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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". 

 

You Won’t Know If You Don’t Ask

Susan Boyd

On the heels of Valentine’s Day, it may seem premature to talk about spring soccer. This winter wrapped many of us in deep snow and dangerous ice blankets, so venues even in Texas and south across the Gulf Coast to Georgia aren’t ready yet for soccer practices and games. Nevertheless, team meetings will begin soon, and parents need to be prepared to ask the right questions. The answers will dictate how the spring and summer progress, and they will influence whether or not our children continue to play with the same club. Even though tryouts usually don’t happen until July, we need to arm ourselves with information so we can make informed decisions before committing our money and our time. Asking all the significant questions now will give us the opportunity to see if the answers pan out over the course of the spring.           

We must never be shy about gathering the facts. Parents may worry that if they bring up the worrisome issues of playing youth sports on a team they will be considered troublemakers. My argument is that if that’s true, the club may not be the right place for you and your child. You need to be free to make informed decisions, and since you are paying the fees for your child to play you have the right to know if your money is being spent appropriately for your family’s goals. Clubs should welcome your questions. Laying everything on the table means that everyone will be on the same page. It’s confusion that causes hurt feelings, disappointments and conflicts. Some families will seek out a team that focuses on winning, while others are looking for a team that focuses on development. It’s not about what’s right or wrong for all, but what’s right for your family. To discover the accurate fit, you need to ask the right questions.  I categorize enquiries four ways:  credentials, player expectations, safety, and parent expectations.          

Club, coach and team credentials help you decide if they represent the type of structure you seek. What national organizations is the club affiliated with, since these regulate the club? This makes clear who you can turn to for mediation if you end up having a disagreement or problem with the club. It also establishes that the club is serious about its professionalism. Competitive leagues are generally formed under the umbrella of state and national associations, so which one the club adheres to will dictate in which leagues the teams will play. If you and your children are interested in a more competitive experience, then find out what opportunities exist within the governing organization’s structure. Not only ask “do the coaches have licenses,” but also under what auspices they are licensed, and what level of license they hold. In many leagues, people can’t coach a team without a license even if they are volunteers. Any level license indicates that the club and the coach take the job seriously, want to learn the most advanced techniques for proper coaching, and submit themselves to background checks, a prerequisite for a license. What does the coach do off the field? That helps decide if he or she has interests and skills that mesh with our kids and has activities or a job that could interfere with coaching commitments, such as being a teacher or coaching for another club. Finally, I suggest asking what the team credentials are. Has the core group been together a long time? What is their record in league, tournaments, and state, regional and national arenas? These answers will help you decide if the team is driven enough or too much for you, and if your child could possibly be low person in the pecking order.              

That brings me to player expectations. The primary question most parents will have is what policy the club and coach have on playing time. Often the associations that govern the leagues also dictate playing time issues, so you will also need to ask how these rules are enforced. If you are concerned about playing time, then a red flag for you will be teams that put winning at the forefront. Those coaches will be less amenable towards fielding weaker players for 50 percent or 75 percent of playing time. If you want the winning-team experience and feel your child is strong enough to compete in that environment, then playing time becomes an issue for you if your child is often subbed for a less-skilled player. Be sure you are clear on what those policies are and how they will be enforced. You will also need to know how the club, team and coach treat absences from practices and games and if that policy actually enforced. Bryce’s U-14 team had a number of players who also participated in football, therefore they missed about half the practices and even important tournament games. The club policy was that absences resulted in a minimum of a one game suspension, but the coach never followed the policy because these players were among the most athletic. Therefore, kids who were loyal to the team and its schedule but perceived as having less skills ended up with reduced or nonexistent playing time. It was unfair and ultimately resulted in the team breaking up completely right after the season. No matter which side of the argument you find yourself, you need to know what will be the consequences. What absences will be excused, for example a family wedding, religious ceremonies or family graduations? Parents also need to know what players are expected to have for uniforms (do they have to have warm-ups and an official bag?), how soon before a game they are expected to show up, and what pre-game exercises they need to do.             

When it comes to safety, parents should be diligent. Having coaches licensed means they will have gone through background checks to look for things like predators, felons and those with DUIs. However, there are other safety concerns. You need to ask how many of the coaches and staff have gone through first aid and CPR training. Ask where first aid equipment is kept and how it is monitored — is it restocked regularly and are there people at practices who know how to properly administer the equipment? Are first aid kits available for every team and taken to every game? Does the club have a defibrillating machine? Is there a way to rapidly contact emergency medical and police services and who is in charge of doing that? In other words, is there a medical emergency action plan established by the club to ensure quick and proper response? In these days of cell phones that may seem a silly question, but often fields are in rural areas with conflicting addresses. Emergency teams may not be able to locate the fields. If there isn’t a designated person on the team to make the calls, several calls from parents unfamiliar with the area could delay response. Hopefully the club has contacted police and EMT to give them directions prior to an emergency. What is the club’s policy on lightning? Do they have a lightning detector? Who enforces their policy — individual coaches, referees or parents? Have coaches been briefed on proper concussion protocol? Does your coach have the attitude that players should “tough it out” if they get a concussion? Are players regarded as weak if they don’t return to the game? Is rough play tolerated? Does the coach encourage participants to engage in dangerous play during practices? Is the coach a proponent of dirty play? Robbie played on a team where the coach promoted conflict among the players resulting in numerous injuries just during practices. Again, toughening up players may be exactly what you are looking for, so these types of questions aren’t meant to be judgmental. There’s a style appropriate for every child’s needs and goals. Finally, you should ask what insurance the club carries to cover injuries on the field and during games. While you may have your own coverage, not everyone does. So what will be the club’s liability when it comes to accidents and injury? How much of your fees goes towards insurance? Most importantly the overriding question must be: will you put my child’s safety above all other issues?           

