Archive for the ‘Trends in Sports’ Category

TRENDS IN SPORTS: How Can We Make Baseball More Attractive to Younger Kids?

It was a real treat to talk with my old Detroit Tigers’ teammate Joe McIlvaine this AM. Joe was a hard-throwing right-hander when we both played in the Tigers’ organization back in the mid-1970s. When his playing career came to an end, Joe stayed in pro ball as a scout and eventually his talents took  him all the way to become the GM of both the New York Mets and the San Diego Padres.

But on this AM’s WFAN show, I focused my questions on why baseball – the National Pastime – seems to be fading from interest from young kids. The usual reasons were trotted out: the game is too slow, it’s too hard to play, and the other competing sports do a much better job in marketing to the youth of today.

To his credit, Joe acknowledged all of these issues, but also agreed with me that, at least in terms of attendance and TV revenue, the game has never been more profitable. Minor league franchises are worth millions, and families still flock to minor league ballparks.

But at the same time, you never see American kids play pick-up games on sandlots or fields these days. Those days are seemingly gone, unlike in, say, the Dominican Republic kids are playing ball all the time on their own.

But as the calls poured in, lots of people reflected that baseball is seen as a sport for the older generation, e.g. people older than 50. If that’s true (and it probably is), then MLB and the Commissioner need to step up with a new marketing plan for the younger generation. McIlvaine mentioned that the impact of travel teams has really had a major impact on kids from poorer families — that the cost of committing to a travel team is beyond their financial reach. And of course, in terms of college scholarships these days, it’s only football and basketball where there’s substantial money for underprivileged kids. Baseball is still seen as a non-revenue sport at most colleges and as such, full scholarships for baseball – unlike football and basketball — are rare.

WHAT’S THE TOUGHEST SPORT?

I made one suggestion that Joe agreed with: that MLB should sell baseball to young kids as being the most difficult sport to play, both physically and mentally. There’s more failure in baseball, simply because the skills are so difficult to master. As examples, I pointed to perhaps the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, who tried to play professional baseball at the peak of his basketball career and he barely hit .200 in the minors. And then, more recently, former Heisman Winner Tim Tebow is running into the same struggles with the game of baseball.

I had suggested this because MLB seems too focused on speeding the game up by getting rid of intentional walks, or by putting pitchers on a clock. Those are nice suggestions, to be sure, but of course, the real issue why baseball is so slow these days is because of the 2-3 minute commercial breaks between every half-inning.

Of course, you will never hear MLB suggest that those commercial breaks go away simply because that’s where the owners make all their money. Unfortunately, if the breaks were somehow reduced to only 1 minute you would immediately shave 30-45 minutes off each game. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, before the true advent of TV and radio commercials, the typical major league game lasted 2 hours, tops. That’s a big difference, and by the way, the ballplayers themselves also prefer shorter games.

I agree that making major league games shorter would definitely help, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. MLB needs to find a way to make the game exciting and emotional – just like the World Baseball Classic that was conducted this spring. That was a major plus for MLB.

BUT THE BOTTOM LINE STILL RULES

But as much as we’d like to streamline the game, the fact remains that for those players who are good enough to play at the big league level, the financial rewards are still overwhelming. And of course, in order to afford to pay those staggering salaries, TV and radio money are vital. To me, and I’m sure Joe McIlvaine would agree, that’s the issue. And until that changes, the games will simply remain long, and for too many kids, too boring.

It’s a real problem, and MLB seems to be either ignoring the issue, or just putting a Band-aid on a broken arm. Here’s hoping they wake up before it’s too late.

 

 

 

TRENDS IN SPORTS: The Two Fundamental Keys to Athletic Success

I tell ambitious sports parents all the time that in order for their child to become a top professional athlete, they need only two ingredients:

God-given talent, and a superior drive to compete.

While that may sound overly simplistic, the truth is, in my experience in sports, you can often find a youngster who has the drive and passion to succeed, but sadly doesn’t have the size or speed or talent.

Likewise, there are lots of highly gifted athletes who just don’t seem to care that much about taking advantage of their ability. That is, they’re just happy to play their sport and let their God-given ability take them as far as they can, but without putting forth any extra effort.

Think I’m wrong? Consider superstar athletes like Michael Jordan, who could jump over the moon and even in his 50s, he’s still known as a fierce competitor who hates to lose. He’s typical of those rare, great athletes who burn with a competitive drive AND were born with great skills.

