ABUSIVE COACHES: Knowing When to Draw the Line

When Coaches Instigate Their Players To Talk Trash

By Doug Abrams


In late October, the Yarmouth Clippers downed the Gray-New Gloucester Patriots, 13-6, in Maine high school varsity football. As Rick Wolff reported on this blog at the time, the game turned out to be the last one for the Patriots coach.

Before the game, several Patriots players told their parents and school officials that the coach had allegedly instructed them to taunt an opponent with “Who’s Your Daddy?” each time they tackled him. The opponent lives in a household headed by two women who are married to each other.

According to the Portland Press Herald, the two women said they were “appreciative and thankful” that some Gray-New Gloucester players and parents informed them beforehand that the coach had singled out their son. No Gray-New Gloucester players were overheard trash talking the opponent on the field, but the coach worked his last game for the team. The school district superintendent did not say afterwards whether the coach was dismissed or whether he resigned, but confirmed that the coach “no longer works for” the district. The district, the superintendent told television station WMTW, “does not tolerate threatening or discriminating behavior.”

This column discusses three harmful consequences that can follow when a youth league or interscholastic coach instigates the team to taunt an opposing player. Instigation can threaten player safety, compromise sportsmanship, and diminish the respect among athletes that brings out the best in sports competition.

Player Safety

Influenced by high-profile trash talkers in the professional ranks, trash talking increasingly infects high school sports and youth leagues in many communities today. For some pro stars, it no longer seems enough just to win; savoring victory also depends on humiliating the opponents. Regardless of what might pass as tolerable or entertaining in the adult professional world, the calculus is different at the youth level, whose athletes are children and adolescents.

Especially in a contact or collision sport such as high school football, a coach’s trash talking can incite dirty play that threatens control on the field and in the stands. No such safety risk marred October’s football game in Maine, but players are impressionable and a coach’s taunting has sometimes led teams to trade cheap shots from the opening whistle.

Pediatric professionals call youth coaches (in the words of Toronto neurosurgeon Charles H. Tator) “the most important individuals for maintaining safety” in the heat of competition. Coaches are the ultimate gatekeepers, a central role that depends on foregoing verbal abuse that most mature adults would find unacceptable coming from their own children.


Sportsmanship and trash talking don’t mix. Youth coaching resembles a game of “follow the leader” because the coach’s conduct heavily influences the team’s tone, for better or worse. Youth coaches represent themselves, their families, their schools, and their communities in every game. Trash talking neutralizes the values that coaches should teach, values that will outlast anything the coach teaches about the fundamentals and skills of the game.


Safety and sportsmanship depend on Respect, a pillar that a youth coach’s trash talking shatters. Coaches encourage respect for the game, for the family, and for opponents by teaching players to relish victory as reward enough, without descent into taunting or trash talking. And by teaching that targeting an opponent or the opponent’s family because of race, creed, color, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or other distinguishing characteristic is off-limits.

The players’ respect for the coach may also hang in the balance because, like most people, coaches get what they give. Players are unlikely to respect a coach for long simply because the coach carries a clipboard or wears a whistle. The coach must earn the players’ respect, not only by teaching skills and strategies, but also by demonstrating sound values through words and deeds.

Media reports indicate that when the Gray-New Gloucester coach urged the team to target the opponent who has two same-sex parents, several players (and their parents) summoned their own values by notifying the target family, reporting the coach to school authorities, and disregarding his instruction during the game.

Respect and Strength

Maintaining respect for game, family, and opponents signals strength, not softness. Respect does not diminish the desire to win, and indeed can stimulate that desire. At the ceremony enshrining him in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2005, Ryne Sandberg explained why.

“[I]f there was a single reason I am here today,” the Chicago Cubs star told the audience, “it is because of one word – respect.” “I was in awe every time I walked on to the field,” he explained. “That’s respect. I was taught you never, ever disrespect your opponent or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never ever your uniform. . . . I played [the game] right because that’s what you’re supposed to do – play it right and with respect.

