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TWO TEENAGE DISASTERS: Both Could Have Been Prevented

There were two most unfortunate incidents this past week in youth sports, and the sad part is that both could have easily been prevented if only a little forethought had been present.

The first occurred with the Little League Softball championship playoffs, or Junior League Softball World Series as it’s called.

A Snapchat photo that went viral caused tremendous embarrassment to all concerned, and it resulted in a team being disqualified for the national championship game. The photo featured 6 girls (ages 12-14) from the Atlee, VA, team posing, with all of making an obscene gesture (middle fingers raised),in a kind of threat against their next opponent, Kirkland, WA.

This took place just as Atlee was about to square off with the tournament host team (Kirkland). By all accounts, it was a heated and tense game. And when the game was over, Atlee emerged as the victorious team.  That meant they would advance to the championship game the next day, a game that would be televised nationally by ESPN.

But there was the matter of that awful photo, which, to be sure, was the essence of poor sportsmanship.

The head coach of the Virginia team didn’t even know about this photo, but as soon as he did, he immediately reprimanded the players who were involved – it was not his entire team – only about 5 or 6 girls. And he insisted the players apologize to the host team in person.

But the coach also didn’t think it was fair for his entire team to be bounced out of the championship game due to this momentary lapse in teenage judgment. In short, this was another case of social media announcing teenage stupidity where none of those 6 girls thought ahead about the consequences of their actions.

Little League Baseball intervened, and decided to disqualify the entire Virginia team. They were not allowed to play in the championship game due to their inappropriate behavior. Atlee was dismissed, and LL Baseball decided to promote the losing Kirkland team to the championship game instead.

Joe Heinzmann, who’s an attorney and who’s been long involved in LL coaching and administration, was my guest this AM, and he pointed out how unfair this solution was. He first said that there were at least 6 or 7 girls on the Atlee team who were not in the photo, and that it wasn’t fair to ruin their dreams of playing for a championship because some of their teammates were short-sighted dunces. Joe suggested that LL Baseball might have ruled that Atlee play those other 7 girls, and play the offending girls as minimally as possible in the championship game.

The other concern was that the Kirkland team had sportsmanship issues of their own. In their game against Atlee, the Kirkland coach and a player had been ejected from the contest by an umpire for trying to steal signs from Atlee. But apparently, that lack of sportsmanship and etiquette didn’t matter to LL Baseball; Kirkland was allowed to overlook that —  as well as their loss to Atlee -and advance to the championship affair. They lost, by the way, 7-1.

C’mon, LL Baseball, you’ve got to do better than that. Or, just have the guts to tell ESPN that neither of these two teams had the right to advance to the championship game because neither squad exhibited good sportsmanship.

After all, good sportsmanship — isn’t that what LL Baseball/Softball is all about?

TRAGEDY IN FOOTBALL CAMP

At least with the softball incident, no one was killed.

Josh Mileto, 16, a junior football at Sachem HS East (NY) was not so fortunate.

The details are still coming forth, but apparently he was subjected to a drill in a summer football camp in which a very heavy log – something like a telephone pole – is carried by several players over their heads. The purpose, from what I understand, is to not only to build arm and shoulder strength, but also to build a sense of team trust, that is – for players to learn how to work and trust your teammates in a unified act.

Apparently, this drill is adapted from a similar drill that NAVY Seals do in their training.

But all that being said, clearly something totally disastrous took place.  During the drill, the 400 pound pole fell on Josh and killed him.

Obviously, this was an accident. But the outrage and anger has been palpable. Questions such as: was the drill supervised by adult coaches? And if so, couldn’t they see that the pole was going to be too heavy? Bear in mind that Josh was small by football standards: 5’6 and 135 pounds. And how many other teammates were carrying the pole? Safety experts have said that you need at least 8 strong bodies to do this.

From what I have read in the media, this drill is not all that popular with football coaches, simply because of the risks involved. But those concerns are moot now, as this boy was killed.

Again, wouldn’t a little advance forethought worked here? Couldn’t someone in charge recognize that this was going to be a bad, and dangerous, idea?If someone had, then I wouldn’t be writing about the death of a 16-year-old football player.

This has nothing to do with sports and assumption of the risk of getting hurt. That has to do with plain old common sense.

Legal liability? As Joe Heinzmann made clear on the show, the Sachem School District will have to confront this accidental death. None of the coaches will be held personally liable.

But of course, no amount of money will bring this youngster back to his family and friends.

BOTTOM LINE

As a parent or a coach, if you teach the power of thinking ahead and the consequence of one’s actions, that may be the most important lesson of all.

 

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: What are the Biggest Concerns Today?

It’s a fairly straightforward question that I asked this AM on my radio show. And as I suspected, the responses were plentiful and all over the sports parenting landscape.

As I jotted down notes from the callers, we had lots of opinions. Specifically:

Too much specialization in one sport at an early age.

The increasing cost of travel teams in all sports.

The fear of exposing one’s kids to concussions in football and other contact sports.

The monetization of youth sports as private coaches, camps, and travel teams become everywhere.

The loss of athletes who play 2 or 3 different varsity sports.

