Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Archive for September 2010

Angry football coach launches a moon shot

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Courtesy of Steve Griffith at Wacky Youth Sports Dad comes a piece from the New York Daily News about a high school football game that ended with many involved showing themselves to be asses, which inspired one assistant coach to show them his ass.

A wild melee at a high school football game in Queens ended ugly Saturday when an assistant coach dropped his drawers and mooned the opposing team’s spectators.

The Boys and Girls High School volunteer assistant bared his backside to fans of the home team, Campus Magnet, minutes after a shoving match erupted on the field between coaches and school safety officers.

“His fellow coaches were holding him back and he turned around and pulled down his shorts,” said David Sumter, 40, a Campus Magnet parent. “All I saw was his big [rear end].”

I believe Mr. Sumter said “ass,” although it’s possible he made air brackets when he said rear end.

As if it matters why a coach would drop his drawers on the field, apparently that coach — William Miller, as the Daily News identified him — and the Boys and Girls head coach were tossed out of the game after vociferously, non-nakedly protesting the referees’ calling good a Campus Magnet two-point conversion that put Boys and Girls down 16-6 with a few minutes to play. With all the ruckus, the refs shut the game down. Campus Magnet parents began heckling, and that’s why Miller went over to their section, screamed at the fans and, as the Daily News put it, “revealed his caboose.”

Hey, pull up your shorts! (NSFW, obviously)

Apparently Miller, a volunteer, lost his gig over this, according to the Daily News. I wonder if the school told him not to let the door hit a certain part of his body on the way out.

The youth sports version of torture porn

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An interesting story behind “Play Their Hearts Out,” a book by George Dohrmann — one of the few sportswriters to ever win a Pulitzer Prize — about the youth basketball machine. Apparently Dohrmann, traveling on his own dime, was able to follow a 9- and 10-year-old AAU team, as long as he didn’t write about what happened until the players were out of high school. The book sounds amazing. The book comes out Oct. 5.

Dohrmann unearthed all sorts of academic fraud at the University of Minnesota to get his Pulitzer, and for his book he unearths all sorts of stink about what really happens in the high-stakes youth basketball world. You might think you have a general idea of how rotten it is, but Dohrmann finds it’s worse than you would ever imagine. From a Los Angeles Times review:

The world … is one of shocking greed and ego, one where adults use and abuse children under the banner of sport. There are few good guys in this book, but certainly not the coaches who seek the big dollars of the shoe companies, nor the shoe companies that provide them.

This is how it works.

The shoe companies — Adidas, Reebok, Nike, etc. — are always looking for the next Michael Jordan, whose unmatchable endorsement power whetted everybody’s appetite for more.

The youth coaches gather teams, play win-at-all-costs games, emulate Bob Knight along the sidelines during games and hope that the shoe companies will not only hear about them and provide their young and impressionable players with free shoes and product, but also put them on the payroll.

Mom and dad allow their 9- and 10-year-olds to be used and yelled at because they have visions of college scholarships and pro contracts. Some parents allow their children to play only if the coach pays their rent. If the coach does so, it is most often with money from the shoe companies. If the parents have money, they bribe coaches to have their child included.

Hangers-on publish ratings of these almost teenagers, even though these raters often have never seen the players they are rating. High ratings of their players, in recruiting newsletters and on websites, mean more leverage for the youth coach with the shoe companies. They are also a recruiting guideline for college coaches, who know these ratings have minimal credibility and ought to know better than to use them.

These children play in multiple games and tournaments that become, to them, the only measure of their worth. The tournaments become meat markets for coaches, scouts and raters, as well the youth coaches’ auditions for the shoe companies.

The writer, Bill Dwyre (Dohrmann’s former boss at the Times), calls “Play from the Heart” a book that makes you want to take a shower.

See, this is why I originally titled this review of the review “A new youth basketball/child torture book I’m not sure I want to read.” It sounds amazing, and it sounds like it should be read by every parent who decides to throw his or her child into the youth sports pool without a floatie. But it might be too horrible to watch the slow, painful torture of children that sounds like it unfolds through the course of the book. You want to find out how you can save these kids — except it’s eight years too late.

If you can’t bring yourself to read the book, know this. The 9-year-old at the center is one of the many next LeBrons, Demetrius Walker. He was still being called a next LeBron at age 14.

