Archive for Sports Parenting Trends

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: New Jersey Divides Public HS Football from Non-Public Programs

The issue of whether public high schools should compete against non-public high schools (meaning private or parochial schools) has been a hot button issue for a long time, and in a lot of different states.

But in New Jersey, this has been a point of contention for several years now, especially in the area of HS football. Over the last decade or so, some of the northern non-public HS football programs have become real powerhouses. I’m talking specifically about schools like Bergen Catholic, St. Joe’s, and Don Bosco. And there are others as well.

Please note that there’s nothing wrong about this. Nor is it illegal. These schools have long recognized that, unlike public HS football teams which are restricted to just those students who live within that school’s district, the non-public schools can and do open their doors to kids from all over. Not just nearby, but some of these student-athletes commute a long distance on a daily basis. Others even come in from neighboring states.

What’s the attraction? Well, for starters, these powerhouse programs have developed into a great showcase for top college coaches, who are eager to scout these top athletes. And of course, as these programs grow in stature and in financial ways, they are able to schedule and compete against other top non-public schools from around the country. I covered the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, a few weeks ago in this space, and IMG is one of the premier HS football teams in the country. And they play against schools like St. Joe’s and Bergen Catholic.

Meanwhile, as for the public HS programs, they keep chugging along, and doing their best against these powerhouse programs, as they often appear on their schedule. You can just imagine if you were a top player for a public school, and when your team gets trounced by a top non-public school, that coach might suggest you ought to consider your talents to a better program….like his.

Now, for public HS coaches, for the most part they have been fed up by this growing disparity. I mean, every athlete and coach wants to compete on a level playing field. But clearly when one team is stacked with great talent from all over, the other team is quickly overwhelmed and demoralized.

NEW JERSEY RULES IN FAVOR OF COMMON SENSE

Two weeks ago, the athletic directors of NJ made history. They passed a strong resolution to separate the non-public football teams from playing the public teams. The measure still has to be affirmed by the Commissioner of Education in NJ, but for me, as an outsider, this just seems like a common sense move.

Let the powerhouse programs play each other. Let the public schools play against the other public schools. There’s no need to try and make a case that this is unfair or wrong. And yes, I recognize that, every so often, a public school football team will upset a powerhouse private school.

But for the most part, as one public HS coach said, “Look, those schools are apples. My school is orange.”

And that’s correct. Over the long haul, there’s no way that growing non-public football programs are ever going to be equal with the local public schools. In this day and age of increased competition and elite programs, kids will have to decide whether they want to enroll in a powerhouse program and run the risk of being a third or fourth stringer and rarely playing. Or would they have more fun playing at the local public HS where they can be a starter and maybe even a star.

Again, this is HS football. Not college ball. To me, it’s a no-brainer. The fun still resides in playing in the games. Play for your local HS team. And remember, if you really do become a star, you can always go on and play in college.

Meanwhile, as one caller asked, “If this is being done in football, why not continue the concept with other sports in NJ, like basketball and baseball?”

Good question. And yes, it’s also a good idea.

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: The List of “Don’t Assumes”……

I became involved in the world of sports parenting in the early 1990s when I was serving as the roving sports psychology coach for the Cleveland Indians. During those years, my own three kids were very young and just being introduced to the uncharted territory of youth sports. I was curious as what they (and my wife and I) might expect as they entered in the wild frontier of sports.

I wrote my first sports parenting book, GOOD SPORTS, which was published in 1992  by Dell. It was meant to provide an overview and prescriptive advice for Moms and Dads who had kids in sports. I recall doing doing hours of research for the book, and discovering so little in the library (this was, of course, pre-Internet and Google) about sports parenting. But there was certainly enough to fill the book, and as the years have progressed, the interest in this challenging topic has only grown more and more.

A few years after the GOOD SPORTS book came out, I was hired by Sports Illustrated to write a few columns on youth sports. But the response to those columns was so overwhelmingly positive that SI asked me to keep writing more columns. Over the course of the next ten years, I wrote hundreds of pieces for SI.  By then, and judging from the bags of mail I received each week, parents (and coaches) everywhere were looking for answers and guidance. It was clear that sports parenting was becoming more and more complicated. Ultimately, all of this led to my weekly sports parenting show on WFAN Sports Radio in NYC, which I have hosted and produced for close to 17 years.

The reason I mention all of this is because  it’s become clear to me that each year, an entire new group of young sports parents come into focus. Yes, they may have played sports themselves as kids, and they love sports, but as sports parents, they are often not prepared to know what it means when their little one takes the field for the first time.

To that end, I wanted to take a moment to present a short list for new sports parents. In other words. if the world of sports parenting is new to you, you might find this helpful:

THE LIST OF DON’T ASSUMES….

Dear new Sports Parent:

Don’t assume….you know how to coach kids just because you used to play the sport. Playing the sport…and coaching it…are two different talents.