I mention all this because I was reading in Sports Illustrated the other day about a HS kid who hails from Australia. A newcomer to American football, Daniel Faalele is one imposing young man, standing 6’9 and weighing a rock-solid 400 pounds. No, I’m not making that up. Think Tim Tebow, only even bigger (a lot bigger) and on steroids.

Sensing that he may have a future in college football and the NFL, Faalele left Australia and is now attending the IMG Academy in Florida which has become a major breeding ground for Division 1 football prospects. By all accounts, now only is this young man physically imposing and strong, but he also has quick feet. And thanks to growing up in Australia where he played rugby, he also loves hitting people.

True, Faalele is just learning the basics of football, including blocking and tackling. But if he has the inner drive and determination to succeed, it’s pretty clear that he has that God-given physical ability. Only time will tell how far he will go.

And in the meantime, if he doesn’t have what it takes at 6’9, 400 pounds, maybe his little brother Taylor. He’s already 6 feet tall and 260 pounds…and he’s only 11.

TRENDS IN SPORTS: The Joy (and Benefits) of Running

Next Sunday morning is the 40th anniversary of the running of the NYC Marathon, and in what has become something of an annual tradition on my radio show, I like to spend at least one Sunday each year talking about the sport of running.

The truth is, among all the various athletic endeavors you should definitely introduce your son or daughter to, clearly the simple act of running is one of the most important.

Why? Because it’s so healthy for them including their physical and mental health…because they can do it for the rest of their lives once their other HS and college athletic careers in their other sports are over…running or jogging is relatively inexpensive compared to many sports….and in a world of highly competitive team sports where kids have to try out and are cut from teams, pretty much anyone can run for their school team and be competitive. In other words, there are so many really good things to be gained about when it comes to running that I feel strongly that all sports parents should encourage their kids to simply enjoy running.

I will tell you that when I was a kid, I loved to run sprints…40 yards, 60 yards and 100 yards…..and I was pretty good at them too. But long-distance running was not something I enjoyed doing.

And yet, as I’ve gotten older, I have found that I look forward these days to just go out and jog. To be able to go out and run 2 or 3 miles, or even just to walk fast for an hour, that’s become a real joy.

About a year ago, when I having issues with my right leg and had to have my hip operated on, I found myself becoming jealous – envious – of seeing people of all ages out for a jog. Why? Because my leg hurt so much that I couldn’t run any more. And I missed it greatly. Thankfully, my hip surgery went well, and I’m back to my routine of jogging several times a week. And it’s great.

Those months when I couldn’t run made me very aware that I should never take the most basic skill of sports – running – for granted. And either should you. Or your kids.

Which brings me to the guest from my show this AM – Coach Joel Pasternack, one of the most respected running coaches in the New York City area.

He’s been running for 51 years…Joel is currently 66….and he’s based in Clifton, NJ.

In all those years he’s run 125,260 miles. In the 1974 Boston marathon Joel placed 28th in a time of 2 hours 25 minutes and three seconds…. In the 1976 NYC marathon he placed 25th in a time of 2 hours 27 minutes and 37 seconds. Overall, Joel has run a total of 16 marathons between 1971- 1991.

Joel has coached for 41 years at the youth, high school and college level. These days he’s coaching a middle and high school team, two adult running clubs, some town recreation programs and some private clients. You can go to joelrun.com web site if you’d like to find out more.

Joel always reminds parents to tell kids when they first start out to go at a slow pace. No need to sprint out to the front of the pack. Run at your own pace. He advises that if you’re running with a partner, you should be able to have a conversation with the other runner without having to huff and puff. If you can’t, then you’re running at too fast a pace.

He uses the comparison to the fable of the Turtle and the Hare. The Hare runs out fast, but soon runs out of gas. Meanwhile, the Turtle runs at a slow and steady pace, and eventually wins the race. Joel feels that’s a perfect lesson for any beginning runners.

He also says that kids just starting out should not run long distances more than three times a week. That sort of surprised me. But Joel made it clear that developing legs and joints should not be stressed early in a kid’s career.

But overall, the act of running is a wonderful exercise, and even if your son or daughter is not competitive at it, it’s still one of the best, and least expensive, sports that one can truly enjoy and benefit from. As Joel points out, when he first ran in the NYC Marathon in the 1970s, there were only 3,000 runners. These days, there are 50,000 runners and there’s a long waiting list. Clearly the sport has caught on in a big, big way. And it should be no surprise that the most popular sport in HS across the USA these days is NOT football or basketball or soccer – but track and field and cross country running.