Instead of going straight to the NBA, Walker got a scholarship — which, to be fair, is more than most get — to Arizona State. He averaged four points per game, and fell out of favor with coach Herb Sendek. In 2010-11, he’ll sit out a year as a transfer to New Mexico. Maybe Walker will still be an NBA player. But it sure doesn’t look good. And, for that, Walker — once surrounded by adult sycophants angling to cash in his future fame — instead will find himself in therapy in the Next LeBron Support Group.

Written by rkcookjr

September 25, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Concussions: Why you question letting your kids play football

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My second-grade son has a friend over today who came over after he played a youth league football game. Given all the attention lately about concussions, I felt like I should give him a baseline test before he and my son played in the back yard.

If you watched the NFL the first few weeks in its new, we-care-about-concussions mode, you got a sense of how football at all levels is changing in a hurry now that we know concussions aren’t just dings that make you punch-drunkenly shake the cobwebs.

Two incidents, to me, stand out. One is Stewart Bradley of the Philadelphia Eagles in week one, going back onto the field — stunningly — not long after being unable to walk following a hit. The incident had the NFL reviewing how that happened, though as of this writing the Eagles have not been cited by the league for violating its policies regarding concussion testing and treatment.

Bradley, unable to walk.

The Bradley situation was pretty shocking, and I think it explains a lot about the second concussion-related incident I noticed. During week two’s Chicago Bears-Dallas Cowboys game, Fox’s cameras caught Dallas tight end Jason Witten vociferously arguing with a member of the team’s medical staff, which was refusing to clear him to play after Witten suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter. Actually, the staff couldn’t have cleared him to play if it wanted to — once a concussion is diagnosed, a player is not supposed to come back in the game. And, believe me, after all the flak the NFL and the Eagles took over Bradley, no one is going to let anyone with a concussion back into a game.

As Witten was arguing, Chicago Bears radio announcer Tom Thayer, an offensive lineman on Chicago’s 1985 Super Bowl champs, responded, and I’m paraphrasing, that if players are going to be held out because they get dinged, you’re going to have to get used to players missing a lot of time. Thayer said this with a mix of ruefulness — god knows how many concussions Thayer probably played with in his day — and a sense that maybe, grudgingly, it is about time things changed — god knows how many concussions Thayer probably played with in his day.

As of this writing, I’m enjoying my hometown Indianapolis Colts’ crushing of the New York Giants, but I have to say that Thayer is right — if I may read into his comments — that how we view the game of football is changing, in a hurry. Certainly, many studies have pointed out the concussion risk in numerous youth sports, including my beloved basketball.

But football by design is a collision sport, and many fans of the game are openly wondering why anyone would play it, or let their kids play it, sort of like the way people changed their minds about letting their kids box. (My 13-year-old has suddenly developed an interest in wanting to box. We’ll have to chat about that one.)

The post-concussive horror stories are growing more familiar, with the number of ex-pros who turned out to have brains scrambled like eggs after their years of football. But then you hear about Chris Henry, who turned out to have concussion-related brain damage as an active player. Then you hear about the suicide of Penn player Owen Thomas, who despite never having been diagnosed with a concussion may have had a level of impact-related brain damage enough to cause him to kill himself. Then you hear about a sixth-grade football player in Wisconsin who died of concussion-related injuries.

And then you hear about some youth coaches and parents, who presumably should know better or care more about their kids than the game, pressuring to get their addled children back in games, such as this story told by a physician in the Pittsburgh area to the local Post-Gazette:

Dr. Young cannot forget this episode last fall in his league’s championship game for the youngest local level. Adults with the opposing team asked him to approve their star tailback, whom he said blacked out and fell in the huddle before he threw up. Unconsciousness and nausea are prime indicators for a concussion.

“They wanted me to clear him at halftime,” said Dr. Young, still incredulous almost a year later. “Ultimately, the boy sat out the second half. It was a championship game, an important game in their 6- and 7-year-old season. But it was 6 and 7 year olds.”

I’m glad that my children have no interest in playing football, and I’m thankful now that my parents kept my scrawny ass out of the game. (Then again, I played no-pads tackle frequently in my neighborhoods growing up, so I can’t be smug.)

