- The Most Expensive Game in Town
- A book about the business of youth sports
- Just in case there wasn't enough pressure....
- Until It Hurts, the Video
- PGA Championship winner had a real childhood
- A new study confirms an old one on kids and curves
- Paying for a field hockey tutor, before taxes
- A sports parents' guide to concussions
- Swipe your credit card at WorkOut Kid Web site
- Message to sports parents, unbuckle the high chair
- New comedy genre, pushy youth sports parents
- Brilliant youth sports sign of the month
- Will sports parents heed call, limit sports drinks?
- Least Essential Youth Sports Products, again
- What would you do to see your kid in a U.S. Open?
- We interrupt this youth sports blog....
- Before a sports season, a question for your child
- Three books for sports parenting mavens
- Speaking about kids and sports tonight in Darien
- Why is tackle football for 5-year-olds a good idea?
- PBS Frontline looks at high school football
- New cause of concussions in youth sports, Madden?
- Using kid testimonials to sell bats? Not okay
- A kids' baseball tournament with a larger purpose
- Planning to be in Cape Girardeau, Mo. tomorrow?
My friend Jessie Bennett at Beacon Press produced this video.
It has been months since the last post. Ive been writing (and writing). Just not here. Im pleased to say that the official publication date for The Most Expensive Game in Town was yesterday. Its a book on an important subject - the commercialization of sports for kids. I hope it will spur discussion and debate, maybe even modest change. There will be reviews and interviews over the next few weeks. Ill post a few here. If youd like to be kept in the loop about more book stuff, I hope youll "like" the book page on Facebook. Doug Glanville, the former major-league-baseball-player-turned author and essayist, has written a thoughtful piece about whats lost when youth sports becomes as crass a business as every other crass business, and about the book. This article posted to the Time Magazine Ideas Web site today. Thanks to all those who inquired where Ive been and when I was going to get my lazy butt back to work on the blog.
Keegan Bradley, the new PGA Championship winner, set himself apart in so many ways last week. He won one of golfs four major championships in his first season on the PGA Tour. He won with an improbable back nine that included a triple bogey (to drop him five shots off the lead with three holes to play) followed by back-to-back birdies. Even more remarkably, he won the first major championship he ever played in. Theres one more biographical footnote that separates Bradley from other tour pros. He had a childhood. More accurately, he had a normal childhood. Bradley grew up in Vermont, the son of a teaching golf pro. His aunt, Pat Bradley, was one of the most successful players on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour in the 1970s and 1980s. The adults in Keegans life had the good sense to allow golf to be a part of his life, not his whole life. Increasingly, thats an unusual way for kids with sports talent to grow up, as Bill Pennington explained this morning in the New York Times.
Although he is the son of a club teaching pro and the nephew of the L.P.G.A. Hall of Famer Pat Bradley, he did not specialize in golf as a youngster. He did not enroll in a hundred golf camps or travel away from home, boarding in a golf academy. He did not follow the path that is now so common to precocious athletes in most sports across America, which is to say he spurned suggestions he should quit all other sports and play golf year-round. Bradley grew up in central Vermont. He was a ski racer in the winter and a golfer in the summer. “People ask me all the time how I could be a pro golfer from Vermont, and they assume I must have went south a lot,” Bradley said Saturday. “But the truth is that when it started to snow, I put my clubs in the basement and didn’t touch them.”In Until It Hurts, I write about kids who become early specialists. By eight or nine years old, they are full-time soccer goalies or tennis players. A small percentage of these children become fabulous players. They become varsity college athletes, attending school on full athletic scholarship. A few even become professional stars playing in big stadiums and earning millions of dollars a year. Sadly, most do not. They advance as far as their talent will take them, usually high school sports -and no farther. Or the steady diet of one sport - spring, summer, fall and winter - eventually wears them down before they even get that far. As I write in Until It Hurts, they become victims of overuse injuries, ruptured ligaments, growth-plate injuries and the like. Or the sport ceases to be fun. Or what they want to do. So they quit before ever reaching their potential. Keegan Bradleys parents played it right. They allowed their son to have a childhood, to explore many interests and eventually to excel at one. Keegan is the hero this week. Mr. and Mrs. Bradley deserve their own slice of the spotlight.
