Making a Tough Call: The Curious Case of the Florida State Soccer Coach

If you run a first-class, top-notch women’s soccer team

at a Division I university, isn’t your goal at the beginning

of the year to win the NCAA national championship?

After all, that means your team is the best in the land.

And therefore, all of your coaching decisions should be

dictated by trying to reach that goal.

But does that mean that you should leave 7 of your starters

home on campus when the rest of your team competes

in the Atlantic Coast Conference playoffs?

That was the dilemma that Coach Krikorian from Florida

State had to confront. He consulted with his Athletic Director

at FSU and they both decided this would be a good move.

After all, those seven girls had a variety of bumps and

bruises, and besides, they could catch up on their

schoolwork.

But the ACC viewed all of this much differently. To them,

sending a team without key starters showed a real lack

of respect and integrity for the ACC and the rest of the

teams in the tournament. Florida State was fined $25,000

and also denied $15,000 for travel costs for their actions.

What’s curious about all of this is that numerous college

soccer coaches came to the defense of Florida State, which

lost its opening round match in the ACC to Wake Forest, but

has now advanced to the fourth round of the NCAA tourney.

On my show this past week, lots of callers defended

the FSU coach, but a good number of them also chided

the coach for not bringing the entire team to the ACC

games. That’s what I would have done: bring the entire

squad, and then play your injured starters for 15 minutes

or so. Then, start subbing your reserves.

In that way, nobody can accuse the coach of dividing his

team into two factions, plus everybody plays in the ACC.

As noted, I know it’s about reaching the pinnacle in the

NCAAs, but if you’re going to compete in a conference,

you have to abide by the conference’s rules and

tournaments.

If Only The Coach Had Done the Right Thing….

Of all the items I went through on my show yesterday, the one that got the most response was about the varsity football coach at Southington HS in CT. Now, by all accounts, coach D.J. Hernandez is a young and talented guy. But when he was confronted with a quick decision a couple of weekends ago, unfortunately he gave into temptation and made the wrong choice.

I’m talking specifically about Coach Hernandez coming into possession of a wristband that fell off a Manchester HS player during the game. That wristband contained the various offensive plays that Manchester was running during the contest.Hernandez, according to various accounts, referred to the wristband  and its plays during the course of the game – a game that his team ultimately won 28-14.

Afterwards, when confronted by his actions, Hernandez subsequently apologized for his actions. He was chastised by his school and banned from coaching the next game. He was strongly reminded by his boss that interscholastic sports are NOT about winning at all costs, but rather about setting the right example for high school student-athletes.

Here’s the kicker. Can you just imagine what kind of heroic salute Coach Hernandez would have received if he had simply picked up the wristband, called time-out, and walked it across the field to the Manchester coach? Sure, perhaps some of the Southington HS fans would have jeered him, but everybody else would have stood up and cheered Hernandez for doing the right thing. Plus, let’s be honest – winning a game fair and square — without cheating — always feels a lot better.

As I heard from the majority of calls on WFAN that day, doing the right thing in sports still counts for a lot in our world. That’s a message I welcome everyday.

Final Reflections on A Coach Stopping a Game due to Safety Concerns…

I spoke at some length this past week with both Alex Lalaoui (of Hudson Catholic HS) and Joe Ratto (of Hoboken HS) about the unusual developments between the two teams in a varsity soccer match a few weeks ago. As you might recall, Coach Lalaoui had serious reservations about the field conditions (very wet grass, standing puddles, and unsecured goals) plus, as the game progressed, he felt that the officiating was choppy and uneven. He ultimately decided to take his team off the field with 17 minutes left to go in a 1-1 match.

Coach Lalaoui, who is recognized as being quite knowledgeable about soccer, just felt it would be dangerous to both teams to allow the game to continue. As it developed, when he took his team off the field, under state rules, Hoboken was then awarded a forfeit win.

Since that game, Lalaoui has resigned as the team’s coach, although he made that move with great reservation. And, I should point out, both coaches clearly have real respect for each other. That is, this incident had nothing to do with the relationship between the coaches.