HS Coaches who insist that their players do not listen to instruction from outside experts.

The age-old debate about “trophies for everyone.”

This was one of those shows where I could have easily filled up three hours with discussion from the callers. Seemingly, everybody has an opinion, and a strong one, when it comes to youth sports today.

What about Having Fun?

Yet of all the calls that came in, there was one observation that DID NOT come in. And that surprised me.

That is, whether our kids today have as much fun or draw as much enjoyment from playing sports as we did when we were growing up. When today’s parents (or even grandparents) reflect on their own childhoods, there was very little parental involvement or organized leagues. Kids were allowed to enjoy their fun and recreation without the constant rush and need to accelerate one’s skills to a higher level. Not having try outs for travel teams at ages younger than 12 or 13 allowed kids to have the freedom to master athletic skills at a more leisurely, and presumably, more fun pace.

I fully understand those days are long gone. But judging from the number of issues that were discussed this AM, and the fact that there are so very few answers or solutions, it sure would be nice to find a way to allow the next generation of athletes to first develop a sense of joy and elation from playing sports….and then wait a few years before exposing them to the endless struggle to develop, win, and get to that next level of competition.

I see this all the time with baseball these days. Kids with talent focus so much time, energy, and money on travel baseball, private instruction, and so on that it’s always surprising to me that when a ballplayer finishes playing the game on his HS varsity, or even in college, more often than not he usually just walks away from the sport. Amateur and semi-pro baseball teams — which used to be plentiful and full of kids in their 20s and 30s who loved playing baseball – are now drying up everywhere and are fast becoming extinct.

What happened to all those top baseball players?

That suggests to me that all those kids who grew up working so hard to develop and master their ability in baseball — well, perhaps they didn’t really actually have a passion for the sport. Maybe they just felt a sense of obligation to their parents to play. And when the dream ended, they no longer had any desire to keep playing.

That may be the legacy of today’s sports parents.

 

TRENDS IN SPORTS: Should Varsity Letters Be Awards to HS Students Who Compete in Non-Athletic Pursuits?

On my WFAN radio show last Sunday we had a spirited discussion on whether videogames – or e-games as they are known – should be considered as a new kind of HS sport.

Most of the debate centered on whether these very popular games should be classified as a sport…or simply as an activity.

The main point that was debated back and forth was whether to be a sport, there needed to be a real element of perspiration in the mix. After all, one of the underlying concerns about our kids playing videogames for hours on end is that a lack of physical exercise and exertion lends itself to all sorts of health issues as the kids get out of shape and heavier.

Personally, I felt there was a real growing wariness about sanctioning e-gaming as a legitimate HS sport when, in fact, this so-called sport not only does nothing for the youngster’s physical conditioning, —  but can actually be very detrimental to their health.

True, I guess you can make a case that playing a contact sport like football or ice hockey or field hockey can lead to concussions, which can also lead to long-term health issues as well. But for better or worse, in today’s world, traditional sports are seen as doing wonders for kids to stay in shape, whereas sitting in front of a computer screen is as seen as being damaging.

At the end of the show last week, there was no real definitive consensus. But it did give us pause about whether we should embrace e-gaming as a sport.

Let me give you an analogy:

For example, in a few states in the Midwest like Arkansas, bass fishing is considered to be a legitimate varsity sport. Now, I must confess that I have never been to, or witnessed, a HS bass fishing contest, but my initial reaction is that when you go fishing, you pretty much sit in a rowboat waiting for a fish to nibble on your line.

I guess there’s some physical activity involved in trying to reel the fish in. In fact, Doug Abrams points out with a laugh that most likely it’s only the fish that gets a true workout in these competitions.  And yes, I don’t suspect that kind of physical activity for the HS fisherman is the same as, say, running up and down a soccer field on a hot humid day… or putting on a full-court press in basketball….or running 400 meters at full speed in a heated HS race.

You get my point.

EARNING THAT VARSITY LETTER IN HS SPORTS

But as a follow-up to this topic of  what truly constitutes a varsity sport, I also wanted to discuss the awarding of varsity letters in HS.Now, one of the great traditions in American HS sports is for a youngster to earn a HS varsity letter.

I mean, this was a big, big deal when I was in HS, and from what I can gather, earning a varsity letter still remains something to honor and to cherish. You just don’t get a varsity letter for being on the roster. A youngster has have to log a certain amount of quality playing time – or at least that’s how it was set up when I was a kid.

In other words, you had to EARN your letter.

Now, I mention all of this because I came across a new law that was recently passed in NJ.

In short, the new law now says that any and all students who represent their HS in other extracurricular activities that compete against other schools should also be eligible to win a varsity letter for their efforts.

That could be for kids who are in the HS chess club…or competing in Robotics of the Mind….spelling bees….pretty much any extracurricular activity in which kids from one school are competing against kids from other schools.

In short, this expansion of eligibility for a HS varsity letter is a little different to be sure. Yes, I know that over the years that some school districts were giving out varsity letters on an ad hoc basis in order salute those kids who didn’t play sports but had talents in other areas and had obviously put time and effort into succeeding in these outlets.