Don’t assume….you know how to handle your emotions when you watch your kid play. The truth is, very few of us can. Instead of grimacing during a game, do the best you can to put a smile on your face.

Don’t assume….you know how to talk to your child after a game is over. Give them plenty of time to chill in the car on the way home. DO NOT give them a post-game analysis. Let them doing the talking about the game – not you.

Don’t assume……you know the rules better than the ref or umps…especially if it’s a sport you didn’t play as a kid. For example, I never played soccer, ice hockey, or lax as a kid. So when my kids played those sports, I had to learn the rules for the first time.

Don’t assume….your child is blessed with unique and special athletic talent….chances are he or she isn’t. Yes, you want them to reach their full athletic potential, but let’s be candid: you have a better chance of winning the lottery than of your kid being the next great professional superstar.

Don’t assume……you know more about game strategy than the coach does….if you do, then maybe you should coach next year.

Don’t assume……the other parents on the sidelines look upon you as some of sports expert, that somehow you know more about the sport than they do. Best bet? Keep your comments to yourself. You never know who’s listening.

Feel free to download this list of Don’t Assumes and share it with your youth league administrators. In the meantime, my show airs live each Sunday from 8-9 AM EST on WFAN Sports Radio. You can stream it live on WFAN.com, and if you miss a show, you can link to each week’s podcast.

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: Are We Witnessing the Slow Decline of Youth Baseball?

As we approach the latter half of August, it’s ironic that as Little League Baseball from Williamsport becomes more and more popular each year on ESPN, the sad truth is that youth leagues all over continue to lose players.

For years, it was thought that many American kids were just opting for football or basketball – two sports which always offer the hope of a college scholarship. But as several callers noted on WFAN yesterday, there are several other factors at work here: significantly, the stunning growth and popularity of lax all over, the effect of sport specialization as kids just opt for one sport a year, and the sagging reality that youth league baseball is, for the most part, taught and coached in a boring, lackluster fashion.

Let me dissect the three issues:

For starters, LL and youth league coaches are primarily volunteers who are saddled with the task of teaching a most complicated game. But most of these coaches, not being trained in this art, really run practices in which a round or two of batting practice is taken, some fielding practice, and that’s about it. It’s boring, and the kids pick up on it being boring right away.

Plus the games are just as tedious, with very little action in the field or at bat, as most kids can’t throw strikes, and games turn into walk-a-thons. After two or three hours of standing in the baking sun, or cold wind, kids realize this isn’t much fun.

LL baseball and other youth programs, and especially MLB, should institute real coaching guides or manuals on how to organize and run a fast-paced baseball practice. Kids should be in constant motion, running from one skill station to the next. Action usually equates into fun for kids, and as the coach, it’s your job to keep things moving.

As for the games, use common sense. If the pitchers can’t throw strikes consistently, then you pitch. Pitch to every kid’s ability so that they can hit the ball. Hitting a thrown baseball takes a certain level of confidence, so it’s up to you to make certain each batter can do that. Again, this will lead to more action in the game, which means more fun.

But baseball coaches, if you maintain the status quo – one thing is certain: more and more kids will walk away from the game. There are just two many other options for them, such as lax.

Lacrosse has indeed grown substantially, mainly because it’s a fast-paced sport and kids love to run and quickly get the hang of carrying the ball in their stick and then shooting it. Parents are turning to lax because they sense that there might be more college scholarships in the offing as more colleges take on the sport.

This is all fine, and I always encourage kids to find the sport or sports that they enjoy most. In my case, my two daughters both played lax in HS, and one of them played in college. But I do caution Moms and Dads that it may be a myth that there are countless lax scholarships on the horizon. Lax still isn’t a revenue-producing sport at most colleges.

Finally, the issue of specialization. This isn’t a new concern, as kids have been opting for one-sport specialization for many years. Problem is, baseball seems to be losing more of its share than, say, soccer or lax. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that: it’s perhaps just a sign that times are changing when it comes to kids and their preference for sports.

But the bottom line for baseball is this: coaches, Little League, and parents need to wake up and recognize that the numbers continue to drop spring after spring. To continue to do just the same as in the past will guarantee that baseball will quietly fade away.

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: How To Keep Kids Interested in Youth League Baseball

Suddenly, and seemingly overnight, Major League Baseball has woken up to the reality that kids all over America are losing interest in the national pastime.

Yes, baseball continues to be one of the nation’s most popular sports, but the reality is hard to dispute: According to one major media outlet, it’s estimated that more than a million kids stopped playing youth league baseball in the US in the last year or so.

It’s true: how many times have we heard from youth and LL coaches over the past decade that the number of kids signing up for baseball has shrunk more and more every spring?

