SPORTSMANSHIP: Parents – It All Starts with You and Your Behavior

 September Is Sportsmanship Month

 By Doug Abrams

Liberty Mutual Insurance, through the Play Positive program with Positive Coaching Alliance, has named September as “Sportsmanship Month.” Several youth sports national governing bodies have joined. The initiative comes as sportsmanship in youth leagues continues to suffer strain, particularly among many adults who should be setting the example.

The Play Positive program reiterates disquieting findings from its 2014 Sportsmanship Survey, which questioned 2,000 parents and coaches of 7-12-year-old youth leaguers. The survey, conducted by ORC International, carried a margin of error of +/- 1.99%.

Sixty percent of respondents reported “either witnessing or participating in negative or abusive sideline behavior” by parents or youth coaches. Twenty-six percent of parents said that they had witnessed a verbally abusive coach, and 16% of parents said that they had witnessed a physical confrontation between parents. Fifty-five percent of coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at officials or their own children, and two in five coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at other children.

The “Worst Behaved In the World”

In a similar survey that the Play Positive program commissioned in 2013, 40% of youth coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at other children. Fifty-five percent of the coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at their own children. Forty-four percent said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at officials, and 39% said that they had experienced parents yelling at them.

After several other national youth sports surveys found similar disturbing rates of abusive adult behavior, Reuters News and the market research company Ipsos jointly conducted a survey in 22 nations. The Reuters-Ipsos survey ranked parents in the United States as the world’s “worst behaved” parents at children’s sports events. Sixty percent of U.S. adults who had attended youth sports contests reported that they had seen parents become verbally or physically abusive toward coaches or officials. Runners-up were parents in India (59%), Italy (55%), Argentina (54%), Canada (53%) and Australia (50%).

The Role of Parents and Coaches

If Liberty Mutual’s 2014 survey holds a silver lining, it is that 75% of parents and coaches acknowledged that “teaching sportsmanship is the responsibility of parents.” Parents (and coaches) fulfill this responsibility by delivering two primary lessons about sportsmanship and the desire to win with respect. Delivery depends not only on the adults’ words, but also on their actions.

The First Lesson: Desire to Win

The first lesson is that sportsmanlike athletes want to win. Athletes who are indifferent or unconcerned about the score should not play because they deny themselves and opponents physically and emotionally invigorating competition.

But the integrity of sports also depends on pursuing victory within the rules of the game and the bounds of decorum, win, lose or draw. The British Association of Coaches strikes the right balance: “Sport without fair play is not sport and honours won without fair play can have no real value.”

The Second Lesson: Respect

The second primary lesson (related to the first) is that by encouraging respect for the game, sportsmanship can strengthen the desire to win. Sportsmanlike competitors do not turn soft on opponents, and they do not let down their guard.

Ryne Sandberg hit the target at the ceremony enshrining him in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2005. “[I]f there was a single reason I am here today,” the Chicago Cubs star told the local and national audience, “it is because of one word – respect.”

“I was taught,” he said, that “you never, ever disrespect your opponent or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never ever your uniform.” “I played [the game] right because that’s what you’re supposed to do – play it right and with respect.

Sandberg’s respect fortified his desire to win and sustained his clean play throughout his 16-year big league career.  He would not have put up Hall of Fame numbers if he had softened his approach to competition, or if he had let down his guard.

Looking Toward the Future

Americans consistently link sports participation to children’s physical and emotional growth, so it may seem a shame that we need to recognize sportsmanship months or sportsmanship days in the first place. Ideally we should not have to hawk sportsmanship the way trade associations hawk “National Tulip Month” or similar commercial promotions designed to boost sales. Sportsmanship is a value and a virtue, not a commodity.

Youth leaguers are not born with attitudes about sportsmanship and respect but, like other children, learn what they watch over time. Youth leaguers react to the verbal and non-verbal cues passed by the adults most directly influential in their lives. Adults watch their children as they play, but the children also watch the adults. Surveys pointing southward appear troubling, but they can also stimulate beneficial change.

 

Sources: Liberty Mutual Insurance Declares September “Sportsmanship Month,” (press release Sept. 1, 2015); Liberty Mutual Responsible Sports, 2014 Sportsmanship Survey, https://responsible-sports.libertymutual.com/2014-sportsmanship-survey; Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports, New Survey Identifies Decline of Sportsmanship in Youth Sports According to Parents and Coaches, https://responsible-sports.libertymutual.com/2014-sportsmanship-survey/press-release (June 3, 2014 press release); Parents and Coaches Express Conflicting Opinions Regarding Priorities in Youth Sports, https://responsible-sports.libertymutual.com/youth-sports-survey (2013 survey); Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports, https://responsible-sports.libertymutual.com/article/1733/ (Sept. 7, 2013 press release); Reuters, U.S., India Parents Seen as Worst Behaved at Kids’ Sports, http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/04/07/us-parents-sports-abuse-idUSTRE6360RJ20100407 (Apr. 7, 2010).