TRENDS IN SPORTS: TAKING A KNEE – PART TWO

i had a very strong response to last week’s show and blog posting regarding HS kids taking a knee to protest racial oppression in this country. I was impressed with the smart comments  on both sides of the issue, all dealing with the balancing of patriotic respect for our country v. one’s guarantee of freedom of speech.

But as the calls and emails poured in, one theme was very constant. Specifically, what are the correct or proper or legal parameters should coaches and teachers and athletic directors follow? That is, if confronted with this kind of situation, how should one react, if at all?

Some of the questions that came my way included:

1 – If a HS athlete doesn’t have to stand for the National Anthem, does he or she have to at least remain quiet and be respectful?

Or does he or she have the right – under the first amendment of freedom of speech —  to have a casual conversation with a friend or with a parent who’s at the game? Or can they even sing a different song – perhaps even a song of protest?

2 – If a public HS coach tells his team at the start of the season that he has a long-standing rule that every kid on the team stand for the National Anthem – and then the coach even has each kid voluntarily sign a letter of agreement to do so – can the coach then cut a kid who disobeys that mandate during the season?

3 – Or as one caller suggested: if a kid is on a HS team, then he or she knows that they are representing the school and the team – and as such, the team takes precedence over the individual’s rights to make a protest. In other words, if you are a true member of a team, there’s no exceptions for individual protests.

Think about that one, because in many ways it really gets to the heart of the issue.

But another long-time HS coach said: “I don’t care what the kid does or protests before the game…but once the game begins, he is a member of the team…and the team takes top priority.”

 

PUBLIC V. NON-PUBLIC SCHOOLS

There is a legal separation between parochial/private schools and public schools. Since public schools are funded by tax payer dollars, coaches do not have the right to set down rules to prevent individual protests or to abridge the rights of students to express themselves.

But parochial/private schools are different since they are funded by the parents who pay for their kids to attend. For example, some private and parochial schools have a rule that all males have to wear a jacket and tie every day to school. AND that every student-athlete has to stand respectfully for the National Anthem before games.

Top attorneys have told me that this is perfectly legal, even though it seems to set a double standard between public and no-public schools.

Don’t forget. For years, many HS football coaches at public HS used to lead their teams in a pre-game prayer. Coaches can no longer do that —  unless, of course, they are coaching at a private school.

U.S. SUPREME COURT RULINGS ON PROTESTS

On last week’s show, I mentioned a famous Supreme Court case from 1943 about kids who were Jehovah Witnesses who didn’t stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in school. The U.S. Supreme Court said that was indeed their right not to do so.

There was also a famous Supreme Court in 1965 – the Tinker case, as it’s known  — regarding a HS kid and his siblings who wore black arm bands to school to protest the war in Vietnam. This took places in Des Moines, and the school ordered the kids to remove their arm bands or be suspended from school. But the U.S. Supreme Court said the kids were within their rights to wear the armbands to school so long as they were non-disruptive and peaceful.

 

I seem to recall there was a bit of controversy earlier this fall when the star quarterback at UCLA – Josh Rosen – was putting forth a lot of his opinions on politics on social media, and there was some call to try and silence him. After all, people were saying, this is not the role of a college QB to voice political opinions.

But to his credit, Rosen simply pointed out and said, in effect, “I’m a college kid, and college kids have a lot of opinions…it’s what college kids do….I don’t see how my political views have anything to do with my football playing.”

And you know what? He’s absolutely right.

So where are we these days with taking a knee protests? Well, one thing is certain. It’s still a very muddled situation. But that being said, I would counsel parents and coaches see this as a teachable moment for parents to talk over with their kids.

To me, the key elements here are these:

1 – Make sure your son or daughter fully understands the cause they’re supporting. Get them to try and explain why they are protesting.

2 – Make sure they understand the possible long-range consequences of their actions. That’s important and often overlooked by kids.

3 – And make sure that if they do their protest, it has to be done with Respect for others around them who may not agree with them….and that the protest has to be done in a Peaceful and Civil Manner.

 

TRENDS IN SPORTS: When HS Athletes Protest by Taking a Knee….

So you and your family are sitting down to have dinner this fall, and let’s say your son,  who plays varsity football at your local HS, suddenly announces at the dinner table that he agrees with what Colin Kapaernick is doing in terms of protesting racial bias and oppression in this country —  and to show his solidarity, your son is going to take a knee when they play the National Anthem at his next HS football game.

