Category Archives: sport parents

Youth sports and gender equity podcast

I recently got that chance to talk with John O’Sullivan, Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project which is an organization dedicated to ensuring that we return youth sports to our children, and put the ‘play’ back in ‘play ball.’ John and I talked about a variety of topics that are of interest to those who care about youth sports and gender equity.

Listen at the link below.


Show Notes

5:00 When she became interested in issues for Women in Sport Leadership?
8:00 Why is there a decline in women in sport leadership?
15:00 What would it take to get more women coaching sports?
21:00 Why does Nicole think kids are quitting sport?
28:00 Nicole explains “background anger” and how it affects children
35:00 What is Kid Speak?
48:00 Winning and Character Development are not mutually exclusive

Tips for sport parents & encouraging mothers to coach

family watching the gameRecently had the privilege of talking to Erin & Marti Erickson of MomEnough.com about some of my work pertaining to youth sport parents. It was really fun and we talked about many practical tips related to being a good sport parent and how to recruit and encourage more moms to coach their children.

Listen to this 30mn radio show, you won’t be disappointed.

Being a Good Sport Parent: Practical Guidance on Bringing Out the Best in Your Young Athlete

soccer mom 3Tools, Research and Guidelines for Mother-Coaches

  • For research on working mother-coaches in youth sports, click here.
  • For A Rationale for Encouraging Mothers to Coach Youth Sport, click here.
  • For Mother-Coach Generated Strategies for Increasing Female Coaches in Youth Sport, click here.
  • For Policy Recommendations for Increasing Women Coaches in Youth Sport, click here.

New Report on the Dangers of Early Sport Specialization

Sports Specialization and Intensive Training in Young Athletes; ©2016 by American Academy of Pediatrics
Sports Specialization and Intensive Training in Young Athletes; ©2016 by American Academy of Pediatrics

I am a long time advocate of late specialization-early diversification in youth sport, and this research report by the American Academy of Pediatrics “Sports Specialization and Intensive Training in Young Athletes” in the September 2016 issue of Pediatrics hits the mark and provides concrete evidence that early specialization in NOT the optimal pathway to either elite performance or health and well being.

The AAP report along with the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, I “hope” will begin to shift the discussion and beliefs about youth sport participation and structure 180 degrees away from winning/performance to fun and enjoyment and development.  In January 2015, the Aspen Institute released “Sport for All, Play for Life: A Playbook to Get Every Kid in the Game,” a 48-page report that offers a new model for youth sports in America, with eight strategies for the eight sectors that touch the lives of children.

The cultural shift has to start with sport parent and coach education.

 

Reform Needed in Youth Sport

WCCO Nov 2015 Project Play

I comment this in this piece titled “As competition rises, team sports decline, but traveling teams soar WCCO-TV”.  

The The Aspen Institute’s Project Play is also mentioned.

Project Play focuses on access to quality sport opportunities for children ages 12 and under. “Sport for All, Play for Life: A Playbook to Get Every Kid in the Game (2015),” is a 48-page report that offers a new model for youth sports in America, with eight strategies for the eight sectors that touch the lives of children.

3 “Must Reads” on Hot Topics in Sport

Gratuitous "hot dog" picture.
Gratuitous “hot dog” picture.

Here are 3 pieces everyone should read/watch/listen to, which reflect 3 areas of research I frequently write about and are currently HOT TOPICSsport parents,  women in sport coaching, and media portrayals of female athletes.

9217_458093160902533_113102254_n1. The Problem for Sports Parents: Overspending, a Wall Street Journal piece that outlines the more parents spend on a child’s “sport career”, the more pressure the child may feel. You can also listen to a radio show on this topic out of Boston. While you’re at it, read a Boston Globe article titled “How parents are ruining youth sports: Adults should remember what athletics are really about”

2.  Basketball’s Double Standard, by espnW writer Kate Fagan is about the barriers and 57673_nak_tns_tennis_tennis02_041413fdiscrimination that women coaches face in college basketball, and how women coaching men’s teams seems laughable to most ADs. You can see just how bad the numbers are pertaining to the percentage of women head coaches of women’s teams at “big time” institutions by clicking here.

April 2014 Golf Digest cover photo
April 2014 Golf Digest cover photo

3. Watch Dr. Caroline Heldman’s TED talk titled “The Sexy Lie” which is helps dispel the “sex sells” myth. In my research at the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, we are amassing evidence to help dispel and challenge the myth that “sex sells women’s sport.” You can watch our documentary on this topic “Media Coverage & Female Athletes” free online.

Not All Fun & Games: Changing the Youth Sports Environment

All kids have the right to a positive youth sport experience.

I was asked to write a blog about changing the youth sport environment based on the research and educational programs I do for coaches and youth sport parents.

To read that blog titled “Not All Fun & Games: Changing the Youth Sports Environment” click here.