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ACCOUNTABILITY WITH ATHLETES: What Do We Do with HS Football Players Who Attack Refs in a Game?

So by now, I’m going to assume you have seen the very disturbing video of two HS football players in San Antonio deliberately blindsiding a HS ref in a football game. This story has drawn national attention, and rightfully so.

The violent acts speak for themselves: the first kid hits the unsuspecting ref from behind, and once the ref is on the ground, the other player hits him full on as though he’s being tackled. It’s a most disturbing video. Fortunately, the ref , Robert Watts, seemed to be uninjured, but according to his attorney, Watts is still receiving medical treatment. Clearly he could have been seriously hurt due to this outrageous action.

We now turn to the legal side of all this. For starters, as attorney Steve Kallas pointed out on my show this AM, these two football players are most likely minors. That’s why the media isn’t going to extreme lengths to provide their names. However, one of the players is a senior, so presumably he’s 17 or 18. The other player is a sophomore.

Texas is one of 20 states that has very tough laws on its books about athletes, coaches, or parents attacking a ref or an umpire. And in Texas, a youngster who is 17 can be tried as an adult.

As of this writing, the local police department in Marble Falls, where the game took place, still hasn’t concluded its investigation, and hasn’t announced what kinds of charges they will bring. Among the other aspects of the case include the allegation that the ref uttered some racial slurs — John Jay HS, the team that the two boys play for, is predominately Hispanic.

There’s also serious talk that an assistant coach for John Jay, Mack Reed, had urged his players that “the ref needs to pay for cheating us.” John Jay had lost the game 15-9 to Marble Falls, and the two players hit the ref with less than a minute to go in the game.

Kallas pointed out that the ref, who is white, has been officiating HS and college football in San Antonio for 14 years. There are no accounts of his using racial taunts in any time of his career. In fact, in the one statement that the ref has made to the media, he acknowledged that he was injured by the attack and  also asserts that he has been “libeled and slandered.” I assume that has to do with the charges that he made racist comments.

We’ll have to wait to see how all of this plays out, but in my opinion, this was a deliberate and premeditated act. I think that’s VERY significant because there have been past incidents where HS or college players have –  in the heat of the moment of a close game – jumped up and attacked or punched refs or umps after a tough call.

But here, this one clearly had to be planned out, and discussed by the two players. Being a premeditated  act to injure the ref is significant.

Next issue: What happens to the John Jay assistant coach, who is currently on administrative leave? He’s the one who allegedly told the players that the ref “had to pay for cheating us.” It would seem the kids took this quite literally. Is the coach liable for exhorting his players in this manner?

Bear in mind that harsh comments and threats are routinely by coaches in a contact sport like football, as in, “I want you to go out there and play smash-mouth football on  that team…really let ‘em really have it!” But can you make a case that these two kids simply followed their coach’s advice?

Next issue: if the older player is 17, will be charged as an adult for assault? If so, he could be looking at some serious jail time. Does it make any difference that maybe he heard some racial taunts? As Kallas explained, no, racial slurs do not justify physical retaliation.

And finally, once the criminal implications are finalized, what’s the civil liability for these two kids and their family? What about the school, John Jay? Could they be found liable for having a coach on its payroll who urged these kids to hurt a game official?

All in all, this is a terrible black eye for HS sports. Even more, have we now reached the point where we have to literally warn and caution our young athletes NOT to attack or assault officials, refs, or umpires? How sad.

 

DANGERS OF CYBERSPACE: Pace University Football Captain Kicked off Team for Posing in Photo with Confederate Flag While Giving Nazi Salute

I have railed many times on this blog about how incredible it is that young athletes just don’t seem to comprehend the instantaneous and  far-reaching power of social media. Here’s the latest, hard-to-believe incident:

I can only assume –  hope? – that Tyler Owens, who is a captain of the Pace University football team in Pleasantville, NY, thought it was a joke to pose with a Confederate flag draped over his body while making a Nazi salute. Its caption is “The Grand Wizard,” a reference to the traditional leader of the Ku Klux Klan. The photo went viral on Snapchat. A number of African-American students and athletes saw the photo and immediately complained vigorously.

