Archive for March 2009
Like a lot of coaches, I send a hello email to all my players’ parents as a way to introduce myself, talk a little about my background, give a few thoughts on how I approach coaching, and try to be light-hearted and even a little humorous, all to send the signal that I’m a nice, approachable guy who will not drive their kid straight out of the sport and onto a therapist’s couch.
I would recommend all coaches do the same. However, I would recommend none have an email that reads like this (hat tip, On the Pitch, which got it from Barstool Sports, a Boston-based site that has a reader with a girl on the team in question):
Congratulations on being selected for Team 7 (forest green shirts) of the Scituate Soccer Club! My name is Michael and I have been fortunate enough to be selected to coach what I know will be a wonderful group of young ladies. Chris Mac will also be coaching and I expect the ever popular Terry to return to the sidelines. Our first game will be Saturday April 4 at 10:00AM. There will be a half hour of skills followed by a 1 hour game, so total time will be 1.5 hours. All games will be played on the fields in the front of the High School. Each player will be required to wear shin guards and cleats are recommended but not required. A ball will be provided to each player at the first meeting, and each player should bring the ball to games and practices. There is no set practice time allotted for the U8 teams, but I will convene with the coaches to determine the best time and place. If there are cancellations due to rain, all notices will be posted via the Scituate Soccer Club website, no calls will be made (though I will try to send an email). Attached is the Schedule and Code of Conduct. After listening to the head of the referees drone on for about 30 minutes on the dangers of jewelry (time which I will never get back), no player will be allowed to play with pierced ears, hairclips, etc. We used to tape the earings, but that practice is no longer acceptable. Please let me know if your child has any health issues that I need to be aware of. My home phone is XXX XXX XXXX, my cell number is XXX XXX XXXX, and I check my email frequently. According to my wife, my emails get too wordy, so for those of you read too slowly, are easily offended, or are too busy, you can stop here. For the others……
OK, here’s the real deal: Team 7 will be called Green Death. We will only acknowledge “Team 7″ for scheduling and disciplinary purposes. Green Death has had a long and colorful history, and I fully expect every player and parent to be on board with the team. This is not a team, but a family (some say cult), that you belong to forever. We play fair at all times, but we play tough and physical soccer. We have some returning players who know the deal; for the others, I only expect 110% at every game and practice. We do not cater to superstars, but prefer the gritty determination of journeymen who bring their lunch pail to work every week, chase every ball and dig in corners like a Michael Vick pit bull. Unless there is an issue concerning the health of my players or inside info on the opposition, you probably don’t need to talk to me. Coach MacDonald has been designated “good guy” this year.
Some say soccer at this age is about fun and I completely agree. However, I believe winning is fun and losing is for losers. Ergo, we will strive for the “W” in each game. While we may not win every game (excuse me, I just got a little nauseated) I expect us to fight for every loose ball and play every shift as if it were the finals of the World Cup. While I spent a good Saturday morning listening to the legal liability BS, which included a 30 minute dissertation on how we need to baby the kids and especially the refs, I was disgusted. The kids will run, they will fall, get bumps, bruises and even bleed a little. Big deal, it’s good for them (but I do hope the other team is the one bleeding). If the refs can’t handle a little criticism, then they should turn in their whistle. The sooner they figure out how to make a decision and live with the consequences the better. My heckling of the refs is actually helping them develop as people. The political correctness police are not welcome on my sidelines. America’s youth is becoming fat, lazy and non-competitive because competition is viewed as “bad”. I argue that competition is good and is important to the evolution of our species and our survival in what has become an increasingly competitive global economy and dangerous world. Second place trophies are nothing to be proud of as they serve only as a reminder that you missed your goal; their only useful purpose is as an inspiration to do that next set of reps. Do you go to a job interview and not care about winning? Don’t animals eat what they kill (and yes, someone actually kills the meat we eat too – it isn’t grown in plastic wrap)? And speaking of meat, I expect that the ladies be put on a diet of fish, undercooked red meat and lots of veggies. No junk food. Protein shakes are encouraged, and while blood doping and HGH use is frowned upon, there is no testing policy. And at the risk of stating the obvious, blue slushies are for winners.
