SOCIAL MEDIA CONCERNS: The Plague of Sexting is Commonplace with HS Athletes

The national epidemic of “sexting” — HS kids sending photos of naked classmates via text messages — has become the latest trend in social media that coaches, parents, and the law have been struggling to deal with.

As law professor Doug Abrams pointed out on The Sports Edge this AM, back in the 1970s legislatures passed very strict and tough laws regarding the transmission of photos of nude people under the age of 18. In those days, this was considered the domain of child pornographers, and not surprisingly, individuals convicted of these kinds of activities were looking at long yeas in jail and being registered as sex offenders.

But fast forward to today, and seemingly kids everywhere are texting revealing photos of themselves, often to unsuspecting classmates. As hard as it may seem, it’s become routine for HS girls to send topless photos of themselves, often to HS athletes in order to impress them.

Abrams did point out that prosecutors all over are drawing a line between child pornography and the silliness of teenagers swapping photos. As such, more than half of the states now have legislation drawing a distinction between the two kinds of activities. That being said, HS coaches and athletic programs are having a difficult time when it comes to this sudden changes in traditional social mores. This explains why HS football players, who have been caught sexting, have seen their games cancelled and forfeited. Coaches point to their poor social behavior. In one case, the football players were allegedly making the collection of sext photos into a competition; that is, the more you had, the more you “win” the competition.

And there are other complications. Suppose a football bully in the HS locker room decides to snap a photo of a teammate getting undressed – and then puts it out online without the teammate’s permission. Or takes a photo of a teammate who is in bathroom stall. I have the worrisome feeling that this kind of thing already happens.

Who’s in Charge?

Professor Abrams made it clear that the person who should be in charge of sexting discipline may not be the coaches. That is, it’s really up to one’s parents to sit down and explain the possible devastating consequences of sexting. As Doug says, “Once it’s out there in cyberspace, you lose control of it. It can go anywhere, and can be posted forever.”

I would like to think that parents who are aware of  the prevalence of sexting would take the time to sit down and explain to their kids how a quick photo of oneself could backfire in so many ways – not just now, but later in life.

Doug imagined in the year 2050, a potential US Supreme Court nominee might  be hugely embarrassed if, during their confirmation meetings, some naked photos of their teenage years resurfaces.

The point is, as advances in social media continue, and they will continue, it’s now more than important than ever for Moms and Dads to step up and to talk directly with one’s students. Better yet, this is one of those issues where parents and coaches should come together and explain the potential issues to their HS kids.

SPORT SAFETY: Has HS Football Become an Endangered Species?

The last few years have been a rocky time for HS football players – and for their parents as well.

So far this season, eight HS football players have died while participating in the sport. Clearly, no one ever wants to go through the heartache of watching a teen-aged son collapse  — and die — when playing a sport he loves. What an absolute nightmare.

Then, of course, there’s the ongoing troubles about the lingering effect of concussions on kids who play football. Despite the growing awareness of this issue, the reality is that no one has invented a football helmet yet that can truly claim to prevent concussions. Minimize the impact of concussions, yes. But prevent or eliminate them? No, that hasn’t happened yet.

All over the country, the numbers of kids playing HS football continue to spiral downward. In most states, the numbers are down by 10 percent. Many HS programs with a long-standing tradition of having plenty of players are now realizing that their ranks are dwindling.

There are all sort of explanations for this, but most football coaches and AD’s suspect it’s the worry about concussions, and in some cases, the fact that a few kids die each year from playing the sport.

The Double Whammy of Death and Concussions

I asked the question on my radio show this AM: What do you think is the future of HS football? Will it eventually go away due to health concerns?

What was surprising is that I received several calls from Dad’s who said that yes, they loved football, they played HS and college football, and they are doing okay these days without any medical or memory issues. But they also said that they had deep concerns about letting their son play the same sport. You could hear the worry in their voice. On one hand, they knew all about the positives of playing the sport, but when they saw their 9-year-old suffer a hit to the helmet, or a 14-year-old suffer a concussion in a game, they worried about whether  – as a parent – they were doing the right thing in allowing their kid to keep playing.