I’m hardly going to stop watching the game, or declare anyone who puts their kids in the game a bad parent. Hopefully, at the least, youth coaches and parents will keep their eyes out for concussion-related symptoms, and get their kids out of the games before any further damage is done. I’d like to think that when my kids’ friends come over, they’re of sound mind.

Blockbuster youth sports series in newspaper rings true to Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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The opening story of the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch’s big, gimme-a-Pulitzer-Prize series on youth sports is headlined, “Children may be vulnerable in $5 billion youth-sports industry.” May?

All you have to do is spend a little time with this here blog to see how youth sports victimizes kids with molestation, hazing, injury, balls thrown violently to the head and complicated relationships with parents that will keep them in therapy for years. All in the name of getting one of those extremely elusive college scholarships and an even more extremely elusive pro career, all while holding up the sagging economy through recession-proof activities.

Or you could read the Dispatch’s series, a well-reported look pretty much along the same lines, except that the newspaper’s writers aren’t allowed to type “fuck.” Well, they can type it, but it probably won’t get past the fucking copy desk. Fuckers.

To me, the most interesting part of the series is the poll of more than 1,000 central Ohio youths about various aspects of their youth sports experience. For example:

– 315 said they started youth sports at age 5 or younger. Another 445 said they started between ages 6 and 9. I’m going to guess of those 445, they were a lot closer to 6 than 9.

As I typed that previous sentence, this song popped into my head. Kids, let your freak flag fly!

– For the most part, kids appear to play non-school sports because they want to, with many reporting no pressure to play because of a dream of scholarships or making the high school varsity. Only 50 said they got a lot of pressure from parents, while 799 said there was little or none. However, change the question from “parents” to “father,” and I suspect the responses change somewhat.

– 571 said their coaches were fun and improved their game. Only 60 said their coach only wanted to win, or yelled a lot. Is Central Ohio the repository of all the best youth coaches? Really?

– Another 571 (the same kids?) said their parents were supportive or enjoyable at their sporting events. Another 271 said parents were embarrassing or put too much pressure on them. Apparently there are parents, given the low rate of pressure to play, who are all nice and home, but become raging lunatics once the whistle blows.

Actually, the poll, unless the children are suffering some sort of travel team Stockholm Syndrome, seems to reveal that even as we absorb all these stories about the nuttiness of youth sports, in most cases everyone — especially the kids themselves — are keeping their wits and perspective about them. If that’s the case, what I am going to write about? You mean kids really only may be vulnerable? Fuck.

Written by rkcookjr

September 15, 2010 at 11:14 pm

The war on school sports fees — can it really be won?

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A common way for school districts to get their costs covered when the local tax base won’t (or can’t) pony up for them is to charge fees, a tack particularly all the rage for school sports. However, the American Civil Liberties Union in Southern California, being the glorious freedom fighters or meddling commies they are (I seek to represent both sides), is suing the state, saying the fees violate California’s constitution, which states that public education is free.

The ACLU’s official video on the scourage of school fees.

Generally, most state constitutions have wording similar to California’s, yet we parents dutifully write checks for book fees, IDs, gym uniforms and, depending on where you live, participation fees for extracurricular activities. I would be more outraged, except what I have to pay for four kids still doesn’t come close to all the fees I had to pay sending my kids to Catholic school, so I’m still feeling giddy.

However, the freedom fighters’/meddling commies’ lawsuit does bring up an interesting point. Is it right for a school district to charge kids to play sports at a public school?

How you answer that depends on whether you believe extracurricular activities are an integral part of the school experience. I say they are. My 13-year-old, despite the experience of getting cut from a few teams, has connected to his junior high as more than just a place to learn algebra thanks to after-school activities that include theater, choir, podcasting club, band, strategy club (chess and role-playing games), gym setup (for Friday night activities) and stuff I’m probably leaving out.

The curriculum makes for a good school; the extracurriculars makes for a school to which students feel a real attachment. People who grump that school is only a place where students learn the basics are missing that it’s the other stuff that turns a drone into a thinking, feeling person.

Granted, the activities my oldest son is in are hardly the priciest out there. For example, none of them requires pads, helmets, assistant coaches, a marching band, a grounds crew and grounds, lighting and bus rides.

