Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Cyberbullying and the suicide of a high school athlete

with 15 comments

In all seriousness: teenagers, if you’ve ever had the romantic notion that after you kill yourself, everyone will love you and miss you, then you haven’t been following the postscript of the March 21 suicide of West Islip, N.Y., high school student and star soccer player Alexis Pilkington.

That sounds a little cruel, because certainly plenty of people do love and miss the 17-year-old senior, who was set to play small-college soccer on her home Long Island after graduating in June. However, plenty of people have decided to treat her in death like apparently she was treated the same way in the waning days of her life — hounded by cyberbullying.

Suffolk County (N.Y.) police are investigating whether any criminal charges can or should be brought in the cyberbullying that apparently plagued Alexis Pilkington before she killed herself at her home. While plenty of people are ready to blame cyberbullying — the act of online harassment that’s quickly replacing getting the shit beat out of you or having your lunch money taken as the most popular form of bullying — for the girl’s decision to end her life, her family said she was undergoing counseling for an unspecified problem. “She was sick,” the West Islip Tribune quoted an uncle as saying. “She was fighting an illness we’ll never understand.”

Almost one month before Pilkington’s suicide, a speaker came to her school to discuss his son’s 2003 suicide, and how after the fact he discovered his son fighting off classmates online, or what were to become known as cyberbullies. It’s not known whether Pilkington attended that session, although school officials were quoted in local newspaper as saying that as a popular girl and sports star, she probably wouldn’t have.

At this point, it’s unclear exactly the nature of cyberbullying against Pilkington — who was doing it, what it was about, and why it was happening. Some friends have pointed the finger at Formspring.me, a new social networking site that allows users to register so they can ask and answer questions from other users, and have those questions and answers streamed to their Facebook and Twitter pages. Only a few days before Pilkington’s suicide, the company got a round of venture capital funding and made its big move from Indianapolis to Silicon Valley. I presume this is not the kind of big publicity it wanted right about now.

[youtubevid id="cT18SqS-RH8"]

A tribute video that takes a moment to lambaste Formspring.me.

Is cyberbullying responsible for Alexis Pilkington’s death? I’m not sure there’s a definite answer to that. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists “isolation” as a contributing factor to suicide, and no doubt being constantly harassed online, particularly from peers or people you thought were your friends, can be incredibly isolating.

Legally, cyberbullying is not treated as an accessory to murder or manslaughter in case of suicide. On March 29, nine teenagers were charged in the high-profile cyberbullying of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old Irish immigrant to South Hadley, Mass., who killed herself Jan. 14. The charges were related to harassment and violation of civil rights (though two teens with statutory rape charges show that not all the alleged problems were online in nature.)

All we really know is: cyberbullying doesn’t help. And we know that for the most part parents, stuck in a generation gap where back in their day bullying required face-to-face contact, aren’t taking it seriously. I went to a talk at my son’s junior high school delivered by John Halligan, the same parent who appeared at West Islip High. More than 150 chairs were set up in the gym. Seven parents showed up.

As with old-time fist-in-the-face bullying, the problem is getting parents to believe their sweet little child is capable of something so nasty, but what makes cyberbullying especially problematic is that those parents are even less inclined to believe those words can hurt more than sticks and stones. (My wife and I just took texting off my 10-year-old daughter’s cell phone when two girls who have been friends started barraging her with disparaging remarks, rather than going through the dead end of confronting their parents about it.)

Also, as this scathing West Islip Tribune editorial points out, maybe growing seeing their parents flip out during youth sporting events, Tea Party rallies and long lines at the grocery checkout have given kids the idea that flipping out is an acceptable emotion to be used at any time.

[youtubevid id="Y-Elr5K2Vuo"]

“I learned it by watching you!”

What’s even more unfortunate is that the cyberbullying of Alexis Pilkington isn’t resting after her death. Despite attempts to take down objectionable posts and photos as quickly as possible, an RIP site set up on Facebook is still rife with disparaging comments and obscene pictures. That’s resulted in another Facebook site ripping those who ripped her on the other site, which of course has attracted people to rip Alexis Pilkington on that site, too. A 15-year-old in West Islip has put up her own anti-cyberbullying Facebook site in response to all of this (the pre- and post-life activity), but who knows when that site will get blasted, too? (And, by the way, people have set up scores of malware sites for those who look at their pages to find out more regarding Alexis Pilkington’s death.)

