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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on USYouthSoccer.org every Monday.  A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom". 

 

Walks of Life

Susan Boyd

In high school, groups were differentiated by specific characteristics. The group you were in often dictated your level of popularity, even acceptance during those formative years. There were the "jocks," the "nerds," the "brainiacs," the "beauty queens," "teacher’s pets," "theater geeks," and so forth. Students might move among groups, but there was usually one defining group for every kid. When we move on to college and/or family life, we assume these stereotypes are left behind, but we discover that based on location, economic level and education, adults tend to "herd" into fairly similar groupings. So when our children join a youth sports organization in our communities, we find ourselves on the sidelines with other parents in the same social and professional set limiting our exposure to a wider world view. However, youth sports can also be the medium for moving beyond our boundaries and finding friends and experiences that aren’t part of our usual routine.
               
As kids narrow down to the sport that is their passion, the clubs that cater to those talents and interests are often found far from our usual base of operation. These clubs attract the best players without regard to race, religion, economics or education. Instead of playing with the neighborhood carpool crowd, our children are now becoming teammates with kids from all walks of life. The defining characteristic of these groups is "the team." We parents have an instant connection to the other parents because we share the desire to see the squad succeed, we all have to get our kids to practices, games and tournaments, and we occupy the same sidelines as we cheer them on. No matter where we came from, for those hours every week that we participate in the team events we all share common goals.
               
Youth soccer has afforded our family the opportunity to learn about cultures, religions and traditions that we would probably have never come across or sought out. When Bryce was U-15, our community’s team dissolved and we had to scramble to find him a spot. As a goalkeeper, his options were limited. At his high school, a Jesuit all-boys school in Milwaukee, he played on the soccer team and through that connection had a teammate invite him to join his team, which was one of the many ethnic clubs found in the city: The United Serbians. I barely knew where Serbia was, much less its history and social structures. The soccer field was on the grounds of the local Serbian Orthodox church that also held a social club. Dozens of weathered enthusiastic old-time players came to every practice and game, speaking in their native tongue. They urged the team on and took every loss very personally. On significant religious holidays, we were invited to share in the celebration in the church including all the wonderful, new, dare I say exotic, foods. Many of the players’ parents were immigrants who came to the U.S. prior to or during the Yugoslavian wars in the 1990s. While I knew about these conflicts involving Bosnia, Croatia, Albania and Serbia and the charges of genocide, to hear the stories first-hand and learn of the horrors these families experienced gave me a significant window into history. Many of Bryce’s Serbian teammates had come to this country before they entered kindergarten, and they lived with limited financial means, yet their generosity both of material goods and spirit was amazing.
               
Robbie guest-played for the Croatian team, sworn homeland enemies of the Serbians. We got to hear the other side of the story concerning the conflicts. We also got to share in the culinary specialties of Croatia both in Milwaukee and at an international Croatian tournament in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. At the tournament there were stands selling Croatian crafts, music, clothing and national political items, such as flags and bumper stickers. The rivalries among the various Croatian teams from around the world were as intense as the rivalries between Croatia and Serbia in Milwaukee. I really enjoyed walking around the grounds, speaking to the vendors, admiring the handicrafts (particularly the lace), and learning more about this nation that again I knew existed but beyond that was ignorant of the daily lives, history and politics of the country.
               
Bryce had a coach from Argentina and Robbie had a coach from Puerto Rico who both had close connections to the Hispanic communities in Milwaukee. They actively recruited players to the club giving our suburban-based group a shake-up in talent and exposure. Parents of the Hispanic players would bring pots of warm food on those cold November days as the season waned. We feasted on tamales, skirt steak and burritos. Robbie’s team actually joined a Milwaukee Hispanic summer league so that we attended dozens of games in the city on fields that lacked in grooming what they gained in celebration. Food trucks, vendors selling national uniforms, family picnics during the games, and a hodge-podge of cultural experiences from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and El Salvador intertwined to showcase the wide variety of traditions, foods and loyalties. Lumping all these nations under the umbrella of Hispanic removed the wonderful diversity of each country represented on the pitch, just as lumping all European nations as Caucasian would diminish the range of customs found in individual societies. 
               