Sandberg’s abiding respect strengthened his desire to win and sustained his competitive, but clean, play throughout his 16-year big league career. He would not have put up Hall of Fame numbers if maintaining respect had softened his passion for winning.

Conclusion: Taking a Near Hit

Sportsmanship and respect are the foundations of the good that happens in the game, and disrespect inevitably stains the game. Striving to win remains central to high school varsity competition, but sportsmanship and respect nearly took a hit in Maine high school football late in October, allegedly at a coach’s instigation. More than 40 years ago, the British Association of National Coaches set the ethical compass applicable to youth league and interscholastic competition:

“Sport without fair play is not sport, and honours won without fair play can have no real value.”


Sources: Rick Wolff, HS Varsity Football Coach Dismissed for Encouraging Taunting of Opposing Player, http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2017/10/20/abusive-coaches-hs-varsity-football-coach-dismissed-encouraging-taunting-opposing-player/ (Oct. 20, 2017); Mike Lowe, Gray-New Gloucester Coach Resigns; Allegedly Told Players To Taunt Opponent, Portland (Me.) Press Herald (Oct. 20, 2017); Seth Koenig, Maine High School Football Coach Canned After Claims of “Hate-Laden” Taunts, Bangor (Me.) Daily News, Oct. 19, 2017; Charles H. Tator et al., Spinal Injuries in Canadian Ice Hockey: An Update to 2005, 19 Clinical J. Sport Med. 451, 455 (2009).


LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL: New Bat Rules go into Effect on January 1st

Christmas is almost here, and the New Year follows a week later….if you bought your kid a shiny new $300 LL bat just a few months ago, you might be surprised and shocked that at the stroke of midnight on December 31st, that expensive bat is going to become obsolete – and that you will have to go out and buy a new one for your kid.

Hard to believe but true. Steve Kallas joined me on my radio this show to highlight that this development has not been well publicized to the youth baseball world, and that parents are going to be shocked when they hear about this.

In short, only those bats that carry a USABat logo will be eligible to be used in LL (and to be fair, in all other youth leagues). All other bats will be banned.

Steve had suggested back in June that it would be nice if LL and the bat manufacturers offered some of discount or buy-back of soon-to-be obsolete bats. But as of today, we have not seen any evidence of that.

What is not lost on us is that more and more sports parents are saying that youth sports is becoming a case of haves- and-have-nots in sports. That is, in order for your kid to keep playing and  progressing, one needs a lot of money.

Having to buy a brand new bat would, it seems to me, fall into category.

Here’s a direct quote from the LL Baseball website:

The USA Baseball USABat Standard will officially be implemented in all Little League Baseball programs at the Junior League division and below, effective January 1, 2018. The majority of parents, coaches, and volunteers believe wood is the ideal material for bats. The new USABat Standard bats are designed to have a wood-like performance, while having the benefits of a non-wood bat.

Steve and I chuckled at this. I mean, if everybody in LL wants to use wood bats, well, why not mandate wood bats?

LL says that wood is scarce. Hmm. I’m not sure how accurate that claim really is, especially when new USABats are more expensive than a wood bat. Besides, for those kids who want to go on and play pro ball, they need to understand that pro ball still only uses wood.

LL has announced a USABatKit for those LL programs that are in good standing but need financial help. That’s a nice gesture, but in my experience, pretty much every LL needs financial help. Again, it would be nice if LL did more to help out in this major transition.


If a parent purchased a new LL bat for their kid just a few months ago – and that bat doesn’t have a USABat sticker on it — that bat will not being grandfathered in.

In short, your youngster can no longer use that bat.

Honestly, I’m not sure why LL is doing this. They say they are trying to introduce a standardized bat that will emulate wood bats, which they claim everybody wants.

But in the end, it just seems, as Steve said, like another money grab. I sure hope not.


COLLEGE RECRUITING: Parents, Athletes Need to Do Their Homework

If there is one topic that sports parents (and their athletes) are desperate to always find out more information, it’s the increasingly complex world of college recruiting.

