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Is it a good idea for coaches to rip parents publicly?

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Carly Curtis resigned this week as head girls’ volleyball coach at Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) High. On her way out the door, she made it abundantly clear to the local newspaper who was responsible for her depature: those goddamn fucking parents. (That’s my paraphrase.)

Some of you might be saying, hallelujah, I’m glad a selfless public servant is telling those parents what-for. But I’m not sure Curtis made the wisest decision. Certainly, if she ever wants to coach again at the high school level, her comments to the Coeur d’Alene Press are going to be thrown back in her face. But I also wonder if — in an age in which the youth sports world is hyperaware of pushy parents — it’s a little easy to blame them for your own troubles.

Curtis had two things happen in recent seasons that tend to cause tension — her team started losing, and her daughter was playing on the team. I don’t know that one had to do with the other (and her daughter has made all-league). But whatever was going on, Curtis defaulted to parents being unreasonable.

From the Coeur d’Alene Press:

“I’m tired of dealing with disgruntled/jealous parents and players that are taking their frustrations out on me and my daughter,” Curtis said. “And I am trying to look for a more peaceful atmosphere for me and my daughter.” …

“I think a lot of people couldn’t handle that I was coaching my daughter,” Curtis said.

The Vikings finished 9-18 this season, after going 2-22 in 2009.

“It was a frustrating season,” Curtis said. “And in the end, I didn’t feel the support was there for me to stay. I didn’t feel there was a lot of support from the administration.”

Curtis said her daughter may transfer, but will wait until the end of the semester to decide what she wants to do.

Oh, I forget to mention that — she ripped the administration publicly, too. The same administration she plans to continue to work for as a physical education and health teacher at Coeur d’Alene High.

It’s always interesting to read the comments that are posted under any story about a youth sports situation, because even though you get some anonymous sniping, it’s the best place to get some of the story behind the story. If the comments are to be believed, there were issues for years with Curtis’ style and temperament, and recent losing brought the complaints more to the fore.

By the way, Curtis is not leaving volleyball. She will continue to coach a club team she co-founded. One wonders whether the issue was the parents, or that Curtis, a serious volleyball coach, would rather have a team with players and parents who are as intense about the sports as she is. And that place is not the school team.

Still, one wonders if a club team parent has a complaint, if Curtis is going to spout off about it elsewhere. Is it a good idea for coaches to rip parents publicly? I always say, the answer is no.

Written by rkcookjr

November 5, 2010 at 10:10 pm

The greatest 10-and-under girls softball game I ever saw

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Believe it or not, there are times when youth sports really are all about the kids, playing now, at this moment. Not about parents, coaches, future scholarships, future pro careers, who’s on the travel team, or who’s bringing the snack. All of a sudden, a game gets so good and compelling, and the young players’ nerves of steel so awe-inspiring, that all you can do is watch and enjoy the ride.

Tonight, that was my 10-year-old daughter’s third-place softball game for in the kinda-sexist-named Petite Division of the Oak Lawn, Ill., house softball program.

Usually, a third-place game (I managed that same daughter in one two years ago) is a loose affair, what with the pressure of a championship gone. (Thank God.) My daughter Grace’s team is pretty loose to begin with, so they can practically barely stand erect as her Frost, the fourth-place team in the regular season, played the Storm, the second-place team.

The Frost went up 2-0 in the top of the first inning, and the Storm tied it in the bottom of the second. The bottom of the third wasn’t so good for the Frost. They gave up the maximum six runs in an inning, were down 8-2, and looked outmatched by a team that had four travel players to their one. The girls looked dispirited coming into the dugout — and didn’t look any better when they went down 1-2 in the top of the fourth. The coaches’ voices didn’t change pitch, but the Frost coaches seemed much louder as they urged their players.

But then, the magic started happening. The Frost scored four runs in the bottom of that inning, the last two, if I may brag, on a two-run opposite-field single by Grace. Now down only 8-6, the Frost’s spirits were back up, and the parents started getting a little more interested in the game. A few by me joked about not wanting to go to the bathroom, lest they miss anything. All that toilet talk made me have to use the bathroom (where, by the way, I was saw my daughter’s manager in the next stall).

Actually, not just the parents were zooming in their focus. This Frost-Storm game was taking long enough, games were finishing on other fields, and hearing about the comeback under way, players and their families decided to stick around and watch. Slowly more people were circling the field, cheering good plays (by either team), and making more of a buzz and ruckus than your average Florida Marlins home game.

I don’t know much about the Storm. But what they were seeing out of the Frost was pure guts. Players who normally didn’t hit were smacking balls. The Frost would get pushed to the edge of the abyss, then come fighting back. Again in the bottom of the fifth, the Frost got two quick outs. But then came four more runs — on two-run singles placed to about the same spot Grace placed hers. By the end of five-and-half innings, a 8-2 Frost deficit had become a 10-10 tie. More fans streamed toward the field, out of the impending darkness, to check out what was going on.