And in truth, I really can’t blame the kids. For decades, come spring time, the only game in town for kids to play was baseball….that was pretty much it. But now of course, these days there are lots of other sports that are beckoning kids, soccer and lax, just to name two, and they do a much better job of attracting children than baseball does.

Look, you know that I love all sports, but baseball is still my favorite — and yet, even I have to admit that youth baseball practices and games haven’t really changed much or improved over the years. For a lot of young kids, it’s just boring. I mean, who wants to stand around in the hot outfield sun for hours, and never get a ball? Who wants to play in a game where they are endless walks?

And now, kids are walking away from baseball. Under Commissioner Bud Selig, he never seemed to be bothered by this migration away from the game. How could he ignore the young fan base of the game? Perhaps he just focused too much on the billions in TV revenue and attendance records at games. But the youth base has been eroding for years.

At least the new Commissioner, Rob Manfred, does seem to get this. In fact, he has set up a youth initiative called Play Ball, which is aimed to stimulate more interest in kids wanting to play baseball. There’s even a website called PlayBall.org, MLB is now running some slick commercials aimed at kids and baseball, and MLB has set up a tournament or two. All this being said, the effort still seems a bit unfocused as to how MLB is going to stimulate more kids’  interest in baseball. That being said, they have devoted $30 million to help the cause.

Bu if you’re a youth league baseball coach NOW, you need to get answers NOW on how to keep kids involved in the game.  It’s a pressing issue.

My guest this AM was Dan Venezia who was a star baseball player at Concordia College (Bronxville, NY) and then was drafted and signed by the Minnesota Twins. Dan is heavily involved in youth league baseball in New Jersey, and his ideas are right on target, most notably;

KEEP PRACTICES MOVING

Take the time to map out what drills and skills you want the kids to work on, and organize the drills into short 5-minute intervals.  Everybody gets a turn or even more, and make sure lots of praise accompanies their efforts.

TOUCH THE BALL

Along those lines, Dan made it clear that kids need to “touch the ball” a lot in practices. Make sure that happens, whether they’re fielding, throwing, or pitching. Get them to be familiar with the baseball.

COACH, YOU PITCH!

The fun of the game is to make solid contact with a pitched ball. But too few kids have the skill to throw strikes. Coach, YOU take the mound and work diligently to pitch to each kid’s sweet spot, regardless of their ability. The more kids make contact with the ball, the more action takes place in the field, and the more fun ensues. Plus the game and practices go quickly, and everybody participates.

KEEP THEM MOVING AROUND

Perhaps the key to keeping kids involved in the sport at the youth level is to make sure all the kids rotate positions in the field. Too many coaches focus on just playing their best players at SS or as a pitcher. Let all the kids change positions — that’s not only key for their development, but it also shows them that you have confidence in their abilities. Coach — don’t worry so much about the final score — worry more about the kids enjoying themselves.

As Dan concludes, at the end of the year, the best way to measure how much you have succeeded as a coach is not by your team’s won-loss record at the youth level, but how many kids can’t wait to sign up for next year.

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: Two Cases of Special Needs Athletes — Two Very Different Outcomes

A Tale of Two Cities: Special Needs Athletes and the High School Varsity

By Doug Abrams

 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, . . . it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness.”

— Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859).

* * * * *

In the past month or so, I recalled Dickens’ classic opening lines when I read about how differently two students with Down syndrome were treated in two cities more than 700 miles apart. The first story – from Kenosha, Wisconsin – reported wisdom by a courageous middle-school basketball team. The second story – from Wichita, Kansas — reported foolishness by a high school’s administrators after one parent lodged a complaint.

Wisdom in Kenosha, Wisconsin

In my March 17 column, I wrote about a basketball game at Kenosha’s Lincoln Middle School. The eighth-grade Lincoln players saw fans verbally abusing one of their cheerleaders, Desiree Andrews, who has Down syndrome. The abuse was happening (perhaps not for the first time) right under the noses of adult coaches and other school officials, who evidently did nothing to stop it. That was when the players took matters into their own hands, halting the game and approaching the stands together to stop the bullying of their classmate.

“The kids in the audience were picking on Dee, so we all stepped forward,” Lincoln Middle School player Chase Vazquez said later. “We walked off the court and went to the bullies and told them to stop because that’s not right to be mean to another person,” teammate Miles Rodriguez told Fox & Friends. “It’s not fair when other people get treated wrong,” teammate Scooter Terrien explained to WTMJ-TV, because “we’re all created the same.”

By protecting a seemingly easy target who was no match for bullies, the Lincoln middle school basketball players took action uncommon among students their age. Sooner or later, most school bullying happens in front of student onlookers, but few onlookers intervene on a victim’s behalf or report the bullying. Onlookers are much more likely to avoid associating with the victim, or even to join the bullies in an effort to boost social position or to avoid being targeted themselves.

