Prospect Communication's Youth Sports Blog - "Taking You Beyond the Game!", features our own articles and commentaries that deal specifically with youth sports. Browse the site to read any articles that may be of interest to your sports organization. The articles are copyrighted to the authors (Michael Langlois & Mary-Louise Langlois) and they may not be reproduced without permission. To inquire about licensing the right to reproduce any of the site's content please contact us at inquiries@prospectcommunications.com

Prospect has a unique and specialized approach to communications skills and issues management geared towards those involved with youth and minor sports. Michael and Mary-Louise's work in this area is ideal for parents and coaches who want to make the most of children's involvement in sports.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pujols departure his choice, but not a question of respect

One of the things that can happen to any of us is that, when things in our life seem to go really well, we can feel a bit “heady”.

It’s that sense that we’re on top of things, maybe even on top of the world.  We may feel we can do or say what we want and damn the consequences.  Some may even believe there won’t be consequences.

Sports fans may be aware that baseball star Albert Pujols recently signed a 10-year, 250 plus million dollar contract with the Anaheim Angels.  He decided to leave the franchise (St. Louis) where he was loved by the organization, teammates and fans and helped the team win two World Series championships.

He had already earned in his career millions more than most people would ever earn in their entire life—in the best dreams.  But he decided to leave St. Louis anyway, a city considered one of the most fan-friendly baseball markets in America.

The interesting twist to the “story” is that Pujols’ wife apparently felt it necessary to publicly explain why the family made the decision that it did.  Unfortunately, the explanation has left some observers puzzled, and feeling as though Albert may need what some call a “reality check”.

Here is an excerpt from the recent story published on ESPN.com

"The offer that people have seen on television I want to tell you what, listeners especially, had that offer been given to us with a guarantee, we would have the (Cardinals) bird on our back," Deidre Pujols told 99.1 Joy FM, a St. Louis-area Christian station that received some of its initial funding from Albert Pujols.

Deidre Pujols, speaking with interviewer Sandi Brown, who is her friend, said the couple initially had no plans to ever leave St. Louis or the Cardinals, the only team the first baseman had ever played for.

"When it all came down, I was mad. I was mad at God because I felt like all the signs that had been played out through the baseball field, our foundation, our restaurant, the Down Syndrome Center, my relationships, my home, my family close," Deidre Pujols told the station. "I mean, we had no reason, not one reason, to want to leave. People were deceived by the numbers."

She indicated the key moment was the Cardinals' initial offer of five years and $130 million.
"When you have somebody say 'We want you to be a Cardinal for life' and only offer you a five-year deal, it kind of confused us," Deidre Pujols said. "Well, we got over that insult and felt like Albert had given so much of himself to baseball and into the community ... we didn't want to go through this again."

That Pujols, at the age of 32 still a very talented professional, to be sure, felt a five year contract offer (worth well over 100 million dollars) was “an insult” is seemingly a perplexing comment.

It’s hard to imagine the millions of people in the United States and around the world who are out of work, or working in difficult conditions and drawing a modest annual income or taking on two jobs two stay above the poverty level, won’t find those comments alarming and self-centered, not to mention out of touch.

In particular, it is perhaps ironic that Pujols', who has clearly "done good" in the St. Louis community, in the same breath seems to set himself apart as, at the very least, being on a different level than the everyday people he apparently aids through his charitable endeavours.  If he feels  "insulted" by a 130 million dollar offer because it is not enough, what is the message for those youngsters- and their families- who are truly disadvantaged?

But this is the age of celebrity, and as I mentioned earlier, when things go well, people feel pretty special, and things get “heady”.

No doubt Pujols has done some important charitable things in St. Louis and will continue to do so in Anaheim.  But it may now be difficult for many to see him in the same light he was seen in before these comments were made.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

'No celebration' rule costs high school team a championship- a life lesson or an absurd regulation?

We read with interest this week about how a high school football team in the state of Massachusetts lost a championship game because of a rule that disallows “celebrations”.

Now, many sports fans likely believe that excessive celebrations in sport have become somewhat tiresome at the professional level.  Simple plays lead to fist-pumping and a range of theatrics that, depending on your point of view, are either entertaining, a part of freedom of expression, or ridiculous and overdone.

And yes, it is clear that how professionals behave impacts how impressionable younger athletes/people sometimes respond, whether on Club teams or at the high school level, for example.

This particular situation in Massachusetts occurred in a state championship game—an event that all those involved with will remember for the rest of their lives.  One team scored a touchdown in the final moments of the game, a touchdown that would have given them the victory and the state championship (see original story with video clip here).

But the league rule is “no celebration”.  Because the player scoring the touchdown put his hand up well in advance of the goal line, that evidently met the criteria for a “rule infraction”.  There wasn’t just (as there is at higher levels of play) a penalty on the point after attempt or the ensuing kick off—the actual touchdown was nullified, as though the play had never happened.

It’s difficult to comprehend the thinking here.  While we write regularly and passionately here about sportsmanship and examples of such, this, on the surface, appears to be a case where a well-intentioned “rule”—one intended to send a message and alter over-zealous and unsportsmanlike behavior—sends a troubling message.

