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.

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SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: How To Keep Kids Interested in Youth League Baseball

Suddenly, and seemingly overnight, Major League Baseball has woken up to the reality that kids all over America are losing interest in the national pastime.

Yes, baseball continues to be one of the nation’s most popular sports, but the reality is hard to dispute: According to one major media outlet, it’s estimated that more than a million kids stopped playing youth league baseball in the US in the last year or so.

It’s true: how many times have we heard from youth and LL coaches over the past decade that the number of kids signing up for baseball has shrunk more and more every spring?

And in truth, I really can’t blame the kids. For decades, come spring time, the only game in town for kids to play was baseball….that was pretty much it. But now of course, these days there are lots of other sports that are beckoning kids, soccer and lax, just to name two, and they do a much better job of attracting children than baseball does.

Look, you know that I love all sports, but baseball is still my favorite — and yet, even I have to admit that youth baseball practices and games haven’t really changed much or improved over the years. For a lot of young kids, it’s just boring. I mean, who wants to stand around in the hot outfield sun for hours, and never get a ball? Who wants to play in a game where they are endless walks?

And now, kids are walking away from baseball. Under Commissioner Bud Selig, he never seemed to be bothered by this migration away from the game. How could he ignore the young fan base of the game? Perhaps he just focused too much on the billions in TV revenue and attendance records at games. But the youth base has been eroding for years.

At least the new Commissioner, Rob Manfred, does seem to get this. In fact, he has set up a youth initiative called Play Ball, which is aimed to stimulate more interest in kids wanting to play baseball. There’s even a website called PlayBall.org, MLB is now running some slick commercials aimed at kids and baseball, and MLB has set up a tournament or two. All this being said, the effort still seems a bit unfocused as to how MLB is going to stimulate more kids’  interest in baseball. That being said, they have devoted $30 million to help the cause.

Bu if you’re a youth league baseball coach NOW, you need to get answers NOW on how to keep kids involved in the game.  It’s a pressing issue.

My guest this AM was Dan Venezia who was a star baseball player at Concordia College (Bronxville, NY) and then was drafted and signed by the Minnesota Twins. Dan is heavily involved in youth league baseball in New Jersey, and his ideas are right on target, most notably;

KEEP PRACTICES MOVING

Take the time to map out what drills and skills you want the kids to work on, and organize the drills into short 5-minute intervals.  Everybody gets a turn or even more, and make sure lots of praise accompanies their efforts.

TOUCH THE BALL

Along those lines, Dan made it clear that kids need to “touch the ball” a lot in practices. Make sure that happens, whether they’re fielding, throwing, or pitching. Get them to be familiar with the baseball.

COACH, YOU PITCH!

The fun of the game is to make solid contact with a pitched ball. But too few kids have the skill to throw strikes. Coach, YOU take the mound and work diligently to pitch to each kid’s sweet spot, regardless of their ability. The more kids make contact with the ball, the more action takes place in the field, and the more fun ensues. Plus the game and practices go quickly, and everybody participates.

KEEP THEM MOVING AROUND

Perhaps the key to keeping kids involved in the sport at the youth level is to make sure all the kids rotate positions in the field. Too many coaches focus on just playing their best players at SS or as a pitcher. Let all the kids change positions — that’s not only key for their development, but it also shows them that you have confidence in their abilities. Coach — don’t worry so much about the final score — worry more about the kids enjoying themselves.

As Dan concludes, at the end of the year, the best way to measure how much you have succeeded as a coach is not by your team’s won-loss record at the youth level, but how many kids can’t wait to sign up for next year.

COACHING TIPS: Let TeamSnap Simplify Your Sports Parenting Life

Three Ways Parents Can Guarantee a Great Start to Each Sports Season

 By Stephanie Myers, TeamSnap Content Manager

No matter what the sport, the start of a new season can be challenging —  not only for the players but also for their parents. A new season means new names to learn, new responsibilities to take on, schedules to adjust, and maybe even a new coach to get to know. But it’s all in the name of helping your young athletes play, which helps them stay active for life and learn the kind of team skills they will benefit from both now and later in life.

Start your season with greater ease using these tips from eight million customers worldwide. They all use TeamSnap to simplify being a youth sports parent.

Help the coach. Coaches (who are, of course, often volunteers) spend hours of time planning practices, scheduling games and mentoring your athletes, and many feel that often parents have only criticisms to offer. Try and turn that attitude around. Show the coach that there’s no better way to help the team and show the coach your appreciation than by volunteering to help. Organize the carpool or the snack duties. Take on ordering uniforms. Do whatever you can, and with team management apps that exist now, it’s much easier than ever before.

 Make friends with the team. You know that being on a team teaches a sense of community and trust to your child, so model the behavior you’d like to see by jumping in and being an active team parent. Offer to host a pre-season BBQ so everyone can get to know each other. Learn names and make friends. A team should be a real community for everyone involved — coaches, assistants, team managers, parents and players.

Watch your words! Being part of a team brings a sense of community, but it can also frustrate you at times. Maybe the coach doesn’t seem to appreciate your kid’s talents enough, or other parents are becoming rude during games. Maybe the officials aren’t on top of their stuff.

We all have been there, in one form or another, and too often we say something we instantly regret. Here’s quick but essential advice: When something truly annoys you, first take a deep breath and take a step back.

