ABUSIVE COACHES: Losing One’s Perspective During the Post-Game Handshake

When Coaches’ Misconduct Disrupts Post-Game Handshake Lines

By Doug Abrams

Late last month, the Omaha World-Herald reported that police ticketed a 52-year-old coach for suspected assault and battery on a 10-year-old opponent as the teams traded high-fives in the post-game handshake line after a flag football game. According to writer Kevin Cole, the Omaha coach (whose team had just lost decisively) grabbed the player by the collar and nearly lifted him off his feet. The coach allegedly told police afterwards that he “snapped and lost his temper” because the player had slapped his hand “too hard.” “You will respect me!,” the coach told the boy.

The local youth football association immediately banned the coach, and prosecutors contemplated whether also to charge him with suspicion of disorderly conduct. I have found no later media accounts of the legal outcome, but the incident that Cole reports sheds light on coaches’ leadership roles moments after youth teams have finished a game.

“Models of Good and Acceptable Behavior”

In a variety of youth sports, most post-game handshake lines proceed without incident as they reinforce the sportsmanship and mutual respect that youth leagues and interscholastic competition strive to teach competitors. Last month’s Omaha incident is not the first disruption, however, nor is it the first disruption instigated by a coach who lacked self-control expected from a team leader.

In a handshake line after a pee wee hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia in 2012, for example, the winning team’s 48-year-old coach intentionally stuck out his leg and tripped a 13-year-old opponent, whom the coach had berated from the bench throughout the game.  The player broke his wrist when he fell onto a teammate. A spectator’s video, which quickly went viral, showed the coach pointing menacingly at the boy immediately after the tripping.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrpVzRyxhuk (1:12).

The Vancouver coach pleaded guilty to one count of assault, and the court sentenced him to 15 days in jail, to be served on consecutive weekends. “Society,” said the judge, “will not tolerate the assault of children by adults.” He called coach’s sentence “a signal to other parents heavily involved in the sporting activities of their children that they must be seen as models of good and acceptable behavior and not as instigators of violence and of riotous behavior.”

“Follow the Leader”

A Kentucky school superintendent recently said this about the value of post-game handshake lines: “Teaching our students to win and lose graciously are life lessons that we hope and expect coaches to embrace.” The superintendent urged principals and athletic directors to “[a]sk coaches to remember that very few of our students will be college and professional athletes. However, ALL of them need to be able to demonstrate character at crucial times.”  The point is that most men and women face periodic setbacks throughout adulthood, and that resilience learned on the playing field can increase the prospects for overcoming adversity.

When they explain to players the value of post-game handshakes, coaches can share wisdom from Olympic gold medal swimmer Amy Van Dyken. “The most important lesson I’ve learned from sports,” she says, “is how to be not only a gracious winner, but a good loser as well.  Not everyone wins all the time; as a matter of fact, no one wins all the time. Winning is the easy part; losing is really tough. But, you learn more from one loss than you do from a million wins.  You learn a lot about sportsmanship.”

“It’s really tough to shake the hand of someone who just beat you,” Van Dyken specifies, “and it’s even harder to do it with a smile.  If you can learn to do this and push through that pain, you will remember what that moment is like the next time you win and have a better sense of how those competitors around you feel. This experience will teach you a lot on and off the field!”

The title of “youth coach” confers responsibility to set an example before, during, and after games. Coaching resembles a process of “follow the leader” because players learn from what they watch. Even after a game when the team has come up short, coaches participating in handshake lines need to remain above the fray because actions speak louder than words. Coaches teach self-control by maintaining self-control.


Sources: Kevin Cole,  Youth Football Coach Accused of Attacking 10-Year-Old After Boy High-Fives Him ‘Too Hard”, Omaha World-Herald, Sept. 30, 2016; Hockey Coach Jailed For Tripping Child, Guelph Mercury (Ontario, Canada), Feb. 27, 2013; Sam Adams, Hockey Coach Jailed For Tripping 13-Year-Old Player As Teams Shake Hands After Junior Game, MailOnline (England), Feb. 27, 2013; Backlash Ensues After No Handshake Directive, http://www.wlwt.com/article/backlash-ensues-after-no-handshake-directive/3536011 (Oct. 10, 2013); Amy Van Dyken Quotes, Backlash ensues after no handshake directive Backlash ensues after no handshake directive Backlash ensues after no handshake directivehttp://www.azquotes.com/author/26506-Amy_Van_Dykenhttps://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090216120321AASqj65 (quoting Van Dyken)


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.”