You will note in reading the explanation from the “league”, that it says, essentially, the young people affected will have this sort of thing happen in life.  That is, that those in charge will sometimes made decisions that they don’t agree with or feel is fair in life and they will have to learn to deal with decisions that go against them.

While that is inarguably true on the one hand, it covers up a different type of  injustice.  The other “reality” is that the play (the touchdown) was a fair play.  There was no deceit, no cheating, no “holding” or other true football foul on the field of play.

Because a young person showed joy and exuberance, they were penalized.  Not just penalized a few yards on the field of play, but a state championship honor that they had clearly, rightly, earned.

Those around at the time all remember Joe Namath walking off the field after Super Bowl III, holding up a single finger to show fans his New York Jets were "number-one". He was bragging, feeling proud.  It was a natural, spontaneous show of emotion.

It was human.

Did he "show up the opposition"? Not really.

When teams celebrate championships they get excited.  It reflects hours, sometimes years, of dedication and tireless effort to improve skills and build team harmony, all good things.  A show of extreme joy is surely understandable and should not be seen as in some way showing a lack of respect for the team you competed against.

When baseball players at the major league level hit a home run to win a big game in the 9th inning, the player circling the bases is ecstatic and shows their emotion as the other team is walking of the field.  Their teammates rush out to the field of play to celebrate.  Again, it's natural.

Being happy is not poor sportsmanship.

Now, if this team had acted inn an un-sportsmanlike fashion throughout the game and the on-field officials had warned them and they had ignored warnings, and then the refs felt they had no chance but to make an "extreme" call on a subjective ruling, this would be a bit easier to understand.

But if that was not the case (and there are no reports to suggest that it was) are we—and more especially those who worked so hard to achieve that success— supposed to believe that life is about technicalities?  That the winning play, legal as it was, never actually happened?

And how will the new “state champions” feel?  They won not on the field of play, but essentially because of a “fair play” rule that, while valid on the surface, does not pass the real life test of competition here.  They will always remember being “champions”—not because they earned it, though they no doubt worked hard to get as far as they did—but because a bunch of adults were trying to impose a standard of behavior that they probably couldn’t meet themselves when they were the same age.

But it’s OK to raise the bar for someone else, apparently.

Yes, sportsmanship is tremendously important. It always has been and always been in in all aspects of sports, and life.  And coaches, schools, leagues and those in authority, in positions of leadership, have a responsibility to set rules that establish important values.

But everyone in the state knows who the “real” winner of the championship is.  Sanction the team in some way, but depriving them of a championship they earned makes no sense.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hiring a new coach often seems to take precedence over ethics

Maybe “ethics” is too strong a word, but it has always been a concern to me when sports organizations fire a head coach and immediately—on the very same day— turn around and announce his or her replacement.

My concern? 

Well, since, especially in this day and age of lawyers, agents, advisors and such realities, hiring a new coach takes a long time. Given the complexities of finalizing contractual arrangements, one thing is clear:  while the now former coach was still very much on the job and trying to do that job to the best of their ability, the organization was interviewing and negotiating with their replacement.

Recent examples?  In the National Hockey League, three teams have recently made changes this season—the St. Louis Blues, Carolina Hurricanes and Washington capitals.  In each instance, the “new” coaches (Ken Hitchcock, Kirk Muller and Dale Hunter) clearly “knew” they were getting the jobs while the previous coach was still coaching games and running practices.

It just seems to be a deceitful way to run a business, though not uncommon in the world of high-level, “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” professional sports.  There was a similar situation that cropped up in the English soccer Premier League within the last year or so.  The incoming coach was signed, sealed and delivered when the outgoing guy was still on the sidelines.

Not classy—and not right.

A glaring example, of course, is what has just happened at Ohio State with their football program.  So apparently desperate was the school to hire another big-game (after they pretty much had to let Jim Tressel go this past off-season), they obviously had negotiated with Urban Meyer to be their new coach, even though the incumbent, Luke Fickell, was preparing his team for their biggest game of the season, against arch-rival Michigan.

While Meyer was denying a deal was done, it is now clear that he will, in fact (and of course) be the new coach.  (Interestingly, when Meyer stepped down from his last job not even a year ago, citing health factors and claiming he needed to spend more time with family.)

Too often college coaches, for example, leave a team or program and jump ship to another, because the timing suits them, even if it leaves their former employer, players or school in the lurch.  Bobby Petrino and Nick Saban are two names that pop to mind in this regard.

And, as recently as the end of the just-concluded Major-League baseball season, long-time Chicago White Sox manager was so anxious to take on his new job in Miami, that he left the White Sox on the final weekend of the season, not even fulfilling his existing contract to the end of the season.  He could not wait  two more days to make it "official".

So yes, sadly, it works for ways.

Is it just the way things have to be?  Absolutely not.  But it seems to be the way some organizations –and even institutions of “higher learning”—have to do business.