Other Dads pointed to the fact that other alternative sports, like soccer, basketball, or even lax, all had similar issues with concussions. That is, just telling your son to play a different sport may not be the answer.

In terms of football deaths, I did point out that, statistically, HS football is much safer than it was than, say, in the 1960s, when in a typical year, you had 20-30 HS football players die. In recent years, it’s more like 12 deaths on a yearly basis. (I guess that’s somewhat comforting, unless of course, it’s your son who has collapsed on the gridiron.) And the deaths can be from any number of causes: heat stroke, broken spine, ruptured spleen, severe concussion, aneurysm, and so on.

What’s the right response?

So what do you do if your young son comes to you and says that he want to play tackle football? There is one of the toughest questions that any sports parent will ever face.

There is, of course, no one tried-and-true answer. But there are some things to consider:

> Esteemed neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Cantu, who is an expert on NFL concussions, says that kids shouldn’t start playing tackle football until they’re at least 14. Why? So that their neck muscles have developed enough strength to help prevent concussions.

> Emphasize to your son that he has to first learn the basics of how to tackle properly. This is essential. Leading with one’s head on a tackle is extremely dangerous.

> Explain to him what a concussion is, what it feels like, and most importantly, to have the guts to tell the coach that you think you just had your bell rung. We all know that most football players refuse to come to out of a game after a hit to the head. That mentality has got to change.

> And finally, explain to your son that if he incurs 3 or more concussions during his HS football career, then no matter how good he is and how much he loves playing the football, the time has come to walk away from the sport.

Tough love? Perhaps. But in the long run, you may be saving his life.

COPING WITH ADVERSITY: Disabled Athletes Who Rise To Succeed

Another Story About a High School Athlete

Who Has Overcome Physical Challenges

 By Doug Abrams


Every so often, a human interest story captures the true spirit of athletic competition. The story is especially worth savoring when the spotlight shines on an athlete who is not yet old enough to graduate from high school.

On September 25, writer Laura Kirschman profiled Emmanuel Hilton, a junior varsity soccer goalkeeper at Blackhawk High School in Beaver Falls, Pa. The Beaver Falls Times headline says what needs to be said: “Born Without Lower Legs, Congolese Soccer Player Finds a Home at Blackhawk.”

Soon after Emmanuel was born in the Congo, his mother abandoned him at night along the roadside (“thrown away” because of his condition, as he puts it). Kirschman reports that nighttime abandonment of newborns in that war-torn nation often means death or starvation, but Emmanuel was rescued and placed in an institutional orphanage.  Within a few years, he was adopted by an American couple, a Methodist pastor and his wife, who brought him to Chippewa, Pa. because they felt that he deserved a chance in life.

The reaction of Emmanuel’s Blackhawk High JV soccer teammates this past season? Coach Bryan Vitali told Kirschman, “He’s just such an inspiration to our team. . . .  It’s almost like a rallying cry for these guys. It’s just like, look at Emmanuel, look what he brings to the table everyday” as he guards the goal without wearing his prosthetics.

Emmanuel Hilton’s story reminds me of a similar captivating one that the media reported in 2005. After referees refused to allow senior Bobby Martin to play in a varsity football game, state officials ruled that he was eligible to play. Bobby Martin was born without legs. Like Emmanuel, he won his teammates’ respect.

Opening the Doors to Youth Sports

Emmanuel Hilton and Bobby Martin may present unusual cases, but their fortitude, and their teammates’ ready acceptance, demonstrate why sports should remain open to physically challenged boys and girls who otherwise would be stereotyped as incapable of participating. To the maximum extent possible, leagues and teams should encourage children with physical challenges to participate in sports with other children if their parents approve, their abilities permit, and participation does not change the character of the game or compromise safety.  Worthwhile programs, such as Little League’s Challenger Division, serve children whose conditions make integrated play inadvisable or impossible.

