Be wary of high-energy drinks!

Dr. Gary Wadler, who is perhaps the nation’s leading expert on performance enhancing substances when it comes to athletes, was my guest on Sunday, and we focused on the extremely high levels of caffeine which are contained in most of the highly-popular quick energy drinks these days.

A HS football player from Missouri came home from school a few weeks ago, and quaffed two 16-oz cans of something called NOS. The youngster, who was in perfect health, ended up in a coma for a few days, all because he ingested more than 500 mg of caffeine from those two NOS drinks.

Even worse, most sports parents think that when their kid drinks a can of Red Bull or NOS or other similar products that they’re giving themselves an edge over their competitors. The truth is – by ingesting such high levels of caffeine in a short period of time, they’re putting themselves at serious risk of seizures, strokes, and heart attacks.

Hard to believe but it’s true. Some coaches and school athletic directors now ban kids from drinking this stuff. Problem is, they’re available everywhere, kids think that it’s good for them, and there’s very little warning on the label about how potentially dangerous this can be.

Note to sports parents and coaches: a cup of coffee has about 100 mg of caffeine. A can of cola about 50 mg. A 16-oz serving of NOS has about 250 mg. Most medical experts say one should not consume more than 150 mg a day.

Do you really think you’re giving your kid an edge…or accidentally putting their health at risk?

Focusing on Coaching Concerns of the Future…

Tom DeCara (“Coach Tom”) was my guest this AM. I had asked him to think about how HS and youth level coaching is going to change in the years to come, and he was right on the money when he said that HS coaches and travel team coaches are going to eventually have to deal with a “fork in the road.”

That is, are the elite and highly talented athletes going to opt only for the travel teams….or are they going to remain and play with their school buddies on their local teams. As I pointed out, lots of athletes today say they play on their travel team “for real” – -meaning they take that very seriouly — and they play on their HS teams “for fun.”

That’s an odd approach, but it’s one that is becoming more apparent. Also, it was great to hear from Dave from Orange County (NY), who is the head of the NYS Basketball Assn, that these future coaching issues are finally being considered. There are clearly pro’s and con’s on both sides. On one hand, travel teams offer better competition than school teams, but for the most part, travel team coaches are not certified or have any obligation to be trained in their sport. School coaches, though, need to be certified as coaches and usually have training with CPR as well.

Problem is, for too many parents, this is always a very tough choice, and of course, for the student-athlete, this is still very competitive. I just wish I could offer more concrete suggestions on which is the best way to go. Sadly, there are no clear-cut answers.

Trashtalking, freedom of speech, and blogs and Facebook

This entire area of Facebook opinions and blog postings is really beginning to concern me.  Today’s generation of HS athletes are now learning how to trash-talk online, and even worse, it’s speading to adults who feel compelled to post anonynmous nasty comments on newspaper blogs.

As law professor Doug Abrams said on my show, the law just hasn’t caught up to this problem yet. But in the meantime, kids are getting booted out of school for posting threats on their Facebook pages (remember, we’re in the age of Columbine HS and ALL threats are taken seriously). And newspapers don’t often monitor or moderate the trash-talk that is posted on their blogs.

The combination of all these happenings puts athletes, coaches, administrators, and school boards in a very awkward spot as they are now forced to walk a very fine line between what constitutes freedom of speech under the first amendment of the US Constitution and what is totally unacceptable for young athletes. There just isn’t much in the way of guidance here, except common sense.

Most of the callers yesterday expressed similar concerns. It’s very, very hard for a parent to read horrible comments about their son or daughter online where the writer doesn’t even have the guts to post their own name.

Rick Peterson on youth pitching

I sure hope you had a chance to listen to Rick Peterson, the pitching coach of the Milwaukee Brewers, talk this past Sunday about kids and pitching. Peterson, who has devoted his lifetime to the inner workings of top pitchers, had all sorts of observations about pitching, including:

o Kids today are overused too much as pitchers, and that’s resulted in an avalanche number of arm surgeries at very young ages.

o Peterson warns that young pitchers need to learn mechanics only from those coaches who really know about the art of pitching.

o He warns that letting kids throw curve balls under the age of 15 can really ruin a youngster’s arm.

Best of all, if you want to find out more about Peterson’s insights and advice, go to his new website instructional venture, It’s a terrific concept.

Young athletes and the temptations of gambling

Every year I try to do at least one show about the growing epidemic of kids who get involved in betting, wagering, and gambling on sporting events. Whether it’s betting on the Super Bowl or playing online poker, too many kids are being drawn into the disease of gambling.

As Don from Gamblers Anonymous pointed out, kids today are exposed to all sorts of wagering. Most parents look the other way, until they begin to see charges on their credit cards, or cash missing from their wallets. Gambling is a real disease that destroys thousands of lives each year.

Here’s a suggestion from the heart: next time you sit down to watch a sporting event with your son or daughter, take five minutes and explain to him or her the potential dangers of gambling. Let them know that wagering, like alcoholism, can sometimes develop into a real addiction — an addiction that has the power to ruin their life.

Does the punishment fit the crime?

Tara Schwitter is, by all accounts, a terrific HS athlete at Immaculate Heart Academy in NJ. So good that she’s being recruited by a number of D-I colleges for soccer. But when the Univ of Miami soccer coach invited Tara to participate in a 3-day soccer showcase during the Christmas break to show her stuff, Tara went to her basketball coach to ask permission.