What was going on was two teams of 9- to freshly minted 11-year-old girls who were as cool and loose as the crowd was wound tight, especially we parents. It’s always difficult to watch your child play because you can’t protect them from injury or failure. It’s even harder when they are being put in situations that would make major-leaguers fold. In the Frost’s comeback, all of the eight runs they scored after falling behind came with two outs. A lot of them came with two strikes. I don’t think they even heard the parents or coaches anymore. I didn’t. I didn’t know of anything that wasn’t happening in front of me.

The Storm came back with one run in the bottom of the fifth to go up 11-10. That meant, for the Frost, score in the top of the sixth, or the game is over.

Grace was up first. She had two hard singles her first two at-bats. But she struck out against the same pitcher she already hit twice. If you followed me on Twitter and Facebook (and why wouldn’t you?), you would have seen this:

Grace strikes out to start 6th. Just setting team up for more two-out heroics.

Hey, after what I had seen the previous two innings, that was not a cocky thing to say. Meanwhile, the players and coaches for the Petite championship game, which was already supposed to have started, were now gathering around to watch.

It turns out the heroics were after one out. More girls smacked base hits to that same magic spot in right field, and the Frost ended the top of the sixth up 13-11. Do you believe in miracles?

The Storm didn’t become a second-place team by folding up easily, either. Though they appeared rattled at times that the Frost wouldn’t go away, they rallied for two runs in the bottom of the sixth and final regulation inning. They had the bases loaded with two out. One walk, and the game was over.

The Frost’s pitcher, Jackie, who in her first game pitching cried herself to distraction after her rough outing (so much I had Grace make a point to tell her everything was OK and her teammates had her back), was now in her third inning tonight — and she wasn’t backing down. Sure, she might get a little frustrated over a bad pitch, but her eyes were lasers into the catcher’s glove. The count works to two balls and two strikes. At this point, the 15,000 people were standing or on the literal edges of their seats to see what would happen. Discussion over how a 10-year-old girl can stomach this much pressure was rampant. If anybody brought Maalox, they were chugging it.

Jackie throws a pitch catching the outside part of the plate. Called strike three. Game is tied.

You know the cliche that it’s a shame somebody has to lose this game? (Ask John Isner and Nicolas Mahut about that one.) As it turned out, in Frost v. Storm for third place, no one had to. It was 8:35 p.m., 35 minutes after the championship game was supposed to have started. So no extra innings — there’s a tie for third.

For this game, there really was no other appropriate way to end it. I don’t know how the Storm felt. But the Frost players were beaming and jumping around with excitement over grinding out such a tough, um, not-win. After each game in their league, a team will form a line with players on each side, slapping hands and chanting, “We. Are. Proud of you, yeah, we are proud of you,” as the other team runs underneath — and then the teams reverse the lineup. In this case, I think the 27,000 fans who saw the end were ready to do the same chant with each team.

Oh, of course, there were some dimbulbs who couldn’t grasp the excitement of the moment. One old fart sitting next to me was ripping the coaches and the players like he was watching a Chicago White Sox game. Dude, these are volunteers coaches and 10-year-old girls, not full-time millionaire pros. Another guy was upset the Frost and Storm couldn’t play extra innings. I mean, really whining about it. Another parent mentioned to Grace’s coach that it’s too bad the Frost made so many errors, or they would have won.

My response is to quote my late father: If my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle.

Who cares? Each team makes errors. Half the fun of watching this age group play is seeing how they recover from their mistakes — and both teams improved by leaps and bounds in learning how to forget their mistakes and move on.

It’s nearly three hours after the Frost-Storm game, and I’m still feeling a buzz about it. It’s the kind of buzz that keeps me excited about my kids’ games, even when around me there’s hassles with parents, coaches, future scholarships, future pro careers, who’s on the travel team, and who’s bringing the snack.

Your 2010 Frost, after losing to the eventual champion. Yep, they’re a loose group.

Title IX missile on collision course with football arms race

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The Obama administration announcement that it is stepping up enforcement of Title IX, the law that requires equal gender opportunity at any educational institution receiving federal funding, and the possible expansion of the Big Ten Conference appear to be separate stories. But soon enough, they will become one.

That’s because colleges are going to have to reconcile two differing mandates: providing fair representation, opportunity and funding for female and male athletes, and plowing every dollar possible into football in for what for most schools will be a vain hope of creating an athletic cash cow. Not for nothing have the lords of football and their protectors fought numerous times, including soon after Title IX was passed in 1972, to exempt football from the law.

The Obama administration, trotting out Vice President Joseph Biden for the grand announcement, on April 20 said it would increase enforcement of Title IX (technically, since 2002, the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, named after the late Hawaii representative who created it), and that it would rescind a George W. Bush-era rule that gave  schools more leeway with “model surveys” as a means of proving compliance.