And it’s a shame.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Penn State allegations yet another wake-up call

The legal charges and sexual abuse allegations against a former Penn State assistant football coach  suggest, at least on the surface, a kind of classic “cover-up” on the school's part an effort to conceal the institution’s reputation and perceived integrity.

That it has taken this long for charges to be laid, again, is a concerning tale, to be sure.  Many stories about the allegations are available, including this one by Michael Rosenberg at Sport's Illustrated.

It’s difficult for someone on the outside to write about this, because while there are many allegations, how does anyone on the outside truly know the “facts”.

What those of us interested in youth sports (and the lessons that adults "teach" and model) can do, though, is wonder why Penn State officials seemed so lackluster in handling the seriousness of the allegations that were apparently made many years ago.

Institutions seem to have a propensity for keeping things “in house”.  And the school is not the first and likely won’t be the last institution or organization that handles things like this very poorly.  But that is no excuse for inaction or looking the other way.

An accusation does not always mean that something terrible happened, of course.  But my sense is, the more that is uncovered in the weeks to come, it will become clear that Penn State, as an institution of higher learning, likely failed to meet even minimum reporting standards for a case such as this and as importantly, failed miserably on ethical grounds.

We can’t always protect young people or young athletes.  But surely those entrusted with caring for young students and young student-athletes on campus have a serious obligation to do their best.  And if and when they can’t protect everyone, they certainly have an obligation to respond and investigate when serious questions are raised.

If this did not happen at Penn State, then many should indeed fall on their proverbial sword.  Many people in Canada and the United States enjoy and support college athletics in one way or another.  This kind of story, however, is a discouraging one and yet again suggests the undue emphasis on sports (and protecting those in and around big-time sports like football) too often outweighs almost everything else—including a sense of common decency.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Young athletes: never give up is still an important approach to live by

After a recent NCAA football game between Notre Dame and Southern Cal, players from the winning team said after the game that Notre Dame players had essentially quit toward the end of the game.  They stopped playing hard because they knew they were going to lose anyway.

In other words, they quit.

I have no idea if this is true, or not.  Here is a link to one of the articles in that spoke to the allegations of Notre Dame “giving up” and how their coach responded:

I do know that it seems to be a natural human tendency in sports, at all levels, to kind of “throw in the towel” when things don't go well, to not play as hard because the cause on that given day seems lost.  Athletes won’t usually admit it, but observers can sense and see less intensity, a loss of intensity that seems to go with knowing you are “out of it”.  It's probably natural to want to take the easier way out.

That said, one thing I’ve often tried to remind young athletes that I work with professionally is simply this:  while it’s not easy, it is indeed important to work your tail off until the game is over, whether the “win-loss” outcome has long since been determined our not.

There are many important reasons to adopt this approach, but here are a few to consider:

  • Any sport you play, at whatever level, presumably you do it because you love to play.  The “score” in a particular game may be discouraging, of course.  But that reality doesn’t have to hinder your joy in competing, of being on the field of play, of giving your all, your personal “best”.
  • Sometimes, miracles do happen.   When you keep fighting, breaks come often your way.  What appears to be a certain loss every once in a while turns into a remarkable come-from-behind victory.  It happens in life, and certainly happens in sports.
  • You owe it to yourself to be proud of what you do, to feel that, when you leave the field of play, you have done everything you can do play your best on that day.  Even if teammates are downhearted or they may seem to be “giving up”, stay positive and encourage them.  Be a true leader yourself.
  • In everything that you do, you represent not only your team but your Club or school, as well as your family and yourself.  Playing hard and to the best of your ability to the end of a game or event does justice to the legacy that you represent and are a part of.
  • On a very practical level, picture this.  You are playing in a game for your Club or school.  Your team is getting hammered.  But you continue to play hard, make plays, right to the end of the game.  What you did not know is that there is a scout, a coach, a college recruiter in the stands that day.  They were looking at another player, but they could not help but notice a player on the losing side, the one who simply refused to give in, to quit, despite the score, despite the lack of enthusiasm from teammates.  That scout/coach/recruiter makes a note that “we need to find out more about the kid with character” on the “losing” team.  That kid was you.

 Again, there are all kinds of reasons to live by one of the old-fashioned mottos:  never give up.  I could list many more.  Readers can add their own thoughts.

But for the young, aspiring athlete, you just need to pick one.  And then just do it, as the expression goes.  Maybe your reason is simply this:  because it’s the right thing to do.

Never give up.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hazing a sad throwback to thoughtless times

There are many positive, supportive and intelligent ways in which to bring a “team” together at any level, including in youth sports.  In fact, the notion of helping teammates bond together can be a very good thing indeed, in sports, in the workplace- and in life.  Specifically in the sporting realm, to be successful at the elite, competitive levels, it surely helps to  have a group of teammates who truly respect one another, work hard for one another and support one another—especially when things go off the rails.

That’s where true character and leadership often show themselves, by how individuals behave toward one another when things are difficult on a team.

But one part of what some people still (for some reason) see as an acceptable form of bonding is something that would never be accepted in any other setting—a type of cruel initiation commonly referred to as “hazing”.