Owens, 6-1, 255 lbs, is a senior defensive lineman at Pace where he served as a captain last season as well. A criminal justice major, he was named to the Northeast-10 Conference Second Team last year.

It is, of course,  hard to comprehend why a senior in college — and a leader on the school’s football team — couldn’t foresee the kinds of problems that this photo would cause. Yes, some have said it was clearly intended as a joke, a prank. But in these sensitive times, it’s hard to find anyone who sees any humor in this kind of staged photo.

And I guess one could argue that Owens is entitled to his First Amendment rights to express his own personal views. Of course, if he really does embrace racist and anti-Semitic philosophies, well, that’s another matter. A very sad matter.

In any event, the president of Pace, Steven J. Friedman, immediately stripped Owens of his captaincy and also has suspended him from playing football while an internal investigation is undertaken. For Owens, this is going to be a very hard lesson to learn — especially because it’s the kind of mistake that is easily avoided.

You just have to wonder….how does this stuff continue to happen?

 

DANGERS OF HAZING: After a Serious Hazing Incident, HS Football Players Win the Right to Continue Season

Well, if it’s HS football season… then unfortunately, it’s also hazing season.

That’s not to say that hazing doesn’t occur in all sports…it certainly does.  But that being said, hazing seems to be an unwanted annual tradition when it comes to HS football — and especially during August football training camps.

Now, of course, Sayreville HS  of New Jersey was in the national headlines last year, and this past week, that case was adjudicated in juvenile court with several Sayreville HS football players being hit with various punishments. Since they were minors in the eyes of the law, most of them received slaps on the wrists – 50 hours of community service and placed on probation for a year.

Of course, being a minor is no excuse for being stupid or cruel to one’s teammates, but the prosecutor made his ruling.

Personally  — I’m not sure that 50 hours of community service and a year of probation makes the victims of these hazing crimes feel vindicated, but that’s a discussion for another time. I mean, if it were your kid who had been hazed, how would you feel about this ruling?

My point is this….each year we discuss the hazards of hazing, and each year, it never seems to go away. Hazing seems to be fully entrenched in American sports —  and no matter how many times we warn our kids, or hold seminars, the athletes either feel our warnings don’t apply to them, or that they won’t be caught.

And now….here’s our latest hazing incident making headlines. This one is courtesy of Susan B. Wagner HS in Staten Island, where it’s alleged that in late August at an upstate NY football training camp, a number of upperclassmen on the Wagner football team hazed sophomores and antagonized freshman players.

Such hazing accusations included: older players shooting at younger players with a BB gun… drawing obscene cartoons on the younger kids with a permanent marker…players being hit with a broom… and pushing one’s butt into the face of younger players.

Now, again, these are merely allegations at this point…nothing has been proven yet.  But the principal at Wagner HS immediately suspended all football practices AND all games until the investigation is done.

But here’s where this hazing case gets a little interesting….

A bunch of HS seniors on the Wagner football team threatened to file a lawsuit against the Dept of Education saying it’s not fair for the ENTIRE football team to be punished…that their season is now in jeopardy of not happening, that this is the last year they can play varsity football, that they run the risk of losing possible college football scholarships, and that only those kids who were responsible for the hazing should be punished – NOT the entire team.

Now, that’s an interesting point of view — and these seniors were most serious.

They’re claiming that this hazing was only committed by a handful of players, and that it’s not fair to ruin the entire football season because of these miscreants.

And here’s the interesting twist: this past Friday, the Dept of Education basically AGREED with the senior players, and they have LIFTED the suspension on Wagner HS football. In short, the kids are allowed to go back and resume football practices and play games.

Apparently, once the hazing allegations had been uncovered over the last few weeks, the four or five players who were directly involved have been suspended and are the process of being disciplined. But the rest of the team is now cleared to go back to practicing and to continue their games.

In short, because of a handful of bad apples, the school was ready to cancel the season. After all, that universally seems to be the precedent for hazing on a HS team. Just as it happened at Sayreville HS last fall when their season was cancelled and in that case, the long-time coach was dismissed as well.

This reversal by the Dept of Education, then, represents a precedent-setting kind of ruling: that school officials should not immediately cancel a season, but rather, only focus on those kids who were the troublemakers. Sounds like common sense, to be sure, but again, that has rarely been the pattern in these hazing cases.

Was this right thing to do? Are these senior football players to be saluted for sticking up for their last HS season? And how does an administrator figure out which specific kids are to be punished?