Now, the irony is that even though you would assume that the recruiting process would become easier over the last 20 years, it seems to me that – if anything – it’s only become more complex. For parents and athletes, it’s become even more pressing to do your homework, map out a real plan, and to ask the right questions.

Why? Because you’re going to have to put together your own self-marketing plan to potential college coaches.

Now, over the years, when it comes to recruiting shows, I always call upon Wayne Mazzoni to get his insights and perspective.

Wayne Mazzoni is the long-time pitching coach at Sacred Heart University, and he’s also one of the nation’s leading experts on the college recruitment process. Be sure to check out his website at CoachWayneMazzoni.com. And on today’s WFAN show, Wayne surprised me a bit when he said that today’s athletes have to start mapping out a college plan as early as 9th or 10th grade.

It all starts with the youngster’s academic profile, and then you go through the process of winnowing down basic college considerations, e.g. large university or smaller college, urban or rural, what kind of major (engineering, liberal arts), and so on. Those are the basics and then you start thinking about college sports.

Of course, if your son or daughter is a top-flight, five-star athlete and has been a star for several years in HS, chances are that he or she has already been receiving calls and letters from college coaches for some time.

But if your kid is really, really good — but is NOT a five-star All-American player – the recruiting process is going to be time consuming. That is, you or your youngster will have to do much of the heavy lifting to get the word out to college coaches.

So, does your kid write directly to the college coach? How do you know whether your kid is good enough to play Division I, II, or III?

Should your son or daughter send a highlight video reel? Should you try and visit the coach in person? Or enroll at the coach’s summer camp?

These are the first questions, and in truth this is just the beginning of the process.

Now, over the years, when it comes to recruiting shows, I always call upon Wayne Mazzoni to get his insights and perspective.


I first met Coach Mazzoni more than two decades ago when we were both speaking at a local community college about sports and recruiting. Over the years, he has been in constant demand to speak to HS sports teams because the NCAA rules and regs have become even more daunting.

Bear in mind that every sport in the NCAA has its own set of rules regarding college recruiting, scholarship offers, dark periods, and so on. And the last time I looked at the NCAA recruiting rule book, it was as thick and comprehensive as an old Manhattan telephone book (remember the days of phone books?)

First and foremost, your youngster will have to determine whether they want to try and play at the D-I level, or perhaps at the D-II or D-III level. Of course, that’s very hard to know when your kid is only a soph or junior in HS. You should get objective opinions from people who know college sports and who have seen your kid play.

By the way, don’t be angry if your youngster is projected as D-III. Those programs are highly competitive, and even though they don’t offer scholarships, all those D-III coaches are active in recruiting top talent. And besides, ask your child this tough question: would you want to merely sit on the bench endlessly at a D-I program, or be a starter at a D-III school? Think about it. Remember, the fun is always in the playing.

Also bear in mind that college athletes are transferring schools at an epidemic number. That suggests to me that a lot of recruited athletes are jumping ship to another college. Why? Most likely it’s because they weren’t getting the kind of playing time they had hoped for at their first school.

But transferring often means sitting out for an entire year (and not on scholarship). Yes, a lot of kids do it, but trust me, it’s a real hassle.


These days, HS athletes are recruited primarily through travel team tournaments, showcase events, summer camps, and summer travel leagues.

They all have one thing in common: they are all expensive, and you have to make decisions usually based on very little information.

Of course they will all say that there’s is the best venue for your kid to be seen by college coaches.

How do you know? The best ways to do your homework is to ask the parents of other athletes in your town who have recently gone through the same process. Ask them which showcases were well run. Find out which travel teams were worthwhile.

Secondly, email the college coaches as what showcases or travel leagues they think are worthwhile. And be sure to ask when the coach is having his own summer camp.

In other words, go about this process like a true consumer who is not afraid to ask the costs, what can your youngster expect, what are his or her daughter’s prospects at the college (e.g. solid recruit, walk-on, or no chance at all). Remember, lots of HS athletes feel that they will simply walk on at a major university and become a kind of “Rudy” Notre Dame folk hero, someone who outworks all the other athletes.