On top of that, and this is where the ACLU has a point beyond the constituional question, is that all these fees deny a true meritocracy in public schools. If you can’t afford the fee, you can’t play football. You can’t be in the band. You can’t be in strategy club. Heck, you can’t even get a science workbook.

However, even if the ACLU wins, it doesn’t answer the questions of how schools are going to make up that lost fee money. As, oh, every school district in the state of New Jersey has noticed, taxpayers aren’t concerned about your sob stories of having no school supplies. Suck it up, kids. Don’t you understand taxes are high, the economy sucks, and your union-bloated teachers are snorting eraser dust with $100 bills? (Hey, eraser dust is hard to get, now that everyone is using whiteboards and computers.)

The sad fact is, if the ACLU wins, the result likely is that California schools start chopping, and the families who were already spending big bucks on travel teams and just placating the prep team with their childrens’ presence will just double down on the travel teams, while other kids are left with bupkus. Hopefully, the podcasting club will survive.

Written by rkcookjr

September 15, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Muslims, sports, and being an American

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As I write this, today is the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, the end of the month of Ramadan. My kids, who go to a school district with a large Arabic population, know all about the holiday even if, as Christians, they don’t celebrate. For one thing, this means their friends at school can have lunch with them again.

Speaking of which, a little while back I did a post about how Ramadan affected the football team at Fordson High in Dearborn, Mich., a school with a nearly all-Arabic population. They had their preseason practices overnight, so the players could eat before practice. Tonight they face Belleville, and let me tell you, the Fordson Tractors are hungry for a win — but they’re not hungry anymore. The team went 1-1 during Ramadan, by the way.

Of course, given the charged environment on all things Muslim, Fordson’s Ramadan practice schedule wasn’t merely an interesting, passing thought. For some — particularly the type who say things like “All I need to know about Islam I learned on 9-11,” it was one more stick in the eye in all things American. Heck, Fordson’s mere existence as an Arab-populated school is a stick in the eye.

That’s where the above video clip, which I found on Goat Milk Blog, comes in. A documentary is being released about Fordson, and it focuses on two great American topics: sports, and the assimilation of immigrants. The movie, “Fordson” (where did they get that title!) looks like an inspiring tale of how the younger generation of immigrants uses sports to integrate themselves and their families into the American melting pot.

They are Muslim, they have ties elsewhere, but on the football field they carry on the Fordson tradition of hating rival Dearborn just as their non-Muslim forefathers have done. The story is not unlike other children of immigrants, feeling pressure from home to keep the customs of the old country alive, while they are just as interested, or more interested, in doing the things other American kids do.

Of course, as the trailer points out, this isn’t a simple plucky immigrant story. Not with 9-11, and not with the seething resentment of Muslims that President George W. Bush, in retrospect, helped keep under wraps as he — and I’m not trying to be political here — tried to walk the tightrope of fighting in Islamic countries without sending the message America was fighting a holy war.

Just in the last few months, it seems like the football players of Fordson have been sacked in their attempt to gain ground as Real Americans.

An anti-Islam whack job’s blogging about a Muslim community center close to, but not within sight of, the former World Trade Center (where from 1994-96 I worked, in Tower Two), turned into a political football, if you will, that allowed anyone with lingering resentments or stereotypes of Islam to unleash their crazy in the name of “the sanctity of Ground Zero.” This, even though no one in New York appeared to care much about it when the site was approved in 2009.

Then you have the alleged Rev. Terry Jones, leader of a tiny, goofy Christian church in Florida, sparking an international incident with his self-proclaimed “International Burn a Koran Day” on, naturally, Sept. 11. A guy punted by his own church in Germany for being “mad” is now, essentially, holding us all hostage as he threatens to set a Koran on fire unless he gets what he wants — or burns it to get what he wants, which appears to be holy war. Meanwhile, he incites hate and creates another figure around which anti-Muslim nuts can coalesce. You can say the media should have ignored him, but like with the slow growth of the Park51 controversy, someone like Terry Jones exists only because many believe what he has to say — and because many have let their fears of 9-11 take over their logical mind.