By the way, Art Stapleton of The Record did a great job in covering this story, and also did a great job on my show.

Bear in mind that Tara is a captain of the basketball team. She also knew that the school has a strict policy: you miss a HS game or practice for a club team activity, you’re off the team. Tara knew all this, took a chance on furthering his college education, and when she returned from Florida, she was told nicely that she had played in her last HS basketball game.

To me, this is a lose-lose situation. Look, I fully appreciate the school’s hard-line policy here, but at the same time, shouldn’t they consider all the facts in this case? The problem with tough, blanket rules like this is that, invariably, a situation like this comes along and nobody wins. Tara could have simply lied to her hoops coach and told her that she was sick for those three days…or that her family had to go visit their ailing grandparents..or whatever.

Instead, she told the truth, and paid a steep price. The way I see it, the rule was put into place to prevent kids from playing on a club team and the HS varsity team at the same time during the season. But in this case, this was a once-in-a-lifetime showcase that just happened to get in the way of her basketball schedule.

Wouldn’t it have made more sense to simply “punish” Tara in a different way? Maybe have her sit out a few games and then re-instate her. But to lose the rest of the season? That doesn’t sound right or fair to me.

Running Up The Score: Time to take a stand

It’s very simple…there’s really no reason at all to ever humiliate an opponent by allowing your kids to run up the score. Sure, coaches can make all the excuses they want…”How can I tell my second and third stringers not to score?”…”We really weren’t trying to score a lot of points”…and so on. But if your team is trouncing the other team, it’s incumbent upon you — the coach — to make sure the score remains reasonable.

Some HS athletic associations allow a winning team to let the clock run in a lopsided game. Or in baseball, many states have a 10-run “mercy” rule. In Connecticut HS football, if a team wins by too many points, an investigation is started by the governing HS body.

My point is this: every HS league or conference should have a rule in place that teams (read: coaches) who run up the score on opponents will be investigated before being allowed to coach in their next game. Discussions will take place with the losing coach and the refs/umps who worked the game. In other words, let’s get these coaches to pay attention to what’s going on.

In short, this is one aspect of sportsmanship we can control. So, coaches, let’s do it.

“In Your Face” Coaches: Where do we draw the line?

As evidenced by the recent firings of top college football coaches such as Mike Leach of Texas Tech, Mark Mangino at Kansas, and Jim Leavitt at the Univ of South Florida, clearly the parameters are changing.

That is, there is no more tolerance for coaches who, in order to motivate their players, have to reach into the world of physical and verbal abuse to get them to raise their game. This is to be saluted. After all, you would think that a college coach who is making millions in salary AND is supposed to be a master motivator could come up with a better way of prodding their players.

After all, coaches like John Wooden and Joe Torre and Phil Jackson don’t have to do this — so why do other coaches feel the need?

And by the way, watch for the trickle-down effect of all this. HS coaches, travel coaches, and youth coaches will all be under the microscope now for the way in which they treat the athletes on their teams. Again, as noted, this is all for the good.

Good coaches know how to get kids to play better. You can do it with the right words – -no need for verbal (or physical) abuse.

2010 Sports Parenting Predictions

With a new decade upon us, I thought I’d run through a bunch of predictions regarding the field of sports parenting. Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts:

1. A new kind of football (and ice hockey) helmet will be introduced that dramatically reduces concussions (the most promising is called the Xenith, which works with air pressure pads). The research is very exciting.

2. More lawsuits will be filed against aluminum bat manufacturers. Thanks to the favorable decisions in recent months (such as the Brandon Patch case), more parents will look for damages for their kids hurt by line drives off metal bats.

3. LL Baseball will continue to fluster parents with their rules regarding pitch counts, days of rest, etc. In my opinion, they’ll even try and say that throwing curves is okay for young kids.

4. More and more colleges and universities will cut back on non-revenue producing sports, which in turns means fewer college scholarships. This is due to the lingering recession.

5. Unfortunately, we’ll continue to see more hazing incidents, as well as parents getting in the face of coaches. This just has to stop!

6. On the positive side, we’ll continue to see a rise in kids who understand sportsmanship and doing the right thing and as such, the kids who actually play sports will draw more from their experiences that we parents give them credit for.

7. And don’t be surprised if President Obama starts to put together some sort of meaningful Presidential Commisison on Youth Sports in this country. This would be of great help to coaches and parents everywhere who are looking for guidance in this increasingly complicated area.

All in all, let’s hope for the best in 2010! Happy New Year!

Agassi Autobio: A Tragic Case of Sports Parenting?

No question that the Andre Agassi autobiography is going to be a major bestseller. Agassi is extremely honest, forthcoming, and candid about his tennis career.

But what concerns me is that he openly says that he hated played tennis for 30 years – -that he was merely trying to appease his father who pressured him to play and succeed, and that along the way, he looked upon his life at Nick Bollitieri’s tennis academy as a kind of forced prison for tennis. In short, Agassi seemed to lead a very unhappy life. It got so bad that he turned to drug abuse to help escape the pressures.

What’s the takeaway from this? To me, this is a classic case of sports parenting gone wild. At least Andre was able to survive and succeed….but what about all the other kids who are pressured by their parents to win in sports — not just in tennis, but in all the other sports.

Bottom line: OPEN should serve as a modern-day cautionary tale for ambitious sports parents who are convinced they ought to push their kids to becoming great athletes.