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Since 2005, schools could use email surveys of women to determine athletic interest, and could use a lack of response to indicate a lack of interest. Now, my wife is an Internet consultant for associations, and her line of work, a 10 percent response rate for a member survey is considered golden. So the possibility existed that women’s actual interest in sports would be skewed way downward, one of the many reasons the NCAA was against the Bush approach, and why so few schools implemented it.

Biden announced that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which enforces Title IX, will still allow the use of surveys, but that a nonresponse can’t be used to indicate lack of interest. (If you want to read the full scope of the tests used to ensure schools are in Title IX compliance, it’s here.)

Even those who aren’t the biggest Title IX fans will say the law has been a great success in expanding opportunities for women. On the college level, we’ve gone from a time when schools openly admitted to requiring women to have a higher grade-point average than men for admission to women representing around 55 percent of college graduates. There were 30,000 female college athletes in 1972; now, there are 150,000. (Just in case you’re wondering how girls’ youth sports became as cutthroat and mercenary as the boys’.)

However, the argument against Title IX is that men’s opportunities have remained static — and in many cases have been eliminated — as schools used quota systems to prove compliance, turning men in nonrevenue sports such as wrestling and gymnastics into would-be Allan Bakkes, arguing their opportunities were sacrificed unfairly on the mantel of supposed gender equality. Title IX, in its own language, declares that opportunities should not be a zero-sum game. However, even if Title IX hasn’t been the real reason a men’s sport has been eliminated, it would be logical to think it’s entered the conversation at some point.

Testimony about declining men’s opportunities is present throughout a 2003 Bush administration report on Title IX  (titled, tellingly, “Open for All’) that helped bring about its changes in approach, and the 2008 Republican Party platform stated that Title IX “should not be distorted by Washington bureaucrats to micromanage collegiate athletics or force cancellation of men’s sports programs.”

The Title IX opponents don’t like when you bring up raw numbers, but I’m going to bring them up anyway. Despite all the progress made over the last 40 years, and despite all the cuts made to men’s sports, women are 55 percent of college students, but 43 percent of athletes. In high school, the gap is 49-41 for women — meaning boys are 51 percent of students and 59 percent of athletes.

And what is skewing these numbers? For the most part, football.

With 85 scholarships at the Football Bowl Series level (formerly Division I-A) and 63 scholarships at the Football Championship Series level (formerly Division I-AA), football by miles has the largest rosters and the largest representation of athletes. Throw in nonscholarships walk-ons — who count in Title IX computations — and the numbers grow higher. The American Football Coaches Association has fought against Title IX pretty much from its infancy, and four times Congress has considered bills to exempt football from Title IX. All have failed.

The argument for all the attention and money on football is that it supports the rest of the athletic department. However, that’s usually not true. Football does usually stay in the black, but not enough to underwrite losses elsewhere — that’s covered by student fees and general fund contributions. Plus, it’s getting harder for more schools to keep their football financial heads above water. The average salary of an FBS head football coach jumped 46% from 2006 to 2009, to $1.6 million. Even if most of it is paid by boosters and sponsors, not the athletic department, it’s still reflective of an arms race for coaches, facilities and whatever else can attract the nation’s best football players and turn a woebegone program into the next Boise State.

This is where the Big Ten’s possible expansion comes in. It’s all about football (and a little bit about spreading its cable property, the Big Ten Network). Adding to the 11 teams in the misnamed Big Ten means that the conference can have a conference championship game, more teams in the postseason bowls, and the geographical reach to negotiate a larger network television contract. (Commissioner Jim Delaney said April 21 that expansion would not happen for 12 to 18 months, at least — but it’s coming.)

The Big Ten’s move would spark another round of conference reorganizations, starting with the Big East. That once-powerful basketball conference, now at 16 members, could lose Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Notre Dame (a member in every sport but football) to the Big Ten, and perhaps have other powerful football members like West Virginia poached by other conferences as well, leaving it mostly with private schools with no football — and frozen out of the Bowl Championship Series elite.

What this is creating is a one tier of elite football programs and conferences, and everyone else, who are going to have to look at cutting football (if they have it) not only as a means to keep Title IX compliance in tight financial times, but mostly as a way to keep its athletic department solvent in tight financial times.

The College Sports Council, a passionate spokesorganization when it comes to what it sees as the (mostly) men-hurting excesses of Title IX, has already blamed Title IX for the elimination of football at Hofstra and Northeastern, and it says more FCS schools could have football in their sights. After all, at the FCS level, football really doesn’t make any money.

The Big Ten expansion highlights a growing gap between the football haves and have-nots, and schools left on the outside will have to decide if football is worth the money. Throw in the garnish of more aggressive enforcement of Title IX, and you could have the ingredients of football’s demise at some institutions.