That this still occurs in certain college, high school or youth sports settings is disturbing in itself. Surely we have reached a point where this kind of approach to creating "acceptance" or “team harmony” should be recognized as not only absurd but harmful and potentially emotionally damaging.

But every once in a while, stories surface which remind us more yet needs to be done to educate—and if that fails—simply enforce a zero tolerance policy, with strong consequences, to end this senseless behavior.

The latest incident along these lines allegedly took place in northern Manitoba.  The story link can be found here:

Thankfully, authorities in question have apparently acted quickly.

Sadly, some still think that, as part of some old-fashioned and ridiculous team thing, youngsters shouldn’t reveal when this type of thing occurs. But silence, under the ridiculous guise team-building and a "what happens in the clubhouse should stay in the clubhouse" philosophy, only allows the cruelty to continue.

And that kind of team-building is nonsense—and nothing else.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

NFL coaches handshake tussle sets another poor example for kids

We all understand that professional sports are not only “big business” but its games are played at a fever pitch by the best athletes in the world in their field.  Emotions run more than a little high, and it’s hard not to be over-exuberant when one has success, or downtrodden when things don’t go a player’s way in the midst of a close game.

So it was somewhat understandable that two National Football League coaches—at the helm of franchises that been both been struggling now for many years—would be as excited as their players for the big game this past weekend in Detroit involving the Lions and the visiting San Francisco 49ers.

Former NFL quarterback (and highly successful NCAA coach) Jim Harbaugh coaches the 49ers; Jim Schwartz coaches the Lions.  Both had their teams off to fantastic starts in the 2011 NFL season.

When the final whistle was blown, San Francisco emerged the victor with a narrow, hard-fought win.  At the end of the game, Harbaugh raced across the field for the customary post-game handshake.  His glee was evidently a little too apparent for Schwartz when they shook hands (Harbaugh gave a very animated "shake") and after the two men separated, Schwartz proceeded to run after the 49er coach, trying to catch his attention.  For a few moments, it looked as though there might be an altercation, but the two were ultimately separated.

Nothing really “happened” but it was a bizarre situation.  (Some may recall that, some years ago, there was an actual shoving incident in the Canadian Football League between coaches for the Toronto Argonauts and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.)  The traditional post-game handshake may sometimes be less than heartfelt (witness when Eric Mangini coached in New York and Cleveland and met with his former, somewhat estranged boss Bill Belichek after games between their two clubs) but generally speaking, both coaches do the right thing:  they congratulate the coach of the other team, win or lose, and leave the field with their dignity intact.

In this instance, that did not happen.  Afterwards, Harbaugh sounded remorseful for being too exuberant with his “handshake” but nothing more.  Schwartz seemed to lay the blame on Harbaugh.

Regardless, it was indeed an unfortunate incident, one that sets another poor example for coaches at all levels—and for young athletes as well.

If the most “professional” coaches, supposed “leaders” in the sport cannot conduct themselves properly after a game—win or lose—no matter how intense the competition was, it doesn’t speak well about their perspective and values.

Perhaps the lesson for youth and amateur coaches must be:  be humble and gracious in victory and take the high road in defeat, as well.  It’s not always easy, but it’s still the right thing to do.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Can we ever truly move past “winning” in youth sports?

We have written many original articles over the years (including posts on this site) on the value and importance of some old-fashioned but still relevant values in youth sports:  a) sportsmanship b) what it means to be a real team player and c) why communication, attitude and behavior is important when it comes to coaching youth sports, and how it can help build confidence and character in young people.

But sometimes we wonder if people will ever be truly able to move past the absolute over-emphasis on winning at the youth level.

We still celebrate winning on a regular basis.  Look at the Little League baseball World Series every August.  This is not to say there is something wrong with that longstanding tradition, but it’s hard not to wonder if we haven’t left behind a trail of disillusioned youngsters who weren’t the "winners"—but were subjected to mental and verbal abuse from those closest to them in the name of trying to “win a championship”. 

Name a city. Name a sport.  It’s the same everywhere.

To be clear, as we often stress in the seminars we do for youth sports organizations and coaches, as parents, we've made plenty of “mistakes” ourselves.  To this day (even with our four sons now adults) it’s sometimes hard to shed the competitiveness that too many of us carry as parents and/or as coaches.

Thankfully, we are seeing in some countries and in many youth sports, a renewed focus on fun and player development rather than “winning” at young ages in sports. The intent is that, even for elite players, they should enjoy their sport but also spend more time trying to improve their skills rather than playing 100 games a year and playing in as many tournaments as possible to get more “medals”.

Does that mean everything we do know is wrong?  That it’s wrong to try to "win" and earn “medals”.

We don’t think so, but hopefully a new emphasis will translate into new attitudes around kids in sport.  But the reality is, these things take time.

When you are a Mom or Dad (maybe not all Moms' and Dads', but an awful lot!) and you’re watching your 12 year-old daughter compete in a baseball or soccer game, for example, what are your natural instincts?  In most cases, it is of course to hope that your daughter plays well, has personal “success” and that their team “wins”.