Rudy took place close to 50 years ago, and most major D-I programs don’t even have tryouts for walk-ons anymore. Besides, the college coaches are going to be much more focused on the kids they activel recruited, and will not be paying much attention to the kids who showed up unannounced.

In other words, if your son or daughter is determined to play sports in college, make sure you go at this with a real plan in place. Speak up, be sincere, and be honest about your kid and just how talented they really are.




SPORTSMANSHIP: Are HS Basketball Routs Inevitable?

It’s that time of the year when HS basketball games sometimes turn into lopsided affairs, and each year I wonder why coaches and refs allow this to happen.

I mean, if you’ve been around the sport of basketball, it doesn’t take a great deal of expertise to see when the score of a HS game is quickly becoming out of control.

The first notable one this season occurred in Montana, where a girls’ varsity team defeated another school by the score of 102-to-zero.

That’s right. It was a total shutout.

Final score: Froid Medicine Lake HS 102….Brockton HS 0.

The backstory is that the losing team had a number of its starters who were ill and couldn’t play in the game. In fact, as the game began, Brockton was down to only 5 healthy kids – an eighth-grader, three freshman and a soph – and the tallest of them was 5-7. And then, early in the second half, one of their girls suffered a knee injury and couldn’t continue and so they played the rest of the game with only four girls.

In contrast, the winning team was at full strength, and had three starters who were at least 6 feet tall.

At the half, it was 59-0.

Yes, they had a running clock in the second half, but remember, it was five against four. Four girls who were inexperienced, shorter, and outmatched. I don’t know if the winning team tried to slow the game down, although I tend to doubt it if they scored 102 points. You gotta hustle to score that many points in a HS tilt.


You would have thought that perhaps the two opposing coaches and refs would have met at half-time and discussed what to do in the second half to prevent this kind of lopsided event. Here are some things they might have considered:

0 Maybe just declare the game a win for the winning team, and play the second half as a kind of scrimmage.

0 Imagine how the victorious coach would have felt if one of his top players had been injured in this game. That is, suppose a girl had injured her ACL and was lost for the rest of the season — and got hurt where her team was up by 70 or 80 points?

0 Or, since the losing team played with only four girls for most of the second half, how about if the winning team decided to play with only four as well?

0 Finally — and this seems like the reasonable and obvious solution — if so many of the kids on the losing team were sick, why not just reschedule the game for a later date? Who wants to play in a game that’s truly non-competitive?

Look, these kinds of things do happen. I don’t see any reason why coaches and refs can’t get together and – like true adults and educators – figure out a way to handle these kinds of potentially embarrassing situations.

Unfortunately, we’re still in the beginning of the HS basketball season, and invariably another one of these lopsided routs will happen again.

Coach, refs, and AD’s: I ask you – there has to be a better way to proactively prevent these kinds of games from taking place.

DOING THE RIGHT THING: An Important Reminder

 Donating to Youth Before the End of the Year

 By Doug Abrams

 When I write for publication, I rarely recycle prior articles because fresh perspectives normally serve writers and readers best. The thought process that commits words to paper, said author John Updike, “educates the writer as it goes along.” The writer learns, and readers receive new ideas.

This column violates the “no recycling” rule because it reiterates a message about generosity that I have delivered here in Decembers past. Before the tax year winds down at the end of the month, the message invites readers to consider making modest tax-deductible donations to worthy causes that help improve the lives of children in need.

The Best Judges

Charitable impulse depends, of course, on personal financial circumstances and obligations to the family. Many households receive more charitable solicitations than they can satisfy, and many adults must manage the family budget closely. But in youth sports and elsewhere, adults seeking worthy causes that produce community betterment by serving needy youth do not have far to look.

Their child’s youth sports association, or the local parks and recreation department, may accept financial or in-kind donations toward fees or equipment for families that might otherwise be unable to meet the mounting costs of participation. Private donations may also help deliver state-of-the-art safety equipment such as automated external defibrillators (AEDs), which have saved lives.