Then, think in advance of what you’re going to say. I know, it’s not always easy. But once you say something, it’s impossible to retrieve your words. They’re out there in the open. Think first before you talk!

Want more parenting tips and stories from the world of youth sports? Check out the TeamSnap Community page for everything a coach, manager or sports parent needs, or subscribe to blog.teamsnap.com.

 

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.

DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: A Closer Look at Prevention in Youth Soccer

A New Safety Study Sheds New Light on Heading the Ball in Youth Soccer

By Doug Abrams

In Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and on television, soccer fans winced when United States midfielder Morgan Brian and German forward Alexandra Popp struck heads as each went airborne trying to head the ball in the World Cup semifinals on June 30. The dramatic moment and its aftermath added fuel to a debate that dominates discussion about youth soccer concussions.  At least for players under 14, should youth leagues ban heading (using the head to redirect the ball, sometimes as it travels at significant speeds)?

As Rick Wolff discussed last week, a new study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics suggests that the question may be more easily asked than answered. The study’s research team examined reported soccer concussions at 100 public and private high schools from 2005 to 2014. Heading the ball figured in about 30% of boys’ concussions and about 25% of girls’ concussions during that nine-year period.

These are hefty percentages, but most of the concussions did not result from head-on-ball contact. Most resulted from contact between the opposing players as each attempted heading. The research team concluded that “[s]occer has been allowed to become a more physical sport over time because more athlete-athlete contact is occurring, without a concurrent increase in the frequency of fouls or sanctions awarded by referees.”

Dr. Dawn Comstock, University of Colorado School of Public Health epidemiologist and the study’s lead researcher, drew a fundamental lesson about player safety. She told the New York Times that soccer concussion rates would fall “if referees, coaches and players would enforce the existing rules” against rough play. “There will always be some athlete-athlete contact while soccer is played,” she explained to the Los Angeles Times, “but a large amount of the athlete-athlete contact . . . is technically against the rules of the game.”

“A Risk Control Measure”

The relationship between rules enforcement and player safety transcends youth soccer. Dr. Comstock also participated in a 2008 study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital (citation below), which concerned nine high school sports (boys’ football, soccer, basketball, wrestling and baseball; and girls’ soccer, volleyball, basketball and softball). Researchers estimated that between 2005 and 2007, more than 98,000 injuries in these sports were directly related to an act that a referee or disciplinary committee ruled illegal. Thirty-two percent of these injuries were to the head or face, and 25% were concussions.

The Children’s Hospital study was unequivocal: “Reducing the number of injuries attributable to illegal activity in general among US high school athletes can specifically reduce the number of injuries to the head/face and concussions.”

“Each sport has . . . rules developed to promote fair competition and protect participants from injury,” the Children’s Hospital researchers explained. “[E]nforcing rules and punishing illegal activity is a risk control measure that may reduce injury rates by modifying players’ behavior.”

Rules and Referees

The JAMA Pediatrics study reminds us that a youth sport’s playing rules are merely words on pieces of paper. Achieving the rules’ protective purpose depends on enforcement by parents, coaches, and referees at the local level, but the adults often do not live up to their responsibilities. In prior columns, I have written about how misconduct by parents and coaches during heated games can compromise player safety, regardless of what the rulebook says. http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2012/03/22/all-safety-is-local-part-i/ ; http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2012/03/29/all-safety-is-local-part-ii/ . In the last few paragraphs here, I will discuss how that misconduct can endanger player safety by weakening rules enforcement by referees and other game officials.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports agreement among sports medicine professionals that “[o]fficials controlling the physicality of the game . . . can . . . play significant roles in reducing contact injuries.”  Many communities, however, suffer a steady exodus of experienced officials who grow disgusted with the verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse inflicted on them from coaches on the benches and parents in the stands.

Rules enforcement, and thus player safety, suffers when so many veteran officials hang up their whistles before their time. Many replacement officials are inexperienced, unprepared for responsibilities thrust on them, and frequently not ready to control fast-paced games. But for the veteran officials’ premature departures, many replacements would not be on the field.

Conclusion

The new JAMA Pediatrics study deserves the youth soccer community’s careful attention for shedding new light on risks posed by heading the ball. By emphasizing a central role for rules enforcement, the research team poses continuing challenges for soccer parents, coaches and officials who seek a healthy mix of safety and skills development.

 

Sources:  R. Dawn Comstock et al., An Evidence-Based Discussion of Heading the Ball and Concussions in High School Soccer, JAMA Pediatrics (July 13, 2015); Gretchen Reynolds, Heading Ban for Youth Soccer Won’t End Head Injuries, Int’l N.Y. Times, July 15, 2015; Sasha Harris-Lovett, Study: Even Without Heading, High School Soccer players Face Concussion Risk, Study Finds, L.A. Times, July 14, 2015; Christy Collins et al., When the Rules of the Game Are Broken: What Proportion of High School Sports-Related Injuries Are Related to Illegal Activity?, Injury Prevention, vol. 14, p. 34 (2008); Chris G. Koutures & Andrew J. M. Gregory, Injuries in Youth Soccer, Pediatrics, vol. 125, pp. 410, 412 (2010).

 

LEGAL CONCERNS: Should A College Football Player With A Liver Transplant Be Allowed to Play Again?

How badly does your kid want to play football?

I mean, would want your son want to truly risk his life to play the sport he loves?