While that might well be a natural instinct, and “healthy” on one level, something else seems to have arisen through the years.  That is, that generations-worth of emphasis on exactly that last objective, winning, has seemingly made it difficult to model and teach those other values and objectives we spoke of above—and are supposed to be teaching every day in every aspect of our lives:  sportsmanship and the importance of acting appropriately when you are part of a “team”.

These things may sound simple, but they must not be, or there would not be so many instances, large and small, of parents going over the top, or coaches doing the same.

But it’s not always the big “incidents” that get media play or are nowadays captured on You Tube.  It is the little lessons (many bad) that we model and reflect in our attitude:  the comments that we as adults and supposed role-models make about kids, coaches, administrators, umpires and referees.

When we yell at a teenage referee at a soccer game for 10 year-olds, it reveals something about us and diminishes us.  That is not the best “us”, and not what we strive to show our own kids, or any youngster.

And it may just send the message to kids that this kind of behaviour is OK, because it’s "sports", and competing is about trying to get an edge, to “win”.

Whenever we criticize a player on another team, it’s the same thing.  Or talk about our child’s coach to other parents, it has the same effect.

Eventually the toxicity spreads—most importantly, to the kids themselves.

If you’re interested, check out some of our original articles on this site by clicking on posts of interest on the right-hand of this space.

We don’t have all the answers.  No one does.  But many people seem to care about this subject, and if more and more people—parents, coaches and all those involved in youth sports—can genuinely try to fight their “natural” inclinations and step beyond our own self (and sometimes selfish) interests, maybe we can slowly help change attitudes- starting with our own.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Involvement in sports can help students, but balance is key

Here is a post Mary-Louise developed originally for Suite 101.  It has been one of her most viewed articles on that site.

There is no question that trying to balance high school academic requirements and playing sports can be a tricky – and sometimes unsuccessful – balancing act.
Whether a young person plays for a local “Club” team or for a school team, it means time, extra practice and attention diverted away from the primary purpose of high school – learning and achieving a strong academic performance to prepare for a successful future.
At times, when a student struggles in school, one of the first things parents do is prohibit their son or daughter from playing sports. Those parents make a link between poor academic results and too much time and attention paid to participating in sports. That may well be a legitimate connection to make, in some cases. Parents generally “know their child best” and obviously seek the very best for their children as they help guide them through the often difficult teenage years.
Nevertheless, sports involvement, properly managed, can also bring many positives to their life. Importantly, that extra-curricular commitment may in fact bring tangible academic rewards as well.

How Sports Can Prepare Students for Academic Success

The following are just a few ways a student may see increased school performance as a result, at least in part, of involvement in competitive athletics. (For more in depth research read the "Relationship Between Athletic and Academic success: A Pilot Study", by Danielle Tower of the University of Connecticut.)
Youth Sports as a Confidence Builder and a Positive Social Activity

In the right environment (e.g. playing for a youth sports coach with the right values) a boy or girl can really come out of their “shell” and express themself through sport. Their confidence builds and that can be taken directly into the classroom.
There are obviously no guarantees, but when a young person is busy with stimulating (and hopefully enjoyable!) involvements like sports, there is less time to be tempted to fall off the path into relationships and activities that may lead to problems. There can be a tendency for a student who is busy through positive pursuits to be engaged, focused and self-disciplined. These student-athletes learn that they need to focus and recognize that they must lead disciplined lives. They can still enjoy themselves and take advantage of “being young”, but they will also understand that discipline can help lead to achievement and success.
Students Who Learn to Manage Time and Prioritize Will Succeed

Time management became a buzzword over the past twenty years, but there is no question it is important for young people to understand this concept as they prepare for life after school and in the so-called “real world”. Learning to balance one’s time between community involvements, school demands, social interests and proper rest and athletic pursuits pushes a young person to recognize the value of “planned time” – creating a schedule and sticking to it.
This leads to the important notion of prioritizing. A busy young person, occupied in creative and healthy activities, will need to make decisions about not only time management but will need to prioritize what is most important—and what needs to be done to complete particular tasks in order of importance.
Focus and Concentration Contribute to Being a Good Athlete and a Good Student

Competitive sports demand a high level of concentration. If an athlete can “focus” on the playing field, this may well help them understand the need to focus on school-related tasks.
Involvement and success breeds more involvement and more success. A student who gets involved in healthy pursuits will often be energized by those commitments. Success does not mean “winning” games. Success means being involved, training, working hard, being disciplined, and developing leadership skills. When a young person shows these traits in sports, this attitude and skill set are transferrable to the classroom
Athletes need to make instantaneous, quick decisions on the field of play. Sometimes they make mistakes but that only helps the learning process. How does a young person learn, if they never have the opportunity to try, make errors, and try again? In school, in business and in life in general, everyone has to become a decision-maker and sports can sometimes help youngsters develop this important trait.
Supportive and Realistic Parents Can Help their Child to Achieve Success

Parents, of course, need to understand their own child – their passions, interests and limitations. What good ever comes from forcing unnecessary demands or expectations?
In the same breath, most children need to be – and in fact want to be – stimulated, nudged, encouraged and challenged. Sports can be part of that challenge.
Parents obviously should not push their children unrealistically or make unreasonable demands. A youngster who struggles academically may still benefit from being active in sports but it may not be realistic to expect a 4.0 GPA.
To succeed in sports, most young people have to work hard. Not everyone is a naturally gifted athlete, just as most people aren’t naturally gifted students. However, the lessons learned from the gym, track, and hockey rink or playing field often provide lessons for school – and beyond.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Is “fun” a dirty word in youth sports?