Unlike the cyberbullying Pilkington apparently received before her suicide, it appears that much of the post-death traffic is coming from those who don’t know her, especially because I’ve seen references to the notorious message board denizens of 4chan.

Technically, that would not be cyberbullying, but trolling. No matter. Just remember, teens, that while you imagine yourself looking down from Heaven as the masses cry out your name, you’ll also be saying a lot of other people taking the opportunity to sully your name  without you around to defend it.

How video games make your kid a better athlete

with 4 comments

Wired’s Chris Suellentrop is echoing the chorus that attributes the increasingly complex brand of football played at lower levels, and the strategies employed at the highest levels, on a generation’s worth of players growing up with the Madden video game, which premiered in 1989. After all, if pilots get better through flight simulators, and studies show that gamers make better surgeons, then it stands to reason that years of basement video-game playing could translate into real-life football, right?

Cognitive scientists have published a series of studies demonstrating that playing fast-paced action videogames — mostly first-person shooters like Call of Duty and Halo — can alter “some of the fundamental aspects of visual attention,” as a paper published in the July 2009 issue of Neuropsychologia put it. By training on these games, researchers found, nongamers can achieve faster reaction time, improved hand-eye coordination, and greatly increased ability to process multiple stimuli. Studies have demonstrated that military pilots and laparoscopic surgeons can improve their professional skills by playing videogames. It’s not much of a leap to think that athletes could, too.

There are limits to how much virtual training will be able to boost on-field performance, of course. Don’t expect football to follow on the heels of poker, a game in which Internet-trained players have upended the professional cartel. (Chris Moneymaker won’t be quarterbacking the Titans next year.) A better analogy for virtual training could be weight lifting: It’s an activity that won’t turn you into a professional athlete, but if you are one, it will make you better at your sport. And once everyone starts doing it, you’ll need to do it regularly to remain competitive.

Plus, you don’t need to inject steroids into your teammate’s ass to make them a better gamer.

I would say something smart-alecky about Suellentrop’s thesis… except that I agree with it. Suellentrop has plenty of supporters, including pro athletes, in his story. But I’ve seen it work in my own kids.

When my oldest son, now 12, first signed up for baseball, he didn’t know much about the rules of the game — but he learned them quickly, thanks to a preseason of playing Backyard Baseball. He’s not tall enough or strong enough to stand out playing basketball — he didn’t make his seventh-grade team. But I can’t help but think that his strongest suit — quick, thread-the-needle passing — is helped by his years of gaming. If he can figure out how to snake through a zombie-infested subway in Left 4 Dead while also being aware of his teammates’ position, it makes sense that he can make a quick decision with the ball when his teammates are surrounded.

Where I see games translating to real life the most is in my 7-year-old son’s bowling league. First, the whole reason he got interested in bowling is because of Wii Sports. But he, and his teammates, have learned to adjust their starting positions and throws because of Wii bowling. And then it circles back, with my son using real bowling to help position himself on Wii bowling. And then using what he learned from that applied back to Wii bowling.

So if your kids are spending a lot of time playing video games — don’t freak out!

Written by rkcookjr

February 6, 2010 at 7:27 pm

An app that satisfies the demand for real-time T-ball action

with one comment

Have you ever driven by a Little League baseball field and thought, “Where’s the GOT-damn scoreboard? How am I supposed to know what’s going on in this game?”

Well, now your worries are over, thanks to the Gamechanger!

It’s, well, a game changer for how we follow youth sports. No longer do you have to ask some other parent, “What inning are we in? Is this ever going to be over?” Now, thanks to this smartphone app, you can look and say, “Fucking shit. It’s only the third inning. I’m never getting out of here.”

Developed by former Cleveland Indians single-A minor-league pitcher Ted Sullivan, the Gamechanger allows a scorekeeper at the game to update statistics, which are then accessible by mobile phone to anyone who logs into the Gamechanger network. It’s the perfect gift for guilt-ridden parents who aren’t able to make it to their kid’s game because they’re working late and/or banging the secretary.