National youth sports governing bodies maintain charitable initiatives that promote equal opportunity by reaching out to under-served youth. Because hockey is my sport, the USA Hockey Foundation, maintained by USA Hockey, comes to mind.

A parent or coach concerned about advancing player safety nationally might support leading advocacy and research organizations, such as the MomsTeam Institute of Youth Sports Safety.

Outside the sports arena, the parent or coach might have a favorite national, state, or local charity that focuses on needy youth. For example, children’s hospitals typically encourage donations not only for equipment and other direct medical needs, but also for toys, games, and similar amenities that make hospital stays more bearable for their sick and injured patients. These hospitals serve boys and girls from modest-income or indigent families, and from parents who might temporarily overlook toys and games amid the family dislocation that can accompany sudden hospitalization.

This list is meant to be illustrative, not exhaustive. The salient points are that private philanthropy matters, and that individual adults are the best judges of where their dollars can do the most good.

Filling Buckets

“But would my $25 donation really matter? Or would it simply be a drop in the bucket?”

“Every dollar makes a difference,” says former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, “and that’s true whether it’s Warren Buffett’s remarkable $31 billion pledge to the [Bill and Melinda] Gates Foundation, or my late father’s $25 check to the NAACP.”

In his fable, The Lion and the Mouse more than two thousand years ago, Aesop focused primarily on recipients: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

In recent years, Maya Angelou reminded us that donations also pay rich dividends to donors: “Among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”

Buckets that collect seemingly small acts of kindness can fill to the brim.

Sources:  University of Missouri Children’s Hospital, Happiness For Health Endowment, http://www.muchildrensgiving.org/priority-happiness-for-health.html (endowed by Doug Abrams).

John Updike, in Encyclopedia of the Essay 868 (Tracy Chevalier ed., 1997); National Philanthropic Trust, Philanthropy Quotes, https://www.nptrust.org/history-of-giving/philanthropic-quotes/

(quoting Bloomberg and Angelou); Aesop, The Lion and the Mouse, Aesop’s Fables: A Classic Illustrated Edition, p. 38 (1990).



SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: Revisiting the Most Pressing Issues in Youth and Amateur Sports

Back in June of this year, I did a Sports Edge show in which I asked a fairly simple question about youth sports. And the response was so overwhelming that I promised myself that I would come back to revisit the topic soon.

And today is that day.

What was that question?

What do you think is the biggest issue confronting youth and amateur sports today?

Now, take a moment and think about the headlines that have confronted you as a sports parent or as a coach in the year 2017.

For example, is it concerns about your child suffering concussions in contact sports, like football, soccer, ice hockey, and lacrosse?

Or is it not knowing what’s the right age to have your child specialize in one sport?

What about travel teams – that is, do you feel it’s important to have your kid compete on a travel team…and if so, starting at what age?

Are you concerned about certain travel sports in which the travel program says that your youngster will ultimately have to choose between playing for their local HS varsity team or their travel team?

In fact, what about the overall impact of travel teams – do you feel that they are gradually eroding or supplanting traditional HS varsity sports? Many point to the European model in which schools do not offer any sports at all; that is, if your son or daughter wants to play sports, they play for an outside, or club, team.

And what about the rising cost and expense of travel programs? Lots of recent articles point out that travel teams have become the domain of only the wealthy in this country.

Or maybe you’re concerned with the rising reality of so many kids becoming overweight and obese. Experts point to the staggering popularity of video games, or e-games as they are known. Kids love them and can’t seem to get enough of them. Obviously, having kids sit in front of a video screen doesn’t do much for their physical conditioning.

What about the rise in home schooling athletes? I was just reading the other day where a family in Rockland County (NY) home schooled their teenage tennis player. During her junior and senior year of HS, she travelled all over the country,  competing in tournaments and ultimately earned a full scholarship to Rutgers.

Is that kind of approach going to become more and more the norm – especially for those sports which are for the individual as opposed to a team?


Or that these days, student-athletes get all sorts of second and third chances when they do something stupid. That is, there’s less and less of a hard focus about kids and their sense of accountability.For example, when do we expect kids to become more aware of social media concerns?