One study found that 85% of school bullying incidents had student onlookers, but that onlookers intervened to protect the victim only 10% of the time. The Kenosha middle school basketball players joined the ranks of the 10%.

Foolishness in Wichita, Kansas

Contrast the Kenosha story with one from Wichita, Kansas. Nineteen-year-old Michael Kelley, a Wichita East High School student, does not let Down syndrome or autism dampen his love for basketball. He plays on the school’s team for special needs students, which competes against similar teams fielded by about 14 other high schools. Unlike at least one other area high school, Wichita East denies members of special needs teams an opportunity to earn varsity letters because the school does not recognize these teams as holding varsity status.

Michael’s mother recently bought him a varsity jacket, which he was asked to remove when he wore it to school. The request reportedly came after a complaint lodged by one varsity athlete’s parent. Michael was handed a sweatshirt to wear instead, and his story went viral.

Social media commentary has overwhelmingly condemned the high school’s position. Varsity athletes across the nation have reportedly shown support for Michael by sending him their own varsity letters and letter jackets. Classmate Libby Hastings, a Wichita East girls’ varsity soccer team member, began a nationwide online petition supporting him. The petition has gathered more than 40,000 signatures. “Michael works as hard as I do, shows just as much passion, and loves our school deeply,” she wrote. “He deserves to be awarded a varsity letter just as much as I do.”

Access and Participation

The Kenosha and Wichita stories remind us that as America continues moving toward greater inclusion of persons with disabilities, much work remains to enlighten some people’s attitudes.

The U.S. Department of Education says that “access to, and participation in, extracurricular athletic opportunities provide important health and social benefits to all students, particular those with disabilities.” For many special needs students, access and participation mean membership on school teams that are open to all students selected by coaches after tryouts and evaluation. For other special needs students, such membership is inadvisable or impossible; school-sponsored special needs teams become viable alternatives for channeling love of the game, devotion to self and team, and willingness to work hard.

When a school allows athletes to earn varsity letters for playing on special needs teams, the school does not devalue the letters won by other athletes, such as the son or daughter of the Wichita parent complainant. The accomplishments of the other athletes remain intact, and so does the honor that the letter bestows on them.

The key word here is “earn.”  Special needs students need no handouts or gratuitous recognition. When they play on a team that represents the school, however, they deserve the opportunity to fulfill school-adopted lettering requirements that recognize their athletic accomplishments, including their perseverance to surmount obstacles unknown to other students. Perhaps that is one reason why, as KSNW-TV reports, Satanta High School (Satanta, Kan.) is sending Michael an honorary varsity letter and manager’s pin.

If any doubt remains about whether special needs students deserve opportunities to earn varsity letters, public schools should resolve that doubt in favor of the national policy that maximizes inclusion of special needs citizens in the American experience. In youth sports and other daily endeavors, maximized inclusion grounded in reasonable accommodation is best for the special needs citizens, best for the community, and best for the nation.

Light and Darkness

To borrow from the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities, the Kenosha and Wichita stories contrast a “season of Light” and a “season of Darkness.” So far, Wichita East administrators have reaffirmed the no-varsity-letters policy, but the firestorm of protest and condemnation may have prodded them to re-examine the policy by the end of the school year. Until then, these administrators face a national and local student-led backlash fueled by their own evident unwillingness to reject one parent’s complaint.

As Wichita East High School’s officials seek a compass, the Kenosha middle school basketball players’ story can steer them in the right direction. The middle schoolers’ story can also reorient the solitary Wichita parent complainant, whose pride in the varsity letter jacket worn by the family’s athlete doubtlessly knows no bounds.

 

Sources: Middle school basketball players defend bullied cheerleader, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/wisconsin-middle-school-basketball-players-defend-bullied-cheerleader/ (Mar. 12, 2015); Players leave court mid-game to confront bully of cheerleader with Down syndrome, http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/03/13/players-leave-court-mid-game-to-confront-bully-cheerleader-with-down-syndrome/ (Mar. 13, 2015); Deneen Smith, Welcome to D’s House, Kenosha (Wis.) Times, Mar. 9, 2015; Andy Isaac, One Parent’s Complaint Caused a Special Needs Student to Lose His Varsity Letter, http://uproxx.com/sports/2015/03/michael-kelley-varsity-letter/ (Mar. 28, 2015); KTLA 5, High School in Kansas Tells Down Syndrome Student to Stop Wearing Varsity Jacket, http://ktla.com/2015/03/30/high-school-strips-special-needs-student-of-varsity-jacket/ (Mar. 30, 2015); Cindy Boren, After Asking Special Needs Student to Remove Letter Jacket, Principal Defends His Actions, Washington Post, Mar. 30, 2015; Lindsay Cobb, Schools Reach Out to Special Needs Athlete, http://ksn.com/2015/03/27/schools-reach-out-to-special-needs-athlete/.

