Adolescents and Young Adults: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment Strategies, Pediatrics, vol. 115, p. 1774 (2005)]

SPORT SAFETY: Violence in Youth Sports Spreading All Over the World


New Zealand High School Rugby Match Ends in Vicious Brawls

By Doug Abrams

Last summer, I wrote columns that surveyed newspaper accounts of youth sports violence in other western nations, including New Zealand.  Within the span of only a few months, New Zealanders had read about a high school rugby player who was suspended for kicking an opponent in the head during a U-15 match; a father who blindsided a referee and grabbed him by the throat during a U-10 rugby match; a coach who threatened to kill the referee during a soccer game for 11th graders; and a U-15 rugby team that started a brawl in the handshake line after a sound defeat.

In each of the foreign nations I surveyed, news accounts resembled ones that sometimes reach the headlines here in the United States. “[R]eports of violence at youth sports games,” the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel said earlier this week, “have become all too common in recent years.”

The Sentinel reported that after losing a close, hard-fought championship U-16 soccer game in Orlando last weekend, “parents and players from a Miami team storm[ed] the field, punch[ed] an elderly man and repeatedly kick[ed] a downed player in the head.” In just the last month or so, Americans have also seen stories about two coaches whose bloody fight during a South Bend, Indiana T-ball game left the five-year-olds in tears; and a coach charged with attacking a 17-year-old official during a flag football game for 12-14-year-olds in Valencia, California.

The foreign newspaper accounts I surveyed last summer did not suggest that most parents, coaches or players were troublemakers, and neither did I. Experience in the United States suggests too that youth league violence here, if “all too common,” nonetheless remains the exception rather than the rule. But experience in the United States also suggests that the media typically reports only the most serious violence because other incidents no longer seem newsworthy.  I suspect that many readers of my weekly columns can recall witnessing nasty unreported confrontations that leagues or associations overlooked or resolved informally.    

Yet another violent incident put New Zealand youth sports back in the news again on June 29. In the second half of a high school rugby match between archrivals Bishop Viard and Newlands in Wellington, the referee stopped play after the second of two brawls pitted most of the teams’ starters and reserve players against one another.  The second brawl, which local media described as “particularly vicious,” descended into fist fighting and verbal abuse of spectators before a semblance of order was restored.             

Youth Sports In the Age of Globalization

American parents, coaches and league administrators concerned about conditions in youth sports should pay attention to news reports from fields and gymnasiums in New Zealand and elsewhere around the globe.  Foreign perspectives can help explain some problems that arise here. In this age of globalization, Americans’ responses to a wide range of economic, political and cultural challenges benefit from watching how other nations meet similar challenges. In turn, other nations can learn from the United States. Technology and instantaneous communication have made the world a smaller place, so the globalization of youth sports — its successes and its shortcomings — can help inform our own communities.  

The title of one of my international columns last year said what needed to be said to an American audience: “We Are Not Alone.” In many other nations, youth sports systems face stresses similar to ones we face here in the United States.  Sports offers a positive experience for most child athletes during and after their playing days, but leagues in various nations also suffer from parents, coaches and players who cross the line into violence that is clearly outside the rules of the game and standards of common decorum. 

“Significant Consequences”

Here and overseas, over-the-edge incidents such as the one in Wellington late last month carry a common thread. Each one besmirches youth sports, but each one also produces quick reaction from disgusted authorities and onlookers who find that the violence sullies the mission of youth sports.  Swift imposition of discipline on the offender usually followed.

The Wellington Secondary School Rugby Union, for example, registered “total condemnation of what occurred” on June 29. Within a few days, the Union held a hearing and declared the Bishop Viard-Newlands match a default by both teams. The Union also decreed that each team would forfeit its next game.  Six players were individually disciplined for their roles in the two brawls. A local league official explained that “the nature of the events leading to the match being called off, which brought the game into disrepute, required that a clear and strong message about such behavior by players must be made to both the teams involved and to the wider rugby community.” 

Authorities also moved to prevent similar future violence.  The Union called the sanctions “a timely reminder to both schools and the wider rugby community that such behavior is inexcusable and there are significant consequences.”  Newlands’ principal said that “we’ve looked at ways in which we can be proactive so that this doesn’t happen again.” Bishop Viard’s principal said that she would work with Newlands because “we certainly don’t want a repeat.”

Prevention and Reaction

In New Zealand as in the United States, prevention of sporadic violence in youth sports remains the best strategy, though we cannot expect even the most effective prevention efforts to eliminate all incidents.

