When Coaches are Bullies

No one likes a bully. Yet bullies exist in almost every setting where there is a relationship between two or more people. Sports Illustrated ran a special report this month, Abuse of Power’—an article about college coaches who berate, harass, put down, and in some cases push athletes beyond their physical limits using questionable methods (Wolff & Shute, 2015). The report describes a number of coaches ‘abusing’ college athletes under the guise of coaching. In one example former swim coach of Utah, Greg Winslow, ordered an athlete to swim underwater with a PVC pipe strapped to his back and another with a mesh bag over her head (Winslow is now banned for life from USA swimming). Then there’s the verbal abuse, like Rhode Island softball coach Erin Layton who threatened ill and injured athletes with comments such as ‘don’t ever get sick again’ or ‘I’m going to kill you’. Several of Layton’s athletes developed ulcers, eating disorders and inflicted self-harm.

Bullying is generally defined as a systematic abuse of power, in which a stronger individual exhibits a pattern of intimidating behavior against someone weaker or less powerful. The coach–athlete relationship involves an inherent imbalance of power, that is, a coach holds authority over his players by nature of his role. Bullying can have dramatic and long-lasting effects on its victims. It can impair social and emotional development and cause substantial harm to mental health. When the bullying occurs in an athletic setting, those harmful effects are augmented by the stress kids often feel as a result of athletic competition. — Bullying Behavior by Athletic Coaches, Pediatrics Perspectives

It’s easy and tempting given the disturbing nature of these events to brush them off as isolated incidents, to label them as rare—even to question the term ‘abuse’. Some may not consider verbal berating or intimidation as abuse, even though studies show that verbal abuse for young adults and adolescents is potentially harmful (Schinnerer, 2013).  This prompted me to dig deeper. How common are bully coaches, or at least bullying behaviors among college and youth sport coaches?

Bully Coaches in College Sports
I first looked at a two studies specific to college athletes: 1) GOALS  (Growth, Opportunities, Aspirations and Learning) conducted by NCAA to “study the experiences of student-athletes across all sports and NCAA divisions”, and another by the American College Health Association (ACHA) that examined athletes well-being.

What College Athletes Say
Both studies shed light on aspects of student-athletes physical and emotional well-being, perceptions and values; however below are highlights specific to students’ experiences with coaches and their perceptions of team culture.

  • Football—22% athletes reported that their coach “puts me down in front of others”
  • Men’s Basketball—31% reported their coach “puts me down in front of others”  — all other men’s sports: 20%
  • Women’s Basketball—25% reported their coach “puts me down in front of others” — all other women’s sports: 21%
  • Women’s Basketball—39% agreed that “my head coach can be trusted” (which means 61% don’t trust their coach), all other women’s sports: 48%
  • Football—50% agreed that “my head coach can be trusted”  —   all other men’s sports: 51% (which means only about 50% of student-athletes trust their coaches)
  • Baseball—48% reported “winning is more important to me that good sportsmanship” versus  Football at 50%, versus all other men’s sports at 36%.

Bully Coaches in Youth Sports
Sad_basketball_player_in_locker_roomBut what about younger athletes?  In most cases youth coaches provide positive experiences, and some coaches even become role models and mentors. With my three kids, we’ve had at least a three dozen coaches over the years, and most have been good to excellent— three or four were outstanding.  But some were not; three or four (now looking back) displayed bullying behaviours.  I hesitate to go so for as the label them as bullies, but some of their behaviours were.  Our experience is not uncommon.

What makes bullying behaviours challenging for parents is navigating the line between demanding coaches and bullies, which makes it challenging for parents to address. More so with  younger athletes, as younger children and sometimes adolescents aren’t able to verbalize what might be happening in practice when parents aren’t present, or how to describe how they are made to feel.

What Parents Can Do
So what can parents do? With college-age kids it’s tough since technically college kids are adults and likely they are living away from home. If your son or daughter speaks of bullying behaviours or you witness bullying behaviours on your child’s team, encourage your child to speak to someone at school; head of athletics, academic adviser or health counselor. Giving your kid confidence by showing your support is the best strategy.