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.




INNOVATIONS: Why Not Set National Benchmarks so that Athletes Can See How They Match Up?

In today’s column, I’m going to make a strong suggestion and try to make a case that perhaps there’s a better way to raise our kids in sports than what we’re currently doing.

Now, admittedly, this is something of a radical approach. I’m the first to admit that.

But the truth is….

I just don’t see any end or improvement to what’s happening now in the world of sports parenting. I don’t see any evidence that things are getting better.

You know the headlines: helicopter sports parents everywhere are over-involved…HS  coaches are under siege and getting burned out and quitting…travel teams continue to be unregulated and travel coaches and teams don’t have to be certified by any local state or federal laws.

Kids everywhere feel they have to specialize in one sport at an increasingly early age….travel team tryouts add constant agonizing pressure to parents and kids.

We all know these realities….and yet…we don’t seem to have any ability to come up with a new or creative solution to any of this. It’s just become the hard-faced reality of youth sports in this country. In my opinion, we need to start focusing on how to change this. 

Let’s face it, every year, there’s a new crop of sports parents who come onto the sporting scene, all of them hoping that their 5 or 6 year old is going to be something really special in sports. But for those parents who aren’t well versed in the sport, or aren’t educated in travel team mentality, they – and their kids – seem to be placed at an immediate disadvantage.

Parents look for answers and guidance everywhere — but of course, there are no guidelines. Parents assume that tryouts for travel teams are about all equal opportunity, not knowing that pretty much the entire roster has already been pre-selected by the coaches.

What about hiring a private coach? Sure. But how do you know which coach to hire? Just through word of mouth? Remember, Mom and Dad, you’re paying for this.

Meanwhile, every kid and their parents are hoping that maybe….just maybe…they will develop into that rare athlete: the one who stars in HS and on travel teams and gets that golden ticket to play in college.

But the bottom line is that for those very, very few and very rare athletes who DO get that golden ticket, all the others kids and their families will come away disappointed. They THOUGHT being on a travel team would make them good enough. They ASSUMED that being All-League made them special.  They BOUGHT into the private coach telling them how good they were.

But of course, it just doesn’t work that way.

So….here’s a suggestion:


Suppose we had national athletic benchmarks for kids at age 10, 13, and 16?

These benchmarks of athletic ability would be totally objective standards that basically say to parents, that  if your kid can’t perform at these very high levels, then the reality is that you need to know there’s almost zero chance of them getting a scholarship or turning pro.

In other words, compared to other kids the same age from around the country who are also chasing that same golden ticket, these standardized athletic tests show that your kid is just not projecting to be good enough.

Very simple. Very straightforward. No reason to sugar coat this. Let the youngster know he or she – when compared to other athletes their age – they simply don’t match up as compared to all the other kids their same age nationally who are pursuing the same goals.

These physical aptitude tests could consist of 6 to 8 basic tests: A kid’s jumping ability….their speed in a 60- yard dash…how good is their visual acuity (most major leaguers have 20-15 vision, not just 20-20)….overall strength in terms of weight lifting…one’s balance….eye-hand coordination….a kid’s current height….and weight…you get the idea.

Now, let be clear about this….the national scores they would be matching up against are NOT the AVERAGE or ACCEPTABLE physical abilities for a kid their age. We’re talking about the superior athletes and how they match up at the same age as your kid at age 13, or 16.

To do this, we would ask the medical experts and athletic trainers to come up with national standards in these kinds of athletic abilities, and then – just as kids take SAT or ACT standard tests for college admission , they can see how their athletic abilities compare with real college scholarship athletes.