Most of the calls this AM came in from those individuals who had been awarded varsity letters for anything from competing in history competitions to chess clubs to even ceramic competitions when they were in HS. They were indeed quite proud of their accomplishments, and felt strongly that this new law was not only a good move, but long overdue.

Other callers, however, asked poignant questions. To wit:

Is there a real and tangible difference between being on a HS varsity sports team….as opposed to being on a non-sports HS organization and being able to earn a varsity letter?

In other words, by opening the door to varsity letters for extracurricular activities, doesn’t that have the impact of cheapening or diluting the varsity letter?

In effect, does this new law in NJ simply add an extension of the age-old debate that “everybody gets a trophy” just for competing?

And what about the HS kids themselves? How do they feel about all of this?

Or is this just another case of trying to placate today’s parents who want to know how come their non-athletic (but talented) kids can’t earn a varsity letter?

For that matter, does achieving a varsity letter still carry the same feeling of singular accomplishment that it did, say, 15 or 20 years ago?

One caller, for example, said that he had graduated from Power Memorial HS back in the early 1970s when Power Memorial was a legendary school for athletics. He couldn’t make the basketball team (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was there then, as was Steve Kallas). So the caller went out for the school band, which, he pointed out, was quite a commitment as the band played all over NYC. In any event, in his senior year, after being in the school band for four years, he was awarded a varsity letter which was quite meaningful to him.

True, there was no competition against other schools, but the Power Memorial administration clearly wanted to salute him in some ways for his four years of dedicated commitment, and as such, I could see why giving him a varsity letter made a lot of sense.

Only the next few years will determine whether this new law will change things dramatically in terms of HS kids in NJ. In the end, it’s up to the HS kids and their parents whether earning a varsity letter in chess, or in science competitions, or in spelling bees is going to be a big deal for them.

 

 

 

GUEST COLUMNIST: The Essential Value of Positive Self-Esteem in Sports

Editor’s note: As you might imagine, I receive a great deal of email from readers and sports parents from all over. And occasionally, I read something that is so spot on this topic that I feel compelled to post it and share it. Rick Wolff

For the Love of Kids

by Christopher M. Meuse

The purpose of the following article is to express my beliefs related to the importance and value of promoting the development of positive self-esteem in children at home, in schools, through sports and in every walk of life.  I will attempt to show the significance of positive coaching and parenting in developing happy, confident, successful and fulfilled individuals who are capable of reaching higher levels of human potential.

I recently published the book, “Hockey, Kids & Positive Coaching”, an inspiring story about a young boy whose love for the game of hockey is affected by the pressures placed on him by the adults in his life. It demonstrates the value of love and how a child’s growth and development are enhanced when guided by people who are more concerned about feelings of self-worth than numbers on a scoreboard. The story illustrates that the journey to true peak performance in life is eased through guidance and education that go beyond skills. A quality education which is focused on issues of self-worth will help to create the healthy conditions necessary for children to reach their greatest potential.

There are many theories and techniques that can be used to teach, coach and educate children. Some include strict discipline, tough love, the promotion of aggressive behavior, acceptance and love, or a combination of all of these methods. The value of developing a strong sense of self-worth, or self-esteem, in a child cannot be over-   emphasized. The application of principled behaviors supported by empathetic listening, understanding and compassion can help parents achieve greater positive results when guiding their children on their journey through life is emphasized in this article through excerpts from the book.

I was motivated to write “Hockey, Kids & Positive Coaching” by  negative behavior that I witnessed being displayed in arenas where children play hockey – behavior which adults probably used with a positive intent, but which often negatively resulted in diminished peak performance. The joy of playing the game was also greatly decreased for all involved.  Negative comments and criticisms children experience – not only in sports, but in their lifetime – can be extremely disempowering and often lead to the formation of blocks or barriers to learning and performance.

It has been scientifically proven that negative thoughts and comments result in decreased strength and performance. I have witnessed very talented players become totally confused and disorientated on the ice after being yelled at by adults. The players were then further criticized after the game for their poor performance, the adults not realizing how their conduct actually contributed to the players’ poor performance. We cannot empower children to do their best through negativity, whether in sports, at home, in school, or society in general. This belief is demonstrated through the story and experiences of the book’s central character, Michael.

Several years ago I was listening to an interview with the renowned basketball coach, John Wooden.  He exhibited many great character qualities as a coach, but also as a father, husband, and educator. The host introduced him as “a coach of love” who cared more about his players as individuals than he did about them as basketball players. Apparently, at the time of the interview, Wooden’s teams won more consecutive games and conferences than any other team in U.S. basketball history — an amazing result from a coach of love, who apparently never used the word “win” in the dressing room. Why? His explanation seemed to suggest that on a mind/brain (or neurological & psychological) level, a player can only perform at the highest level when focusing all of his/her energy on his/her own performance. He believed that any percentage of energy that is used to focus on the thought of winning, or on scoreboards, or referees, etc. is energy removed from one’s ability to play at one’s best. Therefore, Wooden emphasized intrinsic motivation focused on one’s desire to play his\her best. Yes, his players practiced hard and played hard, but the enjoyment aspect of the game was always emphasized. He never wanted playing basketball to be a chore. The players’ challenge was with themselves. If they played their best than they were winners, despite what the scoreboard indicated.  Obviously, Wooden’s record is a valid indication that his players usually played their best.