As a sports parent, or even as a coach, what do you say or do? There has been a ton of debate about this issue for several weeks,  but very little has focused on the filter down effect on HS athletes. As a sports parent, if you haven’t thought about this issue up until now, this might be a good time to give this some thought. Not just your own personal opinion. But thinking about how you would react if your son or daughter took a knee.

Let’s assume, as several of my callers said this AM, that such an act is clearly unpatriotic and shows no respect for what the United States stands so. “We stand as a team,” commented one HS coach, “and I expect all of my players to stand for the National Anthem. No exceptions.”

When I then asked the coach what he would do if this situation actually presented itself, he confessed that he didn’t know what he would do. I reminded him that freedom of speech and freedom of expression are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and was even upheld in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court in 1943. But the coach seemed unfazed. He couldn’t get beyond how unpatriotic this act was.

Another sports Dad called in and said that young athletes today have to be held accountable for their actions – that they need to learn early on that there might be consequences to any actions they take now, including a taking a knee to protest. The father suggested that he would discuss with his son why he was staging a quiet protest, and then would inform his son that “That’s okay, but please understand that I won’t be attending your game,” meaning, in effect, that the father didn’t want to be there in person when all the other parents, coaches, and fans looked at his son’s actions. The Dad didn’t want to be there because of possible embarrassment.

In other words, his son would have to put up with the consequences of not  having his father watch him play in his HS games.

WHO’S RIGHT? WHO’S WRONG?

Let me add that some schools and states  simply do not allow athletes to take a knee.

For example, the Los Angeles Times reports that some school districts in CA, in response to the take a knee protests, have formally warned their student-athletes not to do so. These warnings carry some real teeth, including being punished for disobedience, possible suspension or being dismissed from the team, or having their grades lowered.

Closer to home, the Diocese in Camden NJ has also put forth a statement that not standing during the National Anthem is a sign of real disrespect, and will simply not be tolerated.

There doesn’t seem to be any standard or uniform approach on this issue. And of course, coaches and AD’s and educators are looking for some real guidance on this. And that seems to be a main part of the problem. And the concept is also spreading into other avenues. For example, close to 20 members of the East Carolina University marching band took a knee last week at a game….and a number of football fans in attendance at the game booed them, and showered them with garbage.

And then there’s the football team from Las Vegas. In this incident, the entire team took a knee before their last game. But this was a team of 5 and 6 year olds playing football. You have to wonder whether these young kids had a real and true understanding of what they were protesting.

A LITTLE CIVICS LESSON

To help shed some light on this issue, let me first deal with the legality of all this this.

During the beginning of WW II in 1943 after Pearl Harbor was bombed, as you might imagine, Americans were outraged at being attacked. And to help build solidarity, lots of towns and school boards across the US passed a mandate that school kids had to stand up every morning in class , salute the flag, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

But in a small town in West Virginia where this patriotic law was passed, the resolution allowed no exemptions because it was felt that, after all:  “national unity is the basis of national security.” Yet in this particular town, there was a group of  Jehovah’s Witnesses, a small religious group that was held in contempt by many Americans for, among other things, their refusal to serve in the military,… AND their refusal by the kids of these Jehovah Witnesses to salute the Flag, or to recite the Pledge. As part of their faith, they don’t believe in doing such things.

In other words, these young students were exercising their freedom of religion….and their freedom of speech….and would not stand or recite the Pledge of Allegiance, even though the US was fighting for its life in WW II. You can just imagine the kind of outrage this generated in this town.

It all ended up in court. The case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which held in a landmark decision that yes, these students had every right to NOT stand up, to NOT salute the American flag, or they were NOT obligated to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

In other words, that it was, in effect, their American right NOT to participate.

To me, this is very, very similar to what’s going on now with the take a knee protests. Whether you like it or not, these athletes definitely have the right to protest in a civil manner for what they believe in.

 

In other words, the way I read this Barnette case from 1943 as adjudicated by the US Supreme Court, all of today’s student athletes AND coaches have the absolute right to take a knee during the National Anthem if they so choose.

I’m not a lawyer. But in discussing this matter with some of the nation’s top attorneys, I understand that the Barnette case is still very much in effect…that means that any school boards or states or leagues which try to BAN kids from taking a knee or PUNISH kids who protest are in violation of that famous Supreme Court ruling.

SO WHAT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO? 