That is, when a HS student takes the SAT or ACT tests, those are standard, universal scores that help inform the kid and their parents how they stack up against all the other HS students in the country. And of course, these scores go a long way in determining where they can get into college.

What does this all of accomplish in athletics? Well, for starters, it helps to give the parents a much clearer understanding of just how difficult it is for any athlete to compete at the highest levels.

That is, we keep telling parents that less than 4% of all HS varsity athletes will ever make any kind of sports team in college at any level. The problem is, of course, that the parents look at their own athlete and naturally assume that he or she is one of those 4%.


But by having these national standard numbers posted everywhere in schools, the parents will have to come to grips with the harsh reality that while their youngster is indeed a very big athletic fish in their local community, their community is just another small pond – and that there are thousands of comparable small ponds around the country.

It also sends a similar message to the athletes — that this is how your national competitors are checking in — and that maybe, just maybe, you might want to start thinking about another back-up passion in life besides playing sports.

My sense is that we have to start thinking proactively as to what and how we can change our current system. Or at least do something to better inform parents and their kids about what the future has in store for them.



You could have benchmarks for such easily measured elements as:

Speed in a 40-yard sprint.

Visual accuity

Jumping ability.

Physical strength (e.g. how much can a kid lift?)


Eye-hand coordination

Height and weight

For example, let’s take simple speed. By the time most college football wide receivers are, say, 16, — and I’m making these numbers up – I’ll bet they are very, very fast. Maybe the average speed for D-I wide receivers in a 40-yard dash is 4.4 or 4.5 seconds.

Okay….so your son is 16 and plays wide receiver on his HS team. What is his time in a 40 yard dash? Clearly if it’s not 4.5 or better, then it would appear he’s not going to be competitive in a sprint with all the other HS wide receivers – all of whom want football scholarships as well.

In other words, let’s start to develop some meaningful numbers along a range of athletic measurements so kids and parents and coaches know what the truth is.

Won’t this have the effect of just discouraging kids from competing? No, to me, it will have just the opposite effect. That is, kids will play sports SIMPLY because they’re fun to play….for the pure joy of playing….which is something we did a generation ago. We played sports because they were fun, no because we were chasing a college scholarship.

It will also send the message to parents and kids that while it’s great for your son or daughter to play, they had better realize that maybe there’s no real money in their future as an athlete. Yes, it will help them on their college application to be All-League or a team Captain in their sport, but that may simply help them get into a better academic college….NOT get them an athletic  scholarship.

“But my kid has the heart of a lion,” I can hear parents saying, “And you can’ measure a kid’s heart.”

Well, that’s true. But unfortunately, if your boy is 5-11, 180, and plays linebacker in HS, there’s just zero chance of his being heavily recruited by any D-I schools. Even if he has great speed, his physical size is going to eliminate him. Why? Because college football coaches can find linebackers who are 6’3, weigh 225, and run with tremendous speed. Plus these kids also are blessed with great determination.

So, there’s no need to recruit a smaller and slower kid.

My point? Better to let this smaller linebacker know the truth while he’s 16 or 17, so that he can focus on developing other parachutes in life….AND he can still compete in HS football because he enjoys it – not because he’s thinking he’s going to play in college.

And what about travel programs and private coaches?

Well, the same rules apply. Your kid may be a talented travel player, but regardless of whether they play on an elite travel program or have a private coach who assures him he’s doing great and is on the fast track, the national benchmark numbers are going to be very hard to dismiss.

Look, kid, you’re really good….but you’re just not fast enough, or big enough, or strong enough to make the big jump to the next level.

What do you think? Is this approach a good idea? Or do you have another idea to educate sports parents and kids on the realities of competitive sports? Otherwise, the current issues we face today in sports parenting are just going to continue. And that’s what concerns me.

BOOK REVIEW: QB -My Life Behind the Spiral by Steve Young with Jeff Benedict

As most of you know by now, I tend to see the positive aspects of adversity, especially when it comes to sports. All athletes will, at some point in their careers, will confront adversity.

It might be a serious injury that they have to come back from. Perhaps they get cut during a tryout. Maybe the kid makes a mistake in judgment and now has to pay the price in terms of sitting out a bunch of games or even an entire season.