And of course, the question needs to be asked: how could the coaches not be aware of these kinds of shenanigans? Most coaches will tell you that they hear rumors and gossip all the time about their players – if that’s true, is it possible that these coaches weren’t aware of something going on? And why didn’t the senior players — who must have heard something about the hazing plans – why didn’t they speak up and prevent this from happening?

These are tough questions, but they need to be asked. After all, hazing still haunts our kids in HS, and until we can find a real way to eradicate it, sadly, it’s just going to continue.

COACHING TIPS: Team Managers Need to Be Totally Organized

Tips for Team Managers: Help the Coach, Help the Kids

By Stephanie Myers, TeamSnap Content Manager

Everybody’s busy nowadays. Between work, your social life, your kids’ school and extracurricular activities, and family obligations, being asked to be team manager can seem like just one more thing to do.

While it might be a tough role at times, when it comes to helping out with your kid’s team, it means you’re there with your child, experiencing the good times and bad, making memories for a lifetime. It also means you’re making the job easier for the coach, who is often a volunteer and often has way too much to do (sounds familiar, right?).

So what does it take to be a great team manager? Here are a few tips culled from TeamSnap’s more than 8 million users on how to get off on the right foot and keep moving in the right direction all season long.

Don’t do it alone.

A mistake that many managers make is that they simply fail to delegate. Let other parents chip in on some of the simpler tasks on your team manager to do list, like bringing snacks, planning or hosting the end-of-season party and recording team stats. Make a list of all the jobs you want others to handle and add them to the list of other required team volunteer positions like referee and field prep, so you know just how much help you need. Then, throw a preseason team cookout and have your list ready. This way, you let parents and players get acquainted (or become reacquainted) in a casual setting, and you can make sure every volunteer job is filled before the end of the event.

Be prepared.

The team manager is kind of like a superhero, and you never know when you’ll need to duck into a phone booth to don your cape. Being as prepared as possible will ultimately make your job easier. One of the most important things you can do is create a team roster with everyone’s contact information, especially cell phone numbers. While it’s a good idea to distribute this to every parent on the team, no one needs this info more than you do. Although you can easily have paper copies available, there are also team management apps that allow you to access the roster online or on your mobile phone. That way, if you’re at a field and two players are late, you can call the parents to find out where they are and when they’ll be at the field, while the coach is getting the rest of the team ready to play.

Let technology make your job easier.

Thankfully, most people are now comfortable with email and texting as the primary method of communication for team info, which can dramatically speed up your job. However, there are other ways to make your job as team manager easier as well. Team management tools, like TeamSnap, automate a lot of these processes for you. In addition to letting you create, update and store a team roster, tools like TeamSnap let you see players’ availability for games and practices, assign snack duties and to keep track of who has paid their registration or uniform fees.

Have fun!

Finally, being a great team manager is about keeping the team running smoothly so the kids can have fun! And that’s what it’s really all about.

Want more tips? Check out blog.teamsnap.com or the TeamSnap Youth Sports Podcast for everything a coach, manager or sports parent needs. We’re here to make your managing and coaching experience as smooth and easy as possible!

About the author: Stephanie Myers is the content manager for TeamSnap, a web and mobile app used by 8 million coaches, parents, team managers and players to tame the logistical nightmare of wrangling schedules, practices, equipment and volunteers, providing up-to-the-second info on where everyone needs to be and what they need to bring.

 

TITLE IX ISSUES: Should Boys Be Allowed to Play on Girls’ HS Teams?

This is a topic we’ve covered before, and not surprisingly, it keeps popping up in the news. It’s worth reviewing again.

I picked up my local newspaper the other day and I was reading about a sport with which I admittedly have little expertise in….HS field hockey.

I’m reading about how Lakeland HS has won six straight NYS championships in field hockey, and in fact, hasn’t lost to a NY State-based team since 2008 – that’s a long time ago.

But this year, Lakeland is going to face a major challenge from Rye HS, which has its own terrific program, and this fall, Rye is going to feature not one but two male players on its team.

And that’s where I got thinking…

Is it really the purpose of Title IX to allow boys to play on girls’ teams?

This issue came up a few years ago when a boy named Keeling Pilaro played on a HS field hockey team at Southhampton HS on Long Island. He was allowed to play, for a year or two, until the governing HS body – Section 11 of NYS — decided that he was, in effect, becoming too good a player and would dominate against the girls.

The reality was that Pilaro stood only 4’8 and weighed 90 pounds. And yet, the ruling body felt that his presence would dominate the outcome of games. Section 11 decided to ban him from playing after his freshman year.