Over Labor Day I went with my four kids to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, which has an exhibit about kids who changed the world — Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges and Ryan White. They were thrust into their position because of fear and mass hysteria: Frank, as a Jew during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands; Bridges, as a black girl intergrating a white school in 1960 New Orleans; and White, as the first child with AIDS to fight for the right to go to school like any other kid. In all cases, it’s easy to look back and see how wrong people were. But once fear gets the best of people, there is no telling them they’re wrong.

The American story of assimilating immigrants is one in which, often, a new group is looked at with fear and loathing, and that’s even without association with the worst act of terrorism ever on U.S. soil. But what we always learn is that those people — just like Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges and Ryan White — want to be normal, to be Americans. That is, if we let them.

And that’s why the players on Fordson’s team aren’t just football players. They’re political symbols, ciphers onto which people can project their images of Muslims. In my children’s school, I don’t get the sense the kids think too much about that. They’re just other kids. They play baseball (and coach it, as happened on one of my younger son’s teams). They play tag. They sing in the school play. Maybe they’re parents don’t quite understand it all. But in the end, they are kids who just happen to pray in a different way.

Written by rkcookjr

September 10, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Coaching is hard, becoming a certified coach is harder

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On Tuesday night, Aug. 31, I sat through three-plus hours’ worth of videos on youth coaching, and specifically about coaching soccer, to become — for the first time in my six-year youth sports career — an officially certified coach. In the pic at the left, I am holding my official blessing to be a soccer coach, granted by the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, part of the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

I’m not sure I’m any more qualified to be an assistant soccer for 4- and 5-year-olds than I was before I sat through the training, but I could see how it’s valuable to people who aren’t know-it-all youth sports bloggers like myself. The soccer drills were good to see, but the bulk of the training was a video, with breaks for discussion, about the sort of stuff you would run into in the day-to-day management of a team: how to create a positive environment for your kids, the importance (or lack thereof) of winning, how to deal with those fucking asshole parents. I’m paraphrasing.

The National Association of Youth Sports has its heart in the right place, and it’s done a lot to try to teach coaches that screaming obscenities at 4-year-olds is probably not the best way to motivate.

However, as I watched the video, I started feeling intimidated in my role, much as I did the first time I sat through the first pregnancy class with my wife. In each case, my panic was the same: My god, with so much to know, how does any kid survive?

Heck, at least with the pregnancy class, I had that feeling in large part because I had never been a father. I’ve coached numerous teams in numerous sports, and I knew a lot of this stuff going in, yet the NAYS video had me wondering if anybody is qualified to coach kids, beyond the usual qualification of not being on the sex-offender list. I can only imagine what the first-time coaches must have been thinking.

Here is what I learned from the video:

– I hold the FUTURE OF THE WORLD in my hands. And it’s real easy to fuck it up. Do you really want a kid to appear on Dr. Phil because of you?

– If kids don’t want to play a sport after you’ve coached them, it’s because you were such a hopeless asshole that you drove them away. Because kids never quit a sport because they find out they don’t like it. Never never ever.

– If parents have a problem with what you’re doing, it’s clearly because you didn’t make expectations clear and open the lines of communication. It can’t be, ever, that the parent is a jerk. Never never ever.

– You should monitor your players’ hydration and nutrition intake — before, during and after games. That includes ensuring they’re hydrated during the game with a sports drink, which was the helpful advice of the representative from the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. (Being a founding sponsor of NAYS has its privileges.)

– You should know basic first aid, CPR, and perhaps how to perform a tracheotomy with a Bic pen. You probably have a doctor-parent that can help with this. (Alas, all I’ve had were EMT parents, and I lost those when the local fire department said they had to keep themselves and their ambulances parked at the fire house during their shift.)

– And don’t be scared! We know you’ll make mistakes! That’s OK! Try not to think about the lives you’re ruining!

Maybe I’ve let my own anxieties tear away all the positive things that NAYS is trying to impart, and, again, in theory, I’m with it. But most of us coaching youth sports are parent volunteers trying like hell to fit this in with all our other responsibilities, including sneaking away from work so we can start practice at a reasonable hour.

I can understand why a lot of coaches don’t sit through the NAYS training, as valuable as it can be. You know you have a lot of responsibility, and you take it seriously. But sitting through three-plus hours of helpful advice, sometimes that’s not so helpful.

Written by rkcookjr

September 1, 2010 at 11:07 pm

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