“As a busy father, I have always wished that I could follow my sons’ games even when I couldn’t be there,” said Steve Hansen, the CEO of Weplay, a celebrity-endorsed youth sports portal, in a Jan. 27 statement announcing Gamechanger’s availability to any league that uses Weplay services.  “With GameChanger, Weplay now is on the field on an iPhone, broadcasting and sharing youth sports memories with the people who care most.” (For the record, I would never mean to imply that Steve Hanson has ever banged his secretary. I don’t even know if he has a secretary.)

The Weplay deal is a coup for the Gamechanger — a game changer, if you will — because otherwise Sullivan was looking at, league by league, trying to sell $2 per month subscriptions to parents whose leagues might or might not be feeding data to the application.

Now, even George Clooney in “Up in the Air” can know that little Johnny is 2-for-4 with an error in his 9-year-old Little League game. Grandma in Spokane can see how little Sasha in Fort Wayne is playing. Then she can call her parents and ask them why Sasha sucks so hard.

2498619968_ce16a78dd51Scoreboard update!

To me, as a coach, the best thing about the Gamechanger is that parents stop asking me what inning it is, or what the score is. (I’m annoyed because usually I don’t know without looking at the scorebook.) Better yet, the dad that would call my 10-year-old daughter’s softball manager during games to get details on score, inning and how his hotshot travel-team daughter was doing could look at the app and find out, leaving the poor manager alone with his thoughts and the incessant cheers of a 10-year-old girls’ softball team.

There are many other constituencies for tracking games with the Gamechanger. Such as:

– Ice cream truck drivers, so they know when to show up to a game and park and play their grating song OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER until you HAVE to buy FUCKING SPONGEBOB ICE CREAM BARS just to GET THEM TO GO AWAY, GODDAMNIT.

– Coaches who think they’re running a friggin’ major-league team and want to use it for “scouting.”

– Parents pounding shots at the bar, wanting a sure signal on what time they should start sobering up to pick up their kid.

– Commissioners and owners of youth-league fantasy baseball team.

– Gamblers.

– Pervs.

5-year-old scores an own goal. And there's online buzz why?

with 3 comments

[youtubevid id="FAKNf8ARzXc"]

The video above of the little girl soccer goalie accidentally kicking the ball into her own net isn’t to Tay Zonday Internet star level yet. But with nearly 100,000 views on YouTube in a week, and shoutouts from Deadspin, the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, it’s safe to say accidental bicycle-kicker is reaching the status of Internet phenomenon, at least in the youth sports division. An appearance on Versus’ Sports Soup seems inevitable. (It won’t appear on another Soup spinoff, G4′s Web Soup, because no one gets whomped in the nutsack. Or as my 7-year-old son calls it, the sheen.)

[youtubevid id="4Kn5cXBxM28"]

A youth soccer clip that climaxes with somebody getting whomped in the nutsack.

Anyway, back to the clip of the little girl. As described by a commenter on Deadspin named SunnieDay:

This is a clip from a REC soccer game when the goalie was five years old. And how do I know that? Because I took the video and made the clip; she’s my daughter. I appreciate the comments from the people smart enough to take it for what it is — a just-for-fun, “blooper” video, from a moment in our lives that will always bring a smile to my face.

That’s wonderful. That’s cute. But I have no idea why so many people find it so entertaining. It’s a girl who tries to kick a soccer ball in the air, and kicks it over her head and back toward her own goal. That’s it. I bet you, if you weren’t barred from city parks, could see something similar during any youth soccer season anywhere. And then you might see someone get whomped in the nutsack.

The only reason I can figure it’s taken off is so people who are barred from city parks can make vile comments about the video. Sample from YouTube, which is furiously taking down inappropriate comments so quickly that these excerpts might be gone by the time you read this:

CougarBoobies: …perfect example of why women shouldn’t play sports.

Jaraha: She scored on herself. The next Carrie Prejean?

Westmeat: why do they even bother to let this slut play. she is such a fucking loser.

Westmeat (three minutes later): i hate it when bitches like this try to show off and ruin it for the entire team. if her parents don’t beat her with an electrical cord after the game, i will not be surprised.

When my 10-year-old daughter and her friend posted their own YouTube show, they got some cretinous comments like this (which I X’ed out). My daughter asked why, and I had to explain the concept of an Internet troll and the sort of person who gets his jollies talking obscene smack about little girls.