Trust me. The real measure of a kid’s heart and determination is how much they respond to adversity.

Which takes me to NFL Hall of Famer Steve Young.

His long-awaited autobiography officially publishes on October 11th, and it’s quite a story. (Full disclaimer: I served as the editor on the book, and it was a joy.)

Steve was, like so many others, a gifted athlete. Growing up in Greenwich, CT, he was a star in football, basketball, and baseball. He was such a gifted runner in football that his HS coach decided to make him into an option quarterback, so he didn’t pass very often in games. Rather, he ran for score after score.

Recruited primarily by UNC and BYU (he’s a long-time descendant of Brigham Young, plus Steve’s Dad, Grit, played football at BYU), Young ultimately decided on BYU. Being All-State in Connecticut, he felt pretty good about making him name in Provo. But adversity slapped him right in the face.

At his first practice as a freshman, he was stunned to see he was listed as 8th string on the depth chart. He was so low on the chart that not only would he not make the travel team for away games, but he wouldn’t even suit up for home games. Discouraged beyond belief, Steve never unpacked his suitcase for the fall semester. He called his Dad and told him he wanted to quit and come home.

Grit Young replied steadily: “Steve, you can quit….but you can’t come home. We believe in this family that you have to complete what you start.”

This was not the reply, of course, that Steve wanted to hear.

What happened next? Steve decided to confront his adversity and spent the next 4 months working out by himself, over the winter, in the BYU football facility. He just threw pass after pass, until he had thrown close to 10,000 passes. After a while, one of the offensive coaches spotted Steve and his constant practice. The coach spoke to LaVell Edwards, the head coach, and told him how impressed he was with this kid. Edwards was surprised; after all, he assumed that Steve Young would end up as a defensive back, never a quarterback.

But by the end of the spring football season, Young had leapfrogged all the way to being the second string QB behind Jim McMahon.

Let me stop here. The book is honest, forthright, and full of ups and downs but told in such a way that you can’t help but root for Steve. Jeff Benedict from Sports Illustrated who helped Steve write the book did a magnificent job.

In the next few weeks, you’ll be hearing more about Steve’s book as he makes the round of publicity. It’s a great read for any football fan. I would heartily suggest you go to Amazon now and pre-order a copy. I just have a hunch this book is going to sell out quickly.


ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: Why Are So Many HS Coaches Quitting? A National Epidemic

We have known for some years now that sports parents have become an increasing issue for HS coaches as Moms and Dads often intervene or meddle with the coaches upon behalf of their youngster. Coaches would often remark to each other that the “best kids to coach were those who were orphans.

But the problem with meddling parents has only escalated. And what is happening is that more and more coaches are simply, well, quitting. They just don’t want to deal with this issue anymore. As one long-time athletic director observed recently, “it used to be that a HS coach would last at the school for a career….but these days, the average stay is about 4-5 years, tops.”

According to a stunning survey of 227 HS coaches that was conducted by a local newspaper in Syracuse, NY, (Syracuse.com), the reason why coaches are quitting is simple:

The coaches get tired of dealing with the parents….”

That’s right. Coaches leave because of the parents…and unfortunately, many times, it’s the good coaches who leave.

There are reports from all over – not just Syracuse  —  that the friction between parents and their kid’s HS coaches has only gotten worse. And that’s not good.

You know what I’m talking about. We live in a time where sports parents have invested SO much of their time, energy, and money in their kid’s athletic career that when a youngster plays for a coach who doesn’t happen to share the parent’s opinion of how good their kid is, well, the parent thinks that they have every right to confront the coach and demand more playing time…or to make their kid All-League…or to make them a starter….or whatever the parent feels their kid is entitled to.

The problem is at a point where something needs to be done. In fact, when I do speaking events to local communities, the number one complaint from coaches and athletic directors continues to be the “out of control parents who meddle.”

We clearly need to do something to stop this interference by parents. … so what can we do?