Poor Sportsmanship in MN High School Hockey

What lessons will be learned from young boys and girls, their parents and coaches, who hear about this incident?
What lessons will be learned from young boys and girls, and their parents and coaches, who hear about this incident?

There are many bizarre things that happen in sports, but this occurrence in a MN boys’ high school hockey game is a new one to me!

With minutes to go in the game, the senior goalie stopped the puck, purposefully put it in his own net, and then skated off the ice while flipping the bird to his own bench (assuming this was directed towards his coaches). You can get more details and watch the video here. Evidently, conflict over playing time and who would mind the nets had been ongoing over the course of the season.

Many opinions will abound if this poor sportsmanship or justified action. In my opinion, this is ultimately one of the worst displays of sportsmanship I’ve seen. Nearly every athlete that plays sport disagrees with a coach decision about playing time. What athletes (and their parents) think they are entitled to, deserve, and have earned is often very different from what the coach perceives and believes.

There are many lessons that can be learned through sport….life isn’t always fair, you will be disappointed, you won’t always get what you think you deserve, keep doing the best you can do regardless of the situation, once you commit to something-stick to it, learn from you mistakes, persevere in the face of failure, give full effort, let go of things you can’t control and focus your energy on the things you can, be a supportive and positive teammate regardless of your role…and the list goes on. Unfortunately this is an exemplar of how sport can build characters, not character.

I don’t know this young man, his parents, coaches, or the details about the situation, other than what I read on Deadspin. However based on research, the poor sportsmanship of athletes is predicted in part by what the athlete perceives his parents and coaches do (i.e., how they act), believe, and what they value. For example, if a is parent yelling at the referee and/or coach and acting poorly in the stands, the athlete is more likely to do the same on the ice.

Instead of finishing out his high school hockey career with integrity, this athlete not only let himself down, but his family, team, school, community and the sport of hockey altogether. In Minnesota we take great pride in being “The State of Hockey” and this is a teachable moment for everyone of what NOT to do when things get tough. For the adults reading this who are involved with youth and interscholastic sport…we are the ones responsible for fostering this type of egregious behavior in athletes. We should all take stock in how to be more effective in creating a climate– which despite disagreements and conflict–all athletes feel valued, have a positive experience, and develop skills and character while striving to win.

See my interview on WCCO TV discussing this incident.

 

 

Why is unequal playing time the norm in youth sport?

I have written previously about my thoughts on playing time, click here to read them (scroll down to see them all).

When I tell coaches and parents that I believe all youth sports should have equal playing up until age 12, regardless of competitive level, it is not a popular idea. Especially when I say I really think the age should be 14! I thought  of a few more facets of this complex and contested idea in youth sports that are worth discussing.

As adults who play recreational, but competitive sports, equal playing time is almost always the norm. If playing time isn’t equal, problems, resentments, and hard feelings arise. For example, I play on a recreational women’s ice hockey team. We have 10 skaters, which means 2 lines. We all pay the same fee to play. Everyone plays equal ice  time. When one line takes a long shift and the other line gets shorted, people get upset because it is supposed to be equal. We don’t put special lines out on the power play or penaltly kill, whomever is up or feels like she has legs, they go. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, which we work with together. We try (and like to) to win, are competitive, and strive to win every game (which we don’t). We enjoy being active, doing something we love, battling to win, hanging with friends and enjoy camaraderie with other teams.

Do we think this is different for kids?

So why is it that as adults in our own sport endeavors we structure equal playing time, but when adults run and control youth sport recreational, competitive programs….we justify unequal playing time. (NOTE: recreational teams are just as competitive and want to win just as much as travel teams, the skill level is just different). As adults we don’t like sitting on the bench, we want to play, think unequal time is unfair, unjust and annoying, makes us feel poorly about ourselves, and is not fun or enjoyable.

Do we think this is different for kids? What is the rational for unequal playing time in youth sports before age 12? I’d like to hear it…seriously…I want to hear from you. I think this conversation is worth having.

I say equal playing time at ALL competitive levels because if you have a kid on a team where he/she doesn’t play much, if at all, then he/she shouldn’t be ON that team. Move that kid down a team so they DO play and have the opportunity to play, learn, and develop skills in competitive contexts. No kid should be on an elite travel team, pay high fees to play and then not play equally…that seems wrong. As adults we’d NEVER put up with that policy would we? (I understand parents and kids “choose” to be on that team, I also understand that some kids want to play with their friends even if it means not playing, but those are different blogs on the broken system of youth sports).

If equal playing time is what we prefer and what we like and enjoy as adults why should it be different for kids?

Sport Parent Education: Creating a Tipping Point

As part of my work, I do quite a few sport parent workshops (read my previous blogs about sport parents here). The purpose of the workshops is to share evidence-based information with sport parents, so a positive climate for youth athletes is more likely to be created.

