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The droning of soccer moms

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I’m not sure what captures the monotony of ultracompetitive youth sports parents better: the script written by Jen Singer at MommaSaid.net, or the droning voices supplied by the text-to-animation service she used to make this video.

Written by rkcookjr

January 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Why youth sports isn’t reducing child obesity

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I’m part of Generation X, which is followed by Generation Y, which is, naturally, followed by Generation Z, of which my 8-year-old son is spokesman. Apparently, though, a better term for young people — heck, most Americans of any age — these days is Generation Fatass. And youth sports apparently isn’t doing much of anything to make our children less corpulent, less adipose, less… .(Hold on, let me find my thesaurus.) Not that it should be expected to, when there are much bigger, pardon the pun, reasons for obesity than youth sports could ever handle.


Baby, you put the “roll” in “b-roll.”

You might have caught news earlier in the week about a study in the journal Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine that explained why youth sports wasn’t doing anything to help matters. A sample of coverage, from McClatchy Newspapers:

Parents who sign their kids up for youth sports leagues need to know: That’s not enough to ensure youngsters get the physical activity necessary for good health.

A study released [Dec. 6] indicates youth sports practices often don’t provide the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. And since most youth sports involve only one or two practices each week, kids need to be active on those other days, too.

“Some parents sign their child up for a youth sports program and then check off that box,” said Russ Pate of the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health. “The typical youth sports program is not going to meet the physical activity requirements.” …

In some cases, the teams’ practices were limited to an hour or less on the field. But even longer practices often didn’t meet the activity requirements. The study found players were moderately or vigorously active 46.1 percent of the practice time.

Various coverage has remarked on how parents expecting organized youth sports to make their children less oleaginous (found that thesaurus) should THINK AGAIN, BABY! But parents don’t sign their kids up for organized sports so their children can stay fit, not when a two-hour softball games of mostly standing around is following by a team snack of chips and juice-ish. They do it so they can get college scholarships!

Actually, the study and a companion piece note that organized sports are, say, better than THOSE GODDAMN VIDEO GAMES YOU PLAY ALL DAY (another reason parents sign their kids up for sports). But the study authors recommend, at a minimum, more vigorous practices.

That will work as well at combating obesity as reducing taxes on the rich will in turning around the American economy. Fat cats getting fat paychecks actually have a lot more to do with our fat selves having fat children than anything youth sports can or can’t do. Not to get all political, but I’m going to get all political.

Numerous studies have found direct links between income inequality and obesity rates, as in the higher the former, the larger the latter. This is true in any country in the world. Numerous studies also have found that higher poverty rates (which are often concomitant with income inequality) also mean higher obesity rates. That rank communist Ben Bernanke says that income inequality is worse in the United States now that it’s ever been, and that’s a very bad thing:

The gap between rich and poor in this country has never been greater than now. In fact, we have the biggest income disparity gap of any industrialized country in the world. The highest income 20 percent of Americans received almost half (49.6%) of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent received by those below the poverty line. At the top, the richest five percent of Americans — those who earn more than $180,000 — had their annual incomes increase last year, census data show. However, families at the $50,000 median level saw their incomes drop. Although the changes in each direction are small annually, cumulatively they add up to greater disparity over time and that is what has happened.

Don’t feel like you’re the only villain, America. Other countries are letting their poor children languish, too.

Youth sports cannot make up for a culture in which the top earners get a lot, and everybody else gets crumbs. Unfortunately, in America, exercise and free time (and decent, nutritious food) are luxuries. Even if you’re working a lot, and especially if you’re not making much for it, opportunities to move are few, for you and your children. With schools cutting back over the years on physical education and sports, opportunities for children to have free or inexpensive organized play and sports activity are dwindling, making a bad situation worse by making sports and organized play even more inaccessible to those without means.

Sure, there are people who’ve made lousy choices, and we can all be more conscious of what our children eat, and their opportunities for play, which doesn’t have to be organized all the time.  But there has to be a societal commitment to giving children opportunities in sports that don’t involve travel teams and thousands of dollars most families don’t have to spare, and the first opportunity is to have an economy that doesn’t have a few winners, and a lot of people on the margins.

You can make youth sports practices two hours of hardcore exercise, but until we as a nation aren’t willing to feed our children to the porcine (still have that thesaurus handy) appetites of the wealthiest Americans, that’s just wasted work, as far as solving the problem of childhood obesity is concerned.

Carmel basketball hazing victim: “I don’t smile as much as I used to”

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The attorney for the one of the targets of hazing last season by teammates of his Carmel (Ind.) High School basketball team — three former members of which are facing misdemeanor criminal charges, not counting the other one who has already pleaded guilty, as a result of hazing incidents — put his client out there, sort of, on Nov. 12 for a news conference.