To me, if your son or daughter decide to stage a protest and take a knee, as a parent, I would strongly suggest you sit down with the youngster and first ask them why they are protesting. Allow them plenty of room to make their case. Hopefully, they will have some real and substantial reasons for their actions. But, for example, if they say, “All my friends are doing it….I don’t want to be the only one not taking part,” then you might want to take this moment to have a real heart-to-heart with your youngster.

On the other hand, if they really have given this some real thought, then understand that they are certainly entitled to their opinion, just as you are. And if they have really thought the issue through, you can respond by saying you don’t disagree. That’s the essence of free speech and debate in this country.

And if nothing, this kind of situation forces kids — and parents – to think about the concept of American freedom, about the real sacrifices made during wars, and of course, one’s own feelings about life in the US today.

 

 

 

TRENDS IN SPORTS: Inside the Mysterious World of Baseball Scouting

There was a time in which baseball scouts and associate scouts (aka “bird dogs”) were found everywhere at amateur games. High school games, college, summer leagues, Babe Ruth games, you name it.

If a young man had a big game at the plate or on the mound, chances were good that somebody representing a major league team was there to see it. And then that scout would make a point to come back and watch that player, again and again. Not only to see if that one day’s performance was just a fluke, but whether the kid could perform consistently well. In other words, the scout wanted to see if the youngster were a real prospect – not just a suspect.

But then the scouting landscape changed. Billy Beane become the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. Being a small market team with limited financial resources, Beane searched for another way to find prospects and major league players and bring them to Oakland. Along the way, he discovered the lure of Sabrmetrics and analytics, and before too long, Beane had pretty much scrapped the old method of relying upon scouts in the field and instead invented “laptop” scouting in which high school and college ballplayers were “scouted” by their statistical performances.

If you have ever read the book MONEYBALL by Michael Lewis or seen the movie by the same name, this new approach is dramatically illustrated. Oakland pretty much gave up on most of its scouts, and instead scouted players electronically. And Oakland did, to its credit, have some success.

DOES MONEYBALL REALLY WORK?

But as Al Goldis, the legendary baseball scout who was inducted into the Scout’s Hall of Fame a few years ago, points out: “Fans forget that when the Oakland A’s had success during Beane’s tenure, it was because they had three outstanding starting pitchers on their staff. That simple reality was overlooked by the movie, and many people don’t realize how good Oakland’s starting pitching was.”

Good point. And in addition, since those days, Oakland has never really become a major contender since MONEYBALL days. Critics say it’s because other teams have embraced analytics and caught up with Oakland. But as an article in Baseball America pointed out a few years ago, for several years after Beane instituted laptop scouting, the A’s didn’t produce many major league players. In other words, the Moneyball approach to finding players didn’t work well.

This was just one of the inside revelations that Al Goldis presented on the show this morning (you can hear the podcast simply by going to WFAN.com and find the link to Podcasts.)

Al also talked about how important it is for young pitchers to not only have the right mechanics in order to prevent serious arm injury, but also to have a sense of rhythm. That is, pitchers need to be aware of how they feel when performing, and that they need to stay within their personal rhythm. He also strongly advocated that pitchers take at least four months off each year so that their arms can rest and fully heal – even if they are not injured. This is done to prevent injury to young arms.

MARKETING YOURSELF

Goldis made it clear that scouts get their leads on possible prospects from high school coaches, umpires who work the games, and generally word of mouth. He was convinced that if a kid can play and has potential, somebody will notice and word will eventually get to a bird dog or a scout.

That being said, he made it clear that it’s a two-way street. Ballplayers just can’t sit back and wait for scouts to come to them. Young and hungry ballplayers should go to major league websites and see when tryout camps are being held in their area. Or, if the player is out of college, then they should contact some local independent teams, who are always looking for players. Independent professional teams often send its players to contracts with teams that are affiliated with major league teams.

I have known Al Goldis for more than 40 years, and no one is better versed in the art and science of scouting than he is. I could spend hours talking baseball with him. To that end, if you have a youngster who aspires to play pro baseball, let me suggest you pick up a copy of Al’s book, HOW TO MAKE PRO SCOUTS NOTICE YOU, which is considered by many to be the leading guide on the topic. You can buy it either in paperback or as an ebook on Amazon.

 

TRENDS IN SPORTS: Are HS Sports Programs Going to Fade Away Due to Travel Teams?

Today’s WFAN show focused on what happens next when HS athletic directors find it more and more difficult to hire qualified coaches. As discussed last week, there is such an exodus of talented coaches out of HS programs that school districts are really discovering that it’s a challenge to find –  and keep – good coaches.