Striking a Balance

In early 2013, the U.S. Department of Education instructed the nation’s public school districts that federal law requires them to “provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate alongside their peers in after-school athletics.” The Education Department’s authority extends only to the nation’s public schools, but equal opportunity should also guide private youth sports programs that federal education law does not directly reach.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that public schools “may not exclude students who have an intellectual, developmental, physical, or any other disability from trying out and playing on a team, if they are otherwise qualified.” “While it’s the coach’s job to pick the best team,” he continued, “students with disabilities must be judged based on their individual abilities, and not excluded because of generalizations, assumptions, prejudices, or stereotypes.”

Federal law strikes a healthy balance. “[S]chools don’t have to change the essential rules of the game,” Secretary Duncan explained, “and they don’t have to do anything that would provide a student with a disability an unfair competitive advantage.  But they do need to make reasonable modifications (such as using a laser instead of a starter pistol to start a race so a deaf runner can compete) to insure that students with disabilities get the very same opportunity to play as everyone else.”

Good for Young Athletes and Good for America

Youth sports paves a two-way street. The media regularly reports how children with Down syndrome, missing limbs, and other conditions win their teammates’ acceptance, support, and respect. Sports enables these children to learn, hone their social skills, and develop their self-esteem through competition. In turn, these children teach valuable lessons by surmounting barriers with uncommon perseverance and determination.

In public school districts and private sports programs alike, the impulse to include, rather than exclude, children marks youth sports at its finest.  Inclusion is good for the young athletes, and it is good for America.


Sources: Laura Kirschman, Born Without Lower Legs, Congolese Soccer Player Finds a Home at Blackhawk, The Times (Beaver Cty., Pa.),; USA TODAY, Football Player Without Legs Eligible to Play, (Sept. 20, 2005); U.S. Dep’t of Education (Jan. 25, 2013).

INNOVATIONS IN SPORTS: Using Technology To Help You Be a Better Sports Parent

Four Tips to Help Sports Parents Stay Sane

 By Kathleen Burke, TeamSnap

As sports parents, you have a lot on your mind. From safety concerns on the field to getting your kids to practices on time to juggling family responsibilities, it’s easy to understand why many parents often feel overwhelmed during each sports season.

Take a deep breath and keep these four tips to help you stay sane during times of stress, both on and off the field.

The Right Gear

Be sure your child’s safety gear is in good shape and doesn’t need to be replaced. If you are concerned about safety, conduct regular spot checks to be sure your child’s helmet, shin guards, face mask, elbow pads or any sports equipment they use are up to speed. Give yourself some peace of mind before the game even starts with the knowledge that your child’s protective gear will do the job it’s meant to do.

Try to Empathize

We all know that youth sports can be emotional for everyone. It can be tempting to fly off the handle at a coach or a ref when you don’t like the call or want your kid to have more playing time. At those times you have to remember that it’s not personal, and that most coaches and refs are volunteering their time for your child. If you have a legitimate concern, wait at least 24 hours after the game is over so that emotions can cool. You can then approach the coach in a respectful manner. Always bear in mind that your kids are just kids. Youth sports by their nature are full of ups and downs. You need to accept that. Try to see the game from the coach’s or ref’s perspective, and that will give you more of a perspective.

Get on the Same Page with Your Son or Daughter

 Hopefully, your child is eager and enthusiastic about the sport they’re playing. Nut if you’re not sure how they feel, set aside some quiet time to talk to them about it. Sometimes, especially at the younger ages, kids will surprise you and say that they would prefer to play a different sport from the one they’re currently engaged in. It pays to be an active listener to what your child is saying.

Make Things Easier On Yourself

Don’t be afraid to share the load! Rotate driving duties with other parents, make the kids do their  laundry with their uniforms, order take-out for dinner, and if you take video of the games, have a video party to show highlights. And use the latest technology to remember when it’s your turn to  bring game refreshments  and follow along with the game when life gets in the way of you being there.

Want more tips and stories from the world of youth sports? Check out the TeamSnap Youth Sports Podcast and Blog for everything a coach, manager or sports parent needs!


About the author: Kathleen Burke writes for TeamSnap, a web and

mobile app used by 9 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.






SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: The List of “Don’t Assumes”……

I became involved in the world of sports parenting in the early 1990s when I was serving as the roving sports psychology coach for the Cleveland Indians. During those years, my own three kids were very young and just being introduced to the uncharted territory of youth sports. I was curious as what they (and my wife and I) might expect as they entered in the wild frontier of sports.

I wrote my first sports parenting book, GOOD SPORTS, which was published in 1992  by Dell. It was meant to provide an overview and prescriptive advice for Moms and Dads who had kids in sports. I recall doing doing hours of research for the book, and discovering so little in the library (this was, of course, pre-Internet and Google) about sports parenting. But there was certainly enough to fill the book, and as the years have progressed, the interest in this challenging topic has only grown more and more.

A few years after the GOOD SPORTS book came out, I was hired by Sports Illustrated to write a few columns on youth sports. But the response to those columns was so overwhelmingly positive that SI asked me to keep writing more columns. Over the course of the next ten years, I wrote hundreds of pieces for SI.  By then, and judging from the bags of mail I received each week, parents (and coaches) everywhere were looking for answers and guidance. It was clear that sports parenting was becoming more and more complicated. Ultimately, all of this led to my weekly sports parenting show on WFAN Sports Radio in NYC, which I have hosted and produced for close to 17 years.

The reason I mention all of this is because  it’s become clear to me that each year, an entire new group of young sports parents come into focus. Yes, they may have played sports themselves as kids, and they love sports, but as sports parents, they are often not prepared to know what it means when their little one takes the field for the first time.

To that end, I wanted to take a moment to present a short list for new sports parents. In other words. if the world of sports parenting is new to you, you might find this helpful:


Dear new Sports Parent:

Don’t assume….you know how to coach kids just because you used to play the sport. Playing the sport…and coaching it…are two different talents.

Don’t assume….you know how to handle your emotions when you watch your kid play. The truth is, very few of us can. Instead of grimacing during a game, do the best you can to put a smile on your face.

Don’t assume….you know how to talk to your child after a game is over. Give them plenty of time to chill in the car on the way home. DO NOT give them a post-game analysis. Let them doing the talking about the game – not you.

Don’t assume……you know the rules better than the ref or umps…especially if it’s a sport you didn’t play as a kid. For example, I never played soccer, ice hockey, or lax as a kid. So when my kids played those sports, I had to learn the rules for the first time.

Don’t assume….your child is blessed with unique and special athletic talent….chances are he or she isn’t. Yes, you want them to reach their full athletic potential, but let’s be candid: you have a better chance of winning the lottery than of your kid being the next great professional superstar.

Don’t assume……you know more about game strategy than the coach does….if you do, then maybe you should coach next year.

Don’t assume……the other parents on the sidelines look upon you as some of sports expert, that somehow you know more about the sport than they do. Best bet? Keep your comments to yourself. You never know who’s listening.

Feel free to download this list of Don’t Assumes and share it with your youth league administrators. In the meantime, my show airs live each Sunday from 8-9 AM EST on WFAN Sports Radio. You can stream it live on, and if you miss a show, you can link to each week’s podcast.

ACCOUNTABILITY WITH ATHLETES: Time to Employ Zero-Tolerance?

I used this morning radio’s show to focus on the importance of discipline with kids in sports today. In my opinion, and I realize I tend to be old school, there’s a general lessening of discipline with athletes today. Whether it’s because coaches are wary of having angry parents protest, or file lawsuits, or if they’re just tired of having to be the “bad guy” when it comes to making kids accountable for their actions, coaches, athletic directors, and athletic programs lean much more on gentle slaps on the wrist when it comes to punishing kids for doing dump, dangerous, or selfish things.

This trend troubles me. And judging from the avalanche of calls that came in on the show this AM, a lot of sports fans feel the same way. It’s been noted several times that many high schools have adopted a Code of Conduct, which basically outlines levels of penalties for HS athletes who break the rules. While that’s fine in concept, the execution tends to be tame. First offenders are given a warning, a second offense might mean a benching from a game. It’s only at the third offense that things start to get serious.

