Category Archives: sport reform

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.

Sexism, Misogyny, & Violence Toward Women: The Role of Sport

Recent events in sport and outside of sport (i.e., Elliot Rodger) have given visibility in clear and stomach turning ways to the fact that girls and women face sexism, misogyny and sexual and domestic violence at alarming rates. Lately blatant acts of derisiveness against women have been numerous, or perhaps they promoted more dramatically by the media. I hope these events and others provide a real and critical turning point in bringing awareness and dialogue about how to reduce all these offensive behaviors directed at and onto women….especially in and through sport.

  • Donald Sterling, (former, but contested) NBA owner of the clippers, was sanctioned by the league for racist comments but his long history of sexism and sexual harassment largely went without sanction.
  • UK Premiere League CEO Richard Scudamore so far has escaped sanction for his sexist commentary in a string of emails exposed by a former personal assistant.
  • NFL star Ray Rice was caught on hotel video cameras dragging his then fiance (now wife) from an elevator after he punched her unconscious. In an embarrassing press conference where he tried to save face, he never apologized TO his wife yet she acknowledged her role in contributing to the incident. The Ravens perpetuated and minimized the culture of violence against women by live tweeting from the Rice press conference that constructed a “feel good narrative of personal redemption”  without having to really address the problem with their star or their organizational complicity to victimizing the victim. Rice’s sanction is TBD, but I will predict it will be minimal.
  • Florida State QB Jameis Winston and the alleged case of rape against him in which he was acquitted sent a terrible and damaging message to young women who dare to accuse popular star athletes of sexual violence.
  • The rape case against high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio is also a not too distant occurrence.

Sexism is such a common part of women’s lives, many do not realize they experience it daily, and females who experience more egregious behaviors from men often take blame for their own victimization (just ask Janay Palmer). The incidents above and countless others that involve men in positions of power in sport and star athletes in the most popular and televised men’s sports, highlight the uphill battle that all girls and women face when battling sexism, misogyny and violence toward them and their sisters. Sport is one of the most powerful social institutions and when men in sport exhibit egregious behavior toward women and are not punished, it not only tells young men this is an expected part of being a male athlete, but it communicates to women and girls that being victimized, belittled, objectified and powerless is a normal part of womanhood.
What do all these men have in common?…..power.

Whether that power is personal, professional, social, economic, or expertise-based (or all of the above) when it is used and enacted in a “power-over” way, the result for women and girls is often negative. Public apologies for egregious, boorish and/or illegal behavior of men in sport toward women should not be sufficient, but is often used to erase collective memory and the “Restart” button is pushed. Violence toward women is not funny or something to be joked about (like it was in a recent Texas bar sign which read–“I like my beer like I like my violence. Domestic.”). Female fans, parents with daughters, men with wives or anyone that cares about the treatment of women should be appalled that such behaviors go unpunished as it creates a culture of violence and mistreatment toward ALL women and girls.

Many have argued that sexism is the last “ism” to be seriously confronted and conquered, and I would agree. However, until there are more women in positions of power in sport, men are held accountable in real ways for their damaging behavior, boys are taught that “being a real man” isn’t related to violence, domination and physicality on or off the field, society takes sexism and violence against women seriously (such as the recent White House campaign NotAlone.gov) and we stop hero worship of male athletes in “the Big 4” sports, this is unlikely to change. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

With the death of Maya Angelou who wrote:

“I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”

If we lived in a world where all girls and women believed and embraced the sentiment of your poem and all males respected and treated women as equals, the world would be a better place.

Old School Coaching Has No Place

March Madness takes on a whole new meaning when you watch this Outside the Lines video about the Rutgers head men’s basketball coach, Mike Rice. I find this video hard to watch and appalling. What is more appalling is that Rice has not been fired for his abusive behavior and sexist and homophobic language (update 4/3/2013 Rice has been fired). This type of old school coaching behavior should be just that…Old School.Old_School

Coaches have the responsibility to treat their athletes with respect and care, as human beings, not just as cogs in the performance machine. I think you can learn a lot about a coach by watching him/her on the sidelines and by listening to what he/she says.

What is the demeanor of the coach? How do they act under pressure in the most contested moments? How do they act when they are winning versus losing? Are their athletes paying attention in the huddle and looking engaged? Do the athletes look like they are listening to the coach intently or blowing him/her off with disregard? What is the body language and facial expressions of the athletes and of the coach? How are the assistant coaches involved in the game? How does the head coach treat the assistant coaches? How does the coach treat the officials? How does the coach react to mistakes by athletes? How does the coach explain losses and wins? Do the athletes embrace the coach after wins and seek him/her out after losses?

If you watched the OTL video and Google Image search Mike Rice it will paint a picture of what a coach should not do and look like.

On the contrary, last night I watched the Cal Bears Women’s Basketball Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb, coach her team to their first-ever NCAA Final Four last night with grace.  I was impressed by this young coach. She didn’t yell or act abusively toward athletes, officials or assistants. She coached. Her Google Image Search tells a very different picture of teaching, calmness under pressure, care, fun, enjoyment, pride…what coaching should look like.