Along these lines, I asked the listeners today to come up with solutions to this issue OR whether the rise of travel and club teams are simply going to erode HS programs to the point where school districts will stop offering sports entirely. They’ll just tell parents that if their son or daughter wants to play sports, then just go out and find a travel program.

Most of the callers were distressed by this prediction, but they all acknowledged that this was a growing concern. These were some of the suggestions to stem the tide:

1 – Should schools pay more in terms of salaries for coaches? Maybe the school’s booster club can chip in more dough for these coaches? Would more pay help stem the tide?

2 – Or should a school board set up a brand-new position – someone who acts as a liaison strictly between the parents and the coaches? That is, the parents can go to that individual with their issues and concerns  — and just leave the coach and the AD out of it? Would that work? Hire someone as a professional buffer?

Remember, this exiting or migration of coaches stems from the harsh reality that parents everywhere continue to intervene and meddle with coaches. They just feel it’s their right to do so, and despite endless warnings not to do this, the trend only continues.

3- One caller, who said he was a long-time lax coach, said that he took care of any parental concerns by appointing his senior captains to handle any and all complaints from the players as well as the parents. The coach talked with the captains everyday, and found that this approach worked very well.

He also made it clear, though, that he worked very hard to make everyone of the team feel included; that is, he made it a point to get everybody into every game, even if only for a few minutes in the first half, so that every kid felt that he contributed to the team’s success. He also made sure in practice that the second and third tier kids got plenty of reps with the starters.

This coach’s approach made a lot of sense to me. True, it takes more work. But he said that in 18 years of varsity coaching, he had only two parents ever complain to him. To me, that’s remarkable in this day and age.

4 – Here’s another suggestion, although a radical one: should a school board really begin to debate whether just to give up on school sports altogether?  Tell Moms and Dads that if you kid really wants to play sports in middle school and HS, then the time has come to find an outside travel program – because this school is going shut down all sports.

This is what is done pretty much everywhere around the world except here. I often refer to it as the European model, as HS over there don’t offer varsity sports programs. If you want to play sports, you simply play for an outside club team.

I think the simple and harsh reality is that we’ve reached a point where parents are not going to change their ways; if they feel compelled to talk with the coach, they are going to continue to do that.

So if the parents aren’t going to back down, or change their ways, what I’m suggesting is that perhaps the time has come to find better ways to allow parents to channel their concerns.

Think about that…because that’s what’s happening everywhere.

So, if we just get rid of all HS sports programs, and just tell parents that if your son or daughter wants to play sports, then just find them a travel team. The truth is, I think you might be surprised at how many people will like this idea.

Why? Because for the most part, most sports parents who think their kids are going to be great athletes are already doing this. 

Think of it.Parents can then negotiate their own deals with the travel team officials. You could contract for more playing time for your kid, a particular,  uniform number, and so on. The sky is the limit.

And make it part of the deal that the travel team coach has to talk with you, the parent, whenever you want.

Sure, having your kid on a travel team might cost more of your pocket than a HS team, but think of all the bonuses:

Guaranteed playing time, better competition, more exposure to college coaches.

I will tell you that no caller advocated this approach. Nor do I. But maybe, whether we like it or not, this is going to happen.

TRENDS IN SPORTS: Is Adam LaRoche Being a Good – or Bad – Father?

Here’s what I find so amazing about sports parenting issues:

You never know when the next controversy is going to come from.

Case in point: Long-time major league slugger Adam LaRoche made national headlines this past week, insisting that he had language in his contract with the Chicago White Sox that his 14-year-old son could spend as much time in the White Sox clubhouse as he wanted. And indeed, the boy has pretty much been an everyday presence in the White Sox clubhouse this spring.

But over the last few days, the GM of White Sox, Ken Williams, approached LaRoche and asked him if he could “dial it back” meaning not have the young teenager in the clubhouse every day.

Incensed but polite, LaRoche — who is slated to earn $13 million this season – responded by saying this may indeed be his last season in the bigs, and as such, having his son – who is home schooled by the way – spend as much time with him as possible is very, very important to LaRoche as a dad.

Some other important details. By all accounts, the boy is not the issue. He’s polite and non-intrusive. Yet he does dress out in his own White Sox uniform, and even has his own locker.

AN ACT OF SELFISHNESS?