Here’s a possible solution

To me, as a firm believer in zero tolerance, there’s no need to provide several chances. Just make it clear to the kids on the team at the beginning of the season that these are the rules, and if you break them, you can expect to be dismissed from the team. Harsh? Perhaps. But trust me, kids will start to think twice before they do something stupid and risk being booted from the squad.

The beauty of zero tolerance is that it actually makes the athlete think first about the consequences of their actions, rather than figure what it all means after they’re caught. To me, the essence of the teenage years is educating people to develop this first sign of maturity – to think about their actions BEFORE they do something dumb.

I bring this subject up as I was reflecting on the recent punishments that were handed down to the two football defensive backs at John Jay HS in San Antonio, TX. You recall these two kids: late in a game, they deliberately assaulted an unsuspecting ref from behind. He narrowly escaped a serious injury.

Last week, the two football players were banned from playing any more sports for the rest of the year. Since one kid is a senior, this wasn’t much of a punishment. The other boy is a sophomore. He can petition to play sports again next year. But basically, that was it.

True, the local prosecutor may bring criminal charges against the boys, but nothing has indicated that’s going to happen. Even worse, when the boys made an appearance on Good Morning America a couple of weeks ago, their lawyer was asked what kind of punishment they should get, he said “I think they’ve suffered enough.”

Good grief! Two football players deliberately attack an official from behind, knocking him hard to the ground, and the kids’ lawyer think THEY’VE suffered enough? Suppose the ref had broken his back and been paralyzed, which could have easily happened. Would the lawyer still make the same claim?

In any event, this case is becoming more typical of kids in sports these days, and if this trend continues, I fear that the sense of  respect that athletes have for coaches, officials, and other players will continue to disintegrate.

HOLDING KIDS BACK A YEAR IN SCHOOL: New Proposed NJ Bill Would Penalize Kids Who Repeat a Year

Why is this done? Why do parents decide to have their athlete repeat a year in middle school? Presumably it’s all about giving their young athlete an extra year of physical maturation and growth before they enter into HS competition.

This is a topic that I have touched upon in in the past. There seems to be two ages when this is contemplated:

One, when the child is about to enter kindergarten. Perhaps the Mom and Dad don’t feel that their child is emotionally or psychologically mature enough at age 6 to start school.  In effect, he or she is “young” for their grade, and the parents don’t ee any real upside with their child being one of the younger kids in the class.

This is very common place, and it happens all over the country. From a sports parenting perspective, in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with holding your child back – that is, let them end up being one of the older kids in their class. Later on, that can be of great help as they mature and find their way as an athlete.

However, being held back a year and asked to repeat it also occurs when a child is in middle school, often the 6th or 7th or 8th grade. At this age, while sometimes there are academic or maturation concerns, in many cases, this is a case where parents feel that, in order to maximize their child’s athletic potential, it’s in their best interest to hold them back.

Now….think back to when you were a kid. There was, and still is, a HUGE difference between a kid who is 12 and 13. Look at the giant 13 year olds who play LL baseball as compared to the 12 year olds who haven’t started adolescence yet. The difference is often significant.

Of course, with adults, there’s not much difference between a 41-year-old and a 42-year-old. But during the teenage years, one year’s extra growth can be a major advantage.

And apparently, there’s a tremendous number of middle school athletes who are doing just that: repeating a year in school. NJstate senator — former NJ Governor Richard Codey —  has a passion for coaching youth basketball in his home state, and he’s become aware that more and more talented basketball players are getting caught up in this trend.

The trend has become so prevalent that Gov. Codey is going to introduce a bill that would take away a year of HS sports eligibility from the youngster if he or she repeats a year in middle school. That is, student-athletes are allowed four years to play sport in HS. If Codey has his way, kids who repeat a grade in middle school would be allowed three years to play.

Good idea…or not?

On my show this AM, we had a number of calls who basically agreed with Gov. Codey’s concept, but a lot of them had questions as to how does one enforce this and so forth. People questioned whether a school or state even had the right to prevent parents from doing this, meaning how could NJ legislate as to what parents thought was best for their child.

Gov. Codey pointed out that when a youngster repeats a grade, that often has the impact of affecting other kids in terms of playing time. That is, if a star center in basketball is repeating 7th grade, then he’s going to take away major playing time from any other youngster who wants to play center.