But there has been real concern over the years that it’s very, very difficult to find qualified and certified refs to work soccer games in New Jersey.

All that being said, in retrospect, it’s my sense that if Coach Lalaoui really felt that strongly that the field was unplayable due to safety concerns, he really should have notified the officials and the Hoboken coach BEFORE the game that the game would have to be rescheduled. But once the game began, even if the officiating in his opinion was shoddy, he really didn’t handle this situation well in terms of stopping the game. That move only had the result of making his own kids into victims – victims of a forfeit game. Seeing how no one had been physically injured throughout the first half and most of the second half, it’s hard to see why, suddenly, with 17 mins left in the match, the coach felt that the time had come to intervene.

Again, I want to point out that we had lots of people call or email in with all sorts of support for both coaches, and that of course, there’s no perfect solution here. Safety ALWAYS comes first. I just think it might have been easier if the game had simply be re-scheduled for a later date, and the game had never started in the first place.

Dealing with parents: Coach Bill Tribou’s “Three Absolutes” Approach

Had a lively and spirited interview this AM with long-time head football coach at Greeley HS (Chappaqua, NY), Bill Tribou. As I said on WFAN, you’re not going to find many coaches who are as successful and as well-respected as Bill Tribou.

Bill, just like any HS coach these days, has had to come to grips with meddling parents. That is, sports parents who mean well, but want to make sure that the coach is on the same wave length when it comes to insuring that their kid is getting enough playing time, playing the right position, and so on. Coaches everywhere will tell you that dealing with intrusive parents is the hardest part of their job.

Based upon his experiences over the years, Coach Tribou has come up with a game-plan to head off parents. He calls it the “Three Absolutes” and he presents these mandates in a big meeting with the players and their parents, each April, long before the football season gets underway.

Those Absolutes are: Be Absolutely honest…Be Absolutely organized….and Be Absolutely Committed. Tribou spells it all out and asks the parents as he goes through each point as to whether they have any comments or questions. His approach is direct and simple: in effect, let’s get all of the questions out in the open now, so there’s no misunderstanding as we move ahead.

He makes it clear when and how parents can seek him out to talk about their son BUT that the coach will not talk about any other kid on the team as it relates to the player in question. That immediately stops queries such as, “My kid is better than Jones, the starting QB” or “How come my kid isn’t a co-captain”?

In addition, Coach Tribou makes it clear to the parents that if they want to go over his head and complain directly to the HS athletic director, that’s fine…so long as the AD has his back. If the AD doesn’t fully support his coaches, that’s where real problems can pop up in any school district.

Having coached myself over the years, I can tell you that Bill Tribou is right on target with his approach. Running a tight practice, being fully organized, and most of all, being clear and totally communicative to the players and their parents early on goes a long, long way toward getting rid of any parental intrusions. Maybe a generation ago, these kinds of problems didn’t exist, but they’re everywhere these days. Smart coaches know how to plan ahead to keep them out of the way.

Does a HS Coach the Right to Stop a Game?

I saw a short write-up a week ago in the Jersey Journal a week ago in which a HS varsity boys soccer match between Hudson Catholic and Hoboken was stopped with the score tied 1-1 with 17 minutes to go because one of the coaches thought the officiating was poor, i.e. he felt that the tone of the game had become physically dangerous for both teams.

So the coach took his team off the field, and the game came to an abrupt end.

A week later, there’s still no word as to whether the coach would either be disciplined by the New Jersey State Athletic Interscholastic Association for his actions…or saluted for being proactive in trying to prevent serious injury to his players.

On my show this AM, it seemed that the callers were split down the middle on this debate. Some felt that this coach was setting a dangerous precedent with his actions, and that he needed to reprimanded, even suspended. Others felt that the coach should be applauded for not waiting for the inevitable to take (e.g. someone getting hurt), and that the game should simply be suspended and picked up at a later date (with presumably different refs working the game).