Back in 2009, I wrote an article for the New York Times citing a study that concluded there isnt much evidence to link curveballs and arm problems among kid pitchers. According to the study, the far more serious problem was overuse - too many pitches thrown over seasons dragging on too many months. It turned conventional thinking about kid pitchers and throbbing elbows on its head. Yet the studys primary author, Glenn Fleisig, was quite sure about which way his data pointed. From the article:
Why for so many decades have most doctors and youth coaches believed otherwise? Fleisig said the evidence had been based largely on anecdotes, and that over the years those stories simply began to sound like fact. “Why did people believe the world was flat? Because one guy told another it was flat and it looked flat. Until someone discovered that it wasn’t,” he said.Fleisig took a lot of heat for the study and for refusing to back away from its conclusions. This week, vindication of sorts. A five-year study conducted at the University of North Carolina and commissioned by Little League Baseball reached the same conclusion. As Glenn said in the Times article, no one is urging ten-year-olds to snap off a curve every other pitch. But data are data, and the curveball apparently isnt as harmful as many of us thought. And I have both hands raised on this one. In 2005, I wrote a piece for the Times lamenting the all-curve all-the-time approach of many youth pitchers at the Little League World Series. I should have been writing about pitch counts.
This makes sense. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) just introduced a bill that would allow you and me to use pre-tax dollars to pay for heath and fitness expenses. So just as we can set aside a few thousands bucks (pre-tax) for medical expenses now, the same could be done to pay for the gym membership, the yoga class, maybe the youth soccer registration. “Regular physical activity is the best preventive medicine we can prescribe,” Brady said this week. “This bill will give people another incentive to get active – to participate in that exercise class, join a sports team, or sign up for a fitness program.” I like the idea. I see a few complications, though. Like what exactly is an allowable expense? I drop my kid off at the batting cage and she goes through ten dollars in quarters. My son enters the New York City Marathon. I sign up my kid for field hockey lessons at $50 a pop. I bought a Nintendo Wii. I bought six Nintendo Wiis. My wife had a baby on Monday. Tuesday, I order Baby Goes Pro on DVD. How far can I push this envelope? Whats truly remarkable about the bill - especially this week - is that its supported by Republicans and Dems. Ron Paul and Earl Blumenauer, who Im guessing rarely agree on what time it is, are co-sponsors. If nothing else, lets give this group credit for getting along.
Recently I completed the manuscript for "The Most Expensive Game in Town: The Rising Cost of Youth Sports and the Toll on Todays Families." Its a book about Corporate America, big money and how theyre changing the games that our kids play. Beacon Press is publishing in March. More about the book - and the reporting that went into it - in the coming months. My next project is a book about kids sports and concussions. This time, Im fortunate to be collaborating with Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon and pioneering expert in the field. Dr. Cantu is an adviser to the National Football League and one of those responsible for nudging the league to a more sensible place in protecting players. Hes also co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, a remarkable organization studying brain disease among ex-athletes. More than 300 pro and amateur athletes have willed their brains to the institute, including the NFL Hall of Famer John Mackey, who died this month after a long struggle with dementia. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is publishing the book. We hope it will be a valuable resource for sports parents and coaches - kids too. Im meeting a number of remarkable former youth athletes whose experiences with concussions have forced them to quit sports. In many cases, theyve turned their energies in other directions, often with the goal of sparing other kids the trouble that came their way. Heres one shining example, a short documentary on concussions created by Catholic University student TJ Cooney. You really ought to take a few minutes to watch this. The Silent Epidemic from TJ Cooney on Vimeo.