When young children are expected to play like pros, and are criticized for making mistakes, the results are seldom positive. The game becomes work and the “play” and fun aspects are lost far too early. As Joseph Chilton Pearce writes in his excellent book, “Magical Child”: “through the function of play, the work takes place, and creativity unfolds … play is the only way the highest intelligence of mankind can unfold.”

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of being sincere in conversation with our children; positive reinforcement must be more than idle words. There is great value in not merely using positive words in an attempt to manipulate children so that they will perform in a way that adults believe they should. It is important to be positive and compassionate simply because this is what children need and deserve. In the end, children and adults will have greater respect for each other while achieving greater levels of excellence.

The excerpts contained in this article are explained in much greater detail in my book: “Hockey, Kids & Positive Coaching”. Detailed information and reviews related to the book can be found on the following Blog & Website: http://lofeexpublishing.blogspot.ca/

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/home/search/?keywords=christopher%20meuse

ACCOUNTABILITY: What Would You Do?

A few weeks ago, I presented some hypothetical sports parenting situations to you, and I asked listeners to my radio show for their thoughts and opinions. One of the common themes in these “hypotheticals” — which, by the way, are all based upon real-life situations – -is the concept of accountability. And the truth is, in a world of increasingly complicated sports parenting issues, it’s harder than ever to try and teach your son or daughter to be accountable and to do the right thing.

And sometimes, it’s even harder for the parent to do the right thing as well.

So, with that being said, how would you handle this hypothetical?

WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF….

You’re watching a HS varsity football game, and your son is playing in the game as a wide receiver.

It’s been a chippy game, and the refs have been busy trying to maintain law and order throughout the contest.

But on one play early in the third quarter, in which there’s a play that takes place across the field, your son – who is clearly far away from the play – gets blindsided by an opposing linebacker. There was no need for the hit. It was clearly unnecessary. In any event, your son is very slow to get up. He does get to his feet, he wobbles a bit, and then falls back to the turf. Time is called, and he is helped off the field by the team trainer.

There is no flag on the play because everybody’s attention was drawn to the action on the other side of the field. And yet — because you watch your son on every play — you know without a doubt that the opposing linebacker pulled a cheap shot on your son – a real unnecessary blindside shot —  and that player didn’t get caught by the refs.

From your perspective, the refs not only should have called a penalty, but should have also disqualified that linebacker.

Your son does not come back into the game. He is held out for concussion protocol. After the game, he is okay, but clearly still shaken up by the unprovoked hit.

As a parent, what do you do? There are several pathways to consider. Should you say anything to your son’s coach after the game? Should you approach the opposing head coach? How about the kid who levelled the unnecessary hit? Should you find him and confront him?

Or do you corral the officials who worked the game, and ask them why they didn’t see the play and throw a flag?

Or do you find your school’s athletic director and file a formal complaint about the play? Do you consider filing a lawsuit?

Do you contact the police for assault and battery on your kid?

Or do you say nothing at all? That is, take the approach that it’s just part of the game and be grateful that your kid is seemingly going to be okay.

SEEING RED…

We had a lot of calls this AM and almost all of them agreed that, as an angry sports parent, they had a great urge to confront the opposing player after the game and get in his face. Or, to get in the face of the opposing coach right after the game. Some callers suggested they would confront the refs who worked the game, demanding how they could have missed such an egregious foul?

But after awhile, cooler heads started to chime in. That is, although many of us would like to have an immediate confrontation and punishment for that player, the adult and civil thing to do is to address your school’s athletic director, tell him or her how angry you are, ask to make sure the game film can be viewed the next day, and that you would like punitive action to be taken by the opposing AD on that kid.

Of course, some listeners weren’t satisfied with this kind of approach, but I tried to remind them that immediate confrontation would follow in the path of “two wrongs don’t make a right.” And I was heartened to hear other callers agree with that.

But let me back up for a moment. All sports parents know that in any sporting competition, there’s always a chance your youngster can get hurt. That’s just an assumption of the risk of playing sports. But when your kid is hurt deliberately, that’s when parents see red and want immediate retribution. That’s an understandable and very human emotion to protect our kids.

But of course, that is not acceptable in our society, and rightfully so. Your first priority is to take care of your kid. You can work with the proper authorities, such as the AD and even perhaps the police, later on.

I fully understand that at the time of the incident, you want to take immediate and presumably harsh action. But I urge you….DO NOT give into your anger. As I often say, someone has to be the adult here. And that someone should be you.

 

REFLECTIONS: The Kids Always Remember Their Coaches….

The Players Remember

 By Doug Abrams

 Shortly before Thanksgiving, I was standing in a restaurant lobby, awaiting colleagues for a luncheon meeting of an advisory board that I serve on. A gentleman approached, excused himself, and asked, “You’re Doug, aren’t you?” I said yes, and he asked whether I remembered him. “I probably do,” I said, “but I don’t recognize you. You’ll have to help me.”