We’ve also talked about boys playing for a girls’ HS volleyball team. That happened up in Chappaqua, NY at Horace Greeley HS, where two boys – claiming that there was no comparable HS boys volleyball program – were allowed to play on the girls’ team.

As I recall, those boys had to first pass some sort of physical test that would show that they weren’t TOO strong to play against the girls. I never really understood how a test like that works. Besides, if a boy wanted to play on the girls’ team, wouldn’t he try to fail that test that shows he’s too strong?

Now, on the flip side, there have been lots of instances where girls have played on baseball teams, or have wrestled on boys’ teams, or played ice hockey or football.

But some  questions still haunt me….specifically:

If it’s okay for boys to play on a girls’ team, why wouldn’t I go out – as a HS coach  – and try to recruit a bunch of boys to start playing field hockey when they are in middle school so that they have the requisite training and skill to compete at the varsity level a few years later?

And then they could compete on the girls team, saying that their schools don’t have a comparable field hockey team for boys. How could a governing body decide to ban them all from playing? Isn’t that total sex discrimination?

Another question…if a boy is playing on the girls’ field hockey team or volleyball team, isn’t he taking playing time or even a roster spot from a deserving girl?

Isn’t that totally against the spirit of Title IX — which promises fairness and equality for girls?

These are tricky questions, and I invited Nancy Haggerty, the well-respected sports writer for The Journal News, onto my show to discuss. Nancy felt that perhaps the best solution would be to allow any boy or any girl to try out and play any sport they chose in HS. Yes, they would still have to make the team based on talent, but that would be the ultimate determinant, not one’s gender.

We had our usual good questions this AM, including whether it would be fair for big, hefty boys to play field hockey. For example, in Massachusetts, where boys have played on girls’ field hockey teams for decades, it’s common for good-sized boys to compete. Just a couple of years ago, in a championship game with the score tied, a hefty fellow bowled over the goalie to score the winning goal. In fact, the goalie suffered a serious concussion from the hit.

But as Nancy pointed out, there are HS girls who are also fairly hefty in size, and that kind of hit could have happened from a girl running over the goalie.

So what’s the bottom line? Hard to say. There are just too many layers to peel away here. But I could definitely see a situation where a talented male athlete is banned from playing on a girls’ team, and that boy could end up suing for sexual discrimination. Or a situation where 6-7 boys end up playing on a girls’ field hockey team.

One thing is for sure. I don’t think this issue is going to go away soon.

SPORTSMANSHIP: Instructing Kids to Throw Games: Why Do Youth Coaches Try to Cheat?

 

Tournaments, Tanking Games, and Hating Yourself in the Morning

By Doug Abrams

 

Youth sports tournaments can bring out the best in players, but sometimes the worst in their coaches. Too often, we read or hear about coaches who scheme to deliberately lose a tournament game, hoping to position the team for an easier opponent in a later round. Another tanking scandal surfaced last week in Portland, Oregon at the Little League Softball World Series for 11- and 12-year-old girls.

The coach of the South Snohomish (Washington) team was accused of throwing a game against Salisbury, North Carolina by benching his top players and instructing the team to bunt repeatedly rather than swing away, sometimes even with two strikes. Washington had won all three of its earlier tournament games in pool play, but lost this game, 8-0, on a no-hitter. Based on tiebreakers, North Carolina advanced with Washington to the next round. North Carolina’s victory eliminated Polk City, Iowa, which had earlier played Washington tough.

“Credible Reports”

In a press release responding to Iowa’s protest, Little League International said somewhat gently that it had “received credible reports that some teams did not play with the effort and spirit appropriate for any Little League game.” The reports were so credible that the governing body prescribed an extraordinary remedy. It ordered Washington and Iowa to play a special playoff game the next day to determine which team would advance.

In a statement reported in the Des Moines Register, the Washington league’s president acknowledged that his coach had strayed. Our coach was faced with a decision that, in the bubble of intense competition, appeared to him to be in the best interest of our team. In hindsight, it is very likely he would have made a different choice. Though the decision that [the coach] made did not violate the letter of the rules, I can see abundant evidence that it was not in line with the spirit of the game.”

The Washington league’s president placed the blame where it belonged. “[T]he decisions that have placed our team under scrutiny were decisions made by the coach. Our young ladies had no role in that. In fact, they have fought their hearts out to be in the World Series and nothing should take away from that accomplishment.” The president intimated that the coach had deprived the 11-12-year-old girls of “the opportunity to compete in a way that honors their commitment to fair play and open competition.” 

Iowa came from behind to win the special playoff game, 3-2. The victory ended Washington’s run, and North Carolina won the national title later in the week by downing Warwick, Rhode Island, 4-2, in the finals.