I say sort of because the rules of the road laid down by attorney Robert Turner included no identifying the victim, no identifying his parents, and no pictures. Still, this is the first time the public has heard from any of the victims of one of the more notorious and talked-about cases of youth sports hazing in recent memory. However, Fox59 News in Indianapolis said the victim holding the news conference was the subject of the Indiana Department of Children and Family Services sexual assault report that blew the lid off the case.

Here are some quotes from the victim, as relayed by The Indianapolis Star:

How has your life changed? “I don’t smile as much as I used to. I don’t laugh and joke as much as I used to.”

Did you embellish your story to authorities? “I’m sure I would not make something like this up. I would not be in the situation I am here if I were making this up. I am very very serious about this.” (Fox59 also has him saying, “Why would I make something like this up?”)

Any advice to other victims for getting authorities to listen? “You just have to keep saying it and saying it.”

Also, the Star quoted the victim’s mother: “You’re supposed to feel safe to go to your leaders, your coaches and your teachers, and know something is going to be done. … They (students) are watching everything that is going on, and saying, ‘what’s the point.’ Look at what we’ve been through and still nothing’s happened.”

In particular, she’s talking about the plea deal for Scott Laskowski, who the previous week had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal recklessness. Laskowski, the son of former Indiana University player and longtime IU basketball announcer John Laskowski, was sentenced to slightly less than a year of probation and 40 hours of community service. He also was ordered to stay away from the victim.

Despite the Department of Children and Family Services report saying that the victim was anally penetrated with foreign objects, no felony or sexual assault charges have yet been made against Laskowski and the three others who have been indicted in north suburban Indianapolis’ Hamilton County on misdemeanor charges: Robert Kitzinger, Brandon Hoge and Oscar Faludon, all of whom, like Laskowski, graduated in spring 2010.

The charges are related to incidents in Carmel’s locker room. Fox59 reported on Nov. 5 that it’s expected the other players will follow Laskowski’s lead and take plea deals, which would certainly eliminate any chance Laskowski would have to testify in their cases. (Also, the judge handling their case on Oct. 27 was arrested for drunken driving while on vacation in North Carolina.)

I say there are no felony or sexual assault charges “yet” because the prosecutor in west suburban Hendricks County is still investigating a hazing incident on the back of a team bus heading back from a January game in Terre Haute. Laskowski, Kitzinger and Hoge were suspended from the team for that incident (Faludon was suspended for the locker-room incident). There’s no word on when those charges might come.

Not surprisingly, the victim’s family — and its lawyer, who is the former public safety director for the Indianapolis police — feel like everyone involved has not investigated or dealt with the hazing case sufficiently. Turner has threatened lawsuits, and said during the Nov. 12 news conference that he will file a complaint with the U.S. Attorney to investigate the Hamilton County prosecutor, the players’ attorneys and others he said have manipulated witnesses. So far, these only have been threats.

In fact, Turner has had a lot of public bluster that hasn’t gone much of anywhere. But whatever Turner’s tactics, what will not change is that the victim will feel the effects of what happened forever, no matter what a court says. It’s cases like this that explain why, say, the Needham (Mass.) High School administration took a zero-tolerance stance toward supposedly far more innocent hazing with its girls soccer team. Hazing is a power trip, and a school trusts its students not to go too far with it at its own, and its students’, peril.

High school coach suspended for whipping players

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And when I say whipping players, I don’t follow it with the phrase “into shape.” Marlon Dorsey, head coach of Murrah High School’s boys’ basketball team in Jackson, Miss., on Nov. 11 was suspended (for at least a month) after cellphone video surfaced of him whipping a player on the behind with a weightlifting belt. He has been accused of whipping other players as well. As a result, parents are suing the Jackson Public Schools district — which has outlawed corporal punishment since 1991.

The incriminating video.

Dorsey has admitted to whipping students, but he said in a letter that it was for their own good. A portion of the letter, as published in the Jackson Clarion Ledger:

“I took it upon myself to save these young men from the destruction of self and what society has accepted and become silent to the issues our students are facing on a daily basis,” the letter states. “I am deeply remorseful of my actions to help our students.”

The letter, addressed to parents and others, said the punishment was issued for a variety of reasons, including disrespecting teachers, stealing cell phones, leaving campus without permission, being late for class and not following the dress code.

That same article further stated that Dorsey had support from some parents for, well, whipping them into academic and athletic shape, by any means necessary.