With younger kids, the first step is awareness—knowing what’s going on in the practices, watching how the coach interacts with kids, as well as being sensitive to your child’s actions around practices and competitions. An article in the Family section of New York Times, ‘My Coach, the Bully‘ outlines some strategies for parents shared by a pediatrician Dr. Swigonski. She describes several real scenarios, and acknowledges challenges with addressing a coach’s behaviour that could result in team shunning, or reduced playing time. But the bottom line, according to another pediatrician “If an adult is hacking away at your child’s self-worth, you confront the bully and prepare to do the right thing,”

It’s a worthwhile read for any sports parent.

Helpful Reading


Book Review of “Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports”


“Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports” Jay M. Smith and Mary Willingham. Potomoc Books.

‘Cheated’— an apt title. By the end of the book the reader is exposed to how college athletes are cheated out of an education, and how faculty and staff cheat by covering-up, bending the rules, and participating in academic fraud to usher athletes (mostly football and basketball players) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) through the system with paper classes, passing grades for poor or non-existent work, and elaborate systems of course and schedule manipulation to keep athletes playing to win. Written by Jay Smith, professor of history at UNC, and former academic advisor Mary Willingham, both who exposed the academic deception and fraud at UNC. Both authors received the Robert Maynard Hutchins Award for integrity in the face of college sport corruption.

The book is eye opening, discouraging, and distressing. It describes how gifted athletes, typically football players, arrive on campus severely under-prepared academically, lacking the basic skills needed for college-level course work. The school, in this instance UNC, perpetuates the problem by steering athletes to easy majors, creating paper classes (which typically requires only a paper to be turned in at the end of the semester in order for the student to receive credit), providing tutors that help students navigate the system to get through by completing as little school work as possible, and other complex arrangements within departments where faculty and administrators are more concerned about ‘winning’ than athletes’ education.

You may have read about this story; it received significant media attention when Willingham, an  academic advisor at UNC (she has since left UNC), brought the situation to light. When the book was published in March of 2015 there was much backlash from numerous stakeholders, including UNC administrators and faculty, alumni, booster clubs and fans. Backlash was directed at the book itself, the ‘allegations’ (though validated as accurate by auditors), and the authors. Unfortunately harassment and badgering of the authors and their families continues still. The ongoing harassment forced Ms. Willingham to withdraw aspects of the social media campaign to promote the literacy program, PC Read, developed for academically under-prepared college-age students. You can read more on the book’s blog site, here.

Closing Thoughts
Few want to admit that college athletics have a dark side, and the ‘few’ make up many—school administrators, coaches, booster clubs with their (generous) alumni, and fans. Sadly, the story of UNC is a recurring one—playing out at colleges throughout the US; UNC does not stand alone.  “Cheated” is wake-up for academia, coaches, NCAA, parents and athletes. There’s much at stake for all involved, yet it’s a large group of student athletes who have the most lose; they are the biggest losers, ‘cheated’ out of a rigorous college education that sets them up for life, instead of failure.

Further Reading:

“Backspin” Takes the ‘Spin’ Out of What it Takes to Be a Scholarship-Athlete


“Backspin” book cover. http://www.coachstrobl.com/backspin

Backspin” is a highly entertaining memoir of basketball player Pete Strobl a scholarship athlete turned professional, playing for several European leagues between the years 2000 and 2008. Strobl’s passion for the sport and his gift for writing make the book a great read for all audiences, though the experiences Strobl shares about playing as a college athlete and his journey after college to pursue his dreams of the big leagues, provide valuable insight for aspiring college-scholarship athletes and their parents. “Backspin” begins with Strobl sharing his often amusing, experiences at a small-town college, Niagara University, on the east coast in New York State and a long way away from his home state California. The latter two-thirds of the book Strobl describes his turbulent career as a professional athlete playing for several teams within European Basketball leagues in countries that included France, Germany, Austria, Ireland and Switzerland over a period of nine seasons.