He also pointed out that this kind of hold back practice was becoming more and more routine in NJ, and that it’s also more and more of a national issue. And what’s sad, he noted, is that too many kids who are big for their age at 12 or 13 tend to plateau and don’t grow much when later in their teens. In other words, they are stars in middle school just average later on in HS.

There were other callers who wondered how the NJ Interscholastic Athletic Assn would be involved on this. The NJIAA is already saying that middle school sports is out of their jurisdiction, and they wouldn’t be able to enforce this.

In other words, it’s going to be most interesting to see how all of this plays in the NJ legislature. While everybody agrees that this is a growing problem, nobody seems to be sure how to prevent it from happening everywhere.




TITLE IX ISSUES: 40 Years After Title IX Became Law, Why Are There Still So Few Female Coaches?

 How Narrowing the Gender Gap in Youth League Coaching Would Serve the Players

 By Doug Abrams

 Late last month, the Bergen Record and carried two articles about the under-representation of women in youth league coaching ranks nationwide. The University of Minnesota’s Nicole LaVoi estimates that women coach only about 10% of boys’ teams, and barely a higher percentage of girls’ teams. Many youth leaguers, says writer Kara Yorio, finish their playing days without ever having a female coach.

This column describes how the stark imbalance, and the gender stereotypes that help fuel it, disserve both boys and girls. The disservice begins on the field because in several sports, many women’s playing experience equals or exceeds the playing experience of many men. Experience typically translates into knowledge. The disservice can last into adulthood because playing for female head coaches or assistant coaches teaches boys and girls life lessons about gender equity in our society.

Experience and Knowledge of the Game

More than 40 years after Congress enacted Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the United States has many young and middle-aged women who grew up playing sports in youth leagues and beyond. Many mothers and other women today can teach boys and girls plenty about skills, and Yorio profiles female youth league coaches who measure up.

A local youth sports association restrains player development when the board of directors appoints an inexperienced head coach over an applicant considerably more experienced in the game. An association teaches skills best by assembling the deepest possible coaching pool, and not by artificially restricting the pool’s size.  Associations fail in this mission when subtle cues consign qualified women to seats in the stands, overlook women who wish to coach, or channel them into auxiliary roles as “team moms.”

In It’s All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth Sports (2009), Michael A. Messner found that traditional expectations often push men and women in different directions, even when a woman’s resume shows years of athletic experience. “The head coach—nearly always a man—is the leader and the public face of the team; the team parent—nearly always a woman—is working less visibly behind the scenes, doing the ‘housekeeping’ support work; assistant coaches—mostly men, but including the occasional woman—help the coach on the field during practices and games.”

Traditional expectations do not end with head coaching slots. Boards of directors also assemble applications from parents and other adults who seem better suited for assistant coaching positions because they lack background in X’s and 0’s, but can help the head coach lead the youngsters.

On most of the youth hockey teams I have seen in the past 40 years or so, the coaching staffs included one or more inexperienced or less experienced male assistants, including ones who began paying close attention to the game only when their own children enrolled. Many of these assistants likely never played hockey as kids. The assistants might not have been ready for head coaching, but most made positive contributions by helping to conduct practice sessions, supervise the team, and provide leadership on the bench during games.

Many less experienced female assistant coaches can make these contributions as well as many less experienced men can. Assistants – men and women alike — may graduate to head coaching after gaining more experience. In their advertising and other outreach seeking qualified coaches, youth sports associations should foster coaching education by specifying that both men and women may serve in accordance with their individual talents.

Gender Equity

Youth sports teaches youngsters not only playing skills, but also lifelong citizenship lessons. These citizenship lessons should include ones about appropriate gender roles. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette correctly urges youth leagues to “acclimate all kids to women coaches from a young age” because “a more diverse mix of men and women coaching . . . would help change assumptions that tend to form early.”