In this space, weve commented before on kids barely old enough to cross the street alone yet who are Youtube sports stars - in auto racing, boxing, billiards, tennis, gymnastics. What am I forgetting? Something, Im sure. The billiards champ was two. The prize fighter, all of seven, had a Web site and had recorded a hit single. I just learned about the The WorkOut Kid. Hes ten and - yes, an Internet sensation. The video above has already passed one million views on YouTube. At the WorkOut Kid Web site, there are the usual opportunities to swipe a credit card - $19.99 for the WorkOut Kid DVD, $29.95 for the WorkOut Kid backpack. Kids gyms and fitness training also are the subject of an article this week in Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Interesting piece that mostly explores how fitness clubs are catering to younger and younger customers. From the BW article:
Jeff Martin, director of youth programming for CrossFit Brand X, a health club in Ramona, Calif., claims his business has doubled in the past three years and that the majority of his new clients are underage. “We have kids coming into our gym now who are 2½, 3 years old,” Martin says. Brian K. Maloney, director of fitness and education at New York City’s Visions Wellness Center, believes his gym is attracting a younger crowd mainly because it allows it. “Unlike a lot of health clubs and private gyms, which won’t let you work out in the weight room unless you’re 16 or older, our insurance covers younger members,” says Maloney, who charges $70 and up for pre-adolescent sessions. “We cater to people who have the money,” he says.I see how the adults nudging these kids to center stage are benefiting - financially and otherwise. Still waiting for a sports medicine expert to step forward to say this is healthy for kids. Thank you, Rabbi Michael Green.
A new slant on the sports training for really young kids debate. British medical experts conclude that children under five years old need three hours each day when theyre not strapped or buckled down. That is, time free of car seats, high chairs, jammy jump-ups and so on. From the BBC: "Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, said all young children should be encouraged to be active. "For children that are not yet walking, there is considerable international evidence that letting children crawl, play or roll around on the floor is essential during early years. "Play that allows under-fives to move about is critical and three hours a day is essential." Essentially, the message is that kids need to move to be happy and healthy, that kids who are restrained in various baby contraptions are more likely to be the adults who become immovable objects on the living room couch. I see nothing in the BBC report to challenge earlier assertions in this space that structured exercise programs for babies and toddler are unnecessary. Or a waste of time and money. Just let your kid climb down from the high chair. And let her do what kids do. Thank you, Paula Fernandes.
I fear there will be kindergarteners hanging from rims all over the country. Thanks Ben Hyman.
This sign caught my eye. It hangs beside the first base dugout at the Little League field in Hood River, Oregon. Not your usual 60-foot diamond. This one comes with a view of a snow-capped mountain. What I like about the sign is its dual purpose. Read it once, its a recruiting pitch for new umpires. Read it twice, its an admonition to the adults to keep their opinions - especially, the ones about whether their kid was safe or out at first base - to themselves. "Harassment or heckling of an umpire will be considered a verbal application." Quite brilliant. Thanks to my friend Laurie Stephens, mother of Ryan and Casey, for the tour.
If your childs pediatrician diagnosed a contagious bug and prescribed medication, what would you do? Same as most parents, no doubt. Get the medicine. Give it to your kid. When a childs health is at stake, we tend to follow doctors orders. Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a widely publicized clinical report regarding kids and sports drinks. The AAP recommended cutting back on such drinks for kid athletes. In so many words, the kids doctors group found them to be unnecessary at best, and at times even harmful. Dr. Holly Benjamin of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness noted: “For most children engaging in routine physical activity, plain water is best, Sports drinks contain extra calories that children don’t need, and could contribute to obesity and tooth decay." Its been three weeks since the AAP issued that statement. How many of us have heeded this simple advice? Anyone? The sport-drink industry isnt exactly urging us to shut the spigot. Gatorade, for one, spends tens of millions each year in sports marketing. According to the Sports Business Journal, the four major sports leagues have deals with Gatorade as do a majority of teams in those leagues. Dozens of star players are paid to pitch the sports drink including Peyton and Eli Manning, Dwayne Wade, Kevin Garnett and Landon Donovan. Seventy-four college programs count Gatorade as a sponsor as do 13 college conferences and 11 bowl games. Oh, and Gatorade is a highly visible sponsor of high school sports. Next spring, check out the ESPN Rise National High School Invitational Presented by Gatorade. I did last March. In a gym in suburban D.C., it was me, about 700 fans and about 700 Gatorade logos. Maybe Im off base and water is about to make a comeback as the kids thirst quencher of choice. That would please your kids doctor. It might not make the Manning brothers happy.