When I opened this issue for discussion on WFAN this AM, the calls poured in. And what might surprise you is that most of them praised LaRoche for being a kind and caring dad, but most of the callers also felt he was out of line with his demand to have his son be behind closed doors. One caller even said that such a demand was flat-out selfish in terms of the other players on the team.

“No other player is going to call out LaRoche for doing this,” the caller said, “but I have to think that there must be several players on the team who either feel uncomfortable with having a kid in the clubhouse all the time, or for that matter, they’re thinking they should be bringing their own kids int there all the time as well.”

Chris Sale, the All-Star pitcher for the White Sox, has praised LaRoche and calls out Chicago’s front office for having made Adam  a promise and is now trying to wriggle out of it. Sale’s accusations could clearly polarize the team in a wrongful way while still in spring training.

Some calls suggested that there’s probably more to this issue that has been made public. Having spent a lot of time in major league and minor league clubhouses over the years, I tend to agree with that assertion. Despite Sale’s contention that everybody on the White Sox roster is fully backing LaRoche, my instinct tells me that’s probably not true. In fact, I would surmise that a few players went to Williams privately and told him in confidence that they don’t think it’s right for Adam to have his 14-year-old there all the time. But that being said, they don’t want to go to LaRoche and tell him directly as that might result in a real chasm.

WOULD YOU WALK AWAY FROM A BIG PAY DAY?

So what happens next? LaRoche is now seriously leaning towards walking away and just retiring. That would mean walking away from $13 million, but of course, he feels the money is less important than the principle here – that of spending quality time with his son. Ken Williams has said that he doesn’t want to ban the LaRoche kid – he just wants him to be there less often.

Bear in mind that over the years, other big league players and coaches have let their kid in the clubhouse on occasion, and even take batting practice. But for the most part, these have been on a limited basis only. Being there full-time is a different kind of presence.

I, for one, feel that LaRoche is off base in his insistence that his son be allowed there everyday. I can certainly see how the boy could be viewed as a potential issue for the rest of the team, and that in Adam’s zeal to be a good father, he has inadvertently stepped on the toes of his teammates. And that’s not fair. Besides, in my opinion,  a 14-year-old boy would benefit greatly by spending time with his own age peers than just hanging around millionaire major leaguers who are in their 20s and 30s.

TRENDS IN SPORTS: How HS Boys Basketball Has Changed over the Last 30 Years

There was a time in this country when making a HS varsity basketball team was a fairly simple process. That is, hopeful kids tried out for the team under the watchful eyes of the head coach and his staff, in the hope that one would impress enough with one’s skills, size, experience, and speed to make the squad.

There were no outside influencers at work: no AAU teams, no travel or club teams, no letters of recommendation from one’s private coaches.

Just work hard, and hope and pray that all the time you spent working on your skills over the previous summer and fall would pay off in a big way.

Of course, those simpler times are long gone, but I thought it would be a good starting in my discussion with long-time HS varsity basketball coach, Bill Thom, who after 33 years of coaching kids in hoops, is going to retire at the end of this season. In March, he’s going to be inducted in the NYS Basketball Hall of Fame.

Coach Thom certainly agreed with how things have changed dramatically in boys’ basketball. “It seems as though kids and their parents are always looking for that extra advantage, to move up their game to a higher level, whether it be playing all spring and summer on an AAU team, or hiring a private coach.”

The problem is, as Coach Thom pointed out, that while it’s fun to chase the dream in basketball, it’s important to keep a sense of reality in focus. “In all my years coaching at Croton,” he explained, “I have had several players gone to play Division II or Division III basketball, but not a one at the Division One level.”

And the truth is, that’s the reality for most HS players. After playing four years of HS ball, the bottom line is that very, very few go onto play in college.

COMMUNICATION WITH YOUR PLAYERS = SUCCESS

But Coach Thom is one of those rare HS coaches who thinks proactively about making sure his players (and their parents) do stay on track. Key to his coaching philosophy are the following pointers:

Before the season begins, sit down with every kid on the team and define what you think their role is going to be on the team for the coming year.

It’s very important to get on the same page with each player before practice begins. That way, if the kid has different visions or expectations than you do, this is the right time to discuss them. Just make sure that you give the youngster a chance to voice his thoughts in case they are different from yours. And listen to him – don’t just blow him off.

Also, once you have defined his role e.g. “I want you to be our sixth man, to come off the bench and provide energy and instant offense,” just make sure that as the coach, you follow up on that promise. That is, if in the middle of a close contest, you decide to put another player into the game as your sixth man, understand that you’re going to have to explain your move to the player you promised but have now disappointed. Be careful!