With about 35 million children playing each year, sports is a prime engine for influencing assumptions of boys and girls who will spend their adult lives working in gender-neutral settings. Behavioralists and child psychologists debate the relative influences of biology and social environment on children’s attitudes. But these professionals generally agree that “nature” and “nurture” can each affect socialization because experience can develop and change attitudes during childhood and adolescence.

Girls perceive a female coach as a strong role model, and boys learn greater acceptance of gender equality when they perceive a woman in a leadership position. LaVoi is right that “when females occupy coaching positions it provides evidence, for boys and girls, that women can succeed and be powerful.”

Children are more apt to develop these perceptions when their local sports associations appoint (as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Matthew J.X. Malady advises) “the right coach, not the right gender.” The association’s next, and sometimes equally challenging, step is to support each coach’s effort to succeed with players and their families, including some players and families who may initially be wary of a woman’s appointment to a head or assistant position.

The Challenges Ahead

For some people, stereotypes die hard. Just a few days ago, Major League Baseball’s playoffs suggested that challenges remain for advocates of gender equity in sports leadership at all levels, including youth leagues. ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza became the first woman to offer on-air commentary throughout a nationally televised playoff game. Mendoza is a prominent former softball player, a four-time first-team Stanford University All-American and a two-time Olympic medalist, one gold and one silver.

I agree with most reviewers that her articulate, insightful contributions met or exceeded the standards generally set by male on-air television sports commentators. But I was not surprised to read the usual brushback from some website readers and at least one radio sports talk show host, many of whom seemed taken aback by an accomplished female athlete’s appearance in the broadcast booth of a so-called “male” sport.

According to Maury Brown, writing in Forbes, “Mendoza has become a rising star in the broadcast world, not because she’s a woman, but because she’s proven to be a solid baseball voice.” For her part, Mendoza told USA TODAY’s Nancy Armour that “It’s 2015. I just want to get to the point where as long as you’re good at what you do, it shouldn’t matter who you are, what your gender is. . . .” This aspiration defines the essence of a meritocracy.

Youth sports associations need to rise above timeworn gender stereotypes and double standards, even when the board of directors might face doubters at first. For his book, Messner questioned male coaches about the informal channeling of women away from youth league coaching to be the “team moms” who organize road trips, arrange for postgame snacks, and perform similar auxiliary chores. Most coaches said that they had never thought about the prevalence or impact of informal channeling. Players and their families would be better off if more sports associations did think about it nowadays, and if they acted on their better instincts for the boys and girls they serve.


Sources: Kara Yorio, North Jersey Women Defy the Notion that Only Men Can Mentor Youth Teams, ; Kara Yorio, For Women, a Gender Gap Persists On Youth Coaching Sidelines, ; Michael A. Messner, It’s All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth Sports (2009); Matthew J.X. Malady, Why Don’t Any Women Coach Big-Time Men’s Sports? And Why Don’t We Care?, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 7, 2012; Nicole M. LaVoi, Occupational Sex Segregation In a Youth Soccer Organization: Females In Positions of Power, Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, vol. 18, p. 25 (Sept. 2009); Maury Brown, Jessica Mendoza Will Be Back Next Year As Baseball Analyst For ESPN, Forbes, Oct. 9, 2015, ; Nancy Armour, Jessica Mendoza Took Long Road to Historic ESPN Analyst Job, USA TODAY, Sept. 10, 2015.

TRAVEL TEAMS: Does the IMG Academy Represent the Next Step in HS Travel Football?

Two weeks ago, in the NY Times, sportswriter Jere Longman looked at the IMG Academy HS football program in depth. Started just a couple of years ago, the IMG administration is very upfront about their approach: in short, they are recruiting nationally (except Florida) for the very best HS football players in the country.

And so far, they have succeeded. Their starting QB, Shea Patterson, is considered the nation’s top HS prospect. He’s already won two state championships in Louisiana, and so he figured that he could prepare himself for D-1 football by attending IMG. He plans on graduating this winter, and then enrolling at Ole Miss so he can hit the ground running next fall as a true freshman trying to compete for a starting job.

According to Longman, IMG has about 20 plus top D-1 prospects on its  football team this year, so Patterson is not alone in his pursuit of big-time college, and ultimately, professional dreams.