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: What We Need NOW in Terms of Sports Parenting Leadership….

(The following column was requested of Rick Wolff by the editors of the Huffington Post, and it ran online in that publication on Thursday, March 12, 2015)

 

A SYSTEM IN DIRE NEED OF DIRECTION

Once upon a time- and I start with this phrase as though I’m going to tell a children’s story – because when I tell kids today about a time when they were free to go out and play on their own —  when there were no official tryouts, no bullying coaches, no screaming parents on the sidelines – well, these kids really think I’m truly telling them a fairy tale.

And yet, it wasn’t that long ago when that was indeed how children in the United States discovered sports. They, along with their neighborhood friends, went outside and played and soaked up the pure joy and freedom that comes with playing sports for fun.

But of course, those days are long gone, having been overrun by parents’ zeal to insure that their kid gets a leg up on their athletic peers, to perhaps rise to a level where one’s son or daughter will become professional athletes, or at the very least, to earn a college athletic scholarship.

But for the vast majority of American student-athletes, according to the NCAA, less than 4% of all high school varsity athletes will ever be good enough to make a college team at either the Division I, II, or III level. That’s just making the team. The percentage of kids who earn a full or even just a partial athletic scholarship is dramatically smaller.

If so few high school varsity athletes will ever make a college team, why are sports so valuable to our kids?

Because they learn key lessons in life: specifically, how to be a team player… how to work towards a common goal with teammates… how to cope with both winning and losing… how to deal with unexpected adversity….how to be coached by someone other than one’s parent…. and of course, the overall benefit of being physically fit.

These benefits are not new. They have been around for a long, long time. But somehow, we as adults have lost our way with our kids in sports. Parents today have reached a point where they need some real guideposts to help us find our way again.

What strikes me as very distressful is that the world of sports parenting is only becoming more and more confusing. There is no roadmap. High school athletic directors rarely have the time to oversee and “coach” their coaches. Literally anyone can put out a shingle and start, own, and operate a travel team. Too many parents are physically threatening officials and refs who work their kids’ games.

So how we can stop the madness?

In my opinion, here’s what we need:

HAVE PRESIDENT OBAMA OR THE PRESIDENT’S COUNCIL FOR PHYSICAL FITNESS SET UP FEDERAL GUIDELINES REGARDING YOUTH SPORTS INSTRUCTION

We Americans take tremendous pride in our sports traditions.

But curiously, we don’t offer any guidelines to sports parents today about key questions: what’s the right age for my child to specialize in one sport? Or should they not specialize at all? Is it important for my child to be on a travel team? What is the truth about letting my son play football and the risk of concussions? Girls suffer five times more ACL injuries than boys – can we do anything to protect them?

It sure would be nice if the President, a noted sports fan AND a sports parent himself, would appoint a blue-ribbon of experts to help us.

AND DON’T JUST TALK IN GENERIC POINTS. BE SPECIFIC.

There are lot of wonderful glossy reports and white papers that say that youth sports is a mess in this country, that there’s an obesity problems with kids, and so on.

Yes. We know that. We’re living it. Forget the overview stuff.

Give parents, coaches, and kids real specific directions and instructions.

LICENSE AND CERTIFY TRAVEL TEAMS

That means real regulation of everything from who the coaches are, if they are trained in CPR, background checks, and most importantly, has anyone with real credentials trained the travel team coaches to be a coach? Just being a former player does not qualify for you to train or work with kids.

Let’s also have transparency about the tryout fees, the costs of being on the team, the coaches’ salaries, and let’s discuss guarantees on my kid’s playing time. And for the elite travel teams, let’s provide real stats on how many kids on those teams are actually offered college scholarships, from what colleges, how much, and so on.

PUTTING THE FUN BACK INTO THE GAMES

There are all sorts of surveys about why kids these days are quitting sports. But the one common theme throughout all those polls is that sports is no longer fun for the youngster. When a sport is transformed into a highly competitive, win-at-all-costs activity, with one’s parents foaming at the mouth while yelling at refs, who wants to play anymore?

Ironically, these kinds of surveys about “fun in sports” didn’t exist twenty-five years ago. Why? Because kids back then were having fun.

 

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: The Year in Review

Here’s a quick review of the biggest topics and headlines regarding sports parenting issues from 2014.

Let’s start with the biggest issue of the year…concussions:

Here’s what we know:

1— Concussions are commonplace in HS football, but they also occur in any contact sport, such as ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, field hockey, and so on.

There is currently no helmet on the market today that can prevent a concussion. True, they are a number of helmets that try to minimize the impact, but there is no one helmet that prevent a concussion. That includes football, ice hockey, lacrosse, and all other contact sports.

Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon from Boston University and considered the leading expert on concussions in the country today, came on my radio show last winter and advised sports parents that they should  not allow their kids to play tackle football until they are at least 14. Why?Because kids’ necks aren’t strong enough to prevent the “bobble-head” effect which is so common with head injuries.

On a strictly personal note, let me add this: If it were me, I would advise my son not to play tackle football until he was 14, or entering HS in ninth grade. Play flag football up until then. Your youngster will have plenty of time to learn how to tackle and block properly but why run the risk of concussions when your child is younger?

Along those same lines I’m also glad that, a couple of years ago, USA Hockey pushed back the age when full body checking is allowed to bantam age – 14. It just makes sense. And I’m glad that more medical experts are studying concussions in soccer caused by heading.

Tackle football will survive in this country, but as the insurance companies begin to raise their premiums for HS teams, more and more middle and smaller HS will most likely go out of the football business. Or they’ll ask the parents to pay for the skyrocketing insurance coverage.

 

2 –Moving onto Social media legal issues. It’s still amazing to me that so many students- and coaches – don’t understand the power of twitter, facebook, Instagram, etc.

Anything you post online is out there for everyone to see. And what might have seemed like a lame joke at first can blow up in a teenager’s face with devastating consequences. It can cost one a college scholarship or even admission into college. A dumb comment can scare away college coaches. It can even cost you possible employment when you graduate.

And yet, we still continue to see stories in the media every week when HS athletes post something stupid, and then claim that they have a right to say what they want on line, like that HS basketball player who wasn’t getting much playing time on his team and started to tweet his complaints. That ended up getting him booted off the team. He claimed he had a right of free speech – but in truth, that doesn’t apply to being on a school team, which is still a privilege not a right.

Most HS coaches now teach kids not to do such dumb things….but unfortunately, lots of kids still do it. They just don’t seem to learn.

3- The end of abusive coaches? One of the better developments over the last year is that more and more abusive coaches are being held accountable for their corrosive actions with kids.

This is happening more at the collegiate, HS, and travel team level. Look, it’s one thing to be a tough disciplinarian…but too many coaches have crossed the line with over-the-top verbal abuse and profanity aimed at their players.  And of course, if you ever grab or make physical contact with a player, well, that’s really asking for trouble.

For years and years, unfortunately, coaches have been deemed to be “above the law” so to speak. Thank goodness some common sense is finally coming into play on coaches who think they can do whatever they please. They need to be held accountable.

4– Repetitive use injuries. We’ve been talking about this medical issue for well over a decade now. And it’s important to remember that this is a medical concern that has only developed in recent years because too many kids now specialize all year in just one sport.

Back in the day, repetitive use injuries didn’t happen to kids who played three sports.

Dr. James Andrews, the famed orthopedic surgeon,  reminds us that kids shouldn’t throw curveballs until they can shave. That means, for most kids, probably around the age of 14. And yet, we still see kids in LL and travel teams throwing sliders and curves all the time. And yet,  we continue to see a stark rise in kids undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Why? Because kids are being taught that in order to be a top prospect, they need to throw 90 mph. That means they totally max out their pitching by throwing every pitch just as hard as they can. It results in their young arms tearing and they end up needing major surgery.

5 – How thrilling was it to see Mo’ne Davis from Philadelphia pitch so well in the LL World Series?

And Mone proved that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she was not only a great athlete, but could certainly dominate against boys her age.  Good for her. Now, we’re all eager to see what sport she will ultimately choose as she goes through HS – baseball? Or basketball?

6 – The gradual end of HS varsity sports continued in 2014. Thanks to travel programs like the US Soccer Academy, more and more travel programs in this country are drawing more and more kids away from HS varsity teams. This is a trend that continues to grow and will spell the end of competitive varsity teams. The better athletes will opt for travel programs, teams that don’t allow them to play for their HS anymore.

We already see it in soccer, basketball, baseball, and lax….it will also happen soon in football – or at least that’s my sense.

HS programs can’t provide the same kind of college exposure that travel teams do. They can’t provide a higher level of competition. And yes, while travel teams cost parents a lot of money, it’s easy to understand why parents feel a desire to give their children a chance to perform on at a higher level.

I only wish there were more of a uniform or standardized way of running these  travel teams and programs so that parents could better compare and contrast what they are paying so much money for.

 7  —  the Steubenville HS football case was a total disaster. Two starHS football players in a football-crazed town were convicted of digitally raping a HS girl who was unconscious from alcohol consumption. Both players had to go to juvenile detention center for at least a year. This case highlighted how a school district tends to look the other way when star athletes are involved.

Just as horrible was the horrendous hazing case from Sayreville, NJ. It’s just hard to believe that HS students today still don’t think twice about abusing their teammates, or what the consequences will be. And if nothing else, HS coaches have learned the hard way never to leave athletes alone in locker rooms.