And no….I’m not talking about suffering a concussion and the aftermath from repeated concussions.

I’m talking about a most unusual case of a Towson University football player named Gavin Class who almost died in August, 2013, during a fall practice session. He suffered a serious case of heat stroke and ruined his liver.

Class collapsed on the field, his body temperature rose to a stunning 108 degrees, and to save his life, he had to undergo 14 surgeries, including a full liver transplant.

And yet, not only has Gavin gotten better over the subsequent months, he is now dead set on playing college football again.

Perhaps “dead” set is a poor choice of words.

In any event, he’s ready to play football again this fall — except that Towson University stepped in and said no – I’m sorry – but you can’t play. Playing Division I football is just too dangerous for your health.

But here’s where the case becomes different….

A Case of Medical Disability Discimination

Class, who is listed as 6-4, 255 pounds and who has lost 60 pounds from a couple of years ago, ended up suing Towson saying that he’s being discriminated against because of his medical disability – remember, he’s had a liver transplant when he collapsed two years ago, and that qualifies as a medical disability.

This past week, a US District Judge in Maryland agreed with the young football player, and said yes, that the university had discriminated against him. The federal judge ruled that Class could indeed join the team and enter into the hot August practices.

All this being said, the court did allow the school to file an appeal in the next few days, and Towson has said that it will definitely do that.

Bear in mind that Class has to follow some strenuous medical precautions in order to play and to stay safe, including having to wear high-tech protective abdominal padding to protect his liver, and before each practice and game, he has to swallow a “thermometer pill” in order to allow a trainer to wave a hand-held monitor over his stomach for three to five seconds every 5-10 minutes to check on his body temperature.

The kid and his family have to pay for these extra medical precautions, and that’s okay with them. Overall, the judge ruled that according to the medical evidence presented to him in the case, Class would be okay to play with no fear of heatstroke.

During the trial, Class relied heavily on the testimony from medical doctors and experts from the Korey Stringer Institute. As you may recall, Korey Stringer was a star lineman for the Minnesota Vikings before suffering heat stroke and dying. This Institute, named in his honor, focuses on all issues regarding heat stroke.

In their opinion, the kid should be cleared to play football again, even though common sense would SEEM to say just the opposite. The federal judge agreed with their expertise in this matter, and in fact, as law professor Doug Abrams commented on the show this AM: “It seems that the university’s attorneys did not bring up much in the way of conflicting medical opinions. In fact, in the judge’s ruling, he even cited the lack of conflicting medical evidence. Without that balance of so-called medical opinion, the judge almost felt compelled to rely solely on the plaintiff’s evidence.”
Professor Abrams adds more: “And when Towson appeals this to a higher court, they will not be allowed to introduce new opinions or testimony. The higher court can only review what was discussed and presented in the lower court. In other words, Towson doesn’t get a ‘do-over’.”

That adds even greater strength to the sharp reality that Towson will not win this case, and that Class will play again.

What Do You Do if You’re the Coach?

The callers this AM were firmly and sharply divided on this. Several said that the young man has every right to pursue his dream of playing football, and who are we to judge him? Others stayed with the view of common sense, e.g. “How can any sane coach allow a kid with a liver transplant and who almost died two years ago to go out and play again? He’s lucky to be alive.”

Doug and I discussed the awkward spot the coach and his staff will find themselves in. How do you handle a kid like this, knowing that every time you send him into a full-contact practice or game he may get hit and die on the field? Is that fair to the coach? How about to his teammates? And even the opposing players?

In addition, the Towson staff can not simply not play the kid or just cut him. That would be a clear violation of the judge’s ruling, and as such, they have to treat Class like they treat any other player on the team.

I honestly can’t recall any kind of case like this from ever before, but it was clear from the callers on WFAN this AM that people were getting heated and emotional about this.

You should also know that Class’ family is most supportive of him and his desire to play. Other parents may take an exact opposite of this, but Jon Class, the kid’s father, has been quoted in the media as to how proud he is.

And of course there’s a lot to be proud of – Gavin Class survived a devastating injury and lived to talk about, despite liver replacement and more than a dozen operations.From that perspective, he’s to be saluted and applauded.

But personally, if it were me and my son, I just don’t know if I would let him take that risk again of playing football. There are other ways to pursue one’s passion in football, such as becoming a coach or scout or sportscaster. And he is to be praised for recuperating and becoming healthy again.

But to knowingly risk one’s life in a violent sport like football? I just don’t think it’s worth the risk.

TITLE IX ISSUES: Are

Several notable developments occurred this past week focusing on youth soccer – and most notably – on concussions and especially with girls and women who play soccer.

Let me start by giving you the headlines and we’ll go from there:

A new study,  just published by the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, says that most concussions in youth soccer are NOT caused by heading the ball…but rather by athlete-to-athlete physical contact, such as jumping up for a loose ball and banging an opposing player’s head, or getting hit in the head by an opponent’s shoulder or elbow. Or when a player is tripped and falls to the ground, banging their head, or being crashed into as a goalkeeper.

Yes, heading a ball was still the most common way to suffer a concussion, but this study made it clear that MOST concussions were caused by physical and aggressive play.

But overall – and this is significant – female soccer players were much more likely to suffer concussions than their male counterparts. Girls averaged 4.5 concussions per 10,000 games or practice, whereas the boys averaged only 2.87 per 10,000.