These are my views and not necessarily the views of the league (but they should be). I recognize that my school of thought may be an ideological shift from conventional norms. But it is imperative that we all fight the good fight, get involved now and resist the urge to become sweat-xedo-wearing yuppies who sit on the sidelines in their LL Bean chairs sipping mocha-latte-half-caf-chinos while discussing reality TV and home decorating with other feeble-minded folks. I want to hear cheering, I want to hear encouragement, I want to get the team pumped up at each and every game and know they are playing for something.
Lastly, we are all cognizant of the soft bigotry that expects women and especially little girls, to be dainty and submissive; I wholeheartedly reject such drivel. My overarching goal is develop ladies who are confident and fearless, who will stand up for their beliefs and challenge the status quo. Girls who will kick ass and take names on the field, off the field and throughout their lives. I want these girls to be winners in the game of life. Who’s with me?
Go Green Death!
Who’s with him? Not the Scituate Soccer Club in Massachusetts, which was unhappy enough with the coach who wrote this note, one Michael Kinahan, that he quit. Did I mention Kinahan’s team was to consist of 6- and 7-year-old girls?
Kinahan told the Boston Herald his letter was supposed to be a “mix of ‘suburban satire’ and a challenge to compete. ‘I stand by my comments. This isn’t two hours of free babysitting,’ Kinahan said.”
Not a gift from Michael Kinahan.
Apparently Kinahan was not familiar with the words of George S. Kaufman. Or perhaps nobody got as a satire because, according to a league official quoted by the Herald, Kinahan in the past really has heckled the refs. Did I mention they are 12 years old, and that a league official said Kinahan heckled one right out of the league?
In a way, I feel bad for Kinahan. I believe he was trying to be funny, though I also believe that if this letter is any example, he sucks at it. Anyway, it isn’t a good idea to alienate your team and its parents before any of them have met you. There’s plenty of time in the season for that! Unfortunately, thanks to this magic thing called the Internet, a stupid letter goes from being just a stupid letter into the latest cause celebre over whether we take youth sports too seriously.
However, I feel much better for the girls and parents who don’t have to deal with this hopeless douchebag. Apparently not realizing the dad who reads Barstool Sports is the one who shined a light on his sub-Wildean satiric skills, Kinahan included him a copy of his resignation letter, which the site dutifully reproduced. You could say Kinahan hasn’t learned anything, or you could say Kinahan is going to be the subject of a fawning interview on Fox News very, very soon.
Team, After careful consideration, I have decided to resign from all coaching responsibilities related to Team 7 this season. Unfortunately, it has come to my attention that some parents and the Board of Scituate Soccer failed to see the humor in my pre-season email. For the avoidance of doubt, the email was largely (albeit not completely) meant in jest and with the goal of giving the parents a chuckle while enduring yet another round of organized youth sports. It was also meant as a satire of those who take youth sports too seriously for the wrong reasons. My overarching goal is the well-being of my players, and I do not want any player to feel uncomfortable, nor do I want to see the team disbanded because of a lack of active players. Therefore, while I’d prefer to go down swinging, it’s really about the kids and it just makes more sense for me to take the year off.
While I respectfully disagree with the Board’s interpretation of my comments, I believe that they should be commended for their immediate actions to address the concerns of the offended parties. The Board’s action proves that the chain of command is functioning as designed. Board members volunteer their valuable time and I do not plan to add to their already significant workload. I also respect those parents who were offended as I am sure they acted in the best interest of their children. While I may question their sense of humor, I have no right to question their judgment regarding their children. Perhaps we may even have beer (I’ll buy) and a couple of laughs at the end of all of this.
And while I am sorry some people failed to see the humor, I do not apologize for my actions; I wrote it, I think it’s funny and I do have a distaste for the tediousness of overbearing political correctness. Furthermore, I was serious about parental involvement as I do believe parents should cheer and encourage players (in a positive fashion obviously) so that the kids feel the excitement that comes from team competition. And most importantly, I was completely serious that I want to see each young girl develop a positive self image, self-confidence and the will to succeed in any endeavor that she desires. Lastly, I have added some comments to my initial email (in capitals) to clarify several points that may have been viewed as offensive.
Go Green Death!
How long before Kinahan sues Barstool Sports for trying to make a buck off of his idiocy?
Logan Young was the 14-year-old girl whose parents sued to overturn an Indiana High School Athletic Association rule that prevented her from trying out for the boys’ baseball team because there was a girls’ equivalent sport, softball. However, the IHSAA ruled 18-9 a few months back to let her try out because it figured it would lose the lawsuit.