On today’s radio show, we had a number of callers who all shared this growing concern. It was pointed out that, traditionally, at pre-season meetings, the HS AD often makes a statement to all attendees “to please let the coaches and leave them alone to do their job.” Parents hear this, but clearly the warning goes in ear and out the other. Too many parents either feel that the rules don’t apply to them or that, somehow, they are entitled to talk to the coach when it involves their kid.

In other words, this approach doesn’t have much of a lasting impact.

One caller this AM – Jack from New Jersey – said he had coached at the HS level for 35 years, and he had some specific suggestions that worked for him to counteract angry parents. Specifically:

Keep your roster of players deliberately small. 

His point was that if you kept just the bare minimum of kids on the team, then it was much easier to get them all playing time in the games. If you have a larger roster, then all those at the end of the bench (including their parents) are going to grouse and complain about not enough playing time.

Make sure all your kids play at least a little each game.

Not all the kids can play equally or a lot in each game, but as the coach, if you get every kid into the game – again, having a small roster helps — than every kid is going to feel that they contributed in some way.

Have each kid and their parents sign a contract at the beginning of the season.

Jack had every youngster on the varsity come into his office before the season with their parents, and Jack would outline the expectations for that kid, and then would also have to sign a contract that made clear that 1) the parents would not at any time during the season talk to the coach about their kid’s playing time, and 2) that they would never bring up any other player’s name in their conversation.

Did such an approach work? Yes, Jack says that for the most part it did work.

Jack went onto agree with a statement that was made earlier in the show – that a generation ago, HS varsity coaches were seen as the top of the pyramid in sports in town. But these days, with the advent of travel programs, it’s the travel coaches who now have ascended to the top of the pyramid and they seem to have much more clout with the athletes and parents than the HS coaches do.

Routinely these days, a talented player will inform their HS coach that “my travel team coach thinks I should play this position — not the one you want me to play” and make other such demands. HS coaches are often lost as to how to make their players abide by their wishes, not the travel coach’s.

Bottom line? Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any clear way to correct this issue. And until a real solution is found, HS coaches will continue to come and go on a fairly regular basis.

What a shame.


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.


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.

GAME OFFICIALS: Why It’s Essential to Keep Their Work in Mind

Respect for Officials

By Doug Abrams

Late last month, The Oklahoman carried a thoughtful op-ed article by Mike Whaley, the Director of Officials for the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association. The OSSAA is the membership organization that supervises and regulates the state’s interscholastic sports programs.

With the fall season approaching, Whaley reminded coaches, parents, and players to respect the referees and umpires who help assure the smooth operation of high school and middle school games. “As much as your team wants to win,” he wrote, “officials want to get the calls right. Make no mistake, officials miss calls, . . . but the vast majority of them I know approach every contest in an effort to work the ‘perfect game’”.

“In the world of secondary sports,” Whaley concluded, “athletics is education-based — the core value to the student-athlete is in the process not the outcome.”

Essential Cogs In the Machinery

Mike Whaley is right to urge respect for referees and umpires. Officials do sometimes miss calls because they, like the parents and coaches and players, are not professionals in the sport. Everyone makes mistakes. But for every missed call, officials make dozens of correct calls that only appear wrong to parents and coaches who do not understand the rules, do not see the action as closely as they think they do, or cannot overcome partisanship.

Responsibility brings accountability, so officials should expect periodic reviews by league authorities. But perfection cannot be the standard or the expectation. Leagues will be entitled to perfect referees when the players become perfect players, the coaches become perfect coaches, and the parents become perfect parents. Until that day of universal perfection dawns, fallible officials are a part of youth league and interscholastic sports.

As a youth hockey coach, I learned early that officials deserve respect because, like parents and coaches, they are essential cogs in the complex machinery that enables the young athletes to play. But I also sense that in many communities, persistent disrespect can jeopardize player safety by inducing many experienced referees and umpires to retire prematurely, worn down by the verbal and sometimes physical abuse they face during games.

The rest of this column discusses the sometimes hidden link between officials’ premature retirements and heightened risks to player safety, especially in contact and collision sports.