I’m not saying Title IX would be the real reason for cutting football. I’m just saying, it would be logical to think it would enter the conversation at some point.

Chick fight! Why female sports violence is a big deal

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The New York Times takes on a topic that is sure to guarantee plenty of web visits by disappointed fetishists: girls fighting.

In particular, the Times’ Jere Longman is wondering, what’s all the hubbub, bub, about breathless coverage of athletic girlfights such as Baylor’s Brittney Griner punching an opponent in a women’s college basketball game, girls’ teams going at it in their Rhode Island high school soccer championship, and, the drama queen of them all, Elizabeth Lambert’s hair-pulling performance for the New Mexico women’s soccer team.

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Yeah, you’ve seen Elizabeth Lambert pull hair, but have you seen her do it to the Mortal Kombat remix?

Longman talks with coaches and experts who surmise that perhaps girls’ and women’s sports have gotten more violent as women’s sports have gotten more competitive and, in some cases, more financially lucrative. Or that the coverage of fights is out of proportion to the usual mass coverage of women’s sports, which is to say not much coverage at all. Then there’s the whole idea that people still see women as delicate flowers who would never resort to fisticuffs.

The story doesn’t go into the larger societal debate over whether girls in general are getting more violent, something you might hear in disappointed tones from police breaking up another school fight, or in hopeful tones from the proprietors of Girlfightsdump.com (home of EXPLOSIVE FIGHT VIDEOS).

Actually, the rate of girls fighting appears to be about the same, with about one-quarter of girls ages 12-17 reporting being involved in a violent incident in two separate national surveys between 2002 and 2008. In its version of the story on the survey, the New York Daily News helpfully illustrates it with stock art of two women about to get their fight on in a battle that will inevitably end with their clothes torn off and them locked in naked embrace bow chicka wow wow.

I’ll tell you why their is intense coverage of females fighting during athletic events, and it’s the same reason Maria Sharapova highlights are guaranteed to make an appearance — because they give a lot of men a hard-on. Maybe the fights don’t technically excite them in the same way as Sharapova in a tennis skirt, but it’s better than Viagra all the same.

Written by rkcookjr

March 21, 2010 at 2:12 am

Boy wants to play girls' soccer, so nobody gets to play soccer

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Constance McMillen, a lesbian girl who wanted to bring a date to the prom and panicked her school into canceling the whole damn thing — you have a straight, male doppelganger in Port Angeles, Wash.

OK, I’ll give you that the fight of Spencer May — or, technically, his parents — to play in a girls’ league because not enough players sign up for the boys’ league is not exactly the modern morality play of homosexuality in America, and the extreme reaction in some corners against it. The ACLU isn’t even involved. However, the reaction to their actions is very similar.

When the ACLU spoke up on McMillen’s desire to bring a female date, in opposition to Itawamba County Agricultural High’s policy of opposite-sex dates only, the school shut down the prom. When May’s parents threatened to sue the Port Angeles Youth Soccer Club for not allowing their son to play in a girls’ spring soccer league, the club suspended the league.

In the spirit of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament coverage, here’s a live look-in at the action in Port Angeles.

Here’s what happened, according to the soccer organization:

“The Port Angeles Youth Soccer Club has temporarily postponed its Spring league. The season has not been cancelled at this time, and the club hopes to  resume practices and play soon. The club is currently addressing a very serious allegation of discrimination by the parents of a boy who is unable to play because of low enrollment among the older boys soccer division.

The club decided to postpone the season after the parents of the boy twice disrupted a girls team’s practices and gave the board good reason to believe that further disruptions of practices and games would occur if the club did not agree to the parents’ demands to allow the boy to play on a girls team.

In 2009, the club elected to discontinue co-ed play for most age groups. The club’s experience with co-ed play for children 8 years of age and older was that it did not provide boys and girls the best opportunity to develop their soccer skills and learn a love for the game. The club believes that was and is the right decision.

The boy’s parents were pressuring the club to make decisions quickly, and the reason for the postponement is to give the club the time it needs to address the issue responsibly.

The club does not discriminate against any child who wants to play soccer. The club opened its enrollment to boys and girls, and did not prohibit any age-qualified children from enrolling because of their gender. This is not about a boy being prohibited from playing soccer. It is about not enough older boys signing up to play soccer.”

We are not able to comment further at this time.

The statement was prompted by inquiries from the local newspaper, the Peninsula Daily News. Its gardening columnist is the father complaining and threatening a lawsuit if his son isn’t allowed to play, creating the growing concern of the league by sowing seeds of discontent. The newspaper quotes the soccer association as saying 24 girls and 13 boys signed up for the U14 (14 and under) league for the spring, the former enough to create three eight-player teams, and the latter not enough to form any number of teams. Port Angeles also has fall leagues that are more popular, and the newspaper figures it’s getting edged out by baseball.

