Archive for the ‘Trends in Sports’ Category

INTRODUCING OLD SCHOOL NEW SCHOOL: A Different Kind of Sports Podcast

Dear Friends of Ask Coach Wolff:

I wanted to tell you about a new and different kind of podcast. It’s entitled “Old School v. New School” and it features my new son-in-law, Noah Savage, and myself. Noah is a 31-year-old 6-7 former All-Ivy League basketball player at Princeton, and I think it’s safe to say that he represents a new and different way of looking at the world of sports. He is most definitely “New School.”

And as for me, I’m considerably older than Noah, and of course, my views on sports tend to be a little more on the conservative side. Thus, I’m “Old School.”

In any event, Noah and I take on timely and controversial topics in sports, and we discuss our views in a new podcast series. It’s a lot of fun and clearly different in scope.  I would urge you all to sign up (see below – it’s easy), and then tell all your friends to listen in as well.

There’s several ways to listen:

ON THE COMPUTER

It’s available on Itunes and you can listen by clicking this link http://oldschoolnewschool.libsyn.com/

ON IPHONE by searching “Old School New School” on your podcast app on your Iphone. (It is the purple icon that says “podcast” on it) If you subscribe then the newest episodes will update each time you open that app and click “feed.”

Please click “Subscribe” then rate and review it!

We will release a new episode every Friday morning so that you can power through that last workday of the week.

Here’s a quick description:

Old School / New School is a new podcast where two sports broadcasters- Rick Wolff and Noah Savage – debate today’s most controversial and pressing sports issues from two very different perspectives – most notably that Wolff, in his 60s, is definitely “old school” whereas Savage, 31, is clearly “new school.”  Oh, and Noah happens to be Rick’s son-in-law.

Enjoy!

TRENDS IN SPORTS: More Discussion of E-Gaming as Sport

Building upon Doug Abram’s superb column from earlier this week about the threat that videogames pose to our kids’ long-term health, I presented to the WFAN listening audience this straightforward question: knowing how popular videogaming has become in recent years with our kids, has it now reached a level where it can and should be considered as a real sport?

Not surprisingly, the general response was that no, it’s not a sport, but more of an activity. Something closer in scope to playing cards or throwing darts than. say, a traditional athletic pursuit like football, lacrosse, or baseball. The key criteria kept coming back to the dictionary definition of “sport” involving physical exertion causing perspiration.

But there was lots of debate. For example, is NASCAR a sport? Does driving a car, albeit fast, constitute real exercise?

How about bass fishing? After all, bass fishing is a sanctioned varsity sport in several states in the Midwest.

Yet the real takeaway from this AM’s discussion was the following: that no matter whether e-gaming is considered a sport or activity or just a pastime, there was true and genuine concern about kids spending hours and hours in front of a computer screen, seemingly addicted to games showing very violent themes. That is, in recent years, the medical association has warned over and over again that kids today need to remain physically fit in order to stave off long-term health issues regarding obesity, diabetes, and other concerns. In short, today’s generation of kids are running a real risk of having all sorts of illnesses, many of which could be prevented if they remained physically fit instead of being hooked on e-games.

IS THERE A SOLUTION?

Everybody pretty much agreed that e-gaming is only beginning to become more and more popular. Even the TV networks have picked up on this trend, and made e-gaming into a major event that generates decent TV ratings.

Because this is a not a temporary fad, parents are growing concerned about their kids who are spending more and more time in front of their computers.

In fact, several callers suggested that parents really need to step up and intervene and just don’t look the other way. No, not to forbid their kids from playing videogames, but to have a serious parent-to-child conversation about the dangers of this activity. Just in the same way that Moms and Dads need to talk with their kids about the inherent dangers about smoking or drugs, parents need to tell kids about the issues of spending too much time in front of the computer.

One caller suggested that parents should mandate that for every hour a kid spends playing a video game, he or she needs to spend at least an hour outside exercising in the fresh air and playing a real sport.

These are interesting suggestions, but one thing is clear. We’re going to hear and hear about e-gaming in the years to come, and it’s going to be incumbent on Moms and Dads to figure out a new way to handle a problem — like concussions — that is not going away.

TRENDS IN SPORTS: Have Video Games Now Become a Real Sport for our Kids?

More About Whether Playing Video Games Is Exercise: The New Johns Hopkins University Study

By Doug Abrams

Constructive dialogue sometimes emerges when, close in time to one another, the media reports a pair of developments that offer contrasting perspectives. For youth sports parents, coaches, and community decision makers, such a pair appeared within a week in early May. The contrasting perspectives carry implications important for public health and for youth well-being.