We came across an worthwhile piece a few days ago on the subject of “fun” in youth sports.

Now, we all say that youth sports should be “about the kids”.  Who would argue with that premise?  No one would, at least not publicly.

And further, we make the claim that kids should be having fun—otherwise, why would they turn to activities like swimming, baseball, soccer and gymnastics for recreation?

If something really isn’t fun-because of the attitude of coaches or parents, or because youngsters simply feel “pressure”- chances are they will gravitate away from sports and seek other options (sometimes less healthy) as to how to spend their time.

So while we all will stand up and say “it’s about the kids”, and we have to make sure they are having “fun”, that’s not always what happens in the day-to-day world of youth sports.

Former Canadian National soccer team captain Jason De Vos takes it once step further in his piece on attitudes in youth sport.  (Here’s the link http://www.cbc.ca/sports/blogs/jasondevos/2011/09/fun-shouldnt-be-considered-foul-language-in-canadian-soccer.html  )

It’s a piece that should be reflected upon—and discussed.  We agree with De Vos’ conclusion:  you can, in fact,  develop young athletes well and properly (so some can in fact go on to play at the highest levels of their chosen sport) and still have fun, and enjoy the youth sports experience.

So much, though, is up to coaches—and all of us, as parents.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Notre Dame's football coach: not the best example for our youth

We expect appropriate behavior from youth sports coaches in this day and age.

It’s not good enough that they just show up: we place an expectation with regard to and a value on not only the skills they have and are able to share, but their overall comportment.  As in, how they behave, the example they set and the language they use when interacting with impressionable youngsters.

So it’s fair to say that the bar should be set even higher when talking about college coaches.

I was among those who thought that Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly’s language and behavior on the sidelines during the team’s opening’s game a week ago was just plain poor, and a sad example for our youth.  (I'm guessing it's all over You Tube by now...)  This from an individual who holds one of the most prestigious jobs in sports and is paid handsomely to do so.

And it’s no excuse to say, as he evidently did, that he wasn’t aware he would be on television so much.  Coaches are always shown on television, and everyone knows it—Kelly included. 

Kelly came to Notre Dame after what I thought was a less than forthcoming departure from his previous school (see my earlier blog post on our Prospect Communications site). He handled that situation very poorly, as well.

While I understand that the focus is always on “winning” at the NCAA level, surely any school, and one would think Notre Dame as an academic institution, believes in values, too.

I wonder how many parents of young prospective Notre Dame student-athletes saw Kelly on television and wondered, “is that going to be the right environment for my son…?”

Forget their current (0 and 2) record; this latest episode makes one wonder if the school got the “right guy” when they were looking for a new coach less than two years ago.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What youth sports can be….

On this site, we write about the values that we try to promote when we do our day-to-day advisory work with clients through our firm, Prospect Communications Inc.

It’s easy to use phrases like teamwork, real team-player, good communication and positive values but much harder to not only discuss but actually live the kind of values that make youth sports a great experience for the very people they are there for:  our kids.

We noticed an article in the National Post over the Labour Day weekend.  It is entitled, simply:  "What youth sports can do.  The true sports report".

One excerpt in particular caught our eye.  It reads as follows:

The vast majority of Canadians (nine out of 10) recognize that community sport can be an enormous force for good – and they want it to be. But they are also very concerned that sport is falling far short of its potential. They are worried about too much aggression, cheating and unfair behaviour. They are worried about win-at-any-cost attitudes and that too many young people are leaving sport for the wrong reasons. They are worried about the negative behaviour of a fraction of parents who make it difficult for everyone else and they are worried about the influence of commercial sport values on the values of community sport.

Here's the link to the full story in the National Post

Words alone can’t do it.  But if we act on some of the basic ideas presented in this article, then coaches, parents, as well as youth and amateur sports administrators—those who are truly the caregivers and the gate-keepers of youth sports—can continue to take the steps needed to keep sports fun and a wonderful experience for all of our kids.

We won't always get it right, but we can aim high.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Too much competition, too soon?

There will always be debate about when young kids who participate in youth sports should (if ever) start taking it “seriously”?

Like most people, I’ve been to hockey rinks and soccer fields where kids barely old enough to run, it seems are competing against one another, to see who wins and loses a game.

The focus seems to be on “winning”, not developing skills or just good old-fashioned enjoyment.

When I was a youngster, back in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, I lived in a very small town.  We had a lot of “pick-up” games.  My sports were baseball and hockey.  In winter, we would get together on weekends and grab a big snow shovel, clear off a patch on the river that wound its way through and around our small village—and play.

