Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘health

When a Little Leaguer has cancer

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This story out of Haverstraw, N.Y., about an 8-year-old Little Leaguer with leukemia brought back from strong memories for me, because two years ago I was managing a team of kids around that age in a similar, difficult situation. From the Journal News in White Plains, N.Y.:

Sean DePatto ran onto the Haverstraw Little League field Friday with the energy one might expect from an 8-year-old ballplayer.

But what impressed the parents, coaches and players before the Haverstraw Devil Rays took on the Haverstraw Phillies Friday night was that Sean ran out onto the field after rushing back from Manhattan, where he had just undergone six hours of chemotherapy. …

Like the manager of the Haverstraw Devil Rays, I knew before my 2008 season of managing the 8- and 9-year-old Cyclones softball team in Oak Lawn, Ill., that one of my returning players would be recovering from leukemia. That’s because the girl, Olivia, lived just down the block and was good friends with my daughter, Grace.

In midsummer 2007, soon after my then-8-year-old daughter’s first softball season, my first as an assistant coach, and after Grace and Olivia had both played in their league all-star game, Olivia was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia.  Her mother feared the worst when she noticed Olivia’s lethargy and an unusual amount of bruising on her legs. Olivia’s family was told that while the five-year survival rate was 80 percent, it would take two-and-a-half years of treatment, including intense chemotherapy, before she would be back to anything resembling normal.

When we told Grace about Olivia’s sickness, we didn’t use the c-word, cancer. With the prognosis for recovery good, we didn’t want to scare her that she would possibly be losing a friend. Later, Grace came home from a visit to Olivia’s house (often the visits were brief because of Olivia’s lack of energy, a combination of the leukemia and the therapy) and asked us if we knew Olivia had cancer.

As adults, you get worried about how your child is going to take bad news from you. It never occurs to you that their fellow child will deliver it, and do so in a way that’s a lot less scary than your tiptoeing around.

It got to the point that, at least as far as Grace and Olivia were concerned, her disease and treatment routine became a matter-of-fact kind of thing — to them, anyway. For us adults, Olivia’s ability to handle so much struggle with so much ease was much more amazing. Olivia’s hospital gave her an award for her courage in the face of leukemia and all it entails. Then again, Olivia had never shown herself to shirk away from trouble. Grace and Olivia first met at age 3, when as her parents walked her down the block after just moving in, Grace — who then as now towers over Olivia — put up her dukes and chirped, “You wanna play fight?” Olivia didn’t say yes — but she didn’t back away, either.

When her hospital gave Olivia the award, the press release that came with it said that because of exhaustion, she could have to curtail her favorite activities, such as dance and riding her scooter.

Softball wasn’t mentioned, but as the 2008 season approached, I, as manager that year, fully expected Olivia not to play, even though her parents had signed her up the previous October, quite an act of positive thinking only a few months after her diagnosis. Olivia’s mother told me she would miss pre-season practices because of an especially intense round of treatment, but that she would be available for games. I went overboard emphasizing that it was up to her and Olivia, and that I wanted her guidance on what Olivia could handle. She said she would give it to me, and that, by the way, she’d also like to be the snack parent again this year.

I also explained to the team and the league what was going on with Olivia. With the team, as my wife and I were with Grace when we first learned of Olivia’s diagnosis, I was more circumspect about the c-word. I explained that Olivia had been sick and was getting treatment, and that they shouldn’t be surprised about Olivia’s lack of hair. Instead of a visor, Olivia would wear a cap given to the managers and coaches that her mother cut up and sewed so it would fit her head. As an added touch, she colored the white lettering on the black cap green so it would match the color of the lettering of the black visors worn by her fellow Cyclones.

Unlike Sean DePatto’s teammates in Haverstraw, neither my girls (nor their coaches) shaved their heads in support. That’s a great idea, and I thought about whether to suggest it. However, I figured that might be a lot to ask to a group of girls, particularly on a team which had members going through their Catholic First Communion during the season. Plus, I got the sense that the last thing Olivia wanted was attention as the Sick Girl, and having a team full of bald heads would only make that more plain.