I hope that the New School and face of coaching begins to look much more like Gottlieb and others like her, and that taxpayers who pay the HIGH salaries of coaches like Rice become outraged and less tolerant of abusive behavior toward young people.

updates:

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.

 

 

Hazing By Coaches

This case is an exemplar of one of the many things wrong with the current structure of youth sport—win at all costs, early specialization at increasingly younger ages, intense parental involvement, no standard training for coaches, and uncritical acceptance of teaching boys to be men through a one-dimensional view of masculinity that is characterized as power-over others, emotional and physical toughness, and a disregard for the true meaning of competition (e.g., striving together, not against and treating opponents and each other with respect).

This case I am about to lay out gets to the heart of a key question: What is the purpose of youth sport? I like to use a triad approach from sport psychology colleague Robin Vealey. Within the The Inner Edge Model in equal parts athletes 1) strive to win and achieve optimal performance, 2) develop skills-psychological , physical, social, emotional and moral, and 3) enjoy and have fun playing sport.

This case is about hazing. Hazing of 10 year old boys by their coaches. At a year-end banquet youth hockey banquet in a unnamed city, it has been a ‘tradition’ to make the youngest boys sit on stage in front of the older peers and all their parents, and wear a diaper on their heads while sucking a pacifier. One boy, nervous and fearful of this impending ritual, asked his coach if he could sit out. The coach said no.The child was visibly upset and embarrassed on stage.

Given this private hockey club is community-based and not school-based, laws like Title XII and Title IX or state-based anti-hazing laws don’t apply. The coaches were asked by the parents to stop the ritual in the future. The coaches said no. When anti-hazing coach education was suggested by the governing body, the coaches said no thanks.

Let me be clear—making young boys wear diapers on their heads is HAZING. Hazing is any action that intentionally causes embarrassment, and risks emotional and/or physical safety, regardless of willingness to participate or not. Hazing is done to a person or group of people in order to gain entrance or acceptance into a club, organization, or team. One key question on HazingPrevention.org that characterizes hazing: Is it causing emotional distress or stress of any kind to myself or others? If the answer is yes, it is hazing.

Do we want youth sport coaches to haze young athletes in front of their peers and parents? Is that what we want youth sport to be about? Is that how coaches should inspire a team to optimal performance? Does it help those boys become better hockey players? Does it enhance the boys’ fun and enjoyment of their hockey experience? Does it build admiration for and trust in the coach?  I say no.

Sociological Perspectives on Sport Concussion

To read my, and other sport sociologists’ evocative Roundtable perspectives on “Concussions & Consequences” via The Society Pages, click here.

Also check out the new book on concussions and youth sport by Mary Hyman, titled Concussions and Our Kids.

If you haven’t watched the University of Minnesota, Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport Emmy nominated documentary on Concussion and Female Athletes: the Untold Story, you can watch it here for free.

College Sport Hypocrisy

‘‘Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people,’’ NCAA President Mark Emmert declared in announcing the Penn State penalties. As Dave Zirin reported in his column, Emmert also stated, “Programs and individuals must not overwhelm the values of higher education.”

If these statements are really going to be true, then college sport should be shut down and started from scratch.

The fact Emmert has the audacity utter these words is complete hypocrisy. The NCAA and its institutional policies and structure are primary reasons why football on many campuses is placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people. While the debate rages about NCAA sanctions against Penn State “for lack of institutional control”, very little of the debate has centered on how NCAA institutional control (i.e., monopoly) creates a breeding ground for sport scandals. Who or what organization has oversight of the NCAA?

There is a small window of opportunity to have real dialogue about college sport reform and the role of big time college athletics within institutions of higher education. Instead the institutional control of the NCAA just expanded outside its proper and legal limits, which means reform will certainly not follow and scandals will continue to occur.

(for more reading on this persepctive, Zirin writes a compelling column about how the NCAA sanctions are unprecedented and mark a new era of the NCAA, and not one that will lead to real and lasting reform. Zisner, a NYT writer adds her two cents about the lack of “real reform.”)

UPDATE: A few other good pieces on the role of the NCAA and football in the Penn State scandal have come out since I wrote this blog.

8/1/12 piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “The NCAA Entrenches Itself as Part of the Problem”

8/1/12 piece by Bruce Svare, professor of psychology at the University at Albany titled ” Life isn’t just a football game”

Great Resources for the Public about Title IX

Marking the 40 year anniversary of Title IX, a landmark piece of civil rights federal legislation, many organizations are holding conferences, raising awareness and educating the public on the importance, history and current issues pertaining to this important law. I’ve included some key Title IX resources below.

The espnW team, a site that connects female fans to the sports they love and follow, has created an entire microsite full a great content about Title IX that is well worth checking out, including a recent story by Peter Keating (@PKStatsBlog) titled “The silent enemy of men’s sports” which outlines Title IX is not responsible for the cutting men’s non-revenue sports–the real reason is men’s football. If you look at the statistics, the data is compelling and provides evidence which refutes the myth that Title IX “cuts men’s sports.” A  law doesn’t cut sports, people do, and most of the decisions to cut sports have been made by male athletic directors.