Almost all the callers agreed that it’s increasingly difficult to get good refs for HS soccer matches, and that even though they are all certified and trained, it’s just hard to maintain a certain level of quality. That being said, clearly this is an issue that needs to be addressed so that the coaches and referee’s can all work in tandem to make sure these conflicts don’t happen again.

As I said on the show, it sure would make a lot of sense for a coach to communicate his or her concerns with the officials either during a time-out or perhaps during half-time. The problem is, when you arbitrarily take your team off the field, that kind of ultimate action puts the coach – and the officials – in a very awkward spot.

No one wants to see a game be marred with injuries or penalties. I just wish there was some sort of policy put into place that can prevent these kinds of situations from happening in the future.

ACL Injuries and Female Athletes: A Cruel Irony

As Dr. Karen Sutton pointed out on my show on Sunday morning, the odds of a young female athlete suffering a serious ACL injury are about 8 or 9 times more likely than their male counterparts.

Even worse, there’s not much that girls or women can do to prevent these devastating injuries to their knees. There’s no indication that wearing a protective knee brace or support wrap will do anything to reduce the odds of these injuries. Dr. Sutton did mention a number of exercises to be done, including the strenthening of the hamstrings, quad muscles, and so on, but the high rate of ACL injuries occurs mostly due to the inherent structure of the female body, and apparently there’s not much that can be done to stop these injuries.

There was one caller who said that there’s some evidence that girls/women tend to see a higher occurrence of ACL injuries when the athlete is going through her menstruation cycle.

The only good news here is that those athletes who suffer these ACL tears do recover fairly quickly from surgery and can often go back and return to their sport. Dr. Sutton did point out, however, that often when one knee is hurt, the other one gets injured too.

All in all, with all the progress that Title IX has made in the USA to guarantee equality between the sexes, it’s just very ironic that women end up having to deal with so many more knee injuries than males.

Why do Athletes Have Such A Difficult Time in Behaving?

I was thrilled to have Jeff Benedict of SI.com on my show this past Sunday. As an investigative journalist, there is no one in the country who digs deeper and does a better job in putting forth the truth when it comes to top college and pro athletes, and how they have such difficulty in obeying the law.

As Jeff pointed out, his research doesn’t focus on garden-variety misbehavior; rather, he checks the police and arrest records for athletes who are accused of serious crimes, including domestic violence, rape, armed robbery, and so on. Common sense would dictate that these high-profile athletes would realize that they need to behave, or else risk all of their high-earning potential. But unfortunately, that’s just not often the case.

To me, what Jeff targeted well is that too many parents, coaches, and sports communities become enablers for these athletes when they are young. Rather than hold these kids responsible and accountable for miscreant activities, we too often look the other way, and just adopt a “boys will be boys” attitude. That kind of approach only aids in the downward spiral of these young athletes; they begin to assume that they can get away with anything.

So, as a sports parent, make sure you do the right thing with your child. Don’t give in. These are vitally important lessons for kids to learn at impressionable ages, and they watch carefully to see just how much they can get away with. The seeds of poor behavior are usually planted when an athlete is young – they grow into real weeds as the kids get older.

Hasn’t the time come to teach our kids internet etiquette?

The tragic case of 18-year-old Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi is just the latest example of a kid feeling so violated by the internet that he felt that he no other choice but to commit suicide.

This is just one more case — and there are plenty all over the country — where a student felt that his privacy had been so invaded and then displayed on the web that he couldn’t bear to go on with his life.

As we discussed on the Sports Edge this AM, the time has come for schools everywhere to step up their curriculum to teach either kids in middle school or in high school that the internet can be a devastating weapon. Internet bullying, hazing, and the invasion of privacy has to be stopped. And the first step to doing that is by teaching kids just how damaging their comments online may be to a classmate, colleague, or opposing teammate.

Anonymous blog posting, incorrect wikipedia edits, posting damaging video on youtube, even photoshopping pictures meant to embarass other individuals can no longer be tolerated. Parents have to be a main part of the solution here as well – they have to step in and try and teach their kids right from wrong when it comes to internet etiquette – or “netiquette.”