The ‘Backspins’
The ‘backspin’ segments within the chapters are brief snippets of Strobl’s life experiences pre-college days that give the reader insight into his tenacity and drive for not just the sport, but his approach to life. My favorite vignettes are the ones featuring Strobl and his dad, which reveal not only the deep influence of Strobl’s dad had on his character, but are touching, funny and real.

Three Helpful Lessons for Potential College Athletes and Parents
Between the pages the book holds helpful lessons for young athletes—either current college athletes or aspiring scholarship-athletes and their parents. It’s not a how-to book, but by reading of Strobl’s experiences coping with school, coaches, relationships and travel, the reader gets a glimpse into the challenges and opportunities of a college athlete. Three themes emerged from the book that may be of value for student-athletes and their families; summarized below.

1)  The Scholarship-athlete’s Multiple Roles
A scholarship-athlete’s college experience greatly differs from a traditional student’s experience, which Strobl highlights perhaps unintentionally in his book. Strobl writes of his experiences in college and his multiple roles and the challenges associated with each. The roles include: student, athlete, scholarship-athlete and teammate, but it’s the role scholarship-athlete that appeared to be most challenging which Strobl recounts as:

“Playing basketball at this level was practically a full-time job, and the value of my full scholarship wasn’t lost on me. I knew I’d have to deliver on the court if I expected to stay on campus, and that required me to work harder than I ever had in the past. If that wasn’t enough to keep me busy, I had a second full-time job—staying on track to earn a college degree.” (p. 33)

Strobl also gives the reader insight into the student’s role; he describes accounting for every minute of his day, which according to Strobl was “the key to survival” (p. 33). It’s evident that he worked hard, and was able to balance his multiple roles successfully; Pete finished with not only an under-graduate degree, but also a MBA. Impressive.

Not surprisingly in order to handle all his roles, sacrifices were made, typical of most college athletes that play for a varsity team. Strobl mentions the sacrifices that he made for his scholarship experience, primarily his social life and friendships, “Between hustling back and forth from the library, the gym, cafeteria and weight room, there wasn’t much time left for anything or anyone else” (p. 66).

Takeaway: Scholarships can provide tremendous opportunities for young athletes to study at a school they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to attend if it weren’t for their sport, or have been able to afford, not to mention the experiences that can lead to fulfilling careers. However, the key to leveraging these opportunities is for the athlete and families to weigh the pros and cons of a scholarship offer, consider all factors and potential outcomes. Frequently, the cons outweigh the pros, and student-athletes don’t realize it until well into their first year. Considerations student-athletes and parents may want to consider when evaluating athletic-scholarship options:

  • total cost of attending the school; the costs not covered by scholarship
  • risks associated with a sports scholarship (injury, performance, etc.)—consider what the outcomes might be if the scholarship was not renewed in the 2nd or 3rd year
  • fit between the athlete’s long-term career goals and what can be studied at the school, for example some programs require demanding workloads not compatible with pressures of a varsity athlete
  • academic sacrifices which may include study abroad or work-study programs, research opportunities or internships
  • value of the education associated with the school and program of study once the athlete is in the working world.

2) Leverage the Experiences Both Good and Bad
What makes the “Backspin” such an excellent read is the stories Strobl shares which are not only the highlights of his basketball career, but are of his disappointments, challenges and struggles.  His career in Europe playing for several leagues is not all glamour, but reflects hard work, with Strobl often working with a great deal of uncertainty. His job was not guaranteed for longer than a season or two, he was often in a country where he didn’t speak the language, even the same one as his coach and often had to move to another country with little more than a days notice. Yet Strobl descriptions are inspirational at the same time. Strobl appeared to make the best of every situation, for instance even when he was benched for most of a season in college (p. 47) or working for a team that was broke and wasn’t paying its athletes, he was able to turn those into positives.