Beyond the cultural experiences of moving outside of the local soccer club, we came in contact with people in careers as diverse as any working population. Our town is primarily white-collar professionals, so although one father might be a broker and another mother a professor, their overall experiences were similar financially, politically and socially. As our sons became more involved with clubs far outside the boundaries of our community, we came in contact with a wide spectrum of labors: mechanics, utility and factory workers, gardeners, farmers, salvage proprietors, even a rodeo rider. Their discussions about what they encountered during a work day gave a richer perspective to what we do in building our lives, our communities and our nation. Things I had taken for granted I found others had no experience with while on the other hand I had missed out on some really interesting activities in which I now had the chance to participate. Through our contacts with these families we found not only great plumbers, landscapers and mechanics we could trust, but friends we might never have approached. 
               
Finally, youth sports, and youth soccer in particular, take you to places you might never visit otherwise. We’ve played in the middle of Amish country, faced teams made up of American players with significant but rarely experienced cultures such as Sikkh and Hmong, participated in local celebrations involving things like tractor pulls, rodeos and music, took in museums dedicated to community events and history, such as windmills or factory work, and played against national teams from countries as diverse as Trinidad-Tobago and Mexico. Bryce even played against the British Royal Navy team. As we traveled to more than two dozen different states, we learned about our geography and our national cultural fabric. Taking a vacation to a luxury Jamaican resort is a lot different than playing in Jamaica against a Jamaican club. We got to move outside our suburban or urban or rural cocoons to make discoveries about people, their occupations, their lifestyles and their culture just by participating in soccer. We sampled unusual regional cuisine that ranged from alligator fritters to elk steaks to yak milk cheese. And we often shared those meals with teammates that came from diverse backgrounds offering us the opportunity to experience these foods for the first time together and reveal our reactions. We learned local histories and walked through neighborhoods with very different architectures. Moving through varying climate zones, we’ve gotten to discover different flora and fauna and how those affect living decisions for residents. We’ve been invited into the homes of families in far-flung tournament destinations, sharing our love for soccer while learning about the differences which distinguish us.
               
We may not always choose to step outside our comfort zone, but youth soccer can literally "boot" us into new worlds. I consider myself well-educated and well-travelled, yet I am constantly amazed by how little I have actually had the privilege of experiencing. When we pull into a new city, or welcome a new team member, or share a religious or ethnic holiday with teammates, we make the special discoveries that broaden our thinking and introduce us to new adventures. I certainly encourage families to expand their horizons during this short time that your children are participants in a sport with global involvement attracting people from all walks of life.

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Holy Cow & Other Odd Soccer Field Sightings

Susan Boyd

When you travel to a soccer game you expect to see a field with lines and two netted goals. Sometimes you’re greeted with bleachers and/or team benches. On some "elegant" fields you might encounter a clubhouse and a concession stand. City parks may offer a playground. But, for the most, part we’re happy just to see a lined field and goals. However, on occasion, we come across some truly unusual soccer curiosities that crop up now and then over the course of our children’s soccer experiences.
               
The best soccer fields have irrigation systems, which help maintain a smooth, velvet surface. When well-mowed, these verdant living surfaces can be wonderful to play on. That is until the irrigation system decides to kick in unexpectedly. I’ve been to two games where this happened. Without warning, these tiny seemingly benign metal nozzles pop up from the blades of grass and then explode into a harsh mist saturating the entire pitch. Depending on circumstances, this sudden shower can be refreshing, bothersome or frightening. On a hot day, it is probably some welcome relief, but overall it’s merely aggravating. It also can pose a safety hazard. I’ve seen kids suddenly trip over the spigots that appear unannounced and without water to signal their positions. I’ve heard of kids who ended up with serious injury falling on the metal outcroppings. That’s a discovery none of us wants to make.
               
On a particularly stormy day we had an important game southwest of Milwaukee on a field none of us had ever visited. As we watched the increasingly ominous dark clouds filling the sky, we drove to the location wondering if we would play the game at all under heavens that seemed sure to shatter open with lightning. Sure enough, as we rounded the last curve into the park the sky lit up with a sharp blast. Surprisingly, the game before ours was continuing oblivious to the danger of the storm. Again, the air cracked with a brilliant light and piercing pop of thunder. And still the game continued. Naturally we were not only puzzled, but concerned for the young players moving seemingly unaware of the chaos around them. A mother from the opposing team approached us. "Sorry about the conditions." Unless she was Thor’s proxy, I really felt there was little she could do except get those kids under shelter. "The transformer acts up now and then." She pointed to her left just as a brilliant flash escaped the metal box at the corner of the park. "Don’t worry, it’s safe…as long as you don’t get too close. The inspector assures us it’s just an internal arc that doesn’t affect service and doesn’t travel anywhere." I mentally made a measurement of how close this electrical widow-maker sat to the corner flag. How could it be safe? I actually began to pray for lightning, which I felt had to be safer than this belching box of electrons. Nevertheless, we played the game, and the natural storm never interrupted us once. The transformer "spoke" about forty times. I expected a curtain to pull back and reveal the Wizard of Oz.
               
