Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Kids and Teens

Girl beats up boys in high school hockey fight

with one comment

As a father of daughters, I’m conflicted as to how I feel about this. Fighting is bad. But I couldn’t help but be filled with pride if No. 07 were my daughter whomping the crud out of a male hockey player who tried to push her around.

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A scene from Exeter Township vs. Governor Mifflin, Pennsylvania high school hockey, posted to YouTube Nov. 26.

Is this the same sort of mixed signal like how guns are bad, but a gun in the hand of a woman is empowering?

Written by rkcookjr

December 7, 2009 at 6:19 pm

Youth sports can be hazardous to your child's health

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The other day the NFL agreed to allow doctors not on individual teams’ payrolls to evaluate and monitor player concussions, as evidence mounts that traumatic brain injuries do long-term damage, that the NFL for years has underestimated that damage, and that this misunderestimation takes place at all levels of all sports, right down to the bitty, barely formed-cranium level. The numbers on youth sports injuries are so stark, sometimes it makes letting your kids play video games all day, every day, seem like the better option.

For good reason, concussions and other youth sports injuries are getting more attention, particularly as it’s clear that parents and coaches, most of them not being physicians or medical personnel, are pretty adept at self-misdiagnosing them. For example, one study out of Canada this year found that most parents and coaches believe you have to lose consciousness to suffer a concussion (you don’t), and that hockey players at the youth level suffer 2.8 concussions per 1,000 player ice-hours. Also, this year Washington became the first state to require a youth player diagnosed with a concussion to get medical clearance before returning to action. That law was inspired by 13-year-old Zackery Lystedt, who got a concussion after a hard football hit, went back in the game, got hit again, got another concussion, and spent 30 days in coma.

The reason the NFL (and other leagues) are taking so much heat about concussions is because of players who, not wanting to buck years of tradition or lose their job, come back too soon after suffering such an injury. The video below shows then-Chicago Blackhawk Martin Havlat taking a vicious hit from Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall in game three of their NHL playoff series last year. Rather than being dead, Havlat came back to play game four. Great for hockey, terrible for Havlat, who someday will be drooling in a cup from the damage he suffered in whatever number concussion this was.

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One major survey found a rapid increase in youth sports injuries that coincided with the rapid increase in the obesity rate, with the report’s authors, American Sports Data, surmising that’s because more kids are getting into more intense organized activities at earlier ages. A study released recently by the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons counted a current annual count of 3.5 million sports injuries for athletes younger than 14, with half of those injuries coming from another subject of great concern — overuse injuries, another result of kids specializing in a single sport at an early age.

In my mind, that number isn’t just about kids (and/or their parents) pushing for that elusive college scholarship or pro career. It’s also about a family building its entire social life and network around youth sports. I know of people (I won’t say who they are to protect the guilty) who were told, after their teenaged son suffer two concussions in hockey (the first one, his coach sent him back on the ice, even after he blacked out and threw up), their doctor told them to get him off the ice immediately if they ever wanted their son to go to college. Given the family had traveled all over the country and establishing themselves as Hockey Parents since their son was 5, they were hesitant to follow that advice — and didn’t. Their son, a bright kid, ended up barely graduating high school. Oh, and he played lacrosse, too — just the sport for someone with a history of head injuries.0405091950a

Of course, you don’t have to be a hardcore travel sports parent to feel the pressure of coming back quickly from injury. There seems to be something primal as an athlete that doesn’t let you easily accepting being hurt. My then-11-year-old son last year sprained his right foot in the third quarter of his final basketball game of the year. I had to carry him off the court. Yet in the fourth quarter, my son, not the most competitive person I’ve ever known, asked if he could get back in the game. I said, uh, no. Later, when we went to the urgent care center to confirm the sprain, my son (right, waiting to go to his X-ray) made sure to tell everyone he misdirected the shot taken right before he landed on the shooter’s foot.

On the fifth- and sixth-grade team I’m coaching now. I have two kids who are asthmatic. I have to instruct the referee and the boys’ mothers to jump in if they see anything wrong, because I tell the kids to raise their hands if they’re hurting, but I’m not sure they will. One of the boys, for whatever reason, never told me he was asthmatic. I learned only in a quarter break when he went to throw up. The other boy is growing more intense with every game, and doesn’t want to get off the floor.

So, in that sense, they are no different than the 30 of 160 players who told The Associated Press in a survey that they have downplayed the effects of a concussion.

In light of all this, what are we supposed to do to prevent sports injuries? The first thing to do might be to make sure we never get the idea we can make sports injury-free, and that we can make athletes recover as long as the rest of us do when we get hurt. Accidents will happen, and athletes will want to play. It appears the best efforts are to see where we can best mitigate risk, and protect athletes from themselves. The efforts on concussions are good places to start, as well as the growing awareness of how single-sport specialization causes injury.

But perhaps on a youth level, the strongest message needs to be made to the coaches and parents that the child playing is not a million-dollar athlete, or even a potential one. Above all else, you need to protect children, so when they’re hurt, you treat them like normal people, not like pieces of athletic meat. If it means you lose a game, if it means you lose a chance at a scholarship (assuming the child ever had one), so be it.