Regarding kids hiring private coaches. “I always make sure I personally check out the private coaches, so I can give some real insight to the kids and their parents who want to hire them,” says Thom, “Otherwise, the kids might not get the right kind of instruction, and that can really backfire, plus be expensive.”

DEALING WITH PLAYING TIME ISSUES

Coach Thom also sits down with his team before the season to map out playing time.

“I have the players write down on index cards what their goals are for the year, and in particular, how many minutes they expect to play in each game. Once I have all the cards, I add up all their expected playing minutes with all the minutes from the other team members, and then I show the entire team how there just aren’t enough minutes in a HS game to accommodate all of their wishes. I find that exercise with the cards tends to be very helpful in illustrating to the kids how very few minutes there are in a game.”

As for the continuing expansion and influence of AAU ball?

“Well, AAU basketball serves the needs well of the top, top Division I players,” says Thom, “but for all the other kids who play, I’m not so sure. I do hope, as do many of my coaching colleagues, that the NCAA will very soon intervene and begin to gain much greater control on AAU teams. That’s the great hope.”

 

TRENDS: More on the Next Generation of Sports Parents

I had no idea that last Sunday’s “Sports Edge” show on what the Next Generation of Sports Parents would generate the response that it did.

In sum, we had by far and away more phone calls on WFAN and more hits on Askcoachwolff.com to this topic that any other topic that I’ve covered in the 18 years I’ve hosted the weekly radio show.

Think about that. More of a response than for shows about concussions…aluminum baseball bats…..kids suffering Tommy John injuries….shows about Title IX issues….countless shows about friction between sports parents and their kids’ coaches. In short, it was astounding.

So I decided to revisit the topic this past Sunday on the show, and once again, received an onslaught of calls. Apparently, parents are concerned about what kind of legacy we are leaving for our kids who play competitive sports, and how they will raise their kids (our grandkids) when they become parents.

Again, the reaction was mixed. Among the calls that came in on the topic included these observations:

— That our kids today definitely have a sense of entitlement when it comes to competing in sports and in life. That our athletes don’t seem to react as strongly to losing and to adversity as we did when we were kids. That is, if a youngster gets cut from a team, or doesn’t get much playing time, then that’s okay with the kid. They accept it and merely move on.

Oh, as one caller observed, they may be disappointed, but they don’t make a personal campaign to improve their game.

Or, another said, that they expect Mom and Dad to step in and rectify the situation with the coach…in other words, kids feel entitled to success.

— One of the major themes is that our athletes don’t seem to have as much fun, or draw as much enjoyment, from playing sports as we did. Too many kids today look upon sports more as simply  a means to get ahead, perhaps into a better college, or to put something more on their resume.

— One Dad chimed in and said that he had raised and coached his son all the way to age 18 in sports, and now that the Dad was a grandfather with a 4-year-old son, he wasn’t sure he was psychologically prepared to go through the same process again. Too much work, too much time, too much effort.

Needless to say, these callers were not too optimistic about these kids becoming sports parents down the road.

ON THE POSITIVE SIDE…

— On the other hand, other callers said that today’s athletes are much more aware of fair play when it comes to sports than we were….that our athletes today are better trained when it comes to a sense of sportsmanship.

— Then others felt that kids today will have their kids shy away from playing competitive sports because they don’t want their children to have to suffer all the stress and anxiety of trying out for travel teams. Let’s face it – we expose our kids to a grueling sense of competition at early ages.

— Then there were some people emailed and said that tomorrow’s sports parents are going to be more competitive than we were, and will start to plan out in advance how their kids are going to be raised playing sports.

Like last week, it was noteworthy as to how insightful the calls were, but also noteworthy that they ranged all over the topic. There was one universal theme, though, and that was it was felt that our kids really don’t go out on their own (as we did) and play pick-up games just because they enjoy the experience – that it’s fun. It’s well accepted that kids today don’t go out and play. They almost need to have a formal practice or a formal game in ordr to participate. Very odd, but that is indeed a large part of the legacy we are leaving for them.

But one happy note. The very last caller said he had enjoyed watching his son play sports from the time the boy was very young, all the way through his HS and college career, and that the son still enjoyed playing sports. The Dad reported that he was absolutely delighted when, out of the blue, his son went to his Dad and thanked him sincerely for introducing him to his sport (soccer) and how much fun he, the son, had had from playing the sport.

It was the perfect way to end my show.