Balls from nearby games often fly onto the field, interrupting the action. Players wait patiently for an appropriate break or an opening on the field before retrieving their ball. Sometimes a player on the field will take pity and kick the ball out to the pacing competitor. But what do you do when the object flying onto the field isn’t a ball but is an umbrella that escaped from the sidelines two fields over on a particularly rainy and windy day? That umbrella took on a life of its own, skittering across the field as the game continued. It seemed to know exactly where it could cause the most trouble, weaving in and out of plays like Wayne Rooney on his way to the goal. No one wanted to stop and chase it because some serious soccer continued despite the obstruction. The referee couldn’t stop the action nor could he pursue the umbrella because he had to position himself properly to oversee the game. So we all watched this ballet helpless to bring the curtain down. The temptation would be to just kick the ball out of bounds to give time to snag the umbrella but this game was closely contested and neither team wanted to give up any advantage. So for five or 10 minutes, the situation continued until just as suddenly, a sharp shift of wind sent the parasol skittering off the field … and onto the next to choreograph another dance of obstruction.
               
Speaking of wind, we arrived at our club fields for the first spring season game only to find that two of the portable outhouses had been upended by a storm the night before. Unfortunately they had landed on the big field. These blue plastic behemoths had to be not only righted, but carefully moved to mitigate leakage. This was no easy task because their "ballast" shifted with every move. Suddenly, everyone became structural, mechanical and hydraulic engineers offering a multitude of solutions. As the clock ticked down to the start of the game, we enlisted the help of the opposing team and parents to carefully haul the structures off the pitch. Every time I see an outhouse, I have nightmares of them toppling over and rolling unfettered onto the grass. Just three months ago, a handicap accessible potty tipped over backward at the edge of a field in Chicago. Luckily no one was "on board" and it fell away from the pitch, but I empathetically didn’t envy the people in charge of righting the building.
               
By its nature, soccer requires wide open stretches of flat grassy territory. With the rapid expansion of youth soccer, more and more acreage is being sought to provide playing surfaces. So it’s not surprising that fields are often far outside city limits, where cost per acre and taxes are usually lower. Pushing the boundaries further into the wilderness, soccer pioneers in Toyota Sienna wagons roll into unchartered, untamed territory in pursuit of wide-open spaces. We encroach on the wildlife that often used the fields to feed and roam. I’ve been at games invaded by turkeys, deer, geese, even a lone coyote that behaved in the superior, entitled manner of an animal in his habitat trotting onto the field, then refusing to leave. We arrived at fields so filled with goose poop that the players struggled to retain their footing. I’m sure the kids would rather have played on frigid slippery ice than gross, sloppy excrement. 
               
On a field out in the country and bordering a cemetery, we were contentedly in the middle of a great game, when out of the tombstones wandered a cow – a holy cow. Anyone in Wisconsin knows that cows are not the brightest animals on earth. They may live in herds, but they resist being herded. In the middle of an electrical storm they head to the biggest tree in the otherwise empty field tempting Vulcan’s arrows. They are docile, stubborn and deliberate in their movement. So getting a cow off the soccer field requires more than a red cape or yelling "Yee Hah." Soccer fields are wonderful for grazing, so no hungry cow relinquishes that moveable feast quickly or easily. At least that’s what we discovered. Here’s what we tried: "Yee Hah" – okay you knew we had to try it, placing a rope (actually a series of bungee cords) around its neck and tugging, a few brave (a farmer would say stupid) souls tried to push from behind, someone even had the brilliant idea to turn on the irrigation system, and, of course, the proverbial carrot and stick, except it was an apple and a golf club. None of these worked. The cow just meandered across the lawn, totally unperturbed by a thing we were doing. As we were contemplating having to forfeit the game, a pick-up truck hauling a wagon backed into the parking lot and the driver hopped out of the cab with a fly swatter. Opening the door of the wagon and lowering a ramp, he made a great show of the action with as much noise as possible. The cow raised her head, looked over to him, and began to lumber towards the truck. The driver walked over beside the cow, flicked the fly swatter on her flanks, and she began to trot to the parking lot. Within five minutes he had her inside the wagon where she stood munching on a crib of hay. "Sorry," was all he said. Then like a mystery superhero, he disappeared into the mist leaving us all to wonder what our next soccer field phenomenon might be.
               