“Big Dividends”

The first development came from the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins University. In the journal Health Affairs, the Center published a research study that detailed the harmful effects of childhood physical inactivity for the nation and for children themselves. Led by Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, the Center’s executive director, researchers found that “encouraging exercise and investing in physical activity such as school recess and youth sports leagues when kids are young pay big dividends as they grow up.”

Many of the dividends are financial. Under the headline “Overweight Kids Are Costing America Billions,” USA TODAY summarized key findings from the Johns Hopkins study: “[I]f half of America’s children age 8 through 11 exercised for 25 minutes, three times a week, there would be 340,000 fewer overweight and obese children, saving $21.9 billion in lifetime lost wages and medical bills. If all children followed the same plan, 1.2 million children would avoid becoming obese or overweight, enough to save $62.3 billion.”

For children themselves, regular physical exercise pays dividends by opening the door to healthier lives. The John’s Hopkins researchers cite reduced risks of obesity and associated chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer throughout adulthood.

Among other recommendations, the research team urges adults to “get your kids to play sports, even if they won’t become stars.”  Dr. Lee and his colleague Dr. Marie Ferguson observe, however, that trends are moving in the wrong direction. Children today spend “too much time on smartphones, computers and television,” coupled with “declining participation in sports.”

E-sports

Early May’s second development came barely a week after the Johns Hopkins research study appeared. The Chicago Tribune carried a thoughtful article by John Keilman under the headline, “Video Gaming: The Next High School Sport? Competitive ESports Gain Traction.” The story was about a video game competition among Chicago-area high schools. Keilman reported that as more and more high schools establish competitive e-sports teams based on fantasy professional leagues, the Illinois High School Association might sanction e-sports as an interscholastic sport sometime soon.

Keilman tested the limits of the video game competition’s analogies. “Did the competitors put in many hours of practice? Yes. Did they possess physical and mental gifts? Affirmative. Was teamwork a crucial ingredient for success? Absolutely.” But one element was missing — “perspiration.” “It’s hard to break a sweat when you’re sitting in a climate-controlled room moving little more than your fingers.”

The 2015 Research Reports 

Last month’s Johns Hopkins study and Chicago Tribune article recall two reports published in June, 2015. In the first report, nearly a quarter of surveyed children between the ages of five and 16 told Britain’s Youth Sports Trust that they consider playing computer games with friends to be physical activity. Among seven- and eight-year-olds, the percentage was nearly a third.

The children said that they play sports or otherwise engage in exercise about 30 to 40 minutes a day (often in mandated school physical education programs), but that they spend nearly three hours a day playing with technology. The Trust predicted that today’s younger generation risks becoming “hostages to handheld devices.”

The second 2015 report, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, estimated that more than two-thirds of Americans over the age of 25 (nearly 75% of men and nearly 67% of women) are now either overweight or obese. For the first time, more American adults are obese than overweight (67.6 million vs. 65.2 million). The percentages are the highest ever, substantially higher than ones reported 20 years earlier.

Meanwhile, National Public Radio estimated that more than a third of American children are overweight or obese, a troublesome number because (as former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher said in 2001) “adolescents who are overweight are at high risk of becoming overweight or obese adults.”

JAMA researcher Lin Yang told American Health Line that technology has “changed the dynamic of our lifestyle.” As accelerating technological advances contribute to overweight and obesity, Dr. Yang sounded a “wake-up call” for action in “multiple sectors.”

“Increase Team Sport Participation Among All Students”

One of these sectors is community youth sports programs. In 2012, Pediatrics (the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) featured a study that measured the positive effects on children’s health of various forms of physical exercise. These forms included active commuting to school (such as by walking or biking), regular participation in school physical education classes, and participation in team sports.

Dr. Keith M. Drake and his research team found that active commuting to school has some residual positive effect on a student’s body weight, but that participation in high school physical education classes does not.  But there was more.  The researchers found that “[t]eam sports participation had the strongest and most consistent inverse association with weight status.”  The study estimates that overweight and obesity would “decrease by 11% and 26% respectively, if adolescents played on at least 2 sports teams per year.”

The researchers’ antidote? “Obesity prevention programs should consider strategies to increase team sport participation among all students.”

Good News and Bad News

Taken together, these recent studies demonstrate that inclusive community youth sports programs can enhance the public health by improving children’s lives. But recent accounts, appearing in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, suggest that youth sports enrollments appear to be declining in many parts of the nation.

On the positive side of the ledger, an estimated 35 million children — nearly half of all American youngsters — join at least one organized sports program each year.  But on the negative side, about 70% of these youngsters quit playing organized sports by the time they turn 13, and nearly all quit by the time they turn 15.  Indeed, the dropout rate begins accelerating as early as age 10.

A Role for Video Gaming?