8 – Good sportsmanship? This past fall, we talked about good sportsmanship in action in HS cross-country races where some runners stopped to help a fallen competitor, and how then those good sports were penalized for doing so.

In short, how do you reconcile a situation where a HS kid seemingly does the right thing by helping a fallen runner – only to then find out that they will be disqualified from the race?

If you’re going to have those kinds of strict rules in place, then race officials need to be posted at 100 yard intervals through the course.

After all, we don’t want to penalize kids for doing the right thing in life. And yet, these disqualifications have happened several times.

On the other hand, was good sportsmanship in place in that Oklahoma HS football playoff game where the refs goofed on their ruling – and cost a team a victory when they nullified a go-ahead TD with just a minute to go?

A district judge ultimately ruled that once you pr your team enter into a game which is being officiated by refs, then both teams are obliged to follow their directives –  even when the refs made a terrible mistake and it costs one HS the game.

Yes…life is not always fair, even in the world of competitive sports. I guess that’s the only lesson that can be drawn from this extremely unfair call by the refs.

In conclusion, as we look over the headlines from this past year, one thing is certain: Being a sports parent in 2015 is a lot more challenging and daunting than it was in 1970, or 1980, 0r 1990, or 2000. Sports parenting continues to be increasingly complicated, and most parents are left to their own insights or common sense to plan their kids’ involvement. I sincerely hope you and your family have a wonderful — and safe – year in 2015.

 

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: How Did We Get from Having Fun…..to Today?

So how did we get to this point?

In other words, in the 1960s and 1970s, kids played sports after school or on the weekends pretty much on their own. Ask anybody today over the age of 50, and they’ll regale you with fond memories of how they would play from sun-up to sun-down playing ball….that there were never any parents watching these pick-up games….that there were never any refs or umps….that there were no league standings….and most of all, the kids played merely because it was just fun.

Travel teams hadn’t been invented yet. Kids had heard about college athletic scholarships, but had no real idea beyond that. You played a sport according to the season, e.g. football or soccer in the fall, basketball or hockey in the winter, and baseball or track-and-field in the spring. Nobody played one sport all year round.

As noted, travel teams didn’t exist then. Nor did you ever hear of a kid burning-out on a sport. Overuse specialization injuries? That concept wouldn’t have meant anything to anybody. And most of all, kids were, in general, in better physical shape than our children because video games and computers didn’t exist yet.

So what happened?

There are lots of theories. Here’s mine:

As the television networks became more competitive for more live programming, sports became a top priority. The league owners, being smart business people, began to ask for more and more for the rights to televise their games. With more revenue pouring in, the search for better, faster, and stronger athletes began to trickle down to the colleges, most notably football and basketball.

Then the colleges began to realize that if they could put forth top-flight athletic programs, they could generate lots of TV revenue as well as have proud alumni pour in donations.

Suddenly, athletic scholarships became prize possessions. And for the select few, being signed to a pro contract was indeed like winning the lottery. Pro athletes went from having decent salaries in the 1970s where they had to get part-time jobs in the off-season to now making millions.

All of this transition was not lost on parents. They began to think that if my kid is a star on his or her high school team, maybe – just maybe – my child might be the next Derek Jeter or Mia Hamm. And as a caring parent, I need to do what I can – spend what I can – to give my youngster every opportunity to reach their potential. That translates into playing for a travel team all year round, specialized coaching, summer camps, and so on.

Priorities became re-arranged. What’s the best age for my kid to specialize in a sport? How do I find the best personal coach for her? What are the best showcases to be seen? And on and on. Notably, one of the priorities that dropped off the list was “having fun.” 

So where do we go from here? For starters, I don’t see any let up with the obsession that parents have for their kids and sports. I, for one, still find it unfathomable when I read that a pro player has signed for $60 million or more. I mean, I can just can’t seem to wrap my head around playing a sport I love, and making that kind of money.

And I do think that so long as that kind of financial dream is out there, parents will continue to do whatever they can to give their kid a chance to earn that kind of payday.

It’s almost as though the mentality is: “Look, if my kid can be good enough to play pro and make millions playing sports, we’ll worry about his having fun later on in life – once his playing days are over.”

That just seems like backward thinking. But sadly, I think that’s where we are these days.

 

 

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: A Candid Talk about The Pressures of Youth Ice Hockey

I had the pleasure of talking youth ice hockey with Doug Abrams this AM on my radio show. Now, normally, I have Doug on — who’s on the faculty at teh Univ of Missouri School of Law – to discuss legal aspects regarding sports parenting — and he and our colleague Steve Kallas are just terrific – but for some time I have wanted to discuss in some detail the mindset of Hockey Moms and Dads with Doug.

Traditionally, because of the high cost, time commitment, and extreme pressure for playing time in games, ice hockey has always been regarded as one of the most volatile youth sports. Sure, parents go nuts at soccer games, hasketball games, Little League, and so on, but hockey has always held a “special” place when it comes to Moms and Dads wanting to make sure their little one is on the fast track in the hockey world.