Premature Retirements

Earlier this year, the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer published an article by Tim Stevens, “Abusive Fans Make It Tougher to Recruit High School Sports Refs.” The article led with this troublesome forecast: “Irate high school sports fans . . . are heaping so much abuse on referees that it is becoming hard for North Carolina and other states to recruit new officials. . . .”

The media regularly reports about chronic referee shortages, not only in school sports, but also in many youth leagues from coast to coast. Among the officials I have known, most stepped forward not primarily for the relatively modest stipends they receive, but to remain active in the game while serving youth and their families. Most officials are family men and women with personal obligations and reputations. Most can find other constructive ways to participate in community life, free from persistent abuse dished out by other adults, often within sight and earshot of the officials’ own families.

Safety Risks

Why the link between chronic referee shortages and player safety? “To be effective for promoting safety,” says a recent medical study, a youth sport’s rules “must be enforced rigorously and consistently by referees and leagues.” Parents and coaches assume important enforcement roles, but referees are the primary enforcers once the game starts. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports consensus among sports medicine professionals that “[o]fficials controlling the physicality of the game . . . can . . . play significant roles in reducing contact injuries.”

This essential control suffers when so many veteran officials quit each year. Many replacement officials are simply 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.

Because of the competitors’ size and speed, loss of game control seems particularly troublesome in contact and collision sports in high schools and middle schools, the levels that the OSSAA and other state activities associations supervise.  Most parents and coaches do not cross the line into verbal or physical abuse of officials, and most adults may deplore such abuse. But the majority’s disgust does not diminish the harmful influence of the errant minority who do cross. Leagues often get the quality of officiating that they deserve, and player safety may depend on the outcome.

Sources: Mike Whaley, OSSAA Official: Treat the Refs, Umps Right During This High School Sports Year, The Oklahoman, Aug. 24, 2016; Tim Stevens, Abusive Fans Make It Tougher to Recruit High School Sports Refs, Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, Mar. 27, 2016; Charles H. Tator et al., Spinal Injuries in Canadian Ice Hockey: An Update to 2005, Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, vol. 19, p.  451 (2009); Chris G. Kouteres & Andrew J.M. Gregory, Injuries in Youth Soccer, Pediatrics, vol. 125, p. 410 (Feb. 2010).

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: Where Have We Been….and Where Are We Going?

I’ve known Bob Bigelow for close to two decades as a sports parenting advocate like myself. Back in the mid-1970s, Bob was a 6-8 sharp-shootingAll-Ivy forward at Penn who was so talented that he became a first-round draft choice in the NBA.

After Bob’s playing days came to an end, Bob and I have been trying to help educate sports parents, athletic directors, and coaches about how youth sports has changed dramatically here in the US, and how things are going to continue to change in the years to come. That was the theme of my WFAN show this AM, and right away, one of the sharp callers – Coach Tom from North Arlington, NJ – chimed in and agreed with Bob that unlike 20 years ago, parents have become increasingly sophisticated about the “game” of competitive athletics. That is, that Moms and Dads recognize earlier than ever before that their 8 or 10 year might be blessed with superior athletic talent and drive.

Of course, most of the time, these kids reach their full athletic potential sometime in HS, but that doesn’t stop parents with deep pockets and big dreams for their kid to spend a fortune on travel teams, private coaches, specialized camps, you name it. Parents see this all as a kind of investment – a down payment, if you will – on a kid’s future earnings as a pro.

But as was pointed out on the show, whereas a generation ago talented athletes didn’t start to get recruited until they were juniors or seniors in HS, the timing has all changed now. Because of the internet’s presence and growing social media, college coaches now begin to track promising athletes at much younger ages, dipping down into 9th grade and even middle school. Truth be told, if a youngster is prodigiously tall — say, 6-5 or so – by the time he’s in the 7th or 8th grade, he has most likely heard from college recruiters.

Of course, as Bob and I agree, this is all absurd. Kids change so much during their teenage years that it’s both misleading as well as unfair to a kid to start receiving interest from college coaches before they have really established themselves as bona fide athletes. Yet the NCAA has no rule against this kind of pre-pubescent recruiting, and even though top college coaches decry this kind of recruiting, the fact is that it continues unabated.