However, the May family didn’t sit idly by while Spencer was without soccer. From the Peninsula Daily News:

Spencer May learned that there was a U14 girls team practicing at his own school, Stevens Middle School. He heard about it from one of the girls on the team, his father said.

Spencer May began practicing with the team.

“He was accepted by the girls on the team,” Andrew May said.

At the third practice, the board kicked Spencer off the girls team and offered to refund his registration, his father said.

“Spencer practiced twice, and early in the third practice when the team started running drills, the coach called [the league president], who told me they would refund our registration and Spencer could not practice with the girls,” Andrew May said.

Spencer May’s parents did not accept the refund and insisted that Spencer was a member of that team, the parents wrote in e-mails to the board. …

May’s parents threatened legal action, and demanded that Spencer and all 12 boys who had signed up get to play with the girls. The family cited an expansion of Title IX that took effect in Washington Jan. 1 as the legal basis for their complaint.

I have a prediction for the Mays family — Constance McMillen has a better shot, legally, at going to the Itawamba prom than you son has of playing soccer with the girls. It’s possible Port Angeles Soccer might let your son and others play just to not have to spend the money on a lawsuit, or if they realize that they need your money. But I predict the league would win in court.

The first reason is that the Port Angeles Youth Soccer Club isn’t even covered by the Washington law. That specifically states that the discrimination law applies to those leagues run by a city or publicly funded parks and recreation program. While the Port Angeles Youth Soccer Club phone number and web site are listed in the city’s parks guide, the club itself is not a public entity.

Courts have been fairly consistent about not making non-public athletic authorities responsible for gender equity, even if the private organization does have some public connections. For example, in a 2006 ruling denying a male gymnast the right to join his high school’s girls’ team — even though there was no boys team — a Wisconsin appeals court denied the request because the lawsuit was against the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, which was not a public entity despite its membership being mostly public schools.

Every court hasn’t ruled along those lines. The reason boys play field hockey on girls’ teams in Massachusetts is because of a 1979 court ruling saying they could not be barred. But a Title IX/state law case against a nonpublic athletic entity is no sure thing.

The other problem for the Mays is that courts don’t necessarily, even in the case of public entities, claim discrimination if there is no equivalent male program when there is one for females. One reason is because girls, historically, have had the record of being discriminated against (hence, why Title IX exists), and that maintaining girls’ opportunities is paramount even if boys feel they have been victimized. Another is that courts often look at whether there are, overall, sufficient athletic opportunities for boys, even if they aren’t in the sports they want.

The attorney for the Port Angeles league, should it come to this, could argue fairly effectively that there is already a fall soccer league, so there is ample opportunity for boys to play the sport. Plus, the community has all sorts of sporting opportunities for boys and girls, so even if Spencer can’t play soccer in the spring, he has opportunities. But given the private nature of the soccer league, I doubt the argument well get that far.

It’s not Constance McMillen’s fault that her prom was canceled, and despite the May family being as wrong as McMillen is right, it’s not Spencer May’s fault that the Port Angeles soccer season is on hold. However, unless Port Angeles merely doesn’t want a fight from one vocal set of parents (and assuming no one else would object if the league knuckled under), I would expect to see Constance McMillen in her prom tuxedo sooner than I would Spencer May in his spring Port Angeles soccer kit.

California softball star's suicide stuns her community

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Whenever I see stories of high-achieving people inexplicably killing themselves, I think of two people: Richard Cory, and Kathy Ormsby.

From the Orange County Register:

Nadia Brianne Matthews [known as "Bri"] had a glowing future.

The sophomore star softball pitcher at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana had verbally committed to play for the University of Arizona, and had a sense of confidence, grace and warmth that went beyond her 16 years, friends say.

Her suicide Thursday at her Anaheim home has shocked and devastated relatives, friends and teachers and coaches who saw in her amazing talent and promise – a nice girl who could put a smile on anyone’s face. …

The coroner Friday afternoon ruled the manner of death suicide, “by ligature hanging.” …

[Nadia] Martinez said her daughter had a 4.0 GPA and had dreams of becoming a neonatologist.

One of the most awful things about suicide is it often comes with no warning. Bri’s family will probably never be able to answer the question, why?

The reason I think of Richard Cory is because he is the title character of Edwin Arlington Robinson’s 1897 poem about a beautiful, tragic figure. I remember reading this poem in grade school, and it hit me pretty hard and has always stuck with me, maybe it’s because it’s the first work that opened my eyes to the idea that you never quite knew what was going on inside the heads and hearts of those who seemed to be well. The last line, which comes out of nowhere, symbolizes the shock anyone feels when a loved one commits suicide — even for me, when I had a friend kill himself at 15, a friend who gave ample warning (what I considered ample — others did not ) of what he was going to do.

The poem, in its entirety:

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

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You might recall Simon & Garfunkel’s rewrite of Richard Cory.