And the happy ending to the story is…
Well, it’s not all that happy. Logan Young didn’t make the Bloomington High School South team.
You could play conspiracy theorist and say Young was doomed because of the trouble she caused. But she, like a lot of freshman boys, just couldn’t make the cut. The coach said her attitude was great, but her skill level just wasn’t high enough. Her parents’ attitude was great, as well. Logan’s mother told an Indianapolis TV station before the tryout that she knew her daughter “was going to get a fair shake.” Logan, who played Little League Baseball from age 5 onward, said before the tryout that if she didn’ t make the team this year, she’d try next year.
If nothing else, Logan struck a blow for girls by allowing them the chance to try out. It seems backward we’re having this discussion. I had girls on my Little League team in the early 1980s; of course, there was no softball alternative for them. My 9-year-old daughter plays softball and loves it, and that’s great. But baseball and softball are different games, even if both involve a ball, a pitcher and a field.
People worried that somehow Logan’s tryout is some sort of reverse sexism, that boys will start trying out for girls basketball, are off the mark. The issue is the opportunity to compete. Presumably, if Bloomington South had a girls’ field hockey team, but there was a boy who wanted to try out because there was no boys’ team, then he more than likely could.
Among the dimbulbs is Bloomington South’s athletic director, J.R. Holmes, quoted by WTHR-TV in Indianapolis as saying of Logan’s case: “I’m thinking it could open a can of worms, where you might end up not having girls’ sports.” I’m sure Holmes, fresh off of winning his first state basketball title in 39 years of coaching, is wringing his hands over girls’ sports. Given his job as boys’ basketball coach, Holmes might have to be reminded from time to time that other sports and another gender is under his purview.
In 1977, I stood resplendent in my blue patterned, monogrammed leisure suit (made by my grandmother) in the front of St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Owosso, Mich., along with my fellow First Communion celebrants. The photographer asked us communicants whether we wanted a picture to be passed out to our families, or for the newspaper. We bellowed: “THE NEWSPAPER!”
After all, having a picture in your parents’ hands was all well and good. But being in the newspaper was validation, immortality, even if was only the Owosso Argus-Press. There we were, on page 2, to be cut out and put into scrapbooks. Who cared if our faces all were so small you couldn’t tell one kid from another? (Or one monogrammed leisure suit from another?)
I thought of this after seeing another note from a newspaper encouraging its readers to submit photos, particularly of youth sports, to be published or posted. In this case, it’s the Zanesville Times-Recorder in Zanesville, Ohio, known for being one of Forbes’ most vulnerable local economies, a stop on the Devil’s Highway, and home to the Institute for White Studies. The Times-Recorder posted its note Sunday asking readers to submit photos to be used for galleries of prom and youth spring sports.
As newspapers circle the financial drain, one of their Hail Marys (other than mixing metaphors) is to ask for reader-submitted content, which is free and an easy driver of visits to the paper’s web site, or sales of newspapers to the people whose friends and relatives are featured. It’s a test of how strong the brand name of a newspaper can be. You don’t need a local paper to get your kids’ volleyball photos online. You can start a blog, or a Flickr account. (And then have some smart-aleck blogger steal your kid’s photo off of Flickr because it’s not copyrighted material.)
Like this, for example.
But as anyone who works a newspaper sports desk can tell you, there are sports parents who are incessant about why the local paper isn’t giving full blanket coverage to their kid’s team or sport, and their kid. “You only cover us when we [insert very bad thing here]” is a sportswriters’ cliche for the grief they get from parents.
Why do parents or fans bother? Because having someone ELSE take or post your pictures is validation, immortality. Especially as there are a million places online to disseminate your sports photos and information, getting a call from someone else who wants to do so is much more meaningful. (Plus, if it’s the local newspaper, you can be pretty sure it’s not a pedophile heavily breathing for your prom or swimming photos.)
Newspapers such as the Zanesville Time-Recorder are counting on their established brand name and ability to grant validation, immortality, to get scads of photos, but more importantly to remind readers that if they want to be remembered, posting a photo to a Facebook page isn’t enough. (Oh, and maybe the sports staff can tell angry parents that there is a vehicle available to attract the attention of the college recruiters they believe search for talent only in local sports sections.)
An example that has nothing to do with youth sports: The Redwood City, Calif., Flickr Group is located in the center of Silicon Valley. And yet the members were besides themselves with excitement in 2006 when the local paper wrote a story about them.