I suspected that he was one of my former youth hockey players, but I didn’t know which one. Years after a team’s last game, inability to recognize a player’s face the next time comes with the youth coach’s territory. No wonder I didn’t recognize the gentleman.  I coached him in the early 1990s, when he was 16. Now he is 42, married with children of his own. Images remain frozen in time, but faces change.

Once my former player gave his name, handshakes and reminiscing about bygone seasons quickly followed. After some storytelling, he knew that I indeed remember him. But equally gratifying was that he remembered me.

Chance Encounters

The late November belated reunion demonstrates one reason why youth league and high school coaches should think twice before letting short-term frustrations lead them to depart of their own accord while they still have more to offer.

Coaching sometimes brings short-term frustrations nowadays from challenges largely unknown years ago. These challenges lead many youth league coaches to serve only while their own sons or daughters participate, and they lead many high school coaches to hang up their whistles before their time. Particularly at the high school level, men and women with coaching tenures spanning decades rather than months or years seem a disappearing breed.

Whether to leave youth coaching is, of course, an individual decision for coaches and their families. But when a coach deciding whether to leave seeks my advice, I suggest considering not only the short-term highs and lows, but also the long-term rewards that continued service might hold.

One of the great long-term rewards – and this column’s subject — is that players don’t forget their devoted youth coaches. If a coach treats the team right, coach and players frequently maintain lifelong friendships based on shared experiences and mutual respect. I still keep in contact with many of my former players, though others (such as the player I met in the restaurant lobby) move on. I still get a charge whenever someone approaches in the grocery store (or a restaurant) with, “Hey Doug, remember me? You coached me 25 years ago on the Lions.”

“Pleasing to Remember”

Behind only the parent-child and child-sibling bonds, the teacher-student bond can be one of life’s most lasting. Coaches are teachers in every sense of the word, and players are their students. For a volunteer or compensated coach with more to offer, perseverance today can establish relationships that endure long after the coach blows the whistle for the last time. Chalk up these relationships as deferred compensation for a job well done, a valuable reward not measurable in dollars.

But fair warning. . . . Be prepared for failure to recognize a former player after a decade or more. Non-recognition happens all the time. Players may not initially understand because they see their faces in the mirror every morning. But they do understand once the coach stresses that only their faces, and not the memories and recollections, have changed.

When recognition fails me, I sometimes paraphrase remarks delivered by the beloved school master in the 1939 movie, “Goodbye Mr. Chips.” At his retirement dinner after more than 40 years teaching Latin at a British boys boarding school, Mr. Chips (Robert Donat in his Academy Award-winning title role) alerted the entire student body to the moments of non-recognition that awaited:

“If you come to see me in the years to come — as I hope you will – you may see me hesitate and you’ll say to yourself, ‘Oh, the old boy doesn’t remember me.’ But I do remember you – as you are now.” Images frozen in time.

Schoolmaster Chips closed his on-screen retirement valedictory in Latin: “Haec olim meminisse juvabit.” He did not identify the source, and he provided the students no translation.

The line is from Virgil’s “Aeneid,” and the English translation reminds us that nostalgia remains a long-term reward of teaching, or coaching:

In the future, it will be pleasant to remember these things.”  

MORE ON THE IMPORTANCE OF ADVERSITY: Every Athlete Will Encounter It – and What You Need to Say

Let me ask you this.

What have you have learned, or your kids have learned, from dealing with adversity in sports.

And along those lines, when your youngster runs into a setback, how do you – as an adult – let them handle this important life lesson?

In my mind, when it comes to kids in sports – and learning life lessons – there are very moments in one’s life that can potentially have as much impact as having to confront – and deal with —  and then hopefully, overcome adversity.

And yes, I feel that strongly about the positive long-range effects of adversity.

You talk to any top professional athlete – even the most gifted and most accomplished — about the power of adversity in their lives, and each and every one of them will tell you about an unexpected setback that they have to overcome. It’s a universal common denominator.

You all know about Michael Jordan being cut from his HS varsity team as a sophomore. Looking back, and with all that Michael Jordan has accomplished in his basketball career, that seems impossible. But it did happen. He wasn’t good enough to make the team as a soph.

But the key takeaway was the way in which he handled the disappointment. Rather than fume and complain, Jordan lived with the pain and then went to the head coach and simply asked him what Jordan needed to work on in order to make the team the following year. To this credit, the coach explained how Michael needed to improve his game. And that blue print sparked Jordan to work his tail off on the weaker parts of his game so that, next year, he would make the team. By the time he was a senior, he was considered one of the premier players in North Carolina.

Then there’s NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young. After having a stellar career in HS in Greenwich, CT, he was recruited to play quarterback at BYU. But Young was stunned and dismayed when, as he got to his first practice, he saw his name was listed as 8th string on the depth chart. He was so low on the depth chart that not only did he not travel for away games, he didn’t dress in uniform for home games either.

Discouraged and upset, Steve called his Dad back home, and said he wanted to quit and come home. Steve’s Dad listened quietly, and finally said, “Steve, you can certainly quit the team, if you want…..but you can’t come home. I just won’t allow that.”