The reason I think of Kathy Ormsby because I was in attendance at the 1986 NCAA track and field championships in Indianapolis — the event where the North Carolina State 10,000-meter runner split from the track mid-race to jump off a bridge over the nearby White River in an attempt to kill herself.

Instead, she was left paralyzed from just above the waist down. A lot of coverage at the time focused on how Ormsby, a high school valedictorian and premed student, was extremely driven and put a ton of pressure on herself to succeed, with the implication that might somehow have been behind her suicide attempt. From the New York Times, circa 1986:

Mitch Shoffner, the head of the social studies department at the high school, taught her world history and coached her in volleyball in the 10th grade.

”I know that she’s always driven herself very, very hard,” he said. ”She’s not the type of person who can accept second best for herself. If there’s any pressure, Kathy was putting it on herself. She’s always been very much of a perfectionist.”

Later, Ormsby did cite fear of failing her coaches and parents as to why she tried to kill herself.

”One time, I got on the volleyball team for not practicing hard enough, and she broke down and cried. Most of the girls just got mad. She was very, very serious about everything she did.”

Later, Ormsby indeed did cite fear of failing her coaches and parents as to why she tried to kill herself, and in later interviews said she had a panic attack and never intended to kill herself. (Ormsby is now an occupational therapist in Wilmington, N.C. — I believe her photo is the top one on the blog post here.)

Do Richard Cory or Kathy Ormsby give any indication as to why Bri Matthews, who seemingly had the world at her feet, decided she could no longer live? No. But they’re all unfortunate examples that suicide, and whatever is behind it, can affect seemingly the most successful among us.

Volleyball-chucking coach Eric Maxwell doesn't get why he's so, so wrong

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This here blog on Jan. 6 posted the video of Southern Regional High School (Manahawkin, N.J.) always-intense volleyball coach Eric Maxwell going nuts during a game after a player committed the sin of not hitting the ball before it reached the floor, going nuts in the form of whipping a volleyball fastball on her head. Alas, in a tribute to the lack of pull this here blog has (for now), it took Deadspin.com posting the video Feb. 1 before Maxwell and his school bothered to respond to questions like, why is this guy still coaching?

Maxwell defended his action (which occurred in October 2009) to the Press of Atlantic City (one of the best newspapers of its size in covering youth sports issues, in my opinion), as did a few other school officials, who I think were afraid they would get brained with a volleyball if they didn’t tell the world what a great guy Maxwell is.

Maxwell claimed he wasn’t trying to hit a player, and that everything with his team was hunky-dory a few hours after the incident, which got him booted out of the game. Maxwell said he apologized to the player, and wrote a letter of apology to his team members and their parents. A signal that Mr. Intensity (“he patrols up and down the sidelines …. with the fury of a drill sergeant, sayeth the Star-Ledger of Newark) wasn’t looking at this as a lesson to dial things down came when he said he didn’t apologize to anyone else because he “wasn’t going to put out little fires.”

“You see a short clip like that, but no one knows what preceded it. I’m not condoning my behavior in getting upset and yelling at a referee, but my intent was to throw it off the wall. It certainly looks like I threw it at her,” he said.

Hey, sarge, it doesn’t matter whether you were TRYING to throw it at her. You shouldn’t have been chucking the ball in the first place. How do you expect your team to be calm and controlled when you have zero mastery over your own temper? Unless you were firing a ball at a person who had entered the gym carrying an assault rifle, I can’t think of “what preceded” your action that made it excusable.

Then again, sarge, you do have employers who make excuses for you.

Southern Regional School District Superintendant Craig Henry said Monday afternoon that the incident was an anomaly and completely out of character for Maxwell.

Apparently Henry never reads the Star-Ledger.

“This coach is a faith-based individual and he is moved to emotion every time it comes up. He’s a class act in everything he does,” Henry said.

A faith-based individual? What does that have to do with anything? Richard Reid, Baruch Goldstein and Eric Rudolph were faith-based individuals moved to emotion, too, and no one wants them coaching their volleyball team. The point is not that Maxwell is a religious nut bent to kill, but that it’s maddening how people are ready to explain away any action because, hey, the guy’s got the Jesus! By the way, I would love to hear the superintendent’s explanation of how Maxwell was a class act in whizzing that volleyball across the floor.

Hey, teachers at Southern Regional High, you now have permission to chuck objects at your students, as long as you’re a faith-based individual and you say you were aiming for the wall! (Well, Maxwell is on one-year probation, according to the superintendent, so there might be a teensy-weensy consequence, at least if your tantrum gets on YouTube.)

At least athletic director Kim DeGraw-Cole said throwing the ball, no matter what Maxwell tried to hit, was wrong.