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Head Bangers

Susan Boyd

An explosive book was published last month that exposes the concussion crisis in the NFL. "League of Denial" by two brothers, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, who are reporters for ESPN, takes a critical look at how the NFL ignored for decades the long-term debilitating effects of concussion on thousands of players. They use statistics, interviews, anecdotal stories of particular players, and a review of hundreds of documents referring to the effects of concussion leading to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The leading expert on the subject is Ann McKee, who in 2012 examined the brains of 34 former NFL players discovering 33 showed evidence of CTE. As she put it, when questioned on the extent of the problem, "I don’t think everyone has it, but it’s going to be a shockingly high percentage." Her assessment is borne out by a study of high school athletes in the 2008-2009 academic year by Meehan, d’Hemecourt and Comstock in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. They looked at 544 athletes in various sports, both men and women. Of the players they examined in each of nine sports, they discovered that 56.8 percent of football players had suffered a documented concussion. The next highest percentage was surprisingly girls soccer with 11.6 percent compared to boys soccer with 6.6 percent. Wrestling and girls basketball follow with 7.4 percent and 7 percent, respectively. Girls do suffer more concussions and have a longer recovery time, which has been largely ignored in the discussions about head injuries. Most news stories focus on injuries to boys and men, but the statistics show that we should be closely monitoring females. A 2008 study by Northwestern University showed that 29,167 girls compared to 20,929 boys had concussions in 2005. Given that more boys participate in high school sports than girls and given that boys play football, having the highest percentage of concussion per player population, we should be not only cautiously aware, but seriously attend to the condition in women.
               
Dr. Ann McKee figures prominently in another book by Robert Cantu, M.D. and Mark Hyman, "Concussions and Our Kids," which, as the title implies, explores the causes, effects, recovery and prevention of concussions in youth athletes. Dr. Cantu is one of the founders of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University. Dr. McKee performed studies on the brains of scores of athletes who had died either unexpectedly or from self-inflicted wounds finding widespread abnormalities in those brains. Dr. McKee takes the view that, "We need to do something now, this minute. Too many kids are at risk." Of course, she sees the worst case scenarios, athletes who suffered from CTE, most of them competing at the professional level with intense practices, games and training. However, Dr. Cantu sees mostly young people in his practice who have their routines and dreams shattered by the effects of a concussion. Mark Fainaru-Wada in an interview on "The Daily Show" admitted that he loved the game of football and "its violence" even as he had studied the widespread incidents and after-effects of concussions in those players. As he put it, "They are adult players who now willingly understand and take the risks, so there is no reason for fans to feel guilty." What he neglects to understand is that in order to get to the level of NFL membership, players have to come up through the ranks beginning with youth football, where the risk for concussion is just as great and where the players are too young to make informed decisions on their participation. Where will the new generation of tough NFL players come from if not from the networks of youth, high school and college teams? Parents have the primary responsibility to decide which sports their kids will play, how intensely and for how long.
               
Recently our local NBC affiliate went around to various football games to interview parents after a particularly devastating study on concussion was published. Sticking microphones in front of these parents during games, the reporters asked, "Knowing how serious concussions can be, why do you let your son play football?" Naturally, the responses all tended to the defensive since their parenting had been directly challenged publicly. I wish the reporters had asked instead, "Does your school have a concussion policy?" or "Has your child ever suffered a concussion and how did you handle it?" Obviously, most parents are aware of the possibility of brain injuries in sports, but many may not be aware of the symptoms and proper treatment of these injuries. The choice to allow our kids to play sports, especially sports with a high degree of concussion consequences, can’t be totally dictated by the possibility of any injury. If it was, no one would play. The more responsible approach will be to educate ourselves on how to recognize and treat these injuries. 
               