The conclusion from this medical paper was that soccer officials working games really need to step up and do a much better job of enforcing the rules of the game so that there is less physical contact and less aggressive play, and thereby that would reduce the number of concussions.

Now, that may be easier said than done. If you haven’t seen a HS or travel soccer match recently, trust me, they are very physical. Soccer is indeed a big-time contact sport.

Let me go on….

There was a class action lawsuit brought against FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, which claimed that FIFA and other soccer organizations need to change the rules of the sport in order to limit the risk of concussions and other head injuries to kids who play the sport.

That lawsuit, which was brought by seven amateur soccer players, was concerned that rough and aggressive play needs to be reined in. They were asking that heading be limited with younger players, making it easier to substitute in a game if a player suffers an apparent head injury, and so on.

But a federal judge in Oakland, CA,  dismissed the case against the plaintiffs, saying that they could not use the court system to change FIFA’s rules….and furthermore, it was the plaintiffs own choice to play soccer; in other words, by choosing to play soccer, they were taking on the assumption of the risk of getting hurt.

The judge ruled that not only was the court system not the right venue to change the sport’s rules, but if you don’t want your kid to get hurt playing soccer or suffer a concussion, then don’t play the sport.

That may be a bit harsh…but that’s what the court ruled.

For soccer parents, and especially whose whose girls play soccer, this is all a bit disturbing. Yes, we all want our kids to continue to play soccer and to reap all the benefits of the game, but as several of the callers mentioned today (and especially the coaches), too often the games are becoming more chippy and physical, and the officials need to take more control.

 

DEALING WITH FINANCIAL ISSUES: A Legal Overview of Fund Raising and Child Labor Laws

Do Youth Leaguers’ Candy Sales Violate the Child Labor Laws?

Fundraising and Youth Leaguers’ Safety

 By Doug Abrams

 Two weeks ago, Rick Wolff and lawyer Steve Kallas teamed up for a thought provoking show about the legality of a parent-led fundraising project favored by many high school and youth league sports programs. Parents sometimes feel compelled to “volunteer” their time staffing concession stands at professional or collegiate games for a percentage payment that goes entirely to their child’s program. It’s tough work that raises a question. Does the parents’ unpaid work violate federal or state labor laws, including minimum wage laws?

This column concerns a related question. Interscholastic and private youth leagues often require or encourage players to sell candy, participate in car washes, or perform similar fundraising chores whose proceeds go entirely to the program. Fundraising may be a condition of joining the team. Do the leagues violate the child labor laws? The answers raise legal and safety concerns, not only for sports programs, but also for scouts, marching bands, and other youth groups with tight budgets.

The Child Labor Laws

State child labor laws first appeared before World War I, and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 includes child labor provisions. The state and federal laws regulate children’s “work” or “employment.” The laws typically do not define these terms, but the first reaches much further than the second because a child may “work” without being “employed.” (Parents can grasp the distinction. College students “work” hard in the classroom, but the college does not “employ” them because it pays no wages or salary for their studies. Indeed, tuition flows in precisely the opposite direction, from the student to the college.)

The child labor laws generally prohibit work or employment below a minimum age, which (depending on the state) is usually 12 or 14. Work or employment by older children is closely regulated, and younger children typically may work or be employed only in limited activities under their parents’ direct supervision.

Legislative Amendment

Few sports programs encounter child labor difficulties over fundraising activities. In response to isolated complaints (sometimes, I suspect, from disgruntled parents who blow the whistle to labor authorities), state legislatures occasionally amend their child labor laws with narrow youth sports exemptions. These exemptions generally do not reach fundraising. In 2002, for example, the Darien (Ill.) Youth Club’s baseball commissioner received a phone call from the state labor department informing him that the club had committed 86 state child labor violations and faced fines of up to $655,000. The offenses? Paying 12- and 13-year-olds to umpire younger games for $10 a game.

After receiving the phone call, the Darien club reportedly considered asking the young umpires to volunteer, with the tacit expectation that coaches might tip them after the game. The state legislature, however, quickly amended the state’s child labor law to permit 12- and 13-year-olds to work as sports officials, but only with safeguards greater than any that today’s adults would remember from their own playing days. Among other things, the amendment requires the young official’s parent or guardian to be present at the game, and limits the number of hours a child may officiate during weeks when school is in session.

“For Their Own Purpose or Pleasure”

Rather than resort to statutory amendment, states usually conclude that children’s candy sales, car washes, and similar activities do not constitute “work” or “employment” at all, and thus do not violate the child labor laws. In 1978, for example, Pennsylvania’s attorney general concluded that volunteer clean-up activities performed by children as part of civic conservation projects in state parks and forests did not constitute “work” in violation of the state child labor act. The attorney general said that the cleanup activities did not involve “exploitation of the labor of children for commercial or other remunerative purposes.”

In 1990, Virginia’s attorney general concluded that the state child labor act did not require 15-17-year-old hospital volunteers to obtain an employment certificate before performing uncompensated service. The attorney general concluded that the act applied only to minors who were employed in “gainful” occupations, and not to “volunteers who work without compensation for their own purpose or pleasure.”

The Pennsylvania and Virginia attorneys general got it right. States should not apply child labor laws to non-hazardous fundraising activities in youth sports leagues and other youth groups. These activities are not the sort of work or employment that child labor laws were enacted to regulate. The activities do not exploit children for private profit, but rather let children earn a stake in their league’s operation and help defray registration fees and other costs. The children are the ultimate beneficiaries of the money raised.