The calls this AM on WFAN were both plentiful and meaningful. One caller said that with the continuous rising cost of college these days, sports parents are more focused than ever on having their athlete garner an athletic scholarship. Even though it was pointed out that very few colleges offer full rides for sports other than football and basketball, parents still focus on having their child try to reach that goal.

Another caller did think that more and more school districts will gradually phase out sports, simply because the better athletes in the HS are playing for an outside travel team, and the rising costs of running a traditional varsity sports program won’t be worth it.

Another fan of the show pointed out that young athletes these days face a lot more pressure than athletes did in the past. Kids as young as 6 or 7 are feeling compelled to make a travel team, and that kind of pressure tends to drive kids away from sports. Maybe that explains that kids today feel a sense of obligation to try out, rather than develop a true sense of passion or joy for playing the sport.

I ran out of time this AM to ask this ultimate question: what kind of sports parents will our kids become when they become parents and we’re grandparents?

Will they want their kids to specialize early in a sport? Will they still want their kids to play on travel teams? Or will we experience a kind of backlash from all of this; that is, that our kids will let their children (our grandchildren) pretty much go out and play sports on their own?

Only time will tell.

TRENDS IN SPORTS: What Parents Need to Know about Youth Hockey

I really can’t recall the last time I did a WFAN show on the sport of youth and travel team hockey. Which is curious, because for years, ice hockey was the poster child for everything that was wrong about over-the-top and obnoxious sports parents…concerns about a kid’s playing time…travel team tryouts…the expense of travel team play…concussion worries….and on and on.

But the good news is that instead of trying to downplay or deny that these were real concerns, USA Hockey  — the governing body of youth and amateur hockey in this country –  stepped up and started to address these issues head on. And they did so with a sense of real commitment.

Unlike some other national youth sports organizations, which have either shunned critically important issues or stuck their head in the sand, USA Hockey has become a real leader when it comes to putting its priorities in order.

To that end, I asked Mike Bonelli, who has been involved in youth hockey for years and is the East District Coach in Chief for USA Hockey in NY (covering Long Island, Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess counties) since 2012 and oversees the education for over 900 coaches each year in that district to be guest this AM to talk about the proactive approach of USA Hockey. Here were a few of the highlights:

1 – A reminder that fighting in all youth, HS, and travel team hockey is strictly forbidden.

Too many NHL games are still marred by fights on the ice. Players drop their gloves and bang away at each other like prize fighters until they run out of steam. Problem is, the number of these players who suffer serious concussions from these confrontations continues to grow, and unfortunately, they too often lead to mental issues and presumably the build-up of CTE in their brains. Dementia and even suicide has become too common with these players who make their living with their fists instead of their skates.

Bonelli emphasized that not only is fighting not allowed in amateur hockey, but that kids grow up these days understanding that if they do get in a fight, they are not only disqualified from that game, but also for the next game and sometimes more games beyond that.

For enthusiastic hockey players, the idea of being banned for a couple of games usually deters them from fighting. That, of course, is a good — and safe — thing.

2 – Let’s talk about travel hockey and tryouts

How does USA Hockey view tryouts for their youth programs….what’s the best way to run these tryouts?

With hockey becoming more popular, most programs DO offer A or B or even in-house teams where kids can continue to play….

In my experience, kids – especially young kids – just want a place where they can get out on the ice, learn skills, and get a chance to play in games – it really doesn’t matter at what level.

Tryouts still exist, but USA Hockey is doing more to give feedback.

As one of the callers said today, tryouts in sports are inevitable. And kids are disappointed if they don’t make the “A” team. But as Mike Bonelli pointed out, USA Hockey does not want kids to walk away. That’s why more and more youth programs are offering B and C teams, and if necessary, house leagues where any kid who has the desire to keep playing hockey can do so.

Just like in other sports, the world of hockey has lots of examples of young players who were cut at an early age but who kept playing and eventually blossomed into a top player. Dom Chara, the 6-9 defenseman, was once cut in his youth league program. But he wanted to keep playing, and along the way, he grew another 10 inches which of course helped.