Maybe I’m the weirdo, but I think children are better served, mentally and physically, exploring all sorts of different activities, sports and elsewhere. Some kids do find their niche early, and that’s great. But you also have to be a parent and let your child get exposed to other things just in case that niche isn’t going to work out. At least pro athletes who suffer injuries have team-paid medical care and their million-dollar contracts to fall back on. Generally, your child does not.

Written by rkcookjr

November 24, 2009 at 1:53 pm

Are jocks jerks?

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donald-gibb-ogre-revenge-of-the-nerds-thumb-250x220Newsweek is asking that musical question in the first installment of a three-part series looking at sports and childhood development.

I can answer: jocks are jerks. So are nerds. So are stoners. So are cheerleaders. So are heathers. So are the religious nuts. So are the mean girls. So is every representative from every social caste in school and in life. All those representatives have nice people, too (even the mean girls). It’s just that jocks are often given the top rung in the social order, making that jerkiness more pervasive and difficult to stomach, just like how a nice jock seems as strange and wonderful as a gift from the Lord Almighty sent via the planet Zork. As long as jock culture is cited as an issue when some troubled teen shoots up his school, people are going to ask, are jocks jerks?

Kate Dailey — the writer of the Newsweek blog “The Human Condition,” host of this planned triptych of young jockdom, seems like she’s found science that proves, yes, jocks are jerks, but not before starting with a Karate Kid lede that makes me wonder if she’s related to Bill Simmons.

Depending on one’s high-school experience, there are two distinct philosophies about the role sports plays in a child’s development. There’s the idea that youth sports teaches kids discipline and respect, keeps them off the street, and helps them mature into adults: it’s sports that turned athletically gifted but insecure Daniel Larusso into The Karate Kid.

But just as pervasive is the opinion that jocks are jerks, and kids who play sports are mean bullies who will do anything to win, who need to dominate their opponents and who carry that aggressiveness streak off the field. Kids who play sports, this line of thinking goes, are more like Johnny Lawrence, star athlete (and big-time bully) from the Cobra-Kai dojo.

A recent study in the journal Developmental Psychology suggest that jocks really are jerks—if they focus exclusively on sports at the expense of other more-well rounded programs. But kids who both play sports and are exposed to youth-development program like scouting or 4-H show the most markers of personal growth and maturity.

Why cite farm-intensive 4-H? As Dailey points out, it helped pay for the study. In the grand tradition of drug companies footing the bill for medical journal research, we got the shocking revelation that the sugar daddy is a force for all that is good and right.

Maybe 4-H is as wonderful as the study says. But I’m not going to take it on face value that America’s fifth- through eighth-graders (the group studied) are future wedgie-givers if they concentrate on sports to the exclusion of all else. To be fair, neither are the study’s researchers, who say more study is needed to assess exactly how different out-of-school activities affect children’s development. Well, at least that’s what they said in the study. Here is one of the authors, Richard Lerner, director of Tufts University’s Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development talking to Newsweek:

“Kids who are just involved in sports are focusing in on what it is to be competitive with other kids. To dominate and win and not lose: that life is a zero-sum game[.]” … That’s because more often then not, the positive lessons that one can learn through sports are often drowned out by a focus on less transcendental issues. “When you just teach kids here’s how to take a set shot, here’s how you take a jump shot … you don’t use the opportunity to work with the kids as a context how to make it in life, not just on the playing field,” Lerner says.

I agree. It’s important to tell the kids you coach that if you can hit your set shot and your jump shot, you can really make it in life!

One of the reasons youth development programs are so successful is that they provide adults who can develop a “positive and sustained relationships with that young person,” says Lerner. “A mentor.”  Having a consistent authority figure who can provide support and guidance—and who is more concerned with a child’s development then the team’s record at the end of the day—goes a long way to instilling the right values in child athletes. Prior to the beginning of a season, parents should work with coaches to ensure that kids are taught not just athletic skills, but lessons on teamwork, cooperation, and playing by the rules.

So if the coach is a win-at-all-costs asshole and parents aren’t concerned mostly about their kid’s pro prospects, that child is more likely to be a jerk. This is apparent to any of us who have spent, oh, more than two days around youth sports, even those of use who don’t have a PhD.

The mistake is assuming because it’s sports, there is a special predisposition toward jerkdom. You can see jerkiness developing among kids in any endeavor where young people are put on a pedestal at an early age by parents and mentors who believe those kids are reflecting well on them and improving their own social (and perhaps, someday, financial standing). You also can see it when any child is focused on only one activity to the exclusion of all else.

You also can see it when a kid is, well, just a jerk, no matter whether they’re in basketball or scouting.

So are jocks jerks? No more than anyone else. Now where science can do us some good is to see what subgroup is most likely to give the rest of us swirlies.

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Watch out for the church kids.

Written by rkcookjr

August 18, 2009 at 10:38 pm

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