In prior columns, I have written about how much work remains to be done before community youth sports systems become all that they can be. Also honing the national dialog about national health needs and youth well-being are such leading voices as my friends Rick Wolff, Bob Bigelow, Positive Coaching Alliance, the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, and the MomsTEAM Institute of Youth Sports Safety.

As work continues on the youth sports front, what role might exist for interscholastic video gaming?  A generation or so ago, competitive television quiz shows such as “It’s Academic” and “The College Bowl” won loyal followings by encouraging excellence from high school and college students. The competitions inspired board games for home play, the closest analogues to what we call interactive media today. No one (in John Keilman’s words) ever “broke a sweat.” For participants and viewers alike, traditional interscholastic sports competition suited many students, but not all students.

In the 21st century, interscholastic sports-based video game competitions may similarly hold promise for students who do not want to play traditional organized sports. Similar to other school-based non-athletic extracurricular activities, these interscholastic competitions may also hold promise for students whose skills do not readily permit such play. Growing numbers of colleges and universities reportedly offer scholarships to accomplished competitive video gamers.

High schools can teach teamwork, dedication, dexterity, and similar skills through extracurricular activities that take place off the playing field. But video gaming, competitive or otherwise, provides no substitute for physical exercise. Whether through organized competitive sports or more informal individual exercise, encouraging lifestyles rich in physical activity remains a public health imperative for children and adolescents who also follow other pursuits.

 

Sources: Modeling the Economic and Health Impact of Increasing Children’s Physical Activity in the United States, Health Affairs, p. 902 (No. 5, 2017); Sean Rossman, Overweight Kids Are Costing America Billions, USA TODAY, May 1, 2007;  Future Foundation, The Class of 2035: Promoting a Brighter and More Active Future For the Youth of Tomorrow; John Keilman Video Gaming: The Next High School Sport? Competitive Esports Gain Traction, Chicago Tribune, May 12, 2017; Bruce Y. Lee & Marie Ferguson, More Physical Activity Among Children Will Save America Billions, STAT (May 2, 2017);  Hannah Richardson, BBC News, Youths Becoming Hostages to Handheld Devices, Says Charity (June 23, 2015); Lin Yang & Graham A. Colditz, Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity in the United States, 2007-2012, JAMA Internal Medicine, June 22, 2015; Am. Health Line, Study: Significant Uptick in Overweight, Obese U.S. Residents, June 23, 2015; U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Services, The Surgeon General’s Call To Action To Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity (2001); National Public Radio, Morning Edition, Childhood Obesity (July 1, 2015); Keith M. Drake et al., Influence of Sports, Physical Education, and Active Commuting to School on Adolescent Weight Status, Pediatrics, vol. 130, p. e296 (Aug. 2012); HealthDayNews, Increased Physical Activity  For Children May Save Billions, Study Says (May 2, 2017); Mike Brennan, LTU Offers $600,000 in Scholarships to Video Gamers, https://mitechnews.com/steam/ltu-offers-600000-scholarships-video-gamers/  (May 23, 2017).

YOUTH BASEBALL TRENDS: “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?”

When Casey Stengel was managing the hapless New York Mets in their first year of existence in 1962, Casey became so frustrated with his team’s lack of fundamental baseball that he once exclaimed in frustration: “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

That moment was well over 50 years ago, and of course, Casey, as he was wont to do, was exaggerating more than a bit.

But a few weeks ago, in a most provocative column in the New York Times, sportswriter Bill Pennington echoed Casey’s sentiments — sentiments, by the way, that not only do I share but they are shared by countless baseball coaches and fans across the country.

In short, Bill’s article basically said that due to the expansive growth in recent times of private coaches for hitting and for pitching instruction, we have now produced a ton of young ballplayers who are well skilled when it comes to those particular facets of the game….but unfortunately, the other parts of their baseball skills have been either somewhat left behind, or ignored, or just not taught. To be fair, Pennington wasn’t blaming the private instructors; he was just reporting what he has found.

In other words, young ballplayers today know that when college coaches or pro scouts come looking, they’re focusing on certain basic skills – can a pitcher throw really hard, and can a kid hit well and hit with power?

The problem is, all the other key stuff involved in playing baseball, like knowing how to field one’s position, or how to put down a sac bunt, or how to run the bases is either ignored, or just assumed that it can be taught later on. And as Pennington points out, it’s now fallen upon college coaches to spend copious amounts of time to educate college kids on the basics of the game.

It’s a startling observation and accusation…but it’s all true. Here’s a direct quote from Bill’s article:

In the last decade or so, a generation of top ballplayers has, in most cases, spent little time learning how to accurately throw across the diamond, catch a fly ball, field a ground ball and turn a double play, run the bases effectively, make a tag at first base, or God forbid, bunt.”