Of all the various topics in the world of sports parenting, this may be the most far-reaching. Kids know that when something is posted online, it is there for the entire world to view….and that it’s there forever. They have no control over it. And for too many kids, like Tyler Clementi, they see no way out.

Kids and concussions: Listen to what a top doctor has to say…

This past Sunday AM on my WFAN radio show, I asked my brother — who’s one of the top pediatric neurologists in the country – for his professional opinion about kids, parents, and concussions.

Here’s what Dr. Robert Wolff of Children’s Hospital in Boston had to say — and on a personal note from me….IF YOU ARE A SPORTS PARENT WHOSE SON OR DAUGHTER PLAYS A CONTACT SPORT, PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT TO READ ALL OF THIS:

“My observation is that youngsters who sustain mild brain injuries characterized by transient confusion, balance problems, or amnesia of even a brief duration need to be immdiately removed from play and the possibility of further head injury. However, the vast, vast majority of such children recover entirely, and have no lingering symptoms of concussion. Such children if indeed asymptomatic at both rest and with exercise may, after a graded re-entry, may return to play at a minimum of 7 days.

“In my personal experience of more than 30 years, taking care of hundreds and hundreds of such children, my impression is they go on to do well and do not present with early signs of CTE. This is a personal observation. No large scale prospective studies have been done, although some are now underway at Children’s Hospital in Boston and other large centers.

“Most sports do indeed have inherent risks and some much more than others. The act of simply driving your child across town to chess practice may pose a much more significant risk if one considers the actual statistics of youth mortality in auto accidents.

“My own perspective on the risks of allowing play in football or ice hockey (incidentally both my sons played these sports in high school) is that I feel the participation in these activities had many more positive benefits than the potential risks. I would insist, however, that my kids’ coaches were fully educated about concussions, and would take the time to educate the team members about the importance of how to identify and report them immediately to eliminate the risk of greater injury.”

The Derek Jeter controversy: What do you say to your young athlete?

I can’t recall any one moment from my more than two decades of working in the sports parenting field that has generated more controversy that the so-called Derek Jeter incident. That incident, as most of you know, occurred when he was seemingly hit by a pitch on his hand when in fact the ball struck the knob of his bat. Derek went through the motions of being in pain, so much so that the Yankees trainer came out of the dugout to tend to his “injury.”

The home plate umpire awarded Jeter first base, although later replays clearly showed that Jeter was role-playing. After the game when Jeter was confronted by the media, he simply said that he was merely doing what the umpire told him to do.

The calls that came in were all over the lot, but most of them fell between gamemanship and sportsmanship. Gamemanship was defined as a deliberate act to gain an advantage over one’s opponent. Sportsmanship is an act that is aimed to the right thing. In this case, it was pretty clear that sportsmanship did not play into Derek’s thinking. As a professional, he explained that “It’s my job to get on first base.” And that’s how he rationalized his actions.

However, from the sports parents’ perspective, this kind of action causes Moms and Dads real concern. Does this mean that kids should ALWAYS display gamemanship ahead of sportsmanship? It’s a tough, tough call. Several callers mentioned that there may be a distinction between being a pro athlete and being an amateur one.

Overall, from my perspective, let me say this – as a sports parent, you should use the Jeter incident as the perfect way to talk to your son or daughter about sportsmanship and gamemanship. There may, in fact, not be a satisfactory answer to this knotty problem. But at least having the discussion and making your child aware of these issues is a positive development. 

PS – My thanks to Doug Abrams from the Univ of Missouri School of Law for finding that unusual case from a HS soccer game from North Carolina where, in a 1-1 game, it seemed that one team had scored the go-ahead goal late in the match. The seemingly victorious coach asked his players if they had, in fact, scored the goal, and they admitted that they hadn’t.

The coach then went to the officials, and the refs took away the goal. The game ended in a tie. The coach said, “I couldn’t justify winning an important soccer game on a goal that really didn’t go in.”

In other words, this was sportsmanship – not gamemanship. Tell your kids that story as well.