Hazardous Activities

The child labor laws’ general inapplicability only begins the story because youth organizations’ fundraising projects are not always as benign as they seem. Some of these projects pose special hazards that require close supervision by parents, coaches, and league administrators. The requirement comes not from the force of law, but from the force of adult prudence and common sense.

The Illinois statute discussed above did not relate to fundraising, but it is helpful here because it responded to a known hazard. In prior columns, I have written about how unruly parents and coaches often inflict on teen officials the sort of emotional and sometimes physical abuse that child labor laws seem designed to regulate. http://askcoachwolff.com/2013/06/18/obnoxious-sports-parents-the-criminality-of-attacking-young-refs/ ;  http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2013/12/17/obnoxious-sports-parents-taking-ones-frustrations-teenage-refs/ Even without state child labor legislation such as the Illinois amendment, prudence and common sense would suggest (as the statute now requires) that a parent or league administrator be on the premises when a youngster officiates. Coaches in the heat of the game cannot always be trusted to fulfill responsible supervisory roles.

Door-to-Door Solicitation of Strangers

Children’s door-to-door fundraising solicitation of strangers can also raise serious hazards. In 1997, an 11-year-old New Jersey boy was murdered while selling candy door-to-door alone for his school’s Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). Reportedly he was trying to sell enough candy to earn a set of walkie-talkies offered as an incentive. A 15-year-old robbed him of $200, and strangled and sexually assaulted him.

Sensing potential danger, some states prohibit door-to-door selling by children, but the prohibitions apply only to businesses, and not to non-profit youth groups. Many youth groups reportedly instruct their members not to do fundraising by soliciting strangers door-to-door. The Girls Scouts are typical of groups that establish comprehensive safety rules, including ones requiring on-the-scene adult supervision. The Girl Scouts’ written safety rules warrant attention from sports and other youth groups that may not have ones in place, including groups that may not have considered safety issues but now believe (correctly) that they should. http://girlscouts.amesev.com/cookies/safety.htm

Thoughts About Youth Leaguers’ Fundraising

When I served as president of a mid-Missouri youth hockey program in the 1990s, preseason fundraising helped assure that price would not exclude any family from participating. Our fundraising projects differed from year to year, but they shared three basic benchmarks – they respected player safety, they were age-appropriate, and they could be completed in a discrete period. One size does not fit all because programs and communities differ, but these major projects served our hockey program well:

We printed a souvenir program, with team rosters, for sale at tournaments. We also did candy sales and occasionally raffles. Players were assigned a quota of advertising revenues to raise or candy or raffle tickets to sell, and a few parents and local businesses stood ready to help players whose families lacked the personal or business connections to meet the quotas with reasonable effort. We advised parents not to allow their players to solicit ads or sell door-to-door to strangers, though players often visited local businesses with their parents. The usual advertisers and purchasers were the player’s parents, relatives, friends, and neighbors.

Some years, we held a huge preseason garage sale in one family’s neighborhood. You would be amazed at how much outgrown clothing and other paraphernalia 150 families can collect when they clean out their attics. Players, parents and coaches together set up the sales and managed them. The sales brought in plenty of money, and the kids felt a genuine stake in the projects without facing danger.

We usually held one or more car washes, supervised by parents and coaches. Youngsters got their hands and clothes wet, but no youngster moved any car or played near any car that had the motor running.

* * * *

These fundraising projects enabled our mid-Missouri hockey program to field teams each year, and we never turned away any family for financial stress. Without weighing the child labor laws, parents were guided by prudence and common sense.

 

 

Sources: Elizabeth Weil, Playing the System, N.Y. Times, June 9, 2002, § 6, at 26 (discussing the Darien case); Ron Devlin, The Super Sellers: Despite New Jersey Tragedy, Fund-Raising By Children Isn’t Likely To Stop, Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.), Oct. 5, 1997, at B1; Girl Scout Cookie Selling Safety Rules, http://girlscouts.amesev.com/cookies/safety.htm

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COLLEGE RECRUITING: The Recruiting Myth of College O1Campus Camps

This is the time of the year in which a number of college baseball coaches put on 2-3 day camps, where prospective college baseball players pay a good-sized fee in which to go the college campus, and basically have a chance – along with dozens of other hopeful HS players – go through their paces to impress a college coach and his staff.

These camps are all legit with the NCAA, and of course, as you might imagine, college baseball coaches are thrilled that so many kids want to come to their campus, work out for them, and ideally, get the coach interested in the kid.

But this is also the time of the year when I start getting emails and phone calls from disappointed parents who complain:

“I spent a lot of money on having my son go to that camp….and I don’t think the head coach ever even knew my kid was there….

Or….

“We had written the coach weeks before, and he said he was eager to see what my boy could do and invited him to the camp. But when my boy was taking BP, the coach wasn’t even paying attention.

Or….

“It was pretty evident to everyone at the camp that the coach and his staff were only interested in watching the pitchers. They didn’t seem to show much interest in the position players, and my son, unfortunately, is an infielder.

Now…let me be careful in my words here. After all, I was a college coach for many years, and I may indeed be heading back into college coaching at some point.

And I have a number of friends who are college coaches.

That being said parents – let me be candid with you.