That sent a wake-up call to Steve. Adversity was calling. Rather than go home, he decided to devote the rest of the football season and the entire winter to throwing 10,000 spirals in the BYU football facility in order to improve his game. He worked and worked so much that the coaching staff finally began to take notice. It suddenly dawned on them that perhaps they had misjudged Steve’s talents. Sure enough, by the time he was a senior, he finished runner-up in the Heisman Trophy race.

Again. Steve’s ascent to stardom was kickstarted because of adversity staring him in the face.

THE ONGOING ADVERSITY FACED BY DANNY WOODHEAD

Last week, in The Player’s Tribune, which is Derek Jeter’s online platform for top athletes. Danny Woodhead of the San Diego Chargers – you might recall Danny also played for the Jets and the Patriots – did a first-person letter to himself  — writing to himself when he was 18 about all the adversity he was going to face in his football life.

It was an interesting perspective. Danny is now around 30, and his reflections are quite moving and powerful.

Mind you, Danny has now played in the NFL for close to a decade, so on the surface, he’s a success story. But when he was 18 and growing up in Nebraska where they grow football players real big– Dan was only  5-7 and 175 pounds. But he did have great speed and fierce determination.

And sure enough, he became a great HS football player. He even broke the state rushing record in Nebraska. Pretty impressive for a guy who was relatively small.

When he got to be a senior in HS, the University of Nebraska – Danny’s beloved University of Nebraska – basically told him he was too small to play at the D-1 level. No scholarship offer. But they offered him a chance to walk-on as a kick returner. But that’s about it. No guarantees.

That was the first slap in Danny’s face in terms of football adversity.

Not having any other D-I offers, Woodhead  went to Chadron State – a Div-II school  of 3,000 students – where he starred as a running back and along the way,  he broke the NCAA rushing record. But despite that remarkable college career, he was bypassed by the NFL scouts…no one invited him to the scouting combine.

Not surprisingly, Danny was undrafted. But the NY Jets did call him and asked if he would like to sign as an undrafted free agent. Thrilled he does so. But when he gets to Jets’ camp, he tears his ACL. Out for the season.

Then the second year, having recovered from his knee injury, he makes the Jets in training camp. But as the season starts, he’s let go.

You get the idea….no scholarship. Too small. Not drafted. Get hurts. Come back and then gets cut. In short, adversity topped with more adversity.

And yet….there’s a happy ending in all of this. Danny leans heavily on his wife, his family, and of course his belief in God and in himself.

When he and his wife get back to Omaha after being cut by the Jets, he gets a call from the New England Patriots. Overjoyed, Danny signs. And ends up being a major contributor on their Super Bowl team.  Adversity turns into amazing.

Now, we know…there are hundreds, even thousands of stories of athletes from all over in different sports who have had to confront adversity. And of course, not all of them have the same kind of happy ending that Danny Woodhead had.

But the real takeaway here is learning how to come to grips with adversity….to deal with the harsh reality of sports…and most importantly, if being a top competitor is important to your son or daughter, how do they react to that setback?

As a parent, what do you say to your youngster if they tried out for the travel team and didn’t make it…

Or if they suffered an injury that means they can’t play that season?

Or if the coach decided on starting another kid over your youngster?

What do you say? And more importantly, how did your athlete react?

 

When your youngster comes home upset, disappointed, and in tears, what do you say to them?

Look, every kid is different, and every situation is different. But here are some thoughts I’d like to pass along whenever your kid runs into adversity:

 

O First, give them some space to let the hurt hurt….let it fester in them for a day or two. Besides, there’s not much you can do at this point except to give them a hug.

O But after a day or two….that’s when you want to reach out to them, in a quiet moment, and let them talk…let them open up to you. Yes, there may be tears involved….but you need to let youngster know that there are important life lessons to be learned from this setback.

O Make it clear to them that if this activity is truly meaningful to them, then it’s going to be up to them to figure out what went wrong, and most importantly, how they are going to commit to make their goals come true.

No, not every dream will come true….but at least your youngster will learn about life…that one can’t take success for granted….that in the long run, success – in sports and in other avenues of life —  involves a lot of hard work and effort.

And if they do ultimately succeed and prevail, well, that victory is going to taste that much better.

For me, that’s one of the most important legacies sports can teach one’s kid.

FATHER’S DAY 2016: A Day to Salute Sports Dads Everywhere

Today is Father’s Day, and to help celebrate the day, I thought I’d ask you to take a moment and reflect upon what’s the very best piece of advice you ever received from your Dad when it comes to sports.

That’s right. What particular memory do you have of your Dad when he stepped up for you in your sports career. Maybe it was when you were down in the dumps, and he gave you a pep talk. Or perhaps it was at the height of your athletic career, and your dad was there to help you celebrate the moment.

Let’s face it — for the vast majority of Dads who are involved in sports today, or who played sports when they were kids, chances are that it was your father who not only introduced you to sports, but it was Dad who was there for you throughout your years as a kid, right through HS and beyond.

The bonding that takes place between Dad and youngster is well known. For many of us today, it’s truly a main part of our everyday way of life. Too many of us take all of this for granted, so do the right thing and give your Dad a call to say thanks, or give him a hug.

I’ll share one of the more memorable stories from my past and my Dad.