Takeaway: Experiences playing as a college-athlete and beyond are filled with favorable and seemingly negative experiences, though even the negatives can be turned into circumstances for reflection that can lead to personal growth, and opportunity. This is takeaway is not a cliché when you read “Backspin”.

3)  Who’s looking Out For You?  You.
This may sound harsh, but a scholarship contract between an athlete and a school is akin to a business transaction. It’s helpful to keep in mind that coaches are paid by universities to manage and coach a team to achieve a certain level of performance, and are also under a contract. Strobl writes of many instances of very positive relationships with his coaches, and many of his coaches that provide instructive life lessons, yet there are times his experience reveal that coaches actions and decisions are not always made in best interest of the athletes.

Takeaway: Athletes need to put their needs first, and be smart about what is being offered by administrators and coaches. Getting the most value out of a scholarship opportunity is essential for the athlete and his or her family.

“Backspin” is an excellent read, and an especially informative read for any scholarship-athlete. I wanted to learn more about what Strobl did after his basketball career, which I discovered through his site thescoringfactory.com, which is a basketball development program and organization which Strobl started with his wife, also a former basketball pro that played for several European leagues. Not surprising that Strobls’ hard work, extensive experience and talent all come together in his company, The Scoring factory.

Related Reading:





What Happens When Young Athletes Have an Identity Crisis

identity-crisis-300x300Part of a child’s growing up and becoming a young adult involves developing his or her identify—a sense of self, an answer to the question ‘who am I’.  But what happens when a child or teenager develops an athletic identify – for instance ‘I am a baseball player’, or I am a tennis player’ to the exclusion of all else?

Before we examine the latter, it’s important to note the positive effects associated with children displaying an athletic identify. Children that associate themselves with a sports team, or as an athlete that plays for a team, are displaying healthy behaviours that are part the process of building a personal identify.  According to sports psychologists doing so contributes to confidence and healthy self-esteem.

Identity Foreclosure
However, here is where things can go sideways. It seems if our kids aren’t exposed to experiences that allow them to associate themselves with other roles as they are developing and maturing, they can become stuck; their emotional development is hindered.  Psychologists call this identity foreclosure, which occurs when adolescents commit to a role – i.e. an athletic sports role, ‘football player’, ‘tennis player’ [or other such as dancer, performer etc.]. Children then are at risk of committing to a direction, whether it be career path, school choice etc., based upon what they know. Hence the child  forecloses on one type of activity without knowing what else is out there. I’ve seen this manifest itself in young athletes where they express feelings of being ‘trapped’ in a sport—that they can’t envision what their life would be without it. Even if they want to try something else they are often afraid to express the desire to do so.

Sports psychologist, Dr.C. Stankovitch writes this:

For athletes, though, there is a potentially dangerous identity status that can lead to future unforeseen problems.  What I am talking about is when athletes go through an identity foreclosure status, where they prematurely and exclusively only see themselves as athletes.  When a person forecloses their identity, problems can develop since all other life development and exploration is suspended in light of the one single identity role.”   The Sports Doc

The Risks
I’ve seen this happen with one of my own kids in a sport that this child was very good at—and the effects can be quite devastating.  A young athlete who prematurely forecloses on being an “athlete” of one sport especially—a sport that is played year round, for many hours each week from an early age, to the exclusion of much else, is at risk. One psychologist outlines the risks as follows:

  • Emotional Difficulties Dealing with Injury: Injuries are an inevitable part of sport. Athletes with an exclusive athletic identity often find it difficult to cope with an injury, especially if it results in them being side-lined for a prolonged period of time. They tend to lose confidence and may experience feelings of helplessness.
  • Alternate Career or Educational Options Not Considered: If a teen selects a school or college major based upon their sport, life and career options can appear limited to the child after ‘retirement’ from the sport.
  • Difficulty Adjusting After end of Athletic Career. 