As regular readers know, I am drawn to (ok, obsessed with) the shopping habits of sports parents - myself included. Im particularly fascinated by senseless shopping, the things we buy that we truly dont need and our kids probably dont want. Things like....sports-ball furniture. Why settle for the ordinary when you could be sitting on a basketball? "Whether youre decorating your childs bedroom or playroom, create a look their friends will envy!" Retail price, $275. No assembly required. Not even an air pump.
Next week, the U.S. Open Golf Championship. Of 156 golfers in the tournament, five are teenagers. The youngest, Beau Hossler, is 16. Check out these stories about Peter Uihlein and Ty Tryon who will be teeing it up at Congressional. Two kids who put everything they could into becoming tour players. Two stories that make you wonder: Would I let me kid do this? Peter Uihleins father, Wally, tells the Washington Times: "It was tough. It worked for us. We would not recommend it unless you went into the process eyes wide open."
..so I can congratulate my son Ben. The inaugural Presidents Cup in Baltimore was a major success. Eight private and public high school baseball teams participating. A single-elimination tournament. The title game at Camden Yards. Players sporting the caps of historic Baltimore Negro League teams. Honorary captains (and former Orioles) Paul Blair and Al Bumbry. A special appearance by Hall of Famer Frank Robinson. Best of all, a commitment to do it again next year. And in an odd moment, a battle between Gehrig and Ripken (See "Ripken and Gehrig on the same field...at last"). All credit to Baltimore City Council President Jack Young, with an assist from Ben.
This week, I was a guest on the NPR show Radio Times - a good discussion with lots of listener calls. At one point, I retold a favorite story from Until It Hurts - about Michael Stuart and the high-achieving hockey players in his family. Stuart is an orthopedic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minesota. Hes also chief medical officer of USA Hockey - and in that capacity is deeply involved in the concussion debate in youth hockey. (Ive posted video of Dr. Stuart speaking about that). Michael Stuart is also a hockey dad. He has four children, now grown. Three boys have played professionally, two in the National Hockey League. His daughter was captain of the Boston College womens hockey team. So you can imagine how many chilly rinks Stuart has sat in the past 30 years. The story about the Stuart family included in the book is disarmingly simple. Yet it makes a crucial point. Before the start of every hockey season, Stuart told me he would pull his kids aside one by one and ask if they wanted to play that season. As he explained, it was important that they knew the decision was theirs. In no way were they playing to please him. "I didn’t ask the question, because I didn’t know the answer. I asked so my children would know there was no expectation. It was their choice. The point was made to them. “Gee, I don’t really have to play. Dad is even asking me if I want to.” The bottom line for children, or anyone, playing sports is you have to enjoy it. It’s hard to reach your potential if you’re miserable.” The story prompted a great phone call from a mom whod recently asked her kids whether they wanted to sign up again for soccer. Answer: Do we have to? That simplified her decision. This year, no soccer. After the show, I received this message from Chris in Philadelphia on the same point:
I coach a U-12 girls travel soccer team. I coach soccer because I love the game and I love to teach. Soccer is my thing. Both of my children, currently 12 and nearly 15, played soccer but they no longer play. After three years, my 12-year-old daughter and I agreed that she was not enjoying the experience of playing soccer and so she withdrew. While she played, she enjoyed spending time with me and her peers and enjoyed many moments of her experience. My son played for five or six seasons but off the field, broke his toe twice, both times running through the house, in the middle of his soccer seasons. After missing a second season due to a broken toe, this fall, his first on the High School Freshman team, he withdrew from soccer and has decided he will not return. Soccer is my thing, it does not mean my kids need to play. After all, my daughter is taking up writing and my son skateboards at least twice a week. They both have chosen well on their own.
Now where was I...Seriously, Ive spent the last month working (furiously) on several projects. Im up for air now. Im calling attention to several recent books written by friends/colleagues. These would be excellent additions to the nightstand. Elevating Your Game: Becoming a Triple-Impact Competitor. Jim Thompson, the author, is founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance and a fervent believer in coach and parent education. Jim was interviewed about the book and kids sports last month in the New York Times. Daddys Little Goalie. Robert Strauss has written tenderly and humorously about the joy he has taken in his daughters sports life. Its an exploration of the brighter side of youth sports. People who hang around this blog will enjoy the change of pace. Parent Your Best. Jeremy Boone is a strength and conditioning trainer in Charlotte. Even though hes stronger than me, we share many of the same views about over-training, over-specialization and other "overs" spoiling youth sports. Some fitness types nudge kids into starting earlier and training harder than they should, perhaps because its in their economic interest to do so. Thats not Jeremy and I respect him for it.