I also conduct research on the topic of sport parents. One of our lines of research is examining the causes of what makes sports parents angry, and how the toxic climate and background anger created on youth sport sidelines affects children.

Almost a year ago in early 2010, I wrote and was interviewed about and  a local Minnesota sport parent who  assaulted a youth basketball commissioner following an in-house game played by sixth graders.

Unfortunately less than a year later, two more episodes of egregious sport parent behavior have again occurred in Minnesota. In the first, a father of a middle school boy punched his son after poor play in a basketball game. In the second, another father made terroristic threats and put a youth hockey coach in a choke hold after a disagreement with the coach following his 12 year old son’s hockey practice. (allegedly his son got into a fight with an opposing player, and used his hockey stick as a baseball bat, so the coach broke the fight up and scolded both players, of which the father took offense). Interestingly and related to this story is based on research, when children witness or hear their parents being violent or abusive, the children are more likely to act in similar ways.

In a series of studies I did with colleagues while at Notre Dame working in the Center for Sport and Character, we found that kids who perceived a high rate of background anger (parents yelling and screaming frequently at refs, coaches, other parents, and players), were more likely to report acting in unsportsmanlike ways on the field. Tree…Apple.  We can do better.

If we want youth sports to be a place where all kids can have the opportunity to have fun, learn skills, develop, make friends and learn life lessons while striving to win, the adults have to get it right. Sport parent education is a great step in creating a tipping point, and making positive change happen. It may not prevent the three egregious type events reported above, but it might. Educational efforts will certainly help a critical mass of sport parents, most of who want to do the right thing but have no clue what that looks like and why it matters for their children, get closer to getting it right. Once parents see youth sport from the perspective of their kids coupled with evidence, rather than their own lens…change is possible, and evidence-based educational programs accomplish this goal.

Youth athletic associations, clubs, school systems have to commit the time and resources to educational efforts or else real change will not occur. The tipping point will not occur without it. No Code of Conduct, banner, sign, Public Service Announcement, parent meeting, rule or policy will affect real change until the culture of youth sport and norms of sport parent behavior changes…and that does not happen without education.

What is more important, investing in: a) educational programming that helps create a positive climate for kids while striving to win, and gets parents on the same page in that goal, or b) doing damage control, prosecuting or defending lawsuits as a result of bad parent behavior? If your answer is “B” you will also have to invest and deal with the traumatic aftermath of children who are targets of, or are witness to, egregious sport parent behavior.

Investment of time and money reflects personal and organizational values. What does your organization value? Can you do better? Do you feel responsible for making it better for all kids?

How to Change to Culture of Youth Sport?

This week I talked with a local writer, Meagan Frank, who is writing a book about youth sport. She asked some great questions and as a sport parent she sees the toxic climate that permeates some youth sport contexts, and wants to do something about it. She read my blog about my thoughts on how the professionalized model of youth sport won’t change unless college sport is reformed. I think that until athletic scholarships aren’t the means to an end for sport participation for some (most?) kids and their parents, that the professionalization of youth sport will continue (i.e., year round training, early sport specialization, travel teams that cut kids at younger and younger ages).

What would youth sport look like if millions of families weren’t pursuing a college athletic scholarship? Would more athletes play only for the love of the game? Would they have more fun? Would they enjoy their experience more? Would they worry less about what team and at what level they play? Would the parents yell and scream less on the sidelines? Would fewer kids get burned out or chronically injured? Would fewer kids drop out of sport?

Meagan asked me one question that has stuck in my mind: If you could pick one thing to change about youth sports that would make a difference, what would it be? I had to pause a moment because there are so MANY things to change. I wanted to pick the the least common denominator, the one policy that I think would effect the greatest change.

My answer: Mandate equal playing time for all kids up until the age of 14.

In a previous blog post on playing time in youth sport I specified a model of “Playing Time Considerations” which included the many factors that go into making decisions about playing time. In that blog I included a quote by a colleague, “playing time is not a reward for displaying virtue, it is a means for developing virtue.”   Playing time is also a means for developing skill and mental toughness. You cannot improve if you sit on the bench. You also don’t develop if you quit because you never play, or you are cut because the coach doesn’t think you are good enough to play…and you haven’t hit puberty yet. Equal playing time is crucial up until puberty so that early and late developers get an equal chance to DEVELOP, play and have fun.

By creating an equal playing time policy in all sports, at all levels of play (i.e., developmental leagues, rec, in house, elite travel teams), it would change the culture of youth sport. The culture would be more about developing skill for ALL kids. Even on elite travel teams where all the kids are highly skilled and talented, some kids still play more than others (although they pay the same very high fees to play on the team). This does not seem right or fair or good for psychological, social, physical or moral development. All teams would strive to win, but at least all the kids would have an equal role in the outcome.

What do you think?