Prevention begins with such measures as firm sportsmanship guidelines reinforced in pre-season meetings with adults and players. Because intensity does not suddenly emerge by spontaneous combustion only in the heat of a game, coaches and parents should carefully monitor teams’ temperament in the days preceding matches between known archrivals. League administrators should support referees who penalize players for violence outside the rules, and who remove these players from the game when penalties alone do not promote a game played by the rules. Swift discipline imposed by leagues or teams, or even criminal prosecution in extreme cases, remains for offenders unresponsive to reasonable proactive measures.  


[Sources: Rugby Brawl Behaviour “Inexcusable,” New Zealand Herald, July 10, 2013; Tim Donoghue, First XVs Suspended After Brawls,; David Breen, Felony Charge Might Come Later, Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel, July 22, 2013, p. B1; Doug Abrams, “We Are Not Alone”: The Globalization of Youth Sports, ; T-ball Argument Leads to Huge Fight Between Coaches, Assault Charges, ; Perry Smith, Castaic Man Charged With Assaulting Ref In Valencia Flag Football Game, Santa Clarita (Calif.) News, May 28, 2013]




SPORT SAFETY: Hockey Canada Eliminates Checking at the Pee Wee Level




by Doug Abrams


Last month, the board of directors of Hockey Canada, the sport’s national governing body, voted overwhelmingly to prohibit body checking in games until the bantam age level (13- and 14-year-olds). Except for the Saskatchewan Minor Hockey Association, all provincial hockey associations voted for the measure, which removes checking from pee wee age level (11- and 12-year-olds) beginning this winter. Quebec had removed checking from pee wees more than 20 years ago, and Hockey Alberta and Hockey Nova Scotia passed similar province-wide removal measures a few weeks before the national body acted.

Hockey Canada joins its American counterpart, USA Hockey, which removed checking from the pee wees two years ago.  In both nations, the change affects only boys’ hockey because checking is already banned in girls’ hockey.

After playing college hockey and then coaching youth hockey for more than 40 years, I continue to believe that both national governing bodies got it right.  As an American I have had little exposure to Hockey Canada, but the three essentials transcend national borders.  Removing checking from pee wees is a prudent measure to enhance player safety, permit greater skills development, and help local associations recruit and retain more beginner and experienced players.  

Player Safety

USA Hockey and Hockey Canada acted after most medical studies — including ones published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics — found that body checking in pee wees dramatically increases risks of concussion and other serious injury. A study from Alberta showed that pee wees in that province (where checking was permitted) suffered three times as many concussions as pee wees in Quebec (where checking was not permitted). The researcher who conducted the Alberta study predicted that the new rules changes “will prevent at least 5,000 injuries and over 1,500 concussions in 11- and 12-year-old players next season.”

Medical research shows that “an 11-year-old brain is more susceptible to concussion,” says USA Hockey senior director of hockey development Kevin McLaughlin. The decisions to remove checking from pee wees are the latest steps in the march toward greater player safety that began decades ago. When I first laced on skates in youth hockey nearly 50 years ago, for example, flimsy helmets left the ears and much of the head exposed, and forwards and defensemen played without face cages or internal mouth guards. Most goalies wore form-fit masks that left the eyes, neck, and usually the scalp and skull dangerously exposed; cage masks were generally reserved for goalies whose eyeglasses exposed them to teasing, and helmets were generally reserved for goalies who had suffered a prior head injury. 

Things are different today. Medical studies now demonstrate ways to prevent concussions and other traumatic injury in hockey and other contact or collision sports. We cannot remain satisfied with what passed for safety decades ago because we know more now than we knew then.

The Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Paediatric Society praise Hockey Canada’s decision to remove checking from the pee wees, and prominent hockey voices have staked out various positions. On balance, USA Hockey and Hockey Canada wisely joined Hockey Night in Canada analyst and former NHL star Mike Milbury, whose personal experience confirms the weight of medical research.  

“I have 11- and 12-year-old boys,” Milbury said in 2011. “At that age, their heads and necks are not developed. They’re more susceptible to concussions and the after-effects. . . . They should take hitting out until kids are in bantam.”

Over the years, I have watched one safety-inspired rules change after another meet initial skepticism from some resistant youth hockey administrators and coaches, but I have also watched each change achieve wide acceptance before too long.  I suspect that the new checking standards will follow the familiar pattern and turn skeptics into believers. “The more we can educate people about the scientific information and the rationale behind the proposals that are out there, the more accepting the hockey culture will be,” says the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Michael Stuart, USA Hockey’s Chief Medical Officer.