In theory, these on-campus try-out sessions sound wonderful. After all, what better way for a HS soph or junior to visit a college they’re interested in, meet the head coach and his staff in person, and then get a couple of days to show your ability.

Prices are usually around a few hundred dollars, with some close to $600 — not including transportation and hotel room for the kid and one’s parent. In other words, this is not cheap.

But it all sounds so good.

Now, I’m not going to say that every college baseball camp is like this, but I do get a number of reports each summer that, in effect, strongly suggest that the coach is only interested in those kids who they have recruited to their school; that is, those are the ones who get their full attention.

As for the others who show up, well, unless the coach finds a diamond in the rough, they pretty much will give you and your kid a smile and a handshake and that’s about it.

So unless your kid comes in and hits 3 or 4 homers over the wall, or throws 90+ mph, it’s just pretty much a payday for the coach and his staff.

That’s a rough accusation, but as a parent, you really need to know that.

It’s almost as though the college coach should send out an email saying, “Look, we already know who we want to recruit, so your youngster is more than welcome to come to camp and work out for us, but chances are he’s not going to make us change our minds and recruit him instead of somebody else on our list.”

That would be nice to say because it’s honest and direct, but it won’t happen. Remember, college sports are run like a business, and lots of the money that is generated from these camps go to fund travel for the college team, salaries, etc.

And it’s clearly this is not just baseball. This happens in all sorts of sports, from men’s and women’s lacrosse to men and women’s ice hockey, field hockey, football, and many more. From their perspective, this gives the youngster to visit the campus, see the athletic facilities, meet the coaches (albeit briefly), and as a result, it’s a good deal. Of course, if you’re the athlete or the parent, you come in with all those expectations and much, much more.

But sadly, after the camp is over, most kids go home, and never hear another word from that coach or his staff. In short, they aren’t interested.

Friends, this is the business of college recruiting. As several of my callers mentioned today, parents have to come to grips with the reality that college coaches, especially at the D-1 level, start recruiting top athletes when they are freshmen in HS. By the time your son has finished their junior year, if they he hasn’t heard from a D-1 coach yet, chances are they aren’t interested.

Sure, there are occasionally some kids who do become that rare find at a college summer camp, but that’s very much the exception to the rule.

My advice? Parents, sit down and be candid with your son or daughter when they are applying to college. If they want to continue to play sports in college, make sure that they — and you – – explore ALL programs at different levels so that they can find a college and athletic program that’s the right fit. Don’t expect miracles to occur in the recruiting game, but they are very much few and far betwee

DEALING WITH FINANCIAL CONCERNS: Do “Volunteer” Fund Raisers at NFL Concession Stands Break the Law?

Today’s topic is one of those sports parenting issues that I can see merits from both sides of the issue, and as such, I’m not going to take sides on this one.

But let me lay it out for you, and let’s see what you think. Here’s the story….

This has to do with sports parents who “volunteer” their time at pro or college games to generate money for their kids’ athletic program via booster clubs.

Now, lots of HS athletic programs need funding. Many HS athletic budgets these days just don’t cover all the costs of kids’ sports, whether it be for equipment, coaches, travel, etc.  So when the budget falls short, it falls upon the athletes and their parents to make up the lack of funds.

That’s pretty much NOT a headline – lots of athletic programs depend upon outside fundraisers such as pancake breakfasts or car washes or selling ad space on a HS athletic calendar to local store owners. But in truth, these traditional ways of making money really don’t make a lot of dough. Maybe a few thousand dollars.

But suppose there were a way to generate $20,000 or $25,000 or even more?

And all it involved was a few parents volunteering their time on a Sunday afternoon during the football season to earn this kind of money. Sounds too good to be true, right?

Well, in fact these kinds of fundraising programs DO exist, and they exist in many cities, especially from NFL franchises around the country, such as in Boston, Carolina, Tampa Bay, SF, and presumably others…  All you have to do is work the concession stand on a football Sunday. And they exist in some Major League Baseball and even in college stadiums.

So what’s the catch?

From what I hear, the work in the concession stand is grueling, not glamorous, and I have heard from parents who volunteer to do this work that they absolutely detest it. But then again, these volunteer programs do provide needed money for their kids to play sports.

Example: at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, a number of HS parents’ booster clubs in the Boston area, in search of money, will sign up and  run concession stands during the NFL season.

What that translates into is this: you must arrive at the stadium at least 4 hours before game time, prepare the concession booth, set everything up, cook the food, keep everything  clean, and you understand that if you drop even one hot dog or spill a beer, that will be deducted from your booster club’s check.

And the way I understand this, your HS booster club get a check which is for about 4-6% of the sales you generate.

You, of course, don’t see a dime. Nor any benefits. But your work is nonstop throughout the game, in fact you never see the game, you rarely get a break during your stint, and when the game is over, you need to stay for at least another to clean up, scrape the grills, take the garbage, and on and on.

Again, not glamorous. Nor fun.

One mom, who remains anonymous, told me it was a totally exhausting day. She emphasized that she wasn’t of faint heart – that she knew how to put a lot of sweat into a job, but that this work was over the top.

Remember-  these Moms and Dads are volunteers…not employees…and they don’t get a  paycheck, but rather any monies they generate is paid by the team or owner directly to the booster club, and presumably they get a charitable tax deduction for their largesse.