How to Help
Fortunately, in our situation we caught it early—in the early teens.  I could see in real-life what the psychologists described as foreclosure identity.  If the sport is gone my child rationalized, that I am so good at—that people know me for, who am I? I’m not good at anything else except for the sport.  Awareness of potential risks is the starting point for parents and coaches, according to Dr. Stankovitch. He suggests the following:

It is for this reason that we as adults need to make regular attempts to discuss and reinforce all facets of a kid’s personality – not just athletics.  Be sure to recognize the other roles kids often experience, like student, club member, volunteer, musician, and artist.  Holistic identity development will not limit athletic success, but it will instead enhance all facets of the human experience!  Dr. Stankovitch, The Sports Doc

Further Reading:

Parents Spend More Money on Youth Sports than Saving for College

iStock_000002308797XSmallHaving children is expensive; and these kids of ours—as cute as they are, require a significant amount of resources. I saw a sign in my bank the other day that said ‘Do you know it takes $241,080 to raise a child?’  Really. And that’s only up to the age of 18, which means the $241,080 doesn’t include money for college. Add another hundred thousand or so for college or university, at least. Caching ($). If you have more than one child, Caching, Caching ($$), and if more three kids [or more] like I do then it’s… a lot ($$$). Let’s just say it takes vast sums of the green stuff to raise a family.

Coincidently, on the same day that I spotted the sign I read an article reporting on a survey that found parents are putting a priority on spending for their kids’ sports [in this case hockey] rather than saving for their kids’ college education. It went on to say that many parents are dipping into their retirement savings to fund their kids’ extracurricular activities.

“Among the most surprising findings, Lewis said, was that 61 per cent of parents said they, or someone they know, borrowed money or used retirement savings to put a child through hockey or another extracurricular.”


“Fewer than half of Canadians are saving for a post-secondary education,” Lewis said, citing federal statistics that 45 per cent of households have RESPs. “It’s the contrast of those two … They’re [parents] prepared to go into debt to fund an extracurricular activity, and at the same time aren’t actually setting aside the money for their child’s post-secondary education.“  Cary Mills, Ottawa Citizen

Granted this article is from a Canadian newspaper, and features Canadian statistics [RESP’s are equivalent to 529 plans in the United States] however there are thousands of U.S. families in the same boat. I know many families that spend thousands of dollars each year on their children’s sports activities; expenses are not just high for participation but it’s the travel expenses that add up to the thousands.

College_graduate_studentsThen There’s College…
Unfortunately there are few families that have the yearly income to support the costs associated with competitive sports, and putting money aside each year for their kids’ college education. Higher education is not cheap as parents are fully aware. According to the College Board in the US, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2012–2013 school year was $29,056 at private colleges, $8,655 for state residents at public colleges, and $21,706 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. In Canada the average university tuition fees for one year are far less than in the United States, $5,581 per year [on average]. These fees are for tuition only, and when adding room and board, books, etc. the numbers are substantially more.

Is college/university worth it?  Even though there has been much discussion lately about the value of a college education, the employment wage statistics say absolutely yes.  Over a lifetime an individual with a college education [either a two-year or four-year degree] will earn considerably more than someone with only a high school education (Bureau of Labor Statistics).  For instance, students with a bachelor’s degree make 84% more over a lifetime than high school graduates.  

All this to say, that one of the best things parents can do for their children to set them up to be independent and successful adults is to ensure that they attend some form of higher education—whether it be for a vocational diploma from a two-year institution, an associate degree from a public college, or a four-year undergraduate education. Preparing our children for college requires more than finances, which I’ll address in another article, however having the financial resources and a funding plan is critical.

What About Sports Scholarships?
One argument parents put forth for spending money on youth sports, [especially club sports where a child is vested in the sport and is very good at it] is that the child has a chance of earning a sports scholarship that will pay for college. The rationale is to invest the money now in the child and get the payback later via a sports scholarship. Yes, it is possible, however the odds are not in favor of getting a full scholarship that will pay for even the majority of the costs associated with attending college. It’s a utopian dream for most. The statistics are not favorable for the average high school athlete that plays a varsity sport, even if they are at the top of their game. Only about 2 percent of high school athletes win sports scholarships every year at NCAA colleges and universities. There is an excellent article in the NYT that provides some statistics, and I’ve included a link below that outlines the number of scholarships schools [by division] are allowed to grant each year. Here is a snippet from the NYT articles:

“Excluding the glamour sports of football and basketball, the average N.C.A.A. athletic scholarship is nowhere near a full ride, amounting to $8,707. In sports like baseball or track and field, the number is routinely as low as $2,000. Even when football and basketball are included, the average is $10,409. Tuition and room and board for N.C.A.A. institutions often cost between $20,000 and $50,000 a year.” (NYT)

Raising children is expensive—yet saving for kids college education is one of the best expenditures parents can make during their kids 0 to 18 years, while spending on youth sports…not so much. Knowing the facts can help parents make good decisions about their kids well-being, and future.


[Parents] Use your Head: Recognizing Concussions in Young Athletes


Parents Watching Youth Football Game

Concussions happen more often, and in more sports than just Football—and it affects the health and well-being of our children. Parents know their children’s behaviour better than anyone and can identify signs of concussion early when they know what to look for.  Today’s post is by guest blogger Eddie Duncan. Eddie writes frequently about youth sports, and shares with us today some key information parents need to know about youth concussions.

Over the past several years there have been an increasing amount of attention around concussions and other traumatic brain injuries in the media.  And it’s not just big head-to-head collisions in the NFL that brings the topic to the forefront.  More and more stories of concussions in young athletes across the country from grade school to high school, have come to surface.

Fortunately, the medical community has given players and coaches’ tools and information necessary to more thoroughly recognize and treat concussion symptoms.  But unfortunately, many programs overlook symptoms to push athletes to perform, or players ignore signs, brushing them off in fear of losing play time or being cut.

Because of this, responsibility ultimately falls on parents to know how to recognize early signs of concussions, beyond the “big hit”.  They are the ones closet to their child and know how they act and behave on a regular basis. Catching symptoms before the young athlete gets back on the field or court can save them from further injury, long-term neurological disorders, paralysis, or worse.

Signs for Parents to Watch
Watching a child take a big hit in a game is nothing easy to swallow for parents, and there’s always a sigh of relief when the child gets up unscathed. But concussions go unseen.  Signs and symptoms can show up immediately or may take hours to be noticed.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to look out for these signs after a big hit:

  • Difficulty thinking clearly, concentrating, or remembering
  • Feeling slowed down or hazy
  • Headaches or a feeling of pressure
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance issues
  • Blurry vision or sensitivity to light
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Irritability, sadness, nervous, or generally more emotional
  • Sleep issues:  too much or too little

More Awareness Benefits Everyone
There is good news.  Over 42 states have passed laws to reduce concussions in youth sports. Many parents have to sign concussion information forms before their child can participate each season.  And many coaches have to attend concussion training sessions and are required to pull athletes from the game if showing any symptoms of brain trauma.  In addition to education on what signs to report, athletes also need to know that it’s okay to miss out on some play today if it means they can play more down the road.

As more awareness develops, more youth will be able to more fully enjoy their favorite sports, more coaches will retain competitive players, and more parents will enjoy seeing their athletes shine.  Remind your players to keep their head in the game, just not literally.

Eddie Duncan is a Senior Editor at Direct2tv and loves to write and research about youth sports.

For more information on how to keep your kids safe visit The Network for Public Health Law and STOP Sports Injuries.

Image Credit: By Chiew Pang, Flickr

Game On! How Youth Sports is Failing our Kids


Game On! by Tim Farrey: http://www.tomfarrey.com

Why do North American kids participate in Youth Sports? One would like to think that kids are playing sports to have fun, develop skills, and even pick up a few core values along the way, like good sportsmanship. Unfortunately this is no longer a given. Youth sports in today’s culture is a far cry from days past when kids played locally with friends from their own neighborhood, or on a community team for a season that lasted four months out of the year [not twelve]. Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children by Tim Farrey bares the truth about what’s behind youth sports, prompting readers to think about what is going on with our kids. Really, quite an eye-opener.