Doug and I immediately focused on the travel team element in youth hockey. Because rink time is so limited, it seems that those kids who are good enough to make the local travel team at age 8 are the ones who quickly are absorbed into the elite travel world. That encompasses a season that lasts from Labor Day right up to mid-March, and in some cases, even longer. Practices are twice a week, and games are on Saturday and Sunday. And since rink rental is pricey, the cost of practice time, coaches salaries, equipment, insurance, and so on usually easily puts the price tag around $2,000 to $3,000. And that doesn’t include the cost of gas to and from games and practices, or meals or hotels on the road.

To me, that’s why parents tend to get very emotional if, during the games, their youngster is on the third line and doesn’t always get enough ice time like the other players. Coaches will often tell parents at the beginning of the season that “everybody will get equal playing time” but too often as the pressures to win over the long season build, too many coaches start to play the better players more often than the developing kids. That’s a problem for parents.

In fact, I recently read where there’s a new app available where parents can actually track their kids’ on-ice time. Sounds silly, but it’s quickly becoming a popular app.

In any event, Doug, who grew up on Long Island in the 1960s and who went onto become a stellar goalie at Wesleyan University (he even held the record for many years in Div. III for most saves in a game with 64), pointed out that when he was a kid, parents at hockey games were never an issue. It’s only in the more recent years where parents have become a much vocal (and a disturbing) presence at their kids’ games.

Doug who coached youth hockey for decades after his own collegiate career, has been recognized numerous times for his contribution to the sport including being honored by USA Hockey, fully understands how the game has gone in a different direction.

He points out how the gradual shift from “having fun” to “we gotta win” took place, and with this shift, the sport of ice hockey has changed dramatically. Doug pointed out in Bobby Orr’s recent blockbuster bestseller, Orr wrote that too many local hockey programs forget to recognize that the vast majority of kids who play hockey are average. Orr says that’s the definition of average — most kids are average players.

That doesn’t mean average players don’t enjoy playing the game less. It just means that their playing careers should be enjoyed for the moment. Planning about getting to the next level and the pro’s is far-fetched. Just go out and enjoy the game. That’s what Bobby Orr’s Dad told him, and it certainly work for Orr.

One of the callers this AM was from a gentleman who recalled seeing Doug play hockey when Doug was in HS. Both the caller and Doug recollected how the game then was much more fun, that the coaches were gracious and kind, and the parents had better things to do than watch their kids play youth sports.

What a nice memory!

 

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: Wall Street Journal Study Says Fewer Kids are Playing Sports

It was a front-page story that ran in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal. According to some national studies, the Journal concluded that in all the four most popular sports in the country – football, soccer, baseball, and basketball —  the enrollment of kids ages 6-17 was done 4% from 2008 to 2012,

Knowing that millions of kids play sports in this country, that’s a fairly hefty number of youngsters not playing sports. Especially when the overall popular of kids 6-17 in the US during that time frame dropped only 0.6%.

So, the obvious question is why? Is it because of the growing alarm regarding concussions? Well, perhaps. Except that concussions didn’t become an urgent issue until last year, so that wouldn’t necessarily explain the drop starting in 2008.

Is it too much specialization at an early age, leading to burnout? Yes, that could be a part of the issue as well. Kids do tire of playing the same sport all-year round, and many do quit when they’re 12 or 13.

But in my opinion, the real culprit here is the diminishing amount of joy and fun that kids are taking away from sports. That is, we all talk about fun being the top priority for boys and girls in sports, but I think we’re finally seeing the diminishing lack of fun catching up to our kids.

In other words, when kids today realize at a tender age — maybe 9 or 10 – that they are not destined to be a star on the team, they begin to ask themselves whether all the time and effort that they put into the team is really worth the effort. Kids today have so many ways to utilize their spare time, whether it be doing stuff online or getting a job to make some money, that they really ask themselves whether it’s really a big deal or not if they quit sports. Especially if they don’t make a travel team, they often conclude that just to be a guy on the team, or a bench player, doesn’t really mean anything to them. And so they walk away.

Especially in a day and age where kids and obesity are a real issue, this is not a good trend. I have read several studies that today’s generation of children may be the first generation to have a shorter life-span that the generation before it. In short, our kids aren’t in shape – and the theory goes that if they played more sports right through HS, then they would benefit, both physically and mentally.

In short, while fun is always to be a driving part of sports, if kids don’t feel they’re enjoying themselves, the do end up quitting. This is not good.

From my perspective, the time has come to finally re-examine how youth, travel, and HS sports are run in this country.  For years I have campaigned for some sort of national or federal commission to oversee kids in sports. Maybe this study from the WSJ will finally set the wheels in motion to do this.