Unlike Sean DePatto, Olivia by this point was well enough to go to school. But I think this statement by Sean’s mother, Kim, applies to Olivia as well, or any sick children who, if they don’t understand how serious their illness might be, understand the frustration of being told you can’t do your favorite things, and the determination to be able to do them again: “For him to be able to participate with the baseball team is giving him such a rush … It really makes a tremendous difference for him.”

I did not realize until the season was close to the end that Olivia sometimes would come straight to the game from, say, a spinal tap. All I knew was, Olivia, except for her jury-rigged cap, looked no different from the girl who played the previous year. Between her small stature and her quick bat, she was a tough out. And she again was one of our best pitchers. She could pitch two straight innings without getting frustrated or distracted, even if she got herself into a jam.

The only signs of Sick Girl were when the brother of an opposing team member tried to rip off her hat, and my constant asking of Olivia whether she was all right, which I asked so often she probably wondered whether something was wrong with me.

Otherwise, she ran with her teammates, played catch with her teammates, and sang the same interminable cheers that softball girls appear to know without anyone ever having taught them. I chose Olivia as one of our team’s all-star representatives because she was one of our best players. (In the picture to the upper right is Olivia, on the left, and Grace on the right.)

Sean DePatto’s coaches and teammates say that they are all better for having had Sean on the team, and I can say the same thing about myself and Olivia’s fellow Cyclones. I’m not sure how those girls will remember the experience. Maybe it’s because Grace and myself knew Olivia long before she got sick, or maybe it was her own determination to play well no matter what. But I don’t recall any overly emotional moments related to her being ill. All I remember is a kid who played hard on a team I had fun managing. I suspect in later years Grace will crystallize and share with my wife and I more of her own memories, and that they will probably have a lot more to do with the one-on-one time she spent with Olivia at her house during the worst of her therapy and illness, and not so much about the softball.

The next year, Grace and Olivia moved up an age group in their league, and they ended up on different teams. I switched to managing my son’s T-ball team, leaving Grace’s softball training in much more capable hands. Olivia ended her treatments for leukemia and is cancer-free. She also got back her head of hair. In 2010, she’s not playing softball, favoring instead theater and dance — as well as making videos with Grace, like the iCarly-inspired piece below.

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And, in case her old hospital would like to know, when Olivia comes over to see Grace, she’s riding her scooter.

Knee injuries and girls: lessons from my 10-year-old daughter

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I’m no physician, but I feel like I’ve become a little bit of an expert on noncontact athletic knee injuries suffered by girls. That’s because today, for the second time since February, I took my 10-year-old daughter to the doctor because she had sprained her left knee playing basketball. In that sense, I am becoming an expert in girls’ knees the same way I became an expert in the cars I drove in high school: because the same parts kept breaking down.

Tomorrow I take my daughter to her first appointment with an orthopedist, who will find out (hopefully) exactly why this same knee keeps getting hurt. In the short term, I know she’s worried about getting well before her softball league games start April 27 (and given the frantic messages I’ve gotten from her coach, he’s worried about it, too — hey, it’s my kid and my blog, so I can brag!), and so she can get back to her musical theater rehearsals. (Once she got her crutches today, she spent most of the afternoon walking around with them outside, fighting my entreaties to get back in and rest her knee.)

However, my wife and I are more worried that someday she’s going to need more than crutches and Ace bandages to take care of that left knee. Hence, why I’m planning on asking the orthopedist about any physical therapy or structural problems that might be causing my daughter to hurt that same knee.

As anyone who has watched women’s college basketball and its high knee-brace content knows, female athlete knees are more susceptible to injury than those of their male counterparts. Without using phrases like “narrow femoral arch,” researchers believe there are physical reasons why this happens. In particular, girls and women are more at risk of tearing their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), especially after puberty. The ACL connects the femur and the tibia behind the kneecap, which is why when that sucker gets torn, you see athletes writing in so much pain. ACL injuries are commonly caused without contact, through twisting or jumping. Each time my daughter got hurt, she reported feeling pain after jumping.

I’ve become enough of an Internet expert on girls’ knee injuries to know that a common reason jumping is a problem is because of how many girls land. Mainly, the problem is that girls are more likely to jump with their knees pointed together, creating more stress on them upon landing. Do that enough times, and the ACL starts to tear, and when it tears enough, it pops. And when it pops — the pain!