I anticipated a lot of calls on this topic, and indeed they poured in. Some callers pointed to the fact that most youth baseball leagues are coached by either Dads who don’t take the time to teach the basics, or for that matter, those Dads really don’t know the basics. Or that there’s just too much emphasis on playing a lot of games instead of having more practice sessions where drills can be implemented and taught.

Even worse, most practices just evolve into one long batting practice session where kids hit and the others just shag. That’s totally counterproductive in so many ways! A real practice session needs to focus on everything from cutoffs and relays, to how to run the bases, to how to play defense, and on and on Baseball is a complicated sport to play well, and in order to play it well, there’s lots of material that needs to be taught, and taught well.

To that end, Pennington pointed out that there’s lot of teaching material and guides that can be found easily online (such as MLB’s PlayBall.org) where youth, travel, and HS coaches can not only educate themselves on the finer points of the game, but where kids can learn inside baseball as well.

He also said that in his reporting, he discovered that lots of big-time college coaches at the D-I level recruit kids who can hit or pitch, but then the coaches literally teach them the finer points of the game.  That may hard to believe in this day and age, but it’s apparently a national trend.

CAN THIS TREND BE REVERSED?

Bill was also told by some top college coaches that they are now looking at the entire player’s skills set when they go to showcases to recruit. They want to see if the kid knows more about the game beyond just throwing hard, or hitting well. They want to see if the younger has a real feel of how to play the game.

But Bill did feel that this kind of turnaround – where kids begin to learn ALL aspects of playing baseball at an early age – is going to take a long time, and it’s going to take a real change in our current youth sports culture. I agree with Bill: baseball needs to be “reinvented” at the youth level if the game is going to survive in the years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

TRENDS IN SPORTS: Why are Fewer Kids Playing Baseball and Softball?

At a sports parenting event this past week in Norwalk, CT, several of the attendees mentioned that in recent years, there’s been a definite downward trend in terms of kids coming out for baseball and softball, especially at the youth levels.

That got me thinking, because certainly the popularity of sports goes up and down in cycles, pretty much like everything else in life. For example, we already know that youth football numbers have decreased dramatically due to worries about concussions. And the numbers for American youth involvement in tennis has also gone down, although there’s no clear reason as to why.

On this morning’s radio show, some callers suggested that the real, underlying reason for fewer numbers in certain sports has more do with the impact of elite travel teams than with a general lack of interest of the kids. What they meant was that unless a youngster is being viewed as a star at age 9 or 10, and as a result, are good enough to make an elite travel team, then all the other kids who are pretty good but not good enough to make the travel team often discover there are no other outlets in which to practice, play, and improve their skills.

DISENFRANCHISED KIDS

In other words, these “on the bubble” kids as a I call them, find themselves basically disenfranchised. They really don’t have any other outlets in which to play their sport, and as a result, they leave that sport, and in many cases, they leave sports all together.

This is a development that really hasn’t been well documented, and yet, judging from the callers today, this is a growing trend. Kids who play baseball at age 9 or 10 either make an elite travel team, or if they get cut, then there’s no real place to work on their skills and improve. And the result is that fewer and fewer baseball players come out each spring. By the time these kids are HS age, the numbers for baseball and softball have become exceedingly small.

Or, more and more parents are convinced that their kids truly need to specialize in just one sport at an early age. So if a kid decides at age 6 or 7 to play soccer all year round, those kids a generation ago would have tried out for baseball or softball. But these days, due to specializing in just soccer, they no longer sign up for baseball or softball.

Overall, all of this is very unsettling. I mean, how does a parent or a coach determine that a kid at age 9 or 10 is one of the elite? Especially when these kids are still years away from their teenage years and possible growth spurts and lots of other changes associated with adolescence. Nobody seems to ask that question as it relates to kids losing interest in playing sports. What happens is, from the time they’re 10 until they’re 14 and ready for HS, they have stopped playing because they were deemed at a young age as to not being good enough to make a travel team at age 10.

If we’re trying to get kids to stay in shape and learn all the life-long lessons from playing sports, well, we’re not doing a very good job of encouraging them.

THE IMPACT OF VIDEO GAMES

The other concern that popped up this AM was that more and more kids are spending more time playing electronic and video games. True, those games involve eye-hand coordination and one’s score is kept, but I think we all agree that playing video games is not really a sporting endeavor. Regardless, they are very tempting to kids, and it would seem that more and more kids now compete in traditional sports like baseball or football, but do so vicariously via video games.

What’s the bottom line? For better or worse, the travel team culture continues to have more impact on kids in sports these days than perhaps we might think.. And once again, I just wish that there were some federal guidelines or oversight to not only regulate the travel industry but also to provide sports parents with some needed help.

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.