Friends, there are lots of issues with this practice, and many of them  from a legal perspective. I asked WFAN legal expert Steve Kallas onto the show, and after researching Fair Labor laws and even a US Supreme Court case, Steve felt that these practices were indeed illegal.

But that being said, who’s going to complain? Why would a sports parent “volunteer” openly complain about this system? Because to do so would jeopardize lots of money for a HS booster club. That is, all the NFL owner has to say is, “Okay, if this is illegal, then we’ll stop doing it.”

That would be terrible, because all that money would stop flowing to booster clubs. And clearly no one wants that to stop.

But Steve brought up real questions: What happens if a volunteer gets hurt? Say one burns oneself on a grill? Who covers their costs?

Or suppose a volunteer sells too much beer to a fan, who gets intoxicated, and on the way home in his car, kills someone. Is the volunteer and the booster club liable? Or is the pro team?

According to the way the paperwork is drawn up, volunteers are NOT employees nor do they have any benefits, such as liability or health insurance. In other words, if they get hurt or sued, they’re on their own.

And in order for a team owner or NFL franchise to be able to get a tax deduction, the booster club which receives the money needs to be a registered 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization. The truth is, not all booster clubs are set up in this fashion.

So….do we stop this?

Hard to say what the right thing to do is…but certainly no one wants the money to stop.

But if the law is being violated, maybe the time has come to rewrite some of the employment law and tax code so that booster clubs can continue to do this kind of fund raising, but at the same time, can be protected from any potential legal violations.

That would seem like the best and most appropriate pathway to follow.

 

TRENDS IN SPORTS: The Disturbing Truth About Video Games and Our Kids

 Is Playing Computer Games Exercise?

New “Wake-up Calls” About Overweight and Obesity

By Doug Abrams

 

Two reports published last week renew concerns about the harmful effects of overweight and obesity among children and adults. The reports track a perfect storm that threatens the present and future health of today’s younger generation.

In last week’s first report, nearly a quarter of surveyed children between the ages of five and 16 told Britain’s Youth Sports Trust that they consider playing computer games with friends to be a form of physical activity. (Among seven- and eight-year-olds, the percentage was nearly a third.) The children reported that they play sports or otherwise engage in exercise about 30 to 40 minutes a day (often in mandated school physical education programs), but spend nearly three hours a day playing with technology. Without effective public health intervention in the foreseeable future, the Trust predicts that children risk becoming “hostages to handheld devices.”

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

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

A major reason for the substantial increases in overweight and obesity, according JAMA researcher Lin Yang as reported in American Health Line last week, is that technology has “changed the dynamic of our lifestyle.” With trends moving in the wrong direction amid accelerating technological advances, Dr. Yang labels the new estimates a “wake-up call” for action in “multiple sectors.”

“Increase Team Sport Participation Among All Students”

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

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

The researchers’ recommendation thus placed community youth sports programs front and center. “Obesity prevention programs should consider strategies to increase team sport participation among all students.”

Good News and Bad News

The Pediatrics study demonstrates the public health potential of community youth sports programs, but these programs continue to fall short in many communities. And recent accounts, appearing in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, suggest that youth sports enrollments appear to be declining.

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

Some children drop out of a sport because they enrolled as an experiment and learned they did not like the sport after all. Particularly in the early teen years, some youngsters stop playing when they realize that they lag behind their peers in skills or strength, and others stop when they develop new interests or find part-time employment.

But when researchers asked youngsters why they drop out, the reasons given most often were that practice sessions and games stopped being fun because parents and coaches imposed too much pressure to win, yelled at them for making errors, and cut or benched less talented players. Youngsters disaffected by adult-induced pressures can find other ways to pass their free time – including, as the British Youth Sports Trust study indicates, reliance on computer games and other technology.

Four Strategies For Change Through Sports

How can community youth sports systems counter the trends toward more sedentary childhood and adolescent lifestyles identified by public health professionals? At least four potential strategies come to mind.

First, communities can maintain youth sports systems that take equal opportunity more seriously. Public authorities (particularly the public school district and the parks and recreation department) can exercise the “power of the permit.” This acknowledged power enables local government to grant permits to use fields, gymnasiums, and other public sports venues to a mix of private groups that field not only travel teams, but also recreational and house-league teams. (My recent 13-page law review article, explaining the power’s legal basis, is available at http://digitalcommons.law.umaryland.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1232&context=jbtl ).

In his recent autobiography, hockey legend Bobby Orr explained equal opportunity in youth sports this way: “[M]ost of the kids who want to participate aren’t elite at all – by definition, they can’t all be elite. Most kids are average. That’s what average means.” “Most kids,” he adds, “just want to play a sport for the sake of participating. Those are the ones we should be helping as much as we can. . . .”

Second, as the Aspen Institute’s Project Play recently urged in the report cited below, “equal opportunity” means embracing public and private initiatives that reach out to segments of the youth population that are chronically under-served by community sports systems.  These segments include groups that I have written about in several prior columns — girls, inner city youth, poor youth, minority youth, and youth with disabilities.

Third, parents and coaches at practices and games can stop behaving in ways that lead youngsters to quit in droves before their time. Fourth, parents in their own households can “keep the fires burning” with positive reinforcement that makes continued participation in sports fun and fulfilling for their children.