Same in the summer.  Whoever was available would get together, all ages, and play at our local ball diamond.  Everyone was welcome.  Younger kids got the slower pitches to hit.  Bigger kids faced a bit more of a challenge.

Of course, the world has changed and we are much more “organized” about the way we view and handle youth sports.  Some of that is good.  There is (usually) better coaching, more safety awareness, just generally more education around sport.

At the same time, we have lost some spontaneity, for sure, as kids are often pushed into highly competitive situations.  Many “burn out” quite young.

In short, because of parents, coaches, too many tournaments or just too much pressure, they quit.  They lose the natural love they once had for the sport.

While I don’t agree with all the views expressed in the following piece from a writer at ESPN, it’s a worthwhile read:

It never hurts to look in the mirror and see if our own values around youth sport need some re-adjusting…

Friday, August 26, 2011

Young athletes need to be aware of the risks of Twitter use

There are so many examples of the challenges of using “twitter” properly that it’s difficult to pick just a few.

But just recently, a well-known Canadian Football League player, Henry Burris of the Calgary Stampeders (who previously played for the Chicago Bears in the NFL), was alleged to have used some highly inappropriate language on his Twitter account.

Burris denied that it was him, the suggestion being that his account must have been “hacked” in some fashion.

As this story was unfolding, a Mississippi State NCAA football player was thrown off the team (and presumably saw his scholarship taken away) when he publicly blasted a coaches’ decision to redshirt him (which essentially meant he would sit out the upcoming college season and not play until next year) via his Twitter account.

Society has fought for freedom of expression, and that is a precious right.  And Twitter and related social media tools give everyone—whether in business, entertainment, politics or on a personal level—a wonderful opportunity to share views, opinions and express themselves in interesting and often creative ways about matters important and not so important.

But we all, especially young athletes in the public eye who may find this kind of freedom of expression platform awfully tempting, still need to understand the power of the words that we use and the impact—sometimes negative—they can have.

Unfortunately, those words will sometime boomerang back against us, and cause unnecessary harm.

In a world where communication has become almost too easy at times, when it comes to social media especially, it’s wise to think twice, and maybe three times, before we “hit” the send button…

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Teamwork matters—whether in youth sports or the pro game

We often post here on what may seem old-fashioned values in youth sports:  character, sportsmanship and yes, teamwork.

So it was interesting to see an article online this by the respected columnist Peter King of Sports Illustrated.  He writes about the Green Bay Packer organization, and the values it tries to uphold.  Of course, Green Bay won the National Football League Super Bowl championship at the end of the 2010 season and as importantly, presides over a heritage that has included names like Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi and Hall-of-Famer Bart Starr.

Now, the organization is run under the direction of General Manager Ted Thompson and Head coach Mike McCarthy.  The team leader is quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers was supposed to be a very high first-round selection in his draft some years ago.  But he was passed-over by several teams in what became a potentially devastating and ego-deflating moment.

Then came three years of sitting on the bench, before the opportunity to start and progress as a professional player.  Yet his work ethic, attitude and leadership eventually helped lead his team to a championship just a few short months ago.

King highlights a refreshing outlook and attitude in his post:

"It's funny,'' Aaron Rodgers told me. "When I was sitting in that Green Room at the draft in New York, and I was dropping, and no one would pick me, the last thing I was thinking was it was a good thing. But I'm glad I got to fall way down. I should be here. It's the place for me. The game is bigger than us. The team is more than us. It's a community team, blue-collar and understated and not at all about self-glorification. Vince Lombardi put it that way: Winning is the only thing that matters. It's about the team.''

We're in a me-first era. In most places maybe, but not in Green Bay. Not with Thompson and McCarthy and Rodgers, the leaders of this group. I have no idea if they'll repeat (a dirty word to McCarthy, who thinks every year is a new year with new players), but I do know they've created a model that every youth coach, every high school coach, every college coach and, yes, a whole lot of pro coaches would be smart to emulate. It's not just something they say in front of the minicams, and then sneak off to New York to make a commercial for Visa. It's who they are.

It’s not fair, perhaps, to expect youngsters to have that mature an attitude at an early age.  Rodgers himself had to grow in terms of humility and self-awareness—and he was a grown man, an adult.

But youth coaches can certainly share this kind of article by Peter King with their young players,  if only to shed some light on at least one aspect of what it means to be a “team” player.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Jim Thome: On being a professional

We all have heard the expression “he (or she) is an even better person than they are an athlete....”.

Sometimes, it’s an exaggeration.  But in the case of Jim Thome, the long-time major-league baseball player, it may just be accurate.

Thome has been in the game at the major-league level since the early 1990s.  He has played through the infamous steroid era, though he has never been one of those players associated with performance enhancing drugs.  He is a power hitter, but his power by all accounts is "natural".  He was raised, if I’m not mistaken, in a small farming community, and built his strength working at home.