When I was in college and playing summer ball in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League – the ACBL – I dreamed of someday getting a chance to go to the next level – to play pro ball. But to do that, I first had to prove my worth in the ACBL, and the ABCL was – and still is – top competition. Top baseball players from top college programs.

In any event, one hot steamy summer afternoon we were playing out at a field at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Institute in Queens, NY. I was playing for a team based in Brooklyn, and I believe the opposing team was from Long Island. I was psyched to have a great game – especially because the opposing pitcher was a soft-tossing right hander who seemingly had nothing more than a big sweeping curve ball.

But on my first at-bat, amazingly, I struck out. Even more determined during my second at-bat, another series of curve balls fooled me and I struck out a second time.

My third at-bat? Another whiff. And by the fourth at-bat, I did everything to try and slap the curve ball the other way. No luck. I struck out for an unbelieveable fourth time. To this day, some 40 years later, I still can’t believe it!

Four at-bats….four strikeouts. The game ended with my brutal performance at the plate and  I was beyond inconsolable.

WHAT DID MY DAD DO?

On the long drive back home, my Dad didn’t say anything or bother me for a long, long time. He could see I was visibly upset, and he wisely just let me stew in my juices.

But as we approached home, my Dad said quietly to me: “You know, Rick, if you aspire to play professional baseball, you’re going to have to learn that baseball is a game based upon extreme frustration — built upon a layer of disappointment. That’s just how it is….and the rules are not just for you, but they apply to anyone who plays the game.

“The key is this….if you can somehow move past the emotional frustration of having a bad day….and then try to learn from what you didn’t do well….and then try to figure out a way to correct the issues, then you will be taking a giant step forward in terms of learning how to make adjustments in your game.”

He went further: “Amateur players throw bats and helmets when they get frustrated but pro ballplayers go about their business, and think about what they did wrong, and how to correct it. That’s a big difference between amateurs and pro’s.”

I’ll never forget those words of advice from my Dad, and as noted, that was some 40 years ago. Thanks Dad. I was lucky enough the following spring to be drafted by the Detroit Tigers after my junior year in college, and I played two years in the minors before deciding to retire.

Oh, and by the way. Just for the record, that pitcher with the sweeping curve ball? His name was Steve Ratzer, who turned out was a star pitcher for St. John’s University , and Steve ultimately made it all the way to the big leagues.

So, although I didn’t know it at the time, and I felt so miserable, I was striking out against a future major league pitcher.

Funny how things work out. But the paternal advice has never left me.

DANGERS OF THROWING TOO MANY FASTBALLS: A New Study Suggests Max Effort Causes Injuries

Last week, as you may recall, I interviewed Jeff Passan, the author of new bestselling book, THE ARM. And if there was one major takeaway from that show, it was that the world of pitching —  and trying to prevent arm injuries —  has never been more complicated.

And now, in yesterday’s NY Times, there was yet a new report released: – a study from the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit – which had these conclusions:

> About a quarter of all current major league pitchers have had Tommy John surgery. No matter how look at that stat, that’s a lot.

> And that this new study says that serious arm injuries  are due to throwing too many fastballs.

But there’s an important key here that should not be overlooked. It’s not that just throwing too many fastballs is the issue. Rather, this has to do with pitchers throwing fastballs at their maximum effort, regardless of whether they top out at 95 mph or 85 mph or 75 or whatever. In other words, all that matters is that they were throwing with their maximum effort, not just that they were throwing fastballs.

I think that’s a very important distinction which may get lost in media translation. Let me quote:

“Pitchers who throw at their maximum speed, whatever that speed is, they’re hurting their arms…”

That comes from Dr. Robert Keller, the leader on the study. And it’s significant, because he’s saying, in effect, that your son is throwing as hard as he can all the time in games, he’s running a good chance of getting hurt. That’s opposed to young pitchers learning how to change speeds with their fastballs, or to pace themselves during the course of a game, and only unleashing a full max pitch every so often.

And to me, that makes a lot of sense. That’s big takeaway….coaches need to openly remind young pitchers NOT to throw every fastball at max effort.

WHAT ABOUT CURVE BALLS?

It also suggested in this study that throwing curves DOES NOT make a difference in arm injury – at least among major leaguers. But Dr. Keller also added said that these findings DO NOT apply to LLers because their mechanics of throwing curves are not well developed or honed at young ages. In other words, he sidestepped the issue of whether curves may hurt young arms since he was only studying the data of major league pitchers.

I think that’s significant as well.  And until Dr. James Andrews changes his stance on the dangers of throwing curves until you’re old enough to shave, I would caution your kids not to throw curves.

OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: Why HS Coaching Positions Go Unfufilled

What Can Happen When Parents’ Abuse Chases Away Coaches

 By Doug Abrams

The other day, a want-ad of sorts appeared on the computer screen while I was reviewing youth sports articles in the nation’s newspapers. The want-ad was longer than the few-inch ones that typically dominated newspaper classifieds and now appear regularly on Internet sites. In the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, Steve Craig wrote a lengthy, well researched article below this headline: “Help Wanted: Maine’s School Administrators Struggle to Find Coaches.”