But more importantly, USA Hockey coaches are encouraged to provide real feedback to young skaters – to let them know what their strengths are, and more importantly, what they need to work on in order to develop. That’s a great plus.

3 – Getting up real early for hockey practice?

It used to be common place for young skaters to have practice and games at 6 AM or earlier. The good news is that’s becoming less and less of a standard routine as more rinks are popping up all over.

Trust me, for any hockey parent who has had to brave frigid temps to drive their kid to a rink in pre-dawn hours, this is very welcome news.

As Mike pointed out, “You don’t do much to encourage kids to play hockey when they have to get up at 5 AM to go to the rink. And the parents don’t like it either.”


4 – No need to specialize at an early age.

Turns out that Mike not only played hockey as a kid, but also baseball, soccer, tennis, and so on. As such, while he does believe it’s important for a youngster to learn how to skate at a young age (simply because it’s so much harder to develop that skill later on), it’s always a good idea for a kid to play a variety of sports.

Only when a youngster is around 15 or 16 should he or she start to think about just specializing hockey. We’ve heard the same advice from other coaches in other sports as well, i.e. not need to specialize at too young an age.

I recall a chance encounter with Marcel Dionne, the NHL Hall of Famer, whose son was playing on a mite team with my son some years ago. I asked Marcel about when he was growing up in Canada, did he play hockey all year round, which many hockey parents still think is the right path for their kid.

Marcel looked at me and patiently explained in his French Canadian accent that “In the fall we played either football or soccer, then in winter we played hockey, and then in the spring, we played baseball. Nobody played hockey all year round.”

5 – A sport for life.

One last note. Of all the sports, there’s something about ice hockey that seems to attract players for their entire lives. Whether it’s the thrill of going fast on the ice, or of handling the puck, or just playing pond hockey with your buddies on a cold wintry day, there’s something about this sport in particular that keeps players coming back for years and years.

It’s hard to explain why, but anyone who has played ice hockey just seems to get that bug into their veins and it lasts for a lifetime. My son John is 34 and has been skating for most of his life. In fact, I have a sense he’s going to keep skating for the next 34 years of his life.



DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: How State Laws Are Mandating Adult Education on This Important Issue

A New Study on Adult-Education Mandates In State Concussion Laws

By Doug Abrams

 Between 2009 and 2014, amid heightened public awareness about the serious consequences of concussions suffered in youth sports, every state and the District of Columbia enacted laws designed to promote prevention and treatment of these traumatic brain injuries. Such legislative unison is rare in today’s partisan times that divide blue states and red states, but this flurry demonstrates public support for effective measures designed to make life better for the nation’s youngest athletes.

Legislatures enact standards to govern events and circumstances as they occur in the future. Recognizing that legislation is inherently predictive, prudent legislators monitor operation of their enactments to help assure that standards will work as anticipated, and to consider amendments in light of experience. In prominent matters such as youth sports concussions, laws once enacted remain works in progress.

In the December issue of the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), researchers published a study indicating that the recent state concussion laws are already fulfilling one of their primary missions — educating adults and players about prevention and treatment. After surveying these laws, this column discusses the early signs of the positive effects of this education. The column concludes by discussing the role of concussion education in guiding parents toward an informed decision about a matter not directly raised in the AJPH study, whether to permit their child to play a particular contact or collision sport at all.

State Concussion Laws              

Between 2009 and 2014, every state and the District of Columbia enacted statutes concerning traumatic brain injury in youth competition. By that time, leading voices were calling youth sports concussions “a true health crisis” and a “matter of public health.” Time reported the emerging medical consensus: “Concussions are an alarmingly commonplace injury, particularly among kids and most particularly among active, athletic ones.” With the stakes so high, said CNN chief medical correspondent, neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta, “we owe it to our . . . kids . . . to make them as safe as we know how to do, and we can do a lot better than we have been doing.”