“Change has been a constant in Canada’s game,” the Toronto Globe and Mail editorialized, “and the change in the bodychecking age sends the clearest message yet to coaches and parents that player safety is paramount in the game.”

Skills Development

The decision to remove checking from pee wees is also grounded in skills development, says USA Hockey’s McLaughlin. “We have to capitalize on . . . the optimal window of skill acquisition – the age that a kid can maximize his genetic potential, whatever that might be. In hockey, skill acquisition . . . is through 12 years old.” Learning, he adds, cannot flourish in “an environment where the focus is on hitting and not on making plays.”

USA Hockey and Hockey Canada have both taken measures to help insure that players will be ready for checking when they reach the bantams. USA Hockey has created a Progressive Checking Skill Development Program that bolsters a vast array of existing safety resources.   “This program has taken several years of research and discussion to formulate,” says Ron DeGregorio, president of USA Hockey. “USA Hockey has the training and support elements in place for our coaches and referees. Parents should know that this program will better prepare their children for the physical part of the game. It should produce less risk since we will be training players in body contact at an earlier age in a progressive manner. We’ll also be tightening up the standard of play for intimidation hits in the youth checking divisions.”   

In time for the 2014-2015 season, Hockey Canada too will develop a skills development program for teaching younger players in practice sessions about how to deliver and receive a check as they prepare for bantam play. In the meantime, the governing body’s website provides a 38-page resource guide, Teaching Checking: A Progressive Approach.


Player Recruitment and Retention

In many youth hockey associations, enrollments continue to remain stagnant or decline. Predicting the future is an imprecise art, but the prospect of $4.00 a gallon gasoline and other constantly escalating costs should spur thoughtful, proactive strategies to recruit and retain players for recreation and higher-level competition alike. The potential for enhanced player safety and enhanced skills development — the two reasons discussed above — provide reasons enough to remove body checking from pee wees, but removal may also help increase enrollments by whetting and sustaining youngsters’ enthusiasm to play.

Like other youth sports organizations, a local youth hockey association resembles a pyramid. The strongest parts of a pyramid are at the middle and the base, and not at the top. The strongest parts of a youth hockey association’s “pyramid” are in the younger age groups. A local association thrives best when it encourages player development in the youngest divisions, sustains players’ interest as they get older, and counters attrition by replenishing the ranks with beginners of all ages.

In my experience, the mite and squirt age levels (ages 10 and under) see the greatest swell of new recruits each year, with relatively few beginners joining at the pee wee, bantam or midget levels. Among mite and squirt veterans, the attrition rate seems to pick up in pee wees and accelerate thereafter. Introducing checking in pee wees is not the only reason for current recruitment and retention trends, but I suspect that it is a reason, and perhaps a significant one.

Some beginner pee wees may feel initially intimidated by checking, but might be more likely to enroll and continue playing with an initial opportunity to develop skating and other basic skills free from checking.  About 70% of young athletes drop out of sports by their early teen years for a variety of reasons, including reasons that have little or nothing to do with the rules of the game. Checking, however, may be an aggravating factor in youth hockey.  Because of the benefits that teens reap from remaining active in sports, the youth hockey community would be much better off if more players reenrolled throughout their high school years.

A New Opportunity

Adults conducting youth sports programs fulfill their missions best when they strive to include players, even when progress means discarding old ways that now appear more likely to exclude. The Toronto Globe and Mail explains why removing checking from the pee wees is a step in the right direction:

“The rule change should be taken as an opportunity to emphasize skill development in an atmosphere shorn of intimidation, and to curb the loss of thousands of young players who don’t enjoy that atmosphere, or whose parents don’t relish the thought of allowing their children’s growing brains to become scrambled.”


[Sources: Rachel Blount, Breaking Down “Hockey Culture” Barrier, Star Tribune (Minneapolis), Apr. 12, 2011; Bruce Dowbiggin, The “Wussifi . . .” er . . . Enlightenment of Mike Milbury, Globe and Mail (Canada), Mar. 25, 2011, p. S1; Hayley Mick, Hitting Younger Not Always Better, Globe and Mail (Canada), Mar. 15, 2011; Eric Duhatschek, U.S. Moves to Protect Its Pee Wees, Globe and Mail (Canada), Feb. 2, 2011, at S1; Minor Hockey Bodychecking Debate Rages Across Nation, Toronto Star, June 1, 2013, p. S1; Making Children’s Safety the Priority, Globe and Mail (Toronto), May 28, 2013, p. A12 (editorial); USA Hockey Board of Directors Approves All Points of Progressive Checking Skill Development Program,; Hockey Canada, Teaching Checking: A Progressive Approach.]