Tonight, I will be in Darien, Connecticut to speak about Until It Hurts at an event co-hosted by the Darien Library and YWCA Parent Awareness Network. Im especially looking forward to this one, as I have a previous connection to youth sports in Darien. In 2010, I wrote a piece for the New York Times about Peter Barston, an inquisitive 15-year-old and former rec league second baseman who wondered: Why do kids play sports in Darien? To get the answers, Peter launched a survey of hundreds of kids in town and came up with interesting results. The number one reason kids in Darien play sports? Not winning. Not college scholarships. According to Peters research..... Hope to see you there.
As of several years ago, Pop Warner Football sponsors a tackle division for five- and six-year-olds. I have a hard time understanding why. Five-year-olds are not demanding tackle football. The five-year-olds I know demand 10 more minutes at the playground or chocolate milk with their peanut butter sandwich, not tackle football. For those kids who are charged up about the sport, theres always flag football. Kids run around just as much and its far less violent. Why put a helmet on these kids and tell them to run over each other?
The remarkable thing about the sports concussions epidemic is that just when you think you could not be more alarmed about it, you get more alarmed. Tonight, the reporting that stirs the concern is on Frontline and a documentary called Football High. The show deals with many health risks in youth football - not just head trauma but heat stroke, obesity and the mindset that hitting a kid isnt as good as hitting a kid hard enough to crack his helmet. The school profiled is Euless Trinity High School in Texas where these issues seem to be either chronically under appreciated or ignored. One kid tells Frontline, “You’re only 17 once. I mean, I have the rest of my life to worry about pain and stuff like that. I can only, you know, play football for so long. I might as well use the time I have and worry about the effects later.” Thats the kind of thing that 17-year-olds are supposed to say. Theyre 17, after all. The adults are supposed to protect them from themselves. We dont do a very good job of that in sports.
I never thought I could laugh at a story about kids sports and head trauma. I changed my mind. The Onion reports on a growing health crisis - "long-term neurological consequences" from playing Madden football. "The situation is far more serious than we had previously thought," said Vincent Wu, head of neuropathology at the IBIR. "Playing Madden football increases ones risk for a wide range of cognitive impairments, from difficulty focusing, to a decreased awareness of ones surroundings, to a generalized inability to engage with society at large. "Playing so many simulated seasons takes a devastating toll," Wu added. "The human brain was never meant to withstand the brutal impacts of this game." Clever. And a takeoff on a real news story published in the New York Times on Sunday. It revealed that the next generation of the Madden game - Madden 12 - "will be realistic enough not only to show players receiving concussions, but also to show any player who sustains one being sidelined for the rest of the game — no exceptions. Beyond that, in the background, the game’s announcers will explain that the player was removed because of the seriousness of head injuries." So the trick is to play enough Madden to absorb the message without playing so much that you hurt yourself.
My reaction- Has a kid using one of these bats ever swung and missed? Its okay to sell bats. Its not okay to use kids to sell bats.
I was running with a friend this morning. He told me about something quite odd that he had spotted while running through a city park a few days earlier. He hadnt seen anything like it in - he couldnt remember how long. A group of city kids had gathered on a rec field. They were playing pickup baseball. True, baseball may be the National Pastime. It isnt the city game. Not anymore. Equipment is too expensive. Fields in many urban areas are hard to come by. Its perceived to be too slow. It isnt the game of African Americans either. Black players held nine per cent of roster spots in Major League Baseball in 2005, down from 18 per cent in 1991. A company called Scarborough Sports Marketing puts African American turnout at MLB games at eight per cent of total attendance. Thats pretty bad considering that blacks make up 13 per cent of the U.S. population. So, I like Baltimores new Presidents Cup, just announced last week. Its a high school tournament that brings together public and private school kids in a friendly baseball tournament. Its a creative way of using sport to bridge social and economic gaps. And - key factor - a member of my family is involved in the planning.