I don’t know what soccer girl’s mom thought the reaction would be, but I hope that if more people watch it, the ones who find the whole thing cute and funny crowd out the weirdos and perverts. I would hate to think they are the most responsible for this video’s inexplicable, enduring popularity.

Written by rkcookjr

November 17, 2009 at 6:14 pm

How to fail at enforcing school athletic codes, and look supercreepy, too!

with 2 comments

Two Indiana high school girls got a painful lesson that whatever you post online can come back to bite you. A large amount of that pain came from what their high school put them through after declaring their Internet post violated school athletic rules, including an initial ruling they would be banned from all sports for one year. The school itself is now feeling some pain — the girls have fired back with a federal lawsuit that will end up drawing the line, as others have put it, between school space and MySpace.

The contretemps stem from two Churubusco High School girls posting naughty pictures of themselves on MySpace. The pictures were taken during a summer sleepover. According to the girls’ own lawsuit against the school:

“[T]he girls took pictures of themselves pretending to kiss or lick a large multi-colored novelty phallus-shaped lollipop that they had purchased as well as pictures of themselves in lingerie with dollar bills stuck in their clothes.”

Say this about the girls: when it comes to novelty phallus-shaped lollipops, they’re not racist.

The pictures were put on a MySpace page that presumably was open only to their chosen MySpace friends. But someone got his or her hands on the pictures and made the outside world aware of them. That outside world happened to be the school’s principal, who responded by suspending the girls from sports and all other extracurricular activites for one year.

[youtubevid id="XUkzIx382mM"]

Geez, all that happened to the Popsicle Twins was that they allegedly didn’t make the West Coast feed of “The Gong Show.”

The school system justified the punishment based on Indiana High School Athletic Association Rule 8-1, a version of which also is included in the high school’s handbook:

Contestants’ conduct, in and out of school, shall be such as (1) not to reflect discredit upon their school or the Association, or (2) not to create a disruptive influence on the discipline, good order, moral or educational environment in the school. NOTE: It is recognized that principals, by the administrative authority vested in them by their school corporation, may exclude such contestants from representing their school.

“Our athletes travel to surrounding schools, our conference schools, and represent [Churubusco] High School and they represent the community,” Smith-Green Community School Corp. Superintendent Steve Darnell told Fort Wayne television station WANE. “We certainly want the best behavior to represent our school.”

Isn’t it cute how high schools still treat their athletes as if everyone else in the community looks up to them?

The school did have one deal to offer the girls, after their parents filed an appeal: go through three counseling sessions, apologize individually to the athletic board, and you only have to sit out 25 percent of the volleyball season. So they did. And that was that.

Until this: the American Civil Liberties Union, every conservative’s favorite punching bag pre-ACORN, in late October filed a lawsuit on behalf of the girls. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne, accuses the school district and principal Austin Couch of violating the girls’ First Amendment rights. As Kenneth Falk, the legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, told WANE:

“Students, not in school, have a right to communicate and this is how people communicate today. We cannot start looking through those communications, which are clearly expressions… protected by the 1st Amendment. We can’t start policing them.”

I think we can all agree that it wasn’t the wisest thing for the girls to post those pictures. Social Media 101 is that no matter how private you think something is on the Internet, something can always leak out, especially if it’s particularly damaging. Though someday, when the current young generation is running things, they probably look askance at anyone who DIDN’T post salacious pictures of themselves online. (“Your resume looks great, but I’m sorry to say I could find no online pictures of you naked beer-bonging. That makes me think you’re not the kind of person who would fit in at our company.”)

But the school administration, as school administrations tend to do, completely overreacted. Let’s put it this way: if everyone who posted naughty pictures of themselves online was banned from athletic competition, Churubusco probably wouldn’t field any teams. Neither would their opponents. I could see the administration having authority if the pictures were taken at a school event, or under some circumstance when they were under school auspices. That’s why a school can suspend students who engage in novelty phallus-shape activity on the school bus, but not those who do so in their parents’ house.

It would seem, too, that the school might take into consideration that the girls made a good-faith effort to keep their photo private. In this case, it would be no different than if, pre-Internet, the girls had made prints to show their friends, except someone took one and handed it to the principal. It hasn’t been revealed who forwarded the girls’ photos to the principal. I’m sure they would love to know.