Concussions can occur without any head-to-head contact, but those types of concussions usually result in the most severe and long-lasting effects. Concussions can happen with any type of jolt to the brain stem or brain itself that could be due to things such as a jarring leap to the ground, whiplash, sudden twist of the neck or shaking of the brain. There are four main categories of symptoms:
 
o   Cognitive: Feeling in a fog, difficulty in remembering things, poor concentration
o   Emotional: Nervousness, irritability, sadness to the point of depression including thoughts of suicide
o   Sleep Disorders: Trouble falling asleep and sleeping more or less than usual
o   Somatic: Headaches, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and noise, dizzy spells, problems with balance, visual problems
 
The latter are the symptoms most commonly associated with a concussion and are the usual immediate signs, but just because these pass doesn’t mean that the concussion wasn’t severe or is "over." Most effects of a concussion can last for days, weeks and even longer. The standard recovery period is 7-10 days of rest from all activities including diminished academic participation. We rest the body, but really it is the brain we need to rest. We need to remove as much stimulus to the brain as possible in order to give it time to heal. This is the element few doctors, coaches and parents consider. However, Dr. Cantu states that this could be the most important aspect of avoiding the long-term effects of a concussion, including CTE. We parents need to be aware of and address all the symptoms.
               
We also can’t assume that a "real" concussion requires that a player be unconscious for a period of time. Going out cold is definitely a serious condition and can be a clear signal that we need to be diligent in treatment. However, many concussions don’t result in a black out, which is why so many go unreported. Therefore we have to look at other symptoms. Athletic trainers and coaches need to be well-versed in how to assess concussive episodes. Many organizations provide laminated cards with key points and questions for detecting concussions. The most comprehensive test has been endorsed by several sports organizations, including FIFA. Called the Sports Concussion Assessment Test 2 (SCAT2), it seems overwhelming but is exactly what coaches and trainers should be administering on the sidelines. The test gives scores that help assessors detail in a more objective manner what used to be done totally subjectively. Many evaluators have expressed amazement at how detailed the assessment is and how it quickly pinpoints serious conditions that would have been previously overlooked. Parents should ask their clubs to print this off and have it kept on the sidelines in the coach’s bag for every practice and game. Most importantly, adults need to err to the side of caution until a child can be assessed by a doctor. That means no reentry to a game with even the slightest concern about a concussion.
               
Now comes the most important question, the question those reporters asked, but it is not being offered to invoke defensiveness: Why do we let our kids play sports that could result in serious, debilitating, even long-term injury? The answer is simple – because kids need to play sports. The benefits far outweigh the anecdotal and statistical data conjured up by the number of studies done in recent years. Kids develop better physically and cognitively when engaged in sports, they learn important lessons about success, failure, collaboration and sacrifice, and they have fun. The real issue is how we mitigate the injury issues that come with doing sports. We have to make sure that kids have the best safety equipment and training possible, that coaches are well-versed in proper management of potential injuries, and that proper emergency equipment be available either on site such a body boards and first aid kits or readily available such as ambulances and EMTs. We also need to be willing to insist that our children take a much-needed interruption from playing should any injury occur until completely cleared to reenter the sport by a physician. Big games will come and go, but a child’s health needs nurturing and protection since it is the only health he or she will have for a lifetime. With all the attention now being paid to the issue of CTE in NFL players, there will certainly be even more research on how to prevent and treat concussions which can only benefit our children. Most importantly, we can’t just be focused on boys receiving concussions or on football being the primary culprit. We need to be vigilant for our girls and for all sports as well. 
               
Some children are more prone to concussive events and unfortunately they may not be able to continue playing the sport they love. Two of my grandsons play football and one plays lacrosse, both of which have concussion issues. My oldest grandson, who is 13, has a teammate who has already suffered his third concussion. His grandfather is a college football coach and he lives in Columbus, Ohio, home to Ohio State, so leaving the game will be difficult. However, this is a decision his parents may have to face soon. There are other activities with less risk for concussion, and athletic children should be able to make a transition to another sport. We have to be prepared to counsel our children properly without taking into account our own dashed dreams for their athletic career. As a nation, we have not taken concussions seriously enough, but over the past five years a number of significant studies have highlighted not only the extent of the episodes but the possible prevention and treatment of concussions. This serious attention to brain injury hasn’t completely trickled down to youth sports, but it has made important changes. As a parent you can ask what your sports organization, club, team and high school have as policies concerning concussion. You can demand that they keep up with the latest studies and standards, including offering them the SCAT2. Significantly you need to be the advocate for your child’s safety no matter what the policies might be. If you expect a higher standard don’t be afraid to demand it for your child. We don’t want our child lying on a medical examiner’s slab at age 50 due to complications from years of concussive episodes and CTE. We’d rather our children were healthy enough to become the medical examiner or any other profession beyond the decade they might be able to play professional sports. In the eight decades of most people’s lives, that’s a tiny sliver of time for a particular achievement, and no one’s achievement needs to be measured solely by athletic prowess.