Of course, this isn’t the paper sending a photographer out to shoot your kid’s fourth-grade basketball game, so it’s not like the barrier for entry is that high.
Still, even small children who never see a newspaper in the home, as well as their parents, families and friends, can get excited over getting a picture “in the paper.” Or should I say, in “THE NEWSPAPER!”
As reported by the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Kentucky Medical Association’s committee on sports medicine met Thursday to discuss what coaches should do in case of a heat-related illness suffered by a player. The meeting happened the same week Kentucky Gov. Steve Brashear signed a bill requiring high school coaches to take a 10-hour course taught by a doctor or another qualified professional on health safety issues, such as recognizing emergencies, first aid, and signs of heat- and cold-related conditions. Not every coach technically has to take and complete the class, but every high school athletic practice and game must be attended by at least one person who has.
This is the outgrowth of the death last August of 15-year-old Max Gilpin of Louisville after he collapsed during a hot Pleasure Ridge Park High School football practice. Former coach David Jason Stinson has pleaded not guilty to a charge of reckless homicide and is among the many being sued by Gilpin’s parents over his death. The criminal trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 31, with some coaches and coaching associations giving money to Stinson’s legal defense in fear of what a conviction would mean for their jobs.
The Kentucky bill originally proposed that ice baths and defibrillators be available at every practice, but that was dropped because of schools’ concerns on costs and physicians’ concerns that those devices aren’t always the best course of immediate treatment.
The first two years of my oldest son’s brief baseball career were spent playing for a Pony League team called the Cubs. Yes, I’m in Chicago, but I’m on the south side, so many of my fellow parents were apoplectic at the thought their White Sox-indoctrinated child was going to be sullied by a Cubs logo on their little uniform. “Go Cubs!” I remember one day saying at a game. “Oh my god! I never believed I would actually say that!”
Many parents will be put into that position in the next few weeks (if they haven’t already in warm-weather areas) as uniforms are handed out and they realize their child is playing for a team they would usually affiliate with Satan. My son in T-ball is playing for the Phillies, which will arouse no antipathy where I live. But if I were, say, in Queens, it probably would. Same for a Giants fan who see his or her child in a Dodgers uniform, a Cubs fan whose progeny is wearing Cardinals, or a Red Sox fan finding the fruit of his loins sporting Yankees gear.
Here is some advice for you parents who have trouble separating the child for the uniform, or who are suppressing the urge literally to separate the child from the uniform:
1. Remember, you are not being forced to cheer for, say, Derek Jeter, Red Sox fans. They’re just kids in, to borrow a Jerry Seinfeld routine, laundry. Also, if the kid playing shortstop for your Yankees bobbles the ball, resist the temptation to yell “Jeter sucks!” Like old Looney Tunes cartoons, you should yell that into a paper bag, close it, run 10 miles away, then open up the bag and let the scream out.
2. Be sporting when people tease you about your kid playing for the enemy. Please, no punches to the face. Keep it to the shoulders.
3. Do not overcompensate by wearing gear expressing your hatred for the real team upon whose identity your child’s team is based. Unless you really mean you dislike your kid’s team.
4. Do not fear your child will become a fan of the team you hate just because he or she is wearing that uniform. A few, well-placed, denied meals, withdrawal of affection and forced outdoor sleeping will correct your child in case of any budding interest.
5. Finally, if you want to set that uniform afire at season’s end to get rid of the stink of opposition, it’ll burn easier and quicker if you wait for your child to take if off first.
I have succumbed. Your Kid’s Not Going Pro is officially on Twitter. The user name is “Not Going Pro.” “Your Kid’s Not Going Pro” doesn’t fit, according to Twitter. That’s what you get from a 140-character-limited site — paragraphical fascism.
So I’ll put whatever fool thought comes up in my head about youth sports, including quick links to stuff going on. You’ll still get the long, drawn-out posts you’ve come to know and love here. For the short bursts of logorrhoea, look to the right sidebar, near the bottom, for a link. Or follow me on Twitter. Just don’t follow me through the grocery store, OK? That’s a little weird.
Is anyone else gonna play? Anyone? Hello?