The various state concussion laws show differences at the outer edges, but the laws share three common directives. First, nearly all these laws require that before each season, state education departments or local boards of education provide parents, coaches, administrators, and players with information and education about the nature and dangers of concussions, about how to recognize symptoms of potential brain trauma, and about how to help insure healthy recovery. Some of the statutes contemplate provision of written educational materials, and others specify face-to-face group presentations.

Second, most of the laws require that coaches immediately remove from a practice session or game any player who is suspected to have suffered a concussion.  Third, most of the laws require that the player may not return to action until a physician or other licensed medical professional clears the player and affirms that return is medically appropriate.

 The Beneficial Effect of Concussion Education

The new AJPH study found a significant nationwide increase in reports of new and recurrent youth sports concussions for the first two and a half years or so after the state laws went into effect. The research team concluded that the immediate increase “may be attributable to greater recognition and reporting of concussions by athletic trainers or athletes following implementation of concussion education requirements of these laws, rather than increased number of injuries.” The research team reasoned that mandatory education has “improved coaches’, athletic trainers’, parents’, and students’ knowledge of concussion signs and symptoms.”

Concussion Education and Parental Prerogatives

The AJPH study focused on the evident effects of parent education in preventing and treating concussions among youth leaguers. But this education may also play a central role in a parent’s decision whether to permit a child to enroll in a particular contact or collision sport in the first place. For example, youth football enrollment rates have fallen noticeably in many localities, while other parents educated about the risks and rewards of participation decide to enroll their children. Either way, parental choice here is a parent’s prerogative.

Quoted in Sports Illustrated this summer, Dr. Bennett Omalu said that no child should play football. “Someday,” he predicted, “there will be a district attorney who will prosecute for child abuse, and it will succeed.” He called youth football “the definition of child abuse.”

Dr. Omalu is trailblazer in raising public awareness and concern about concussions in football and other sports, but I believe he is wrong about child abuse. There is no room for prosecuting parents for allowing their child to enroll in youth-league or school football. The Constitution guarantees parents broad discretion to raise their children, so the law requires a strong showing to defeat parental decision making. Football safety concerns are real and medical experts and safety advocates should continue to speak out to educate parents and players. Parents commit no crime, however, when they decide to allow their child to play the nation’s most popular professional and amateur sport.

A child endangerment prosecution might be appropriate if, for example, parents expose their football player to specific health or safety consequences during play, such as by coaxing him to play with a concussion or other serious injury. But the initial enrollment decision depends on the parents’ informed judgment, backed by the sort of educational outreach mandated by the states’ new concussion laws and by educational commentary and reports widely available in the broadcast and print media.


Sources: Jingzhen Yang et al., New and Recurrent Concussions in High-School Athletes Before and After Traumatic Brain Injury Laws, 2005-2016, American Journal of Public Health, vol. 107 (Dec. 2017); Douglas E. Abrams, Confronting the Youth Sports Concussions Crisis: A Central Role for Responsible Local Enforcement of Playing Rules,  Mississippi Sports Law Review, vol. 2, p. 75 (2013); Lyle J. Micheli, Foreword, in William Paul Meehan III, Kids, Sports, and Concussion: A Guide for Coaches and Parents xi (2011) (“[a] true health crisis”); Alan Schwartz, High School Players Shrug Off Concussions, Raising Risks, N.Y. Times, Sept. 15, 2007, at A1 (quoting Dr. Robert Sallis, president of the American College of Sports Medicine); Jeffrey Kluger, Headbanger Nation, Time (Feb. 3, 2011); Tackling the Dangers of Concussions, Daily News of L.A., Jan. 26, 2012, at L1 (quoting Dr. Gupta); Scooby Axson, “Concussion” Doctor: Letting Kids Play Football is “Definition of Child Abuse,” Sports Illustrated, https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/08/08/bennet-omalu-cte-football  (Aug. 8, 2017); Brooke de Lench, Letting Kids Play Football is Not Child Abuse, http://www.momsteam.com/blog/brooke-de-lench/letting-kids-play-football-not-child-abuse (Aug. 14, 2017).


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