IMG’s facilities, based in Bradenton, FL, is state-of-the-art, complete with a 5,000 seat stadium. Top-level coaches, trainers, and of course, dorms for the students. In a way, this HS is run more like a rigorous college environment: students go to class in the AM, and then four hours of practice and conditioning in the afternoon.

Of course, all of this comes with a price tag — just under $71,000 a year. That’s more expensive than the vast majority of college in this country. Yes, there are financial packages available, but $71,000 is a fairly hefty sum of money.

The IMG Academy, which started out in the 1970s as a training facility for tennis players, has now grown into offering more sports, such as basketball, baseball, soccer, and so on. And they claim that their graduates do indeed go on to play in top college programs all over the country.

The only real drawback so far is finding other teams to play. IMG was allowed to join the Florida HS Athletic Association, but had to promise that they wouldn’t recruit Florida players. IMG is okay with that, but finding opponents is hard. Most public HS teams won’t play them. Some of the better known parochial teams, such as Bergen Catholic, St. Joe’s, and Paramus Catholic, all based in NJ, will play them, but of course, that means a lot of travel time, expenses, and of course, a good chance your team will lose. For example, Bergen Catholic and St. Joe’s have both lost to IMG this season.


That, of course, is the ultimate question. I interviewed Lou Marinelli, the long-time and highly successful head football coach at New Canaan HS in CT, and Lou feels that if your son is good enough, then the college scouts will find him. That is, there’s no need to attend a private HS like IMG to raise your profile.Besides, Lou points out that when you play for an academy team like IMG, you lose out on the fun of playing with your friends and buddies from your community. There’s something to be said about enjoying the local HS experience.

Marinelli, who has won 10 state championships at New Canaan, says that college coaches are well versed these days to find potential prospects. Thanks to the internet and online video, the recruiting job has become that much easier when spotting players.

All this being said, there is no doubt some HS kids who would benefit from the national exposure and coaching at the IMG Academy. But the general consensus seems to be that this kind of elite travel football program is still a work in progress, an experiment that still is playing out. There is the price tag, of course. And finding worthy opponents will continue to be a challenge.

So far this year, the IMG Academy Ascenders – yep, that’s their nickname, is 4-1. Chances are that they will complete the season with no more losses. But the question remains – what happens to them next fall? Will there still be more HS teams who will want to play them?


SPORTS SAFETY: Let’s Not Give Up on Youth Football Too Quickly

In Praise of Youth Football

Guest Column from Wayne Mazzoni

Listening to Coach Wolff’s show this past Sunday morning, but not having the time to call in, I feel compelled to add to the conversation on youth football.  Having been a part of youth sports as a player, coach, and parent, I can tell you nothing equals the experience you get from youth football.

Just the way the sport is, you get an amazing balance of toughness and teamwork you just don’t get from other sports.  In fact, even players who consider a sport besides football as their primary sport will always tell you that the lessons learned from playing football made them a much better person and player in their main sport.

Certainly as kids get older, the more likely they are to sustain injuries, concussions specifically.  But the fact remains just about every other sport has its risks as well.  And of course, so does life.  How many people die from cars, trains, and planes? Yet the last time I looked, all these modes of travel were pretty crowded.   The fact is, without proper policing, training, and awareness, concussions can become a big problem.  But with all the research and attention being paid to this topic, youth coaches are now being trained to be very cautious when it comes to any type of head injury.  Very simply we always err on the side of caution.

I live and coach football in Fairfield County in Connecticut, generally considered one of the wealthiest counties in the country.  I see youth football alive and very well in these towns.  Greenwich, New Canaan, Darien, Westport, Fairfield, Ridgefield, Wilton, and the rest have thriving youth football leagues and excellent high school programs.  The parents of these kids are well educated and successful people, who still understand that so much is to be gained from youth football.  While any youth sport gets kids off their tablets and phones, football creates a family, a toughness, a team spirit that really cannot be replicated in almost any other facet of life.

Coach Wayne Mazzoni is the pitching coach at Sacred Heart University. He also coaches youth football with the 6th grade Fairfield Wildcats.