“The fact that the ball hit one of his players that he cares about and coaches is embarrassing. He took the proper steps before we took action,” DeGraw-Cole said. “It wouldn’t matter if he threw the ball at the wall, it wouldn’t be appropriate. No one felt worse than he did.”

I don’t know, Ms. DeGraw-Cole. I bet that girl who got a ball off the head felt pretty damn bad.

My 7-year-old and 4-year-old start their basketball careers…

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…and I hope I didn’t wait too long.

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The competition is so far ahead, maybe my kids shouldn’t bother.

My 7-year-old son, already a regular in baseball and bowling, on Tuesday will begin his first basketball clinic. His 4-year-old sister is doing the same. She was particularly insistent. We asked her if she wanted to do gymnastic or dance (two activities in which she showed some interest), but she replied, over and over, “Bask-ska-ball.” I guess I should’ve known, the day as a 3-year-old she parked at the little kids’ pop-a-shot in the arcade during one of my son’s bowling matches.

So maybe my daughter is coming in at the right age. By age 6, I should have her in travel ball, and by age 10, she should be on the radar of college recruiters, and by age 13, her knees should be shot. Sadly, with my 7-year-old son starting so late, it appears that all he can look forward to in his athletic future is beers at the bowling alley.

Written by rkcookjr

January 24, 2010 at 10:10 pm

When your team always loses

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The headlines in my area are about embattled Chicago Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro and embattled Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, whose tenures might be growing ever shorter because their troubled teams appear to be getting worse by the day. Given my experience so far with my basketball team, I feel their desperation.

No, the Alsip (Ill.) Park District does not have a general manager ready to pull the trigger on me, nor have I appeared on the back of a local tabloid newspaper with someone yelling I have to go, nor has firebobcook.com been registered. Yet.

But like Del Negro and Smith, I am dealing with a team that is circling down the dirty toilet drain of losing.

I have coached teams that have lost more than they won — a lot more. But I have never coached a team that seemed so dispirited about it, and I’m not sure what to do. Sure, fifth- and sixth-grade coed basketball is not the NBA. I’ve got a lot of kids who have never played organized basketball before, and what I’m afraid of is the losing is sapping any love they might develop for the game. Their body language, increasingly, seems to give that message.

I’ve tried to make the point that the scoreboard doesn’t matter. I’ve tried to make the point that if they play as hard as they’re capable of, if they are good teammates, if they hustle, the scoreboard will take care of itself. But I can see the body language of my team when we start another game down 6-0 or 8-0 in the blink of an eye. For a few games, the kids worked hard to come back, and lost by only a basket. Now, five games in, they don’t have that same spunk to come back, and the losing only gets worse.   On Saturday, we lost to a team by 15 that we had previously only lost to by 2.

Vinny Del Negro and Lovie Smith know what I’m talking about.

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We’re the perfect lodger, the perfect guest.

I don’t mean to keep the focus on winning and losing. But what’s happening is because of their reaction to losing, I feel like I’m failing in my goal — making every kid on that team a better basketball player. I’ve tried cajoling. I’ve tried pushing. I’ve tried being angry. I’ve tried being nice. I’ve tried letting them know how much I care. I’ve tried letting them know how good I think they are and can be. I’ve tried to make it fun. I’ve tried not saying anything. But nothing works to get them motivated to keep their heads up and not feel the strain of losing.

One big difference between myself and Vinny Del Negro is that on my level, it’s not assumed that players are supposed to care about their basketball development. I have a lot of kids for whom this year might be their only year.

I hate to draw big parallels between basketball and this game we call life, but that might be last straw to get them to at least feel better about themselves and give the game, and themselves, a sporting chance. What I want them to know is that no matter what the scoreboard says, they are not losers. Not to me. And that there is a valuable lesson to be learned through this.

When faced with a losing streak — whether it’s in school, with your personal life or in basketball — you have two choices. You can fight, or you can give up. Often, the instinct is to give up, because fighting is too hard. You might still lose. But only one decision GUARANTEES you’ll lose — and that decision is giving up. Sometimes the decision you make to fight something now doesn’t result in winning now — but fight enough, and you will win.

Am I crazy for wanting to tell them this? I just want to make sure they enjoy the rest of the season, and come back for another one.

Then again, if the issue is that a lot of them, in the end, just don’t care that much about basketball, then there’s not a whole lot I can do about that. As a youth coach, the guilty feeling you always have is that you’re the reason they don’t care.

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Not what you want as the official post-practice song.

Written by rkcookjr

December 13, 2009 at 11:34 pm

Hiring a private coach for your child athlete: not as bad an idea as you'd think

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Here is a topic that came courtesy of one of my fans. Well, Facebook fans on my Your Kid’s Not Going Pro Facebook fan site. (I’m working on being as shameless as ESPN in plugging myself across multiple platforms. So let me amend: A topic for Your Kid’s Not Going Pro was sent to the Your Kid’s Not Going Pro Facebook fan site by a Your Kid’s Not Going Pro fan, Your Kid’s Not Going Pro has learned.)