When a Coach Tanks a Game, the Players Lose

Last week’s events in Portland received coast-to-coast media attention because they occurred on a high-profile national stage awash in television coverage, the Little League Softball World Series. But in a variety of sports, even local and statewide tournaments below the media’s radar screen can tempt coaches to compromise (as Washington’s president put it) “fair play and open competition.”

Three stories – from Tennessee, Manitoba, and California — describe the invariable formula that unfolded in Portland last week. The coach schemes to lose the game, the players obey the coach’s instructions, and the players end up as the real losers in one way or another.

Tennessee: “A Farce”

In Tennessee early this year, Riverdale High School faced Smyrna High School in a Tennessee girls’ basketball district tournament. Obeying their head coaches’ instructions, both teams tried their hardest to lose the game.

The coaches knew that the winner would face defending state and national champion, Blackman High, in the semifinals, but that the loser would move into the opposite bracket. With both teams intent on throwing the game, the London Daily Mail called the contest “a farce.” Players on both teams deliberately missed more than a dozen free throws and committed multiple game violations.  When one girl was about to try to score on her own team’s basket, the referees finally stopped the game to warn both coaches.

The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association imposed sanctions that stigmatized innocent players for their coaches’ misdeeds. The Association dismissed both schools from the tournament and placed them on probation for the upcoming season.

Manitoba: “We Had To Put Up With It”

In 2011, tanking marred an early round of the Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) High School Hockey League’s A-Division playoffs.  The Westwood High School Warriors led College Jeanne Sauve, 3-2, late in the third period, when Westwood’s coaches schemed to lose the game by pulling their goalie to let the opponents score. The coaches knew that by losing, the Warriors would draw an easier opponent in the upcoming semifinal round and avoid a faceoff against the league’s regular-season champion. With their net empty, the Warriors gave up the tying and winning goals and lost, 4-3.

The Winnipeg Sun reported that many Warriors players left the ice “visibly distraught” because they knew that their coaches had deliberately thrown the game. “It was brutal,” a Warriors forward told the Sun.  “We were embarrassed, and we’re sad we had to put up with it.”

Westwood’s players assumed leadership after their coach abdicated his responsibilities. With the coach quickly suspended for unethical conduct, the players themselves agreed to face the regular-season champion in the semis, the match-up that a victory honestly earned against College Jeanne Sauve would have produced.

California: “Most of Us Did Not Like the Idea”

Coaching shenanigans marred the U.S. Youth Soccer Association Region IV playoffs in Honolulu in June of 2003. With his team ahead 1-0 and about five minutes left to play, the coach of the U-17 De Anza Sharks of Cupertino, California instructed his girls to lose by scoring twice on themselves. The strategy was to avoid a strong opponent in the next round. The Sharks lost the game, 2-1.

“Our coach looked at the brackets,” a Sharks player told the Alameda (Calif.) Journal afterwards, “and he felt it would be best if we played a weaker opponent in the second round. He brought up [the idea of deliberately losing] to us before the game. Most of us did not like the idea, but he was our coach and he felt it was the best thing to do.”

Hating Yourself In the Morning

Many youth coaches doubtlessly weigh tactics during playoffs and other tournaments, which frequently feature multiple games in a few days, sometimes on only a few hours’ rest. To conserve stamina with the team comfortably ahead, for example, the coach may pace first-stringers and reward substitutes with extra playing time.

The ethical compass points in a different direction, however, when the coach deliberately tries to lose a game. The line between reasonable pacing and deliberately trying to lose may sometimes be hazy, but coaches cross the line when the players themselves figure out that the team is pulling a fast one. Players are perceptive enough to know what is happening when the coach instructs players to bunt their way through a no-hitter, instructs the team score on itself, or pulls the goalie when the team is winning late in the game.

The integrity of sports depends on competitors who try their best to win. Angling to lose brings dishonor by denying every competitor the spice that comes from physically and emotionally invigorating competition. The British Association of Coaches points the ethical compass in the right direction: “Sport without fair play is not sport and honours won without fair play can have no real value.”

When they cut ethical corners, coaches and players alike may wake up hating themselves in the morning, when their scheming begins to sink in.  Not only that, but the coaches can pay a heavy price because no person of character respects a cheat for very long. I doubt that the Washington, Tennessee, Manitoba, or California coaches had much of a real future with their organizations, or with any other ethical organization that heard about how they let down their players.