Of course, when an 8th grader gets a letter in the mail – even just a form letter – which carries the logo of a top college program, this kind of unexpected feedback only serves to reinforce the parents’ belief that his or her son or daughter is going to become a superstar and make millions one day.

This is just so unfair and misleading to the parents and the kids. And yet, it just feeds into the system.


Bigelow and I both feel strongly that there has been progress in terms of educating parents on how to behave at their kids’ games. That of course is good news. But as kids start to be recruited at younger and younger ages, that’s become a growing concern. And of course, there are the enticements of numerous travel coaches and private coaches who feed into the process even more, e.g. if your kid wants to become one of the best, he or she needs to have me coach them all year round.

And of course, that’s going to cost real money. How about asking for a guarantee that if my kid plays for your travel team, then Coach, you will guarantee that they’ll get a college scholarship. Of course, nobody will guarantee that, but isn’t that what, in effect, you’re paying for?

Finally, it was pointed out that in a recent study of NFL top draft selections, something like 80-85% of those top football players never specialized in just one sport growing up. Same with NBA star Steph Curry.

In other words, there is clearly some sort of major disconnect between the theory of specializing in just one sport an early age….and which athletes become superstars by the time they finish HS.

It’s food for thought.

COPING WITH ADVERSITY: What’s the Best Way to Give Feedback to Young Athletes (…and their Parents)?

One of the basic fundamentals that all coaches embrace – whether at the youth, travel, or HS level – is that a coach has to give feedback to one’s athletes.

Problem is, it’s rare for a coach to be trained at any level on how to do this. In short, it’s just sort of “assumed” that coaches know how to do this. But anyone who has had a youngster play for a bunch of different coaches know that giving feedback is rarely standard or universal in nature.

A generation ago, coaches were considerably more gruff and tough in their demeanor. That doesn’t mean they were mean or sarcastic; it just means that it was hard to please them. I can recall vividly how difficult it was to get my HS football coaches to get them to smile just a little bit on a well-executed block or tackle. I remember how I could live for a full week on cloud nine if I ever got a pat on the back from the head football coach for a job well done.

But of course, times change. These days, it seems the tables have turned dramatically, almost 180 degrees, to the point where every coach lavishes constant praise on the athletes, and does so regardless of youth, travel, or HS level. Every kid, it seems, is “making tremendous progress” or “is just doing great” or “I couldn’t be happier with their skill level.”

But of course, if every kid on the team is receiving this kind of glowing feedback, how is it that some kids end up playing a lot whereas others are on the bench?

That’s a real dilemma. And invariably, it leads parents to wonder what’s going on. As in, “if my kid so good, why is he not starting?”

Good question. And most coaches can’t answer that.

Lost in this shuffle is the element of adversity. The vast majority of parents instinctively tend to shield their kids from adversity – to keep them protected from the cold, cruel world. But in the world of sports, such protection isn’t always the right thing. And it doesn’t help when the coach keeps heaping glowing praise on the kid.

Adversity is a major part of ANY athlete’s experience. Ask any top pro or college star and they were all tell you that they faced some sort of adversity in their career that they had to overcome. It’s just the way it is in sports.


Ian Goldberg, who has two young daughters who play softball and soccer, started to think about the feedback process. He was so moved by the lack of real and meaningful feedback at the youth level that he developed an online program (which is free) to aid and assistant youth coaches in giving real feedback to kids.

In effect, it’s similar to a report card from school. But the key is that, depending on the sport and the athlete’s age, the coach provide true observations on a kid’s progress, i.e. needs to learn how to control the  soccer ball effectively with both feet, needs to see the entire field better in terms of passing, etc. By pinpointing both the strengths as well as weaknesses, the youngster gets a much better feel as to what they need to work on.

Ian also points out that for travel team tryouts, it would be extremely helpful if the coaches posted precise criteria on their website as well. Just saying “We’re going to select the best athletes from the kids who try out” doesn’t do much to help alleviate the pressure on kids and parents. By being specific as to what they’re looking for can only help.

In any event, if you’d like to find out more, check out iSport360.com. Be sure to look for the app to get you going on your critiques.