The article reported that each year, school districts in Maine and other states suffer high turnover among middle school and high school coaches. In some schools, as many as a quarter of coaching positions open up each year. “Long termers,” men and women with coaching tenures measured in decades rather than months or a few years, seem a dying breed in the United States today.

A Sense of Entitlement

School districts frequently get few applicants — and sometimes none — for advertised openings, even varsity positions. The Press Herald offers several reasons why. The bulk of interscholastic coaches have traditionally been teachers, but greater classroom obligations today leave less time to juggle coaching with family and other personal commitments. Coaching a high visibility sport can demand a 12-month-a-year commitment from teachers and non-teachers alike. Non-teachers may find it difficult to fit afternoon practice and game schedules with their “day jobs.” Coaching stipends remain modest for the hours expected.

But time constraints, year-round commitments, unyielding team schedules, and modest stipends do not tell the whole story. The media also regularly reports about high school and middle school coaches who are driven out of coaching because of unrelenting abuse from some of their players’ parents. The executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association told the Press Herald that “many parents have a sense of entitlement,” and that “some parents apply pressure . . . that makes coaching less attractive.” “As the head coach, everything you do is questioned,” added one high school head lacrosse coach.

School coaches indeed face serious challenges from some parents. When confronted by insistent parents, for example, administrators may countermand the coach’s disciplinary decisions. Unable to recruit, public school coaches typically depend on players developed in local youth leagues, but a coach’s reappointment each year may turn more on parents’ satisfaction with the team’s win-loss record than on the coach’s demonstrated ability to lead the team to its potential by getting the most from the players who try out.

In the community and before the school board, coaches may suffer sniping from parents whose real beef is that their children are not in the starting lineup. In the Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Mich.) in mid-April, sportswriter Chris Dobrowolski reported seeing parents’ “intimidation, harassment, threats and heated verbal exchanges” leveled at their children’s coaches. He says that abuse from parents “happens all the time.”

Face-to-face confrontations create trouble enough, but social media now leaves coaches fair game for parents emboldened by the anonymity of the keyboard. Just last month, the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press reported the resignation of the girls hockey coach at Stillwater Area High School near St. Paul. In 14 years behind Stillwater’s bench, he had compiled a 260-112-21 record and won two state titles, though the team finished 9-16-1 last season. The coach said that he resigned to protect his family from “an unrelenting and vicious personal series of verbal attacks from a group of parents” in emails and on social media. “I will simply not put my family through any more of this.”

The Pioneer Press reported that the Stillwater team’s booster club attributed the personal attacks to “a disgruntled few” parents of current and former players.

Chasing Away Qualified Officials

In my most recent column on Rick Wolff’s blog, I discussed how parents’ verbal and physical abuse can hurt players by driving away some the most qualified referees and other game officials. Particularly in contact and collision sports, shortages of experienced officials can increase the risk of injury because many replacement refs are not yet ready for the responsibilities cast on them. But for the premature departures of so many veterans, many of the replacements would not yet be on the field. http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2016/04/20/abusive-sports-parents-growing-shortage-sports-officials/

Chasing Away Qualified Coaches

Now the Portland Press Herald reminds us that abuse from some parents may also claim qualified head coaches and assistant coaches. Abrupt coaching changes do not usually implicate player safety, but players can lose out on valuable expertise and leadership when qualified coaches depart prematurely and the array of potential replacements remains thin.

In school districts that draw coaches from the ranks of both teachers and non-teachers, we can debate the general virtues of each category. On the one hand, a teacher-coach may combine knowledge of the game with an educator’s keen sense of pedagogy and motivation. A teacher-coach can also help supervise the team off the field because teachers are on the campus throughout the school day rather than only shortly before practices and games. On the other hand, a non-teacher may combine a greater background in the sport with a similar ability for pedagogy and motivation, sometimes drawn from years as a high-level player or an effective youth league coach.

In any school, however, each coaching selection depends on its own personalities. Teacher-coaches range from effective to ineffective, and so do non-teacher-coaches. But one way or the other, players are more likely to be hurt when abuse dished out by some parents leads coaches to quit before their time, leaving the applicant pool with only a few names, or even (according to the Press Herald) with none. Completing a double whammy, further hurt can await in games played without the most qualified referees, whose ranks some parents have also helped deplete.

Coaches chosen from deeper applicant pools are more likely to meet players’ needs and expectations than coaches chosen after school administrators must go begging for candidates to stem persistent high turnover. A buyers’ market remains more likely to produce better coaching selections than a seller’s market.

 

Source: Steve Craig, Help Wanted: Maine’s School Administrators Struggle to Find Coaches, Portland Press Herald, Apr. 25, 2016  http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/24/help-wanted-maines-school-administrators-struggle-to-find-coaches/; Chris Dobrowolski, Parent Behavior Toward Coaches Must Change, Record-Eagle, Apr. 17, 2016; Jace Frederick, Stillwater Girls Hockey Coach Resigns After “Vicious” Verbal Attacks, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Apr. 8, 2016; Jace Frederick, Stillwater Girls Hockey Boosters Decry “Disgruntled Few” Who Attacked Coach, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Apr. 13, 2016.