I’ve always heard that Thome is a genuine person.  But an article this week at ESPN.com verified that, beyond his rather significant exploits on the field (he has hit almost 600 home runs, a staggering total) he sets a tremendous example for all of us, including young athletes, because of the way be behaves off the field.

If you have a moment, read the following piece from Buster Olney at http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/blog?name=olney_buster&id=6846332

It sheds some light on an interesting professional athlete who may be one of the relatively few who truly puts himself in the shoes of others.

Young athletes who aspire to be "pros" but don't really know it it means would do well to emulate Thome.

Monday, July 18, 2011

NFL star James Harrison and a lesson about being a teammate

James Harrison of the National Football League Pittsburgh Steelers is one of the top defensive players in his profession. Though not drafted out of college, he has gone on to a stellar career on one of the league’s top teams.  He is a rugged, talented player.

In a recent interview with Men’s Journal Magazine, Harrison reveals his views on the commissioner of the league, some former players-turned broadcasters and, maybe most importantly, his own teammates.

Now, professional athletes, like the rest of us, have every right to express their opinions on all kinds of subjects. The thing that caught my attention, though, as someone involved in youth sports for many years, were his specific comments about two teammates, running back Rashard Mendenhall and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He apparently blamed them in part for the Steelers losing a Super Bowl a few years back.

The Associated Press picked up excerpts from the original story, including the following comments:

Harrison also criticizes other NFL executives, Patriots-turned-commentators Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi (“clowns’’), Houston’s Brian Cushing (“juiced out of his mind’’) - and even teammates Rashard Mendenhall and Ben Roethlisberger for their performances in the Super Bowl loss.

Harrison calls the running back a “fumble machine’’ for his fourth-quarter turnover.

Mendenhall said on Twitter yesterday he didn’t have a problem with what Harrison said “because I know him.’’ But he also included a link to his stats from last season, which show he didn’t have a pattern of fumbling.

Of the quarterback’s two interceptions, Harrison says: “Hey, at least throw a pick on their side of the field instead of asking the D to bail you out again. Or hand the ball off and stop trying to act like Peyton Manning. You ain’t that and you know it, man; you just get paid like he does.’’

Again, everyone is entitled to their views. Star athletes tend to have a broader platform than the rest of us, and some use it well. Others not so well.

I don’t have any noteworthy views on the rest of the article (again, like everyone, athletes can absolutely express their views freely on all kinds of subjects) but when it comes to talking about teammates, when a pro athlete criticizes in the way Harrison evidently did, it is a concern.

In youth sports we try to encourage not only the importance of being part of a team, but what it means to actually be a good teammate. Going after your fellow players in print is not a good thing and sets an unfortunate example.  Too many youngsters (and people in general) are already well prepared to "blame someone else" when their team struggles.

Harrison has quickly apologized for some of his comments, which is good to see. Hopefully his message, if given the chance when speaking with impressionable youngsters, will be that blaming others for defeat is not appropriate. Good teammates simply don’t do that—at any age, at any level of play.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Canada’s Christine Sinclair sets an example of courage on the field

Medical specialists have quite rightly grown increasingly concerned in recent years about the rise in concussion-related injuries in sports, from the professional ranks on through to the youth sports arena.

We know more about injuries, concussions and proper precautions and treatment than we did in previous generations, thankfully. But many sports are played with such intensity (sometimes with bigger-than-ever-before athletes) and at such fast speeds that injuries are bound to occur.

Athletes—and coaches and trainers along with parents, at the youth level—have to be aware and be vigilant, for sure.

That said, people still seem to love the sports stories when an athlete fights through pain and returns to the field of play—whether it’s a baseball diamond, a basketball court or in hockey, the ice.

The recent exploits of Canadian national women’s team captain Christine Sinclair has set the bar pretty high for athletes fighting through physical adversity. After having her nose re-located by an opponents’ flying elbow in the opening game of the ongoing Women’s World Cup, the Canadian international returned to score a brilliant goal—the highlight of the early going in the event that is played out on the biggest stage there is for women’s soccer.

There are many great stories (true stories) of sporting legends who left their mark in part because of their courageous efforts, returning to battle after a serious injury. Examples?

Willis Reed played essentially on one leg in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA finals against the LA Lakers. (After being unable to even warm up, he limped onto the court just before game time). Then there was Kirk Gibson of the Dodgers hitting a game-winning pinch-hit home run in the 1988 World Series when he could barely stand up, much less run, because he was in so much pain.

I could cite many other examples, but Sinclair’s heroics in a losing cause will obviously be remembered for a long, long time to come and will rank right up there with the exploits of other great athletes before her. (It may also dispel the notion that women’s sports somehow don’t measure up to what “the men” can do…)

The message for young people is not to play when you are at medical risk. Rather, it is that, when things get tough (and that can mean a lot of things in life and in sports), how will you react?

Will you get back up after being knocked down and keep plugging, keep working, keeping believing in yourself?

Or will you walk away, let discouragement take over and maybe even quit—on an opportunity, on teammates or possibly even yourself.

Those that keep fighting and believing in themselves have a bright future. Sinclair’s on-field example should prove a bit of extra inspiration for many of us, young and old.