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Bits and Pieces

Susan Boyd

Every week I read several soccer-related news outlets such as the USSF website, Soccer America, College Soccer News and Soccer Times. These sources give out information on the various youth and adult national teams, college rankings, soccer stories and various soccer matters. However, many of the more interesting youth sports stories come from the general news media. This week seemed to deliver a more than usual number of stories that impact those of us with youth players. The issues raised by this week’s reports cover a wide-spectrum of provocative topics which highlight fascinating ideas affecting youth sports. So this week I decided to look briefly at each of these stories giving you readers a taste of the discussions out there.
               
Last week, it was reported that Peter Edwards in Wales had made a £50 bet with a bookmaker 16 years ago that his grandson, Harry Wilson, who was 18 months old at the time, would not only grow up to be a proficient soccer player, but would actually play on the Wales National Team. When Harry entered as a substitute in a National Team game last Tuesday against Belgium, Peter collected £125,000 (just over $200,000). True, Wales is a country of only three million and only 360,000 of those are 18-24 years old, meaning Harry was one of approximately 180,000 men a year available to be drafted by the National Team. That translates into Peter Edwards having a 1/180,000 chance that his grandson would be a playing member of the Wales National Team, odds that would prompt me to place a bet and further indicate that the bookmaker might have been a bit hasty in taking the bet. Nevertheless, I’m wondering how many parents and grandparents might seek out a Vegas odds maker to lay down a bet on their budding soccer player on the off chance that the tens of thousands of dollars we lay out for our kids to develop into competent athletes might be covered at the end with a well-placed bet. The expenses will certainly never be covered by any scholarship to college or mega-million dollar contract with a USL, MISL or MSL team. We ostensibly lay a bet every day when we write a check to our clubs for that year’s training, or pay for summer soccer camps, or fill-up the car for another trip out of state which will never result in a monetary pay-out. In fact, statistics clearly show that if we invested the money we spend on youth sports in a college fund instead, most of our children would be able to afford an Ivy League education without borrowing a penny! But we make the investment in their sport because they love to play and it gives the family an activity in which everyone participates. We get to cheer our children on, possibly see a bit of the world in the process, and end up with the satisfaction that we all "win" even if we don’t see the results on our bank’s balance sheet. Priceless.
 
Texas has become the symbol for Friday night high school football. They love their teams there, and most towns support the teams with a fervor not borne of a personal connection to any player. Families attend football games well before any of their kids hit high school and for years after their kids have gone on to college, marriage and their own families. It’s a tradition that runs as deeply through the psyche of the population as the waters that run through the Rio Grande. So last week when Aledo High School faced Fort Worth’s Western Hills High School, football fever was in high gear. So was Aledo High School, which by halftime had piled up 56 unanswered points against Western Hills. To rub further salt in the wounds, Aledo is a town of 2,700 to the west of Fort Worth, a city of nearly 800,000 and the 16th largest city in the United States. It was certainly a classic David vs. Goliath tale. When the final whistle blew, the score was 91-0, the true definition of a beat down. Following the game, a Western Hills parent filed a complaint with the Texas High School Athletic Association alleging that Aledo’s coach was guilty of bullying for allowing and possibly encouraging his team to quash its opponent. This is an interesting concept that a team can bully another team by defeating them so decisively. The Aledo coach, Tim Buchanan, argued that he actually kept the score down by using second and third string players, running out the clock, and not using unusual coaching options to run up the score. Even the Western Hills coach stated that he didn’t feel that Aledo bullied his team. Neither did the athletic association, which dismissed the case.
 