Dorsey is a first-year coach, but he’s hardly the first coach in recent years to get in hot water over corporal punishment. Numerous Chicago schools a few years back were found to have coaches paddling or beating players, despite a ban on corporal punishment instituted in 1994. An investigation in Dallas found at least one case of corporal punishment by one of its football coaches, despite a ban there, as well.

I’ve never hit my kids, and I don’t imagine I ever will. Not because they’re such perfect angels (well, they are, of course), but because I don’t see how spanking is an effective form of punishment, although others don’t share my view that corporal punishment is effective the same way sending someone to the gulag is effective — the victim fears you, but they don’t necessarily love or respect you. A writer at the Dallas Observer reacted with repugnance to a case of a football player who was hit 21 times in the backside, but to him the problem was the degree of punishment, not the actual whacking.

But we wonder how our kids got so out of control? Where’s the respect for teachers? For authority? Where have all the hard-nosed disciplinarians like Bobby Knight and Vince Lombardi and Woody Hayes gone?

Easy. We’ve degenerated into a wussified country weakened by Downy-soft consequences, only to inexplicably react with aghast at the resulting hard times.

I don’t remember all the numerous groundings I incurred as a kid. But I vividly the recall the two times I got paddled.

By the way, to answer his question, Bob Knight and Woody Hayes were forced out of Indiana and Ohio State, respectively, after failing to control their tempers. Lombardi gets an unfair rap. While he was tough on his players, he never raised a hand to them. Meanwhile, Knight had his own controversies thanks his wielding a whip.

Israel president’s peace process: Youth sports teams with Jewish and Arab kids together

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Israel President Shimon Peres and his counterpart with the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in separate visits to Brazil came away impressed that Jews and Arabs in that country seemed to be able to interact without checkpoints and rocks. When the president of Brazil’s Olympic Committee visited Israel recently to chat with Peres about the 2016 Rio de Janiero games, Peres’ memories of harmony got him to thinking that maybe sports would be a great way to build some Brazil-style peace in his country.

From the Jerusalem Post:

Peres proposed that Brazil host joint Israeli/Palestinian youth teams at various of the year, because sport is a great equalizer. He did not suggest a joint Olympic team, although he was pleased that Jews and Arabs are serving together on Brazil’s Olympic Committee. The Peres Peace Center which has demonstrated that sport is a means of breaking down psychological and political barriers, has sponsored such teams of youngsters in games in Israel and abroad. The President’s proposal may gain support as there are both Jews and Arabs on the Brazil Olympic Committee.

Actually, I’m not sure that Peres has to take a joint Israeli-Palestinian team all the way to Brazil to ease relations between the two sides. If joint leagues start in Israel and Palestine, there might be tension at first, but soon enough both sides will stop fighting each other as they unite around their shared interest — doing something about that fucking coach.

Written by rkcookjr

November 12, 2010 at 2:23 am

Needham soccer hazing, and why this douchebaggery keeps happening

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In March, I wrote a piece called “Why youth sports hazing happens: because adults say it can.” I’m delighted to report that my hard-hitting look at adult compliance in condoning and/or covering up hazing was a major factor in why, for example, prosecutors find it so difficult to convict or even file cases in the most egregious of examples, has had absolutely no effect, judging by the adults’ reaction when some Needham (Mass.) High School girls soccer players got suspended because of alleged hazing of teammates.

Four seniors and a freshman were suspended for activities that, news reports say, involved victims being led, blindfolded, on dog leashes, then hit in the face with pies. This happened after Needham clinched its conference title Oct. 29.

As hazing goes, this is certainly no broomstick-up-the-anus. But the school was right to take action. School administrators are often criticized for having zero tolerance for anything but zero tolerance, but it can’t condone hazing of any kind. In too many places, what started as an innocent ritual devolved into something far more sinister, sometimes including alcohol, sometimes including activities that could put perpetrators on the sex-offender list for life. If schools are going to take a hard line against bullying, then hazing is included. After all, in hazing, the victims are coerced or forced to participate, lest they be seen as bad teammates or stupid little pukes. Massachusetts since 1985 has had a state law that bars hazing in schools.

As you can imagine, many in the greater Needham community united in the face of such action — united so they could hire a lawyer to try to get an injunction overturning the suspensions, which happened right before the start of the state tournament. On Nov. 8, a judge refused to grant the injunction, saying students did not have an inherent right to participate in school sports, and that the plaintiffs failed to show they could win the case. On Nov. 9, Needham got smoked 7-1 by Brockton in the first round of the state tournament.