We’ll find out at the orthopedist whether this is the root of my daughter’s problem, particularly because she noticed the pain after a jump, with no contact from anyone else. If the orthopedist doesn’t check that, I might have to break out my Internet Expert’s License and tell him. Although, technically, I don’t know for sure that it’s the ACL. It seems like it, given her complaints of pain under the kneecap, although I don’t know if that’s why her left kneecap seemed to move a lot more, and disturbingly, freely than the right when her pediatrician manipulated it today.

I might be a budding Internet expert, but that only will take me so far in trying to ensure my 10-year-old daughter isn’t having major knee surgery by age 13. Eventually, I was able to afford to buy cars that allowed me not to learn so much about how they fail. Hopefully, my daughter is on the road to allowing me to spend less time becoming an expert in how girls’ knees fail.

Laws sought to curb youth sports concussions

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A little slice of health reform that Hines Ward might not back: Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., on Dec. 4 announced he would sponsor legislation that would seek to fight concussions in youth sports. From The Associated Press:

The bill … would establish a grant program to states to come up with ways to prevent, diagnose and treat sports-related concussions in high schools and middle schools. It also calls for the Department of Health and Human Services to develop concussion management guidelines, including standards for athletes to return after concussions.

It’s called the Concussion Treatment and Care Tools Act, or ConTACT Act. The legislation comes as concussions among athletes at all levels has been getting a look in Congress.

Menendez is following the lead of fellow New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell Jr., who filed a similar bill March 5, before fighting concussions was cool. Pascrell’s bill hasn’t moved anywhere since it was referred to committee. But it does have 10 Democratic and two Republican co-sponsors, which is practically lovey-dovey bipartisanship in this day and age. And Menendez’s bill comes as there is additional pressure on the NFL over how it handles concussions, state-level legislation about youth sports concussions, and a growing sentiment that leagues at all levels have a history of underestimating long-term and short-term concussion damage.

You might even say that, in the parlance of old concussion language, the sports world has gotten its bell rung.

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A clip from the Sept. 15 episode of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, which featured a piece on concussions in high school football. Gumbel is talking to the mother and teammates of Ryne Dougherty, who died of a brain hemmorhage after a hit on the field in October 2008. The family is suing  because Ryne had been cleared to play after two previous concussions.

Written by rkcookjr

December 4, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Parents overestimate child fitness levels, guv'nor

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Anamarie Regino

Image by cliff1066™ via Flickr

Blimey! British mums and dads are blinkered into thinking their little yobs are running about when their lazy little gits really never push their nubby fingers away from the bangers and mash.

Oh, sorry about the faux Cockney. Let me rephrase it in American: British parents believe their children are exercising more than they actually are, thus putting them at greater risk of obesity. From the Beeb, er, the BBC:

Parents have big misconceptions about the amount of exercise their children take part in, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

It says 71% of parents polled believe their children are “active enough,” but only one in 10 of the children say they are doing the recommended daily amount [activity for at least 60 minutes per day]. …

The BHF questioned nearly 1,000 UK parents with children aged eight to 15. … It produced a report called Couch Kids which shows that while the number of obese children has risen since the mid-1990s, there have been no major changes in children’s physical activity levels over the past decade. …

Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the BHF, said: “Mums and dads need to take the blinkers off about how active kids need to be in order to keep their hearts healthy.”

Hey, Dr. Knapton, get a period and speak in a language we all can understand!

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Jarvis Cocker also is extremely upset about the rising obesity rate in Britain.

Parents worldwide are pretty good at overestimating how healthy their little darlings are, figuring they’re Hercules when they’re more of a Klump. For example, a 2008 U.S. study found that parents of children with type 2 diabetes (the kind you’re at risk to get if you’re overweight) underestimated their child’s weight. (So did the child.)

Parents’ recognition of their child’s exercise activity and weight is like people’s opinions of Congress versus those of their own Congressmen: everyone else is bad, but my child is just fine. It doesn’t help, at least in the United States, that physical education in schools over the years has been a casualty of cuts for budgetary and academic reasons, but you could name thousands of other, legitimate societal reasons for obesity and the need for greater activity for children.

But it looks like the place to start is for parents to be the first ones to encourage more activity, whether through organized sports or no, rather than less, and to tell kids to get their arse outside. Bloody hell, I just can’t stay away from the British slang.