This all brings up an interesting issue about playing a game that is properly coached with proper team tactics. Robbie’s club team had a similar situation one summer. They were playing a Super-Y league game at noon and then immediately leaving to go play in the US Youth Soccer National Championships. Their opponent for the Super-Y league brought only 12 players (so just one sub) on day that was well over 90 degrees. Robbie’s team took an early and commanding lead, but his coach had a dilemma. If we played a different tactical game to insure the score didn’t get even more lopsided, he risked his team not going to the championship in top form, but continuing to play "tough" against a weak and poorly manned opponent wouldn’t really yield any better preparation for the team. In the end, he opted for employing unusual tactics moving the offense to the defense, requiring that all goals be headers, and ordering that every player have only one touch before passing. Even with these "rules" in place, Robbie’s team eventually won 12-0. The opposing team groused loudly about the bad sportsmanship we showed. The only other alternative was to either call the game early or to have the opponents forfeit the entire game. And that idea was presented to them, which they refused. The Aledo coach had the same reaction, "How do you tell your kids not to play hard?" I tend to agree. We train our players to a certain level of proficiency making it difficult to ask them to revert to bad habits and weak play. Sometimes games just end up lopsided, embarrassing and painful to swallow. Most of our kids, mine included, have been at the humiliating end of that spectrum. I’m not sure if it is character building, but it is a fact of life that sometimes our adversary is really that much better than we are.
 
We have all heard the taunts from both players and fans that cross the line denigrating racial, religious, social and gender characteristics. Pro players, including all-stars Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah have been fined for using homophobic slurs. Recently, a video went viral of a 7-year-old Jets fan taunting an adult Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan without a single grown-up (and I use the term ironically) putting a stop to his outrageous behavior. As one authority put it, "People shouldn’t become numb to it and tolerate it." And that’s exactly what is beginning to happen. The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which oversees all high school sports, has issued a ban on biased language at any game that has officials. They are the first state to do so, but several other states are looking at New Jersey’s policy with the idea of creating their own. The ban is read to all players and coaches by the referees, who carry a laminated card outlining what language will result in immediate removal from the game and a report to the state’s Division on Civil Rights. The same rules are read to fans over the loudspeaker before the opening play and fans are subject to removal from the game and prosecution by the Civil Rights authorities. The issue came to head last Thanksgiving in a game between Paramus Catholic High and Bergen Catholic High when the Bergen fans began taunting Paramus player Jabrill Peppers, who is black, with racial epitaphs and signs such as "Peppers Can’t Read." Fans also wore prison stripes, a clear reference to Peppers’ father who was incarcerated at the time. The Paramus coach, who is white, also came under fire for supporting his black players. The level of disrespect, vulgarity and bigotry had reached a level that people could no longer ignore. My sons are African-American and Hispanic, so they have faced their share of bigoted comments from fans, players and even their own coaches. But the ban extends to all levels of biased language, including religious bigotry and homophobia. The ban is so important that swearing may not land a player in hot water but using the "N" word or calling any player a homophobic name will result in a one game suspension and disciplinary action by the Division of Civil Rights. While New Jersey readily agrees that it can’t legislate an individual into becoming unbiased, the state can insure that public outbursts directed at players as young as 14 won’t be tolerated. As the level of rhetoric at sporting events gets more manageable, perhaps people won’t feel so free to express their own prejudices openly in other venues. Only time will tell.
               
Addressing this issue of language has been the mission of an organization called Athletes Ally. Much of their focus is on gender and sexually biased language, particularly with Russia’s recent declaration on not allowing gay athletes into Russia for the Winter Olympics, but the organization also seeks to curb racially and religiously biased language against all athletes. In an interesting move, Athletes Ally recently took on the issue of language that maligns women and their athletic abilities including phrases such as "You play like a girl" or "Take a knee, ladies" said to male players as a way to demean their abilities. This type of personification of male players as somehow inherently weak and incapable because they are like "girls" has been a pet peeve of mine for years. Both our daughters were athletes as was I growing up, so I know how hard women work and how capable they are. We only have to look to soccer to see the amazing athletic prowess of women. Our Women’s National Team regularly appears in and wins both World Cup and Olympic championships. Diana Nyad became the first person (not just the first woman) to swim from Cuba to Florida. Dara Torres broke her own 50-meter freestyle record at age 40, which she had set 25 years earlier when she was 15. Oh, did I mention she was just a year past delivering her first child? Female athletes train as long and as hard as any male counterpart. Playing like a girl should be a badge of honor for any competitor. 
               
Across the United States and around the globe, sports can serve as an indicator of our social climate. I find those stories fascinating because they highlight our deepest desires and our basest behaviors. Keep your eyes and ears open because sports isn’t just about scores and statistics. Sports, especially youth sports, can be a barometer by which we measure many of our moral and social issues. Sports can produce some lively discussions that range well beyond the field or the court.

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