Causes For Optimism

Last week’s two reports remind us that as technology increasingly attracts children’s attention, adults disserve the public health when we close the doors on many aspiring young athletes and then produce bumper crops of athletic dropouts each year. The inequities that mark access to youth sports, and the persistently high dropout rates, mean that the nation squanders opportunities to provide healthy athletic activity for millions of children. Lost opportunities for this activity mean lost opportunities to impart the lifelong value of a lifestyle rich in physical exercise, not only through team sports, but also through such invigorating carryover activities as swimming, bicycling and jogging.

I close this column with optimism because leading national experts have diagnosed the national overweight/obesity epidemic, and they are busy advocating for meaningful solutions through organized sports and physical activity generally. Among the leading national experts are these friends of mine whom I thank for teaching me about the obesity epidemic and other health challenges that summon constructive responses by the youth sports community:

  1. Rick Wolff is a strong advocate for broad-based youth sports systems that serve the physical and emotional needs of all children who wish to play. For years now, his weekly WFAN radio show has grappled from all sides with important youth sports parenting issues, including what he calls “the obesity problem with kids. “Sports are so valuable to our kids,” he writes on this blog, “because they learn key lessons in life, including the overall benefit of being physically fit. But we’re finally seeing the diminishing lack of fun catching up to our kids. . . . If kids don’t feel that they’re enjoying themselves, they do end up quitting.”

 

  1. Led by executive director Tom Farrey, the Aspen Institute’s Project Play has marshaled thoughtful leaders to map national strategies for advancing child athletes’ health and well-being. A few days ago, ESPN correspondent Farrey and his Physical Literacy Working Group released a report that warrants national attention, “Physical Literacy in the United States: A Model, Strategic Plan, and Call to Action,” http://plreport.projectplay.us/.

This new report follows national roundtables and “Sport for All, Play for Life: A Playbook to Get Every Kid in the Game,” an equally thoughtful report that the Project released in January following deliberations by more than 70 national experts at a three-day symposium and ideas session. The report posits wholesome youth sports as an important antidote for obesity and inactivity in youth. http://aspenprojectplay.org/sites/default/files/Aspen%20Institute%20Project%20Play%20Report.pdf

  1. MomsTEAM Institute maintains a leading youth sports voice on a wide range of important matters central to health, safety, nutrition, and successful parenting. The Institute, and www.MomsTeam.com, continues to contribute a prolific array of writing and speaking about the causes of overweight and obesity in children, and about the potential remedies that sports and physical activity offer. Links to the Institute’s collection of perceptive writings on the obesity epidemic by executive director Brooke de Lench, director of research Lindsey Barton Straus, and expert contributors begin at http://www.momsteam.com/search/node/obesity.
  2. Positive Coaching Alliance (www.positivecoach.org), and its founder and CEO Jim Thompson, remain leading national voices for coaches, parents, and league administrators who seek to meet the emotional and physical needs of all boys and girls who wish to experience the exhilaration of sports and physical activity. By providing time-tested strategies for encouraging broad participation, PCA’s influence is a positive force for the health and well-being of youth athletes.
  3. Robert M. Malina, PhD, FACSM, is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas at Austin. His resume says it all.

Dr. Malina has earned PhD degrees in physical education and also anthropology. His teaching and research career has spanned anthropology and kinesiology, and includes more than 800 publications.  His primary areas of research are the biological growth and maturation, performance and physical activity of children and adolescents. This research has included studies of American and European youth, indigenous populations in southern Mexico, and youth athletes in a variety of sports including swimming, diving, gymnastics, track and field, American football and soccer among others.

Obesity has been a central discussion item for the various panels on which Dr. Malina has served. For example, he co-chaired the expert panel on Youth Physical Activity for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2003-2005), and served on the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, Youth Health Subcommittee (2007-2008) and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, Committee on Fitness Measures and Health Outcomes in Youth (2011-2012).

  1. Bob Bigelow, a leading youth sports reform advocate and a former NBA player, provides a foundation for countering the pediatric obesity epidemic. In his aptly titled book, “Just Let the Kids Play,” he says this: “Youth sports systems that are created for the greatest good of the greatest number of children will be the right choices for all children — from the child who appears to have the greatest athletic potential at a young age, to the child who may not show that potential until later, to the child who never shows any athletic talent.”

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In my younger days, people used to say that “if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” These devoted friends are part of the solution, and they deserve the gratitude of all Americans who sense the positive roles that sports and physical activity can play in advancing children’s health and well-being.

 

Sources: Future Foundation, The Class of 2035: Promoting a Brighter and More Active Future For the Youth of Tomorrow, http://www.youthsporttrust.org/media/24072132/the_class_of_2035_report.pdf; Hannah Richardson, BBC News, Youths Becoming Hostages to Handheld Devices, Says Charity (June 23, 2015); Lin Yang & Graham A. Colditz, Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity in the United States, 2007-2012, JAMA Internal Medicine, June 22, 2015; Am. Health Line, Study: Significant Uptick in Overweight, Obese U.S. Residents, June 23, 2015; U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Services, The Surgeon General’s Call To Action To Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity (2001); National Public Radio, Morning Edition, Childhood Obesity (July 1, 2015); Keith M. Drake et al., Influence of Sports, Physical Education, and Active Commuting to School on Adolescent Weight Status, Pediatrics, vol. 130, p. e296 (Aug. 2012); Bobby Orr, Orr: My Story (2013), p. 23; Bob Bigelow, Just Let the Kids Play (2001), p. 23.