Do youth sports cause drinking and fighting?

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2628274547_b74d91a86aWe already know youth sports causes drinking and fighting in parents. But what about the kids?

If you’re male, they do, and if you’re female, not so much, according to a paper presented Nov. 9 at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting.

The paper was presented by Susan Connor, injury prevention research manager at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.

Connor, who focused her study on teenagers, says youth sports participation — noted as 60 percent for boys and 48 percent for girls — “has obvious benefits in promoting physical activity.” Unfortunately, one of the major activities is 12-ounce curls.

For males overall and subsets of Black and White males, sports team participation was associated with increased levels of fighting, drinking, and binge drinking. For White females, sports team participation was associated with decreased levels of fighting, depression, smoking, marijuana use, and unhealthy weight loss practices. For Black females, sports team participation was only associated with increased binge drinking. Conclusions: Sports team participation appears to have both protective and risk-enhancing associations, primarily for White high schoolers. Results indicate that healthy lifestyle benefits are not universal and do not apply equally across genders or racial/ethnic groups.

So except for Elizabeth Lambert, sports appears to keep white girls’ behavior on an even plane. As for everyone else, particularly males, well, Connor’s research gives a hint as to why so many athletes show up in the police blotter.

Why is this so? Connor doesn’t say. This is merely a statistical study, with analysis based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2007 Youth Risk Behavioral Survey. (The 2009 survey is scheduled for release in summer 2010.)

However, other studies try to get at that nut. A Women’s Sports Foundation report in 2000 found that most athletes drank no more or less than nonathletes, but that “highly involved” athletes — both male and female — drank to excess. Why would that be the case? The foundation chalks it up to elite athletes’ tendency to be more risk-taking than the general population and authorities’ willingness to overlook the personal foibles of the local stars, thus providing unwitting adult encouragement of a longstanding jock drinking-and-fighting culture.

Written by rkcookjr

November 9, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Could health care reform help boost youth sports participation?

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If you sign up your child for sports, often you have to sign a form stating that you have sufficient health insurance to cover any cost for injury your child might suffer in the course of league practice and play.

With U.S. Census figures showing that as of 2007, one in nine children was uninsured — it’s tough to tell whether expansion of children’s health plans and the Medicaid rolls (thanks, unemployment!) have outstripped the number of families who just can’t afford insurance — it’s not beyond the realm of imagination to suspect that there are parents who don’t sign their kids up for sports because they’re afraid they can’t pay for a broken bone.

So with the U.S. House passing health system reform tonight (Nov. 8), the question is, if health insurance is truly expanded to almost the whole of the population, will those parents reconsider?

This is all a wild guess on top of a possibly rhetorical question. I can’t find (at least not through a not-totally-exhaustive Google search) research showing how being uninsured affects youth sports participation. It might be tough to pull out that specific issue if, say, a family decides not to sign a child up because of other economic issues, such the expense of athletic fees or the worry of not being able to afford sufficient equipment.

Anyone have any thoughts?

Written by rkcookjr

November 8, 2009 at 12:09 am

A talk with the children about steroids

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A “bad joke,” Scot Pollard? Perhaps it’s wise advice!

From time to time an intrepid reporter will go talk to The Children to see if they will wag stubby little fingers at pro athletes would dare take performance-enhancing drugs. The latest is Kyle Finck of the New York Daily News in a story subtly (for a New York tabloid) titled “The Clubhouse of Lies.” He asked 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds with the Bronx’s Outsiders Baseball Association (whom the News has followed all season) whether they believe steroids are a big problem in baseball. Fourteen out of 21 said, “Yes.”

“Steroids have affected the way I view the game,” said starting pitcher Felipe Gutierrez. “Now I don’t know who is hitting a home run for real.”

With players such as [Manny] Ramirez being caught taking performance-enhancing drugs, many players expressed anger towards their favorite players-turned-cheaters.

Starting shortstop Fernando Gomez’s favorite player is Manny. “When I think about my favorite players, I think about all the hard work they put in; that gives them my respect,” Gomez says. “When I find out they took steroids, I just feel dumb and let down for believing in them.”