Most youth league tankings do not reach the newspapers, but word gets around in cities, suburbs, and outstate areas alike. Even if a sullied coach returns, the cloud of suspicion and distrust can linger because Benjamin Franklin was right: “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”

In a real sense, then, the players are not the only losers when a youth team throws a game. The coach also loses because personal reputation endures longer than the aura of today’s victory. If the coach senses that players might recognize tanking, they probably will. When in doubt, don’t.

 

[Sources: John Naughton, Iowa Little League Squad Beats Team Accused of Tanking, But Loses in Semis, Des Moines Register & USA Today (Aug. 18, 2015);  Coach of Wash. Little League Softball Team Alleged to Have Thrown Game Lashes Out, USA TODAY, Aug. 20, 2015; Oliver O’Connell, Two High School Basketball Teams Suspended For BOTH Trying to Lose the Same Game – With One Player Even Shooting Into Her Own Basket, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2969629/We-NOT-champions-Two-girls-high-school-basketball-teams-suspended-trying-lose-game.html (Feb. 25, 2015); Tom Kreager & Mealand Ragland, Riverdale, Smyrna Coaches Suspended for 2015-16 Season, District Says, Daily News Journal (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), Feb. 25, 2015; Ken Wiebe, Swift Hockey Justice, Winnipeg Sun, Mar. 5, 2011, p. S3; Mike McGreehan, Board Takes Action Against Youth Coach, Alameda (Calif.) Journal, Sept. 23, 2003, p. B1]

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

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

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

Let me dissect the three issues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: What Happens if The Refs Stop Stop Showing Up at the Games?

 Another State Reports a Shortage of Youth League Referees

By Doug Abrams

“Help Wanted: High School Officials.”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a feature story with this headline less than two weeks ago. Writer David La Vaque reported that since 2010-2011, the ranks of referees and other game officials has steadily declined statewide in every high school sport except boys’ lacrosse. Hoping to replenish the dwindling ranks, the Minnesota High School League has reduced registration fees for new officials and offers incentives to officials and member schools that recruit replacements.

To readers who follow Rick Wolff’s blog, a primary reason for Minnesota’s acute shortage of officials comes as no surprise. Indeed, the refrain has become distressingly familiar. The League’s associate director told the Star Tribune that an array of “‘sportsmanship issues’ causes most officials to quit and presents ‘a major hurdle when recruiting new officials.’” La Vaque pinpoints “a sometimes hostile game environment, chiefly created by critical coaches and parents.”

The causes and consequences of referee shortages are not only a Minnesota problem. They are a national problem that the media has spotlighted for several years now.  From coast to coast, interscholastic conferences and youth leagues face a steady exodus of veteran officials who have grown disgusted with the verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse inflicted on them by parents and coaches. Many adult officials signed up to serve kids and to remain active in their sport, but they reach the tipping point before long.

Last year, for example, the Bakersfield Californian reported that all county high school varsity and sub-varsity leagues continued to experience referee attrition similar to that now reported in Minnesota. A former president of the county’s Officials Association, a longtime baseball umpire, explained the primary cause this way: “Nobody wants to umpire because most people . . . don’t want to go out there and get yelled at, screamed at, and shown up.” Shades now of Minnesota.

Turning to the Teens

Referee attrition also affects community youth leagues for players younger than high school age. Many leagues recruit teens to replace disgusted adult officials in the younger age groups. In my last few years coaching squirt hockey teams for 9-10-year-olds, I cannot recall ever having a referee over the age of about fifteen, except occasionally in the playoffs.

Teen referees see officiating as an opportunity to earn a few dollars, to assume a leadership role, and to demonstrate community service on their college applications.  In my experience, the teens take their responsibility seriously and generally do an excellent job. But they too are often chased away, once they or their parents grow concerned about threats and other harassment inflicted by parents and coaches who doubtlessly perceive the adolescents as even easier marks than adult officials. And who can forget that every teen official they target is someone else’s child?

In 2013, CBC News (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) ran a story under the headline, Teen Hockey Refs Quitting Over Verbal Abuse. The vice president of the Saskatchewan Referees Association explained why so many teens in the province refuse to officiate in the younger age groups. “I go the rink all the time and supervise,” he said, and “I have a hard time sitting there and watching games because parents just start yelling and swearing for no reason.” The targeted referees are “kids . . . doing their best,” but “parents expect NHL referees.”

Facing the Consequences

Some consequences of the referee exodus are readily apparent to anyone who pays even glancing attention. The media reports that games sometimes may have to be postponed, rescheduled, or even canceled. Seasons may have to be shortened so that league schedules do not outpace the roster of available officials.