The topic: hiring a private coach for your young athlete. I’ll paraphrase his comments to protect the innocent and/or guilty. The specific subject here is the writer’s niece, who is involved in soccer, band and other activities, but is showing particular promise as a long-distance runner.

My sisters and I all ran through high school, so it’s not surprising my sister’s 13-year-old daughter has taken to running as well. She won a state junior championship. It’s safe to say she has a future in running as long as she doesn’t burn out, get hurt, or discover boys and booze.

So my sister has hired a running coach for three figures a month (not sure how much exactly). He’s one of the parents of a runner who’s beaten my niece a couple of times, and apparently has a decent track record coaching young runners (his daughter included). My niece seems to be on board with it, but I can’t help thinking this is going to grind her down. At her age I personally think she should be doing unstructured training when and how she wants, but the coach is giving her a week’s worth of workouts at a time. Furthermore, I don’t know if this guy’s training philosophy falls in line with the coach at the high school she’ll attend, and though my niece is damned smart I’m not sure she’ll know which messages to take to heart and which to discard.

More than even winning a state championship or getting a scholarship, I want my niece to be running when she’s my age, health permitting, and I feel like that’s what her parents want, too. I really wish there was a subtle way to tell them to back off and let their daughter be a 13-year-old for a while.

And here was my response on Facebook (Your Kid’s Not Going Pro personally responds to your notes on the Your Kid’s Not Going Pro Facebook fan page, reports Your Kid’s Not Going Pro.)

It seems like if your kid shows any ability, the pressure is on for a private coach. My 10-year-old daughter has been an all-star all three years in softball, and she’s pitched all three years, though in a lesser role when she moved up last summer. That’s because the team had two absolute flamethrowers who had been on a travel team and got a lot of private instruction. So after their last game, the coach who’s going to be managing her next year says that my daughter will be pitching a lot more (the flamethrowers are moving up), and he suggested the name of a private pitching coach.

The thing is, I don’t think he meant anything by it. He knows, as a parent volunteer, he doesn’t have the expertise to teach pitching, and he also knows that in the course of practice my daughter isn’t going to learn how to be a flamethrower (she can get it over the plate consistently, but the pitchers are hittable — a big problem at this level because you never quite know what your fielders will do).

A lot of how everything works seems to depend on the quality of coach and whether the child is on board. In a way, your niece might be better off with a coach providing structured workouts — not just in keeping up running, but knowing how much to run when. If your niece is really OK with this — excited about it — then there’s probably no harm done. But if the coach wants her to run an inordinate amount and isn’t cognizant of any pain or harm being done, and your niece isn’t terribly interested, then there’s a problem. If nothing else, you’re just wasting money. (The issue of the philosophy of the high school coach is a small one, to me. I ran cross country and track, and at a certain point running is running. All the high school coach wants at the start is someone who’s enthusiastic and hard-working, and he or she can work out any coaching conflicts from there.)

If I were you (and here comes my unsolicited advice), I would keep quiet unless your niece is telling you on the sly she hates this or seems to be breaking down in some way. It is entirely possible that if the coach is decent, she’ll learn some good long-term habits that will serve her well when she’s just running for pleasure.

Upon further review, there were a few things I left out in my original response.

One is that I indeed will be hiring a private pitching coach for my 10-year-old daughter. It won’t be an intense, one-on-one, seven-days-a-week kind of thing. My feeling is this. My daughter is planning on playing softball again in the spring, and she’s going to be put on the mound day after day. It behooves me to allow her a little instruction so, if nothing else, she feels more confident and comfortable, though if I might brag that’s never been a problem. (Me watching her pitch — now I need a little instruction so I feel less uncomfortable. If you want a hilarious show, watch parents, particularly dads, while their kids pitch.)

I’m not going to hook up my 10-year-old with a pitching coach with an eye toward that elusive softball scholarship. I don’t know how much longer she plans on playing softball, for one thing. She turned down playing fall ball this year, and she also has refused to try out for travel ball. (For that, I am eternally grateful.) All I — and she — are looking for is a few days’ instruction so she’s ready for the task assigned.

How would this apply to my reader’s niece? As long as she, her parents and her coach are all in agreement over very reasonable goals that keep her true best interests at heart, there should be no trouble.

The other thing I didn’t mention in my original response was one major caution for a private coach: that he’s a pervert. If you were to send Your Kid’s Not Going Pro a note on the Your Kid’s Not Going Pro Facebook fan page (eat your heart out, ESPN), I would say that if your private coaching includes one-on-one time, as a parent you might want to make sure that’s at least two-on-one, Your Kid’s Not Going Pro has learned.

private_lessons

Not what you’re looking for in a coach/player relationship.

Written by rkcookjr

December 10, 2009 at 1:35 am

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