Oh, poor, innocent children, robbed of their heroes by the knowledge their home runs were shot up their ass with a needle. Finck’s story comes in the context of Major League Baseball spending $10 million on an anti-PED program I like to call, “Don’t Believe Your Eyes and the Reported Contract Numbers, Kid.  Drugs are Bad.”

The Los Angeles Dodgers and the general baseball establishment (including ESPN) rolling out the red carpet for Ramirez upon his return from a 50-game suspension for taking HCG (used to come down from a steroid cycle, and also present if the pregnancy test stick turns blue) belies any pittance MLB spends as a masking agent for its own steroid problem.

But, really, why should we be uptight about drugs if MLB really isn’t? The truth is, children, if you ever wanted to be an elite athlete, or remain one, taking performance-enhancing drugs historically has been practically a given.

A few years ago, a great writer at made this point by bringing up numerous past examples of drug usage, and suggestions from academic papers on how perhaps regulating rather than banning PED consumption might help make for healthier athletes:

The first report of performance-enhancing drugs in sport came from the Olympics — in the third century B.C. (Philostratus and Galerius, the Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams of the ancient Greeks, noted how athletes juiced up with extracts from mustard and plant seeds.) Englishman Thomas Hicks won the 1904 Olympic marathon thanks to a mid-race shot of strychnine, a common performance-enhancing drug for endurance athletes of the era, thanks to its ability to tighten muscles. (Hicks also had some raw eggs with a brandy chaser.)

Athletes of the 1970s weren’t the first to use cocaine to give themselves a burst of energy in the grind of a long season — athletes of the early 20th century did, too. About one hundred years before famous Seattle musicians killed themselves with it, boxers used heroin as a pre-fight painkiller.

Also, it’s not as if sports is in a vacuum. There’s barely any sector of society that doesn’t feature people giving themselves a little extra something to get an edge. Various studies show rampant use of Adderall, Ritalin and other drugs normally used for attention deficit disorder instead applied toward all-night cramming sessions. The classical-music world wrestles with the ethics of using Inderal, an anti-anxiety drug, to fight stage fright, particularly before gut-wrenching auditions for coveted symphony jobs. The U.S. military’s accidental bombing of Canadian forces in Afghanistan [seven] years ago put a spotlight on pilots being given amphetamines to fight off sleep so they could perform long missions. And Starbucks has made quite a living out of providing a little caffeine jolt to help the masses get the energy to make it through the drudgery of another workday.

Not to mention that according to the ads that air during any sporting event, performance-enhancing drugs are also necessary if you want a working peener after age 50.

And that’s all just scratching the surface of how athletes use PEDs, or how we in the non-athletic world do as well. Kids, the problem with steroids is that you’re not being told the truth: for all the hard work and time you put in, someday you’re going to go up against someone with a chemistry set back home — and lose.

From the piece:

“We have two choices: to vainly try to turn the clock back, or to rethink who we are, and what sport is,” Oxford University applied ethics professor Julian Savulescu wrote in 2004, in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. He argued that sports should throw in the towel on zero tolerance and allow doctors to administer careful and measured doses of whatever to elite athletes. Hey, what’s the moral difference between laser-vision correction and a little hormone treatment?

“Performance enhancement is not against the spirit of sport; it is the spirit of sport,” Savulescu wrote. “To choose to be better is to be human. Athletes should be the given this choice. Their welfare should be paramount. But taking drugs is not necessarily cheating.”

I’m not saying that it’s time to fill soccer fields with five-year-olds who have SpongeBob bandages on their behinds from the shot they got from Dr. Feelgood that morning. I’m not saying anyone should use PEDs, especially because right know only God and Victor Conte know what they’re made of. But at some point parents and kids need to ask themselves — if taking a PED is the difference between becoming an elite athlete or not, should the PED be taken?

By the way, Finck’s teen-aged subjects didn’t collectively wag their fingers over PEDs:

While some players expressed frustration, many others accepted performance-enhancing drugs as part of the game. Victor Figueroa, the Outsiders’ star catcher believes that “steroids have made baseball more interesting, challenging, and intense.”

Similarly, first baseman Matthew Barnes seemingly embraces what performance enhancers bring to the game. “Everyone goes to a game to see magic (big hits),” says Barnes. “Bringing steroids to the game just hypes it up.”

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July 14, 2009 at 6:09 pm