Turns out Bob Shaw of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has offered solutions on what to do about falling participation in Minnesota high school sports, a trend that given the causes of the problem would seem to be in place just about everywhere. The suggested list, based on his interviews:
Items No. 1 and 2 are long-recognized problems and pretty much impossible to change. As long as there are organized sports, parents are going to have to be involved in some level. The halcyon days of we-just-grabbed-a-bat-and-went-to-the-park are long over, a combination of fear of kidnapping, fear of lawsuits, fear of your kid getting run over by a car, fear of a child predator looming about, as well as a more practical matter: an aging nation with families have fewer kids, more single-parent families and more neighborhoods with houses spread out so getting the critical, after-school mass of kids necessary for a pickup game is often impossible.
And when parents get involved, there’s a conundrum: we’re told to be involved with our children and their activities, but then we’re also told our involvement is a problem. (I hear it from my sister-in-law, a teacher, when she talks about us being one of “those parents” when we mention we emailed a question to one of our kids’ teachers.) As coaches and fans, you’re going to have parents who, while they might have the best of intentions, will overemphasize the competitive aspects of sports over development.
You can, and should, have all the campaigns aimed at parents about best behavior, but some bad behavior is going to happen. It happened when I was a kid in organized sports in the 1970s and 1980s, it happens now, and it will happen in the future. If it seems like it’s happening more now, it’s because when I was a kid, parents weren’t expected to be so involved. So instead of intensity, the problem was apathy (a problem, the Pioneer Press story points out, that can be just as big a factor in lack of children’s athletic participation).
No. 3, reducing the number of games and tournaments, is also never going to happen. There’s too much money involved. I’ll get into this in more detail in a later post, but a lot of small- and mid-sized cities and suburbs are staking an economic claim to attracting youth sports tournaments, competition that is only more intense as the economy worsens. For example, the Columbus, Ind., Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2008 recorded a $16 million local economic impact from youth sports tournaments. Not as much as generated by, say, Cummins, but not bad for a city of 40,000. As long as people can make money from parents forking over big bucks for their kids’ athletic activities, there are going to be plenty of games and tournaments. In a way, that’s why No. 4 — an expanded role for clubs and private associations — is already happening.
No. 5 is an interesting point — offer sports children want to play. That seems self-evident, but for schools adding or subtracting sports on the varsity level is an arduous task. The Pioneer Press story talks about how a school heavily populated by Hmong immigrants increased its participation by offering more racquet sports, which fit more nicely with their culture. However, such a change is not always welcomed by those who believe immigrants should adapt to “our” ways, not the other way around.
If nothing else, a school can at least offer opportunities at the intramural level to reflect the population’s changing interests and get parents and families more engaged with their schools. It doesn’t have to be either-or. In a recent couple of trips to play basketball at the Monon Center, a facility in my hometown of Carmel, Ind., I saw a reflection of how its fast-growing Chinese population is intergrating into local sports, and how it will change them.
One night, a group of Chinese teenagers were in a spirited game of basketball — obviously, fitting pretty well into Indiana. Another day, a group of Chinese adults was playing volleyball (no big change there) while their kids were on the sidelines knocking a birdie back and forth in a casual display of badminton (big change there). Carmel is a fairly wealthy suburban school district, so I imagine it can, and will, add badminton at least to intramural status at some point to reflect demand.
And, No. 6, consider alternatives to varsity sports — as I’ve mentioned several times, even in this post, schools should put a greater emphasis on intramurals, and perhaps even offer after-school clinics for certain sports for kids who aren’t athletes. Obviously, gym and field space plays into the decision to give interscholastic sports the first nod, but there’s no reason a school can’t use elementary gyms or other local facilities for the same purpose.
Of course, in a lot of areas these alternatives and programs exist and aren’t used. Often, kids at older ages have decided they just aren’t into a sport and don’t want to play it. That’s not an all-bad thing. Part of growing up is trying something out, and ditching it if you don’t like it. Yes, the crazy sports-industrial complex weeds out a lot of kids who would like to play, or teaches kids that they don’t want to. But many, many kids quit because they thought they were interested, tried it out, and weren’t.
To increase participation, I think the key is to get those kids who aren’t varsity level but are interested in playing and give them the opportunity. It’s also about teaching kids and parents that sports are a lifelong activity that’s great if you’re a star on the varsity or club team, but is also great if you like knocking around a gym for a couple of hours. The goal isn’t necessarily to increase participation to what it was 25 years ago. The goal should be to give kids who want to play the opportunity to play. If you sell a viable alternative to the gotta-get-on-the-club-team track, problems Nos. 1 through 5 will take care of themselves.
Colorado football coach Dan Hawkins agrees.