Youth sports is not always about the kids, but it is about the adults; adults with their own agendas. Game On is an essential read for coaches, parents, and a must read for anyone else involved with youth. I’ve read numerous books on this topic, and Farrey’s book is the best I’ve read because of the startling facts he provides, the breadth and depth of his research, and how he tells the story. In this article I’ll provide an overview of the book, and review one of the most provocative of chapters, The Man about a sixth grader and his NBA dream.

Non-fiction books can be a dry [and dull] read, not Game On. Farrey gives the reader not just snippets of facts and anecdotes to support his points, but full stories. And robust stories they are; all true, which at times is disconcerting, especially when reading of young athletes that were pushed, pressured and in some instances taken advantage of.

Farrey also affirmed the premise that some elite young athletes do have physical advantages over their competitors; physical gifts they are born with, (I wrote in a previous blog post about this topic – nature vs. nurture). Interesting is the fact that companies now market a technology to test DNA of children, sports gene testing, to see what sports they are ‘built’ for. Farrey writes about his travels to Australia to have his youngest son’s DNA  tested.

Yet, some kids are identified as super stars at very young ages, though it may not be due to innate talent. These kids are singled out as gifted because they are stronger and more physically mature than their peers – they have reached puberty at an early age. This fact is highlighted as MYTH in the book, [of which there is one MYTH and TRUTH in the sidebar of each chapter]. Below is the MYTH and TRUTH in chapter eight:

MYTH No. 8: Grade-school travel teams identify future stars. THE TRUTH: They reward early bloomers, leaving the rest behind.

Farrey tells a story about a young sixth grader, J-Mike, in the chapter titled The Man who matured early and was significantly taller than his peers. J-Mike was a star basketball player [at the end of sixth grade] and as a result was on a basketball scouting roster, Hoop Scoop which ranks middle and high school kids by their playing ability and game stats. This ‘service’ is linked to the premiere [expensive] basketball camp, Jr. Phenom Camp which is marketed to middle-school students [these two businesses work together quite well it seems, each mentioning the other on its website]. Think of a sixth grader, at the age ten ranked against his peers, including stats on height and weight. Of no surprise, J-Mike experienced many challenges as a result of his number one status, especially when his peers started catching up to him in size.

2727062058_c31828f69b_nAnother startling ‘truth’ presented in the book is United States approach to athlete development. Farrey uses the example of how coaches are trained [or not trained] to illustrate the glaring difference between the US and other countries. In the US few youth coaches complete any formal training — many are parents and volunteers that at best, have attended a three-day workshop. In club sports, even though many coaches are in paid positions, it still does not guarantee that they have received training in child development, sports medicine or kinesiology.  In Europe and other countries, coaching is held to a higher level of professional standard; extensive training in sports medicine, child development and  psychology is provided. Not so in the US as demonstrated by a research report prepared for the American College of Sports Medicine in 2006. The study revealed that many coaches used disciplinary techniques that were not developmentally appropriate for elementary and middle school age kids. Results from the survey revealed the following measures used by coaches to discipline youth participants: extra exercise (64 percent), verbal scolding (42 percent), public embarrassment (18 percent), and suspension (8 percent).

What to do?
It’s no wonder that most kids stop participating in organized sports by the age of twelve, and that we have the problems we do with overweight and inactive kids. There are solutions however, many organizations, parents and volunteers are working hard to keep our kids active. Farrey devotes the last chapter to potential solutions to this problem. Though it takes a village, as the saying goes to raise a child, and they need our help. Awareness is the first step towards positive change in youth sports. I encourage readers to pick up the book (link below), and/or do some further research about youth sports, and ask questions of coaches and sports administrators. For parents, perhaps finding alternate teams that provide a safe and fun environment that focuses on participation for all. Our kids need us, adults shouldn’t need the kids.

Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children, (2008) Tim Farrey
STOP Sports Injuries, www.stopsportsinjuries.org
The Aspen Institute, Sports and Society Program