Colleague, lawyer, and Senior Director of Advocacy for the Women’s Sports Foundation Nancy Hogshead-Makar (@Hogshead3au)  suggests people look at the data provided by Knight Commision’s “College Sports 101.” For those still not convinced, and wanting to argue that “football pays for all other sports” I would click here for a telling graph on profits and revenues of big time athletics programs. In 2011 of the 120 Division I-A (Football Bowl Subdivision) schools only 22 were profitable and the other 98 had a median loss of $11.3 million. That is certainly enough money to fund a men’s “non-revenue” sport! In fact Nancy often educates others that “in FBS schools football and men’s basketball eat up 78% of the men’s athletics budget”–meaning all other men’s sports get to split the other 22%.

For those in the great state of MN, the June issue of the Minnesota Women’s Press is dedicated to Title IX including a short column I wrote about the status of women’s sports 40 years after Title IX, and an interview with colleague and Tucker Center Director Mary Jo Kane on pervasive “myths and stereotypes about Title IX.”. One of the myths she debunks that is mentioned above pertains to “Title IX is blamed for hurting men’s sports.” For those outside MN the entire issue is available online!

In November 2011, The Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, the first center of its kind, held a one day conference with gender scholars from across the globe, on important issues facing females in sport contexts including lack of females in positions of power, disproportionate coverage of female athletes in the sport media, and issues of in/exclusion. You can watch videos of the keynotes, see pictures, download posters on the Tucker Center website. In April 2012 the Tucker Center held their spring Distinguished Lecture series featuring a trio of Title IX champions and pioneers Judy Sweet, Deborah Brake and native Minnesotan Peg Brenden (who is also featured in the June issue of MN Women’s Press!). You can watch video the lecture here.

In May 2012 the newly formed Sport Health Activity Research and Policy (SHARP) Center for Women and Girls at the University of Michigan held a 2-day  “Title IX at 40” conference to celebrate and discuss key issues facing females in health, sport and physical activity. You can see videos of keynotes and conference highlights here. (note: SHARP is a partnership between the Women’s Sports Foundation and U-M’s School of Kinesiology and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender.)

Broken Systems: Sport, Education & Health Care

The health care debate over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has got me thinking about systems. Like many Americans I didn’t know much about the ACA, only that it is hotly contested. Unlike many Americans I have recently taken some time to get educated about the complex facets of the new law so I can be informed. I encourage everyone to do the same as health care affects EVERYONE…including you.

Two other systems that affect a majority of Americans are education and sports.

What do all these important social institutions have in common? They are all broken and dysfunctional. At the heart of dysfunction is how those in positions of power are rewarded and how the “client”(i.e., student, athlete, patient) is treated.

Currently, in our health care system doctors are paid/rewarded by treating sick patients (i.e.,  visit clinic, have tests run, buy drugs), not for how healthy their patients are, preventative care or keeping patients well. The quality of patient care is not at the heart of our current health care system, money is. The ACA is trying to change that by rewarding doctors for keeping health care costs LOW and patients healthy.

In the American education system, teachers are paid/rewarded regardless if their students learn, earn degrees, or receive a quality education. In some states (like MN) middle and high school teachers receive tenure, so even if their teaching is of poor quality, firing them is difficult. The same is true of colleges and universities. If students fail to achieve the standardized testing metrics of No Child Left Behind, a school is punished but not the teachers directly (to my knowledge). I teach at a university, and I get paid regardless if my students learn or earn degrees. The quality of student education is not at the heart of our education system, because there isn’t enough money allocated to fund public education.

However I know one person who will get a very LARGE bonus (a bonus larger than most faculty members earn in three years!!) if the students in his care do perform well in the classroom, and he isn’t a professor. New Ohio State Head Football Coach Urban Meyer will get “Bonuses of up to $300,000 a year if players meet certain academic progress and graduation standards.” The subtext reads: You should care about and keep your players academically eligible to play, so you are more likely to win, which brings in money to the university (i.e. TV revenue, conference revenue sharing, bowl appearances). I’m not saying Meyer shouldn’t care about his athlete’s academic performance, he should, but that is not his job. His job is to win football games. The quality of athlete experience and education is not the focus of the current “big time” (what Murray Sperber calls ‘Beer & Circus’) college sport system, money is.

If the primary structure and goal of college sports is to win, and coaches are rewarded for winning (i.e., bonuses, bigger salaries, better jobs, job security) the system is ultimately broken and in need of reform.

Winning is important and I’m not saying it isn’t or that teams/athletes/coaches shouldn’t strive to win. The point I’m making is when the primary structure of sport is set up around winning (and winning = money), exploitation of athletes, corruption, cheating the system, and scandal becomes more likely.

The problem in all three systems? The WRONG people are being rewarded with money in the wrong ways and the quality of athletic/education/medical experiences of the “client” is often secondary.

The proof? You don’t have to search very hard for recent headlines involving scandals in sports, education or medicine.