Hazing didn’t start at Needham this year. One of the most impassioned defenses of the soccer team was that hazing had gone on forever, but Principal Dickbag for some reason decided this was the year to ruin everybody’s life. Now, on some level, I can understand students — especially the players themselves — reacting this way. They are teenagers. Everything is a tragedy, and, yeah, it would suck to suddenly have your season taken away from you, especially if it’s something no one thought twice about for years.

But they are reasonable, dispassionate observers compared to some of the adults. Who do you think taught these kids to haze, and be outraged when they were told hazing wasn’t allowed?

I learned by watching you!

From the Boston Globe:

The mother of a junior on the Needham High School girls soccer team says that the suspensions of several players on the team for alleged hazing were too severe for what she called a “misguided attempt at team building.”

In an email to the Globe, Needham parent Sharon Lund said that the team was supporting both the players and the team’s coach, who also reportedly has been placed on leave. She said her daughter is a junior on the team who was not implicated in the incident.

“As the parent of an underclassman, I can safely say that the ENTIRE Needham Girl’s Soccer team and parents are UNANIMOUS in supporting each senior who has been placed on suspension and the coach who has been placed on administrative leave, and assert that the event in question in no way warrants the issuing of suspensions by Needham High School,” Lund said in the email. “In a nutshell, there was no intention to harm, nor was any harm perceived by team members, during a misguided attempt at team building.”

She continued:

“In my personal opinion, these girls have handled a serious mistake in a more mature fashion than either the NHS administration or the press has to date. This was an isolated intra-team issue that they resolved to everyone’s satisfaction amongst themselves with active support from the coach, and in the process strengthened the bonds amongst them. As some of the parents have so aptly pointed out, aren’t these the life skills that we want our daughters to have?”

Yes, not having that experience when I ran cross country and track in high school has always been a handicap for me when I got to the part of the job interview where I was blindfolded, led on a dog leash, and hit with pies.

More from the Globe:

In an interview, a 1988 graduate of Needham High School who said he was the godfather of one of the suspended students said he was shocked and disappointed that the girls were suspended.

“This is something that has been going on for years. It is nothing major, and everyone jumped to conclusions so quickly,” said Joshua Melia, a Needham resident. He said he was “angry and disappointed” on behalf of his goddaughter, a senior co-captain, and her teammates for “something so minor.”

“This was not bullying and it was not hazing, but that’s what they are calling it. To just label the kids in that way isn’t fair,” said Melia, who said he was a member of Needham High’s wrestling team, and recalled that minor-league teasing of freshmen team members was common in his day.

In an email to the Globe, Benji Eisenberg, who identified himself as a Needham High graduate, said “Hazing. What’s the big deal?”

“Hazing/initiation rites are one of the most important aspects of team building and bonding,” he said, adding that team “tryouts are almost a hazing experience in themselves.”

I was never in a fraternity, nor any organization where hazing was a rite of passage. Amazingly, I also have been part of organizations where team building and bonding happened, despite no one  having beer blasted up their rectums. So I don’t get this mindset that hazing is some necessary event to ensure team unity. Though the Stockholm Syndrome is, by nature, a unifying experience.

Especially if Yo La Tengo is involved.

At least in the Needham case, the school finally put its foot down, unlike in Bossier, La., where a middle school principal called hazing “tradition,” and in Carmel, Ind., where it took media and public pressure — and a call from child services — before high school administrators took seriously hazing accusations involving the boys basketball team that ended up with charges brought against four players.

So what’s going to stop adults from viewing hazing as anything more than unnecessary abuse? It’s a long train to that station.

When I’ve written about hazing, more often than not I’m writing about a fairly well-to-do community. That’s not to say that hazing doesn’t happen elsewhere, but well-to-do communities tend to have wealthier parents who, say, went through fraternity or sorority hazing rituals themselves (as victims and perpetrators), who are used to getting their way, who are ready to pull out all the stops for their kids as necessary no matter what monsters they might be, and who can pay for lawyers. In the communities, as well, there is pressure to sweep things under the rug so as not to mess up the unofficial idyllic status of their town, where kids aren’t just above average like they are in Lake Wobegon, but are fucking special and have big, important futures that, frankly, kids not from here will never have. Why would you ruin a good kid’s life over some innocent fun, hmmmmm? Needham fits the profile of that well-to-do community.

So, to continue waving my broad brush, the hazing will continue, no matter what school officials say, in these communities because they’re full of adult douchebags. To be fair, these communities also have plenty of adults who don’t support hazing. But enough of them do to ensure that hazing will remain a sad fact of life.

Written by rkcookjr

November 11, 2010 at 1:46 am

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

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

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

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

From the Coeur d’Alene Press:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by rkcookjr

November 5, 2010 at 10:10 pm