[youtubevid id="t8q9m2z3e4g"]

Look for the Churubusco girls to appear in the next edition of the “Stop Snitchin’” DVD series.

And what makes this supercreepy, as alluded to in the headline? It’s that the photos of two pre-driving-age girls licking novelty phallus-shaped lollipops were pored over and judged upon — with an apology forced in front of — an all-male athletic board (all varsity coaches at Churusbusco serve on the board. And they’re all dudes). In just about any other circumstances, these guys would be in jail for spending so much time looking at pictures like that.

If you missed my youth bowling live tweet…

leave a comment »

You can see it at twitter.com/notgoingpro. It went great, until my Blackberry’s network crapped out in the seventh frame of the last game.

bobbys-cameravideo-100Last year’s Penguins, now this year’s Field Force Monkeys: Liam, Ryan, Nick and Trevor.

The live-tweet was part of my ultimately futile effort to show support for Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, under fire from the NFL gendarmes for his desire to tweet during games. The NFL is upset that somebody might discover nothing interesting goes on during Bengals games.

I call this futile because the NFL will do something to Ochocinco after he does whatever Twitter thing he promises to do during his game tomorrow, and that Ochocinco took his grandma to the new Tyler Perry movie instead of following my in-game tweets. Well, I can hold out hope he’ll catch up with them later, and appreciate everything I’m doing for him.

Written by rkcookjr

September 12, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Like Chad Ochocinco, I have a tweet surprise coming for my son's bowling league

leave a comment »

Big-time sports is shaken up over Twitter, afraid that athletes and coaches twiddling their texting thumbs during games will distract themselves from their jobs or, more importantly, distract fans from the live television coverage they’re getting paid billions for.

It appears Chad Ochocinco, the Cincinnati Bengals receiver formerly known as Chad Johnson (he changed his last name to match the nickname he received because of his jersey number, 85 — wait, shouldn’t his nickname be “Ochenta y Cinco”?), is planning to challenge the NFL’s ban on player tweeting. He’s planning what is being called a “tweet surprise” for the Bengals’ opening game Sunday, some loophole he’s found in the rule that prevents him, his representatives or fans he signals in the stands to post his in-game thoughts to any social networking site.

“I’ve been really, really quiet, and there’s a storm coming Sunday,” he told reporters. “That’s one of the things that I do when I’m back: I have something. I keep you on the edge of your seat. NFL, I would like to apologize to you guys early. I understand. I read all the fine print in the letters you sent, but I did find loopholes. I found loopholes.”

Or, as he posted to his Twitter feed: “Storm coming!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Well, I have a storm coming!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, too. It’s going to roll out, no pun intended, Saturday during the first match of my 6-year-old son’s bowling season.

In solidarity with Chad Ochocinco, I’m going to live-tweet my son’s match!

I know you’re dying for the behind-the-scenes look at what goes on during a crazy youth league Saturday at the Brunswick Zone in Oak Lawn, Ill. OK, maybe you don’t. But if the No Fun League can stop a man who changed his name to friggin’ Ochocinco from tweeting, any of us who can tweet during sports events should do so, just to let it and other leagues know we want to be social no matter what you think.

In fact, this weekend I would encourage all of you to tweet your events. Maybe it’s your daughter’s swim meet, or you son’s wrestling tournament. (God knows there’s plenty of downtime in those that needs filling, and the Sunday newspaper isn’t as large as it used to be.) You could tweet the youth football game you coach, or the basketball game you’re playing in. For the latter, try to master switching your Blackberry to your off-dribble hand as you do your crossover.

The important thing is, fill up your Twitter feed with anything and everything about whatever sports you and your children are involved with this weekend. Heck, live-tweet a neighborhood game of Ghost in the Graveyard (though, for legal reasons, you should make sure you have a child directly involved in it). If you just want to follow my feed, go to twitter.com/notgoingpro.

Now is the time to strike the blow for sports social media freedom. Do it so that someday you never start a sentence, first they came for Ochocinco, but I did not speak out because I was not a pro football player…

Photo_10Please do it. Chad Ochocinco is begging you.

Written by rkcookjr

September 11, 2009 at 12:58 am

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.