But another especially harmful consequence can escape the untrained eye even when schedules and seasons remain untouched. Particularly in contact and collision sports, the shortage of experienced officials can increase the risk of injury to players, including ones who play clean and follow the rules of the game.

My most recent column spotlighted a new youth soccer study that linked injury to lax officiating. The study’s head researcher told the New York Times that soccer concussion rates would fall “if referees, coaches and players would enforce the existing rules” against rough play.

“To be effective for promoting safety,” said an earlier medical study, a 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.”

Rigorous, consistent enforcement and control can be an early casualty of avoidable referee attrition. When so many veteran referees quit before their time, many replacement refs are simply not yet ready for the responsibilities cast on them. But for the premature departures of so many veteran officials, many of the replacements would not yet be on the field.

Taking Meaningful Action

By constantly recruiting new officials to replace veterans who hasten to hang up their whistles, leagues resemble walkers on a treadmill. Leagues and individual schools and teams should also focus on a primary source of much of the problem, the frankly unacceptable conduct of many parents and coaches. In a 2013 column, I discussed necessary initial measures, which emphasize leagues’ internal discipline but may extend to charging errant adults with endangering the welfare of a child when the target of particularly abusive conduct is a teen referee. http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2013/12/17/obnoxious-sports-parents-taking-ones-frustrations-teenage-refs/

 

 

Sources: David La Vaque, Help Wanted: High School Officials, Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minn.), July 31, 2015; Jeff Evans, Kern County Association Faces Referee Shortage, Bakersfield Californian, June 10, 2014; CBC News, Teen Hockey Refs Quitting Over Verbal Abuse, Nov. 25, 2013; Gretchen Reynolds, Heading Ban for Youth Soccer Won’t End Head Injuries, Int’l N.Y. Times, July 15, 2015; Charles H. Tator et al., Spinal Injuries in Canadian Ice Hockey: An Update to 2005, 19 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.

 

TRENDS IN SPORTS: What’s the Fastest Growing Sport with Kids in the Midwest?

I wasn’t able to do my radio show this Sunday AM because I’m home recuperating from hip surgery. Specifically, I had my right hip “resurfaced” —  which is a form of hip replacement that is designed to allow the patient to maintain more stability and mobility once I recover. Like most of you, I very much enjoy staying active and still jog, throw batting practice, take long walks with my wife, etc.

But over the last year (I just turned 64), I was finding I couldn’t do simple things, like stand up straight, or get a good night’s sleep, or even walk more than a half a mile. I couldn’t even put my socks on or tie my right shoelace. Medical visits and X-rays ensued, and apparently, my trusty right hip was beginning to show the battle scars of years and years of baseball, basketball, track and field, and football. Arthritis, bone spurs,  and receding cartilage were all in evidence.

Ironically, though, my hip actually never hurt. But boy, my right thigh, and lower right back were on fire, non-stop. And it wasn’t getting better.

But enough. The surgery, according to the doc (Dr. Edwin Su of the Hospital for Special Surgery in NYC), was a success, and now I just have to rehab to get back to form again.

And when I do return to active status, one of the most popular sports I’ll have to check on is….trapshooting!

According to the recent issue of BusinessWeek, one of the most popular HS sports in Minnesota these days is competitive trapshooting. Y’know, that’s the old country club sport where one is equipped with a shotgun, and then you yell, “Pull!” and you shoot a flying piece of clay.

For some unexplained reason, HS kids — not just in Minnesota where there are now close to 10,000 HS competitors – but also in the neighboring states of Wisconsin, North Dakota, Arizona, South Dakota, Illinois and Kansas, trapshooting has become THE sport.

As you might imagine, rifle manufacturers are thrilled as they assume a kid’s fascination with trap shooting will lead to a life-long interest in shooting, which tends to be an expensive sport (for starters, you need a shotgun and ammo, which can cost in the thousands).

But beyond that, I’m a little puzzled that State HS Athletic Associations — and parents – would give their blessing to this kind of potentially dangerous sport –  especially in light of the endless parade of  shootings and killings that appear in our headlines everyday. And in urban areas of the US, local authorities are doing the best they can to get teenage kids to STOP carrying guns so that they will stop shooting other people.

There’s some sort of irony here. In short, depending on where you live, you can become a HS hero and state champion by shooting a rifle well…whereas in other parts of the country, there are too many guns floating around, ending lives. Yes, I know there’s a distinct difference between a HS shooting contest as opposed to carrying a weapon around to protect oneself, but still – guns, rifles, and shotguns all make me nervous, especially when teenagers handle them.