Parents are expected to be part of the team as well, so find out what your jobs will be. Do you need to volunteer a certain number of hours a month? A season? What happens if you don’t meet your commitment? Who enforces this? Can you opt out by paying an additional fee?  In what ways can you volunteer?  How will your hours be recorded and tracked? Many coaches prefer parents don’t attend practices, but that seems to be a nearly impossible condition to enforce. Nevertheless you should find out what the policy is. There are often behavior requirements that clubs try to institute such as sideline decorum, how and if you can contact your child’s coaches, interaction with your child’s teammates, and alcohol. Understanding these rules before traveling to a game or sitting on the sidelines of a practice can prevent misunderstandings. You might also want to ask if there are any restrictions on photographing or filming games. Usually there aren’t, but in some cases the club may have an agreement with a professional service precluding any family recording.              

Clubs should absolutely welcome your questions. In fact, a good club will anticipate these questions with a written code of conduct for the players and parents, a list of safety regulations and applications, an open record of coaching licenses, and a clear history of the club’s affiliations and team records. Clubs should make available to families a list of team members and phone numbers along with parent names. Despite these excellent documents, clubs won’t anticipate all your questions. You’re not a nuisance for asking. Consider yourself a stock holder in the club, which entitles you to know everything about the policies and operation of the club. Who can you approach if you feel your child has been treated unfairly under the rules the club has established? For example, if you have been told there will be 50 percent playing time for all participants and your child has sat on the bench for the first four games, it’s time to find out why the policy isn’t being enforced. It’s also might be time to consider a new club come tryouts. Naturally, you can eliminate many of these problems by determining the actual culture of the team and the history of the coach’s institution of that culture. I always suggest that before U-14, parents look for coaches who promote skill development and fun. But if your child appears to be particularly talented, you may want a more aggressive team at a younger age. Asking the right questions will help you determine if you’ve landed in the proper mix. No matter what you are looking for, answers to your questions will only be as good as following up with observation. A club may promise one thing yet deliver another. So arm yourself with the necessary information and see if it is validated. It comes down to knowing in advance as much as possible — so go ahead and ask.

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Mascot Love

Susan Boyd

In exciting news for soccer fans all over the United States, the second tier professional United Soccer League is aggressively expanding, pledging to add a total of five more teams in 2014 and then adding another half dozen over the next three years. The North American Soccer League also has expansion plans and third tier Premier Development League has moved into smaller markets, making professional soccer even more accessible. The opportunities for families and especially youth players to be within easy distance of professional teams are rapidly becoming as good as Europe and South America. That exposure will help kids observe and rub elbows with a higher level of soccer that will also amp up their own game. Even more exciting, David Beckham announced that he will be bringing an MLS team to Miami. He has already lined up private funding for building a stadium, considered the most important first step in acquiring an MLS franchise. However, I would argue that an even more significant first step must be taken by all these expansion teams — the selection of a nickname and appropriate mascot.              

We are mascot crazy in America. We identify with our sports organizations through their nicknames and mascots, sometimes even more prominently than through their actual names. Teams nurture their mascots as significant branding using them both at the games and at promotional appearances. Kids love to high-five, hug, and occasionally punch their favorite mascot, clamoring to get close to their beloved critters for a picture. Amazingly, many English, Brazilian, German and Italian teams have mascots that never really see the light of day. We don’t identify mascots with our favorite EPL teams. No one cheers Arsenal’s Gunnersaurus Rex running on the field, his spiky tail flickering in the bright lights as he urges the crowd into a frenzy. Sadly, as the number of teams increase, the field of possible mascot candidates narrows.              

Beckham conceded that he and his investors still haven’t come up with a name for their proposed team, although he confirmed it wouldn’t be “Goldenballs FC” after his own famous nickname. In America the team name is important not only to establish the identity of the franchise but to determine the mascot to promote the brand going forward. People need to know what stuffed animal they will be buying their kids, what image will be emblazoned across their T-shirts, what loveable character will be making trick shots during half-time, and how they should be informally addressing their team. We depend on our mascots to serve as the intermediary between the team and ourselves. If we can’t have a picture with Clint Dempsey, then we settle for a picture with Gorilla F.C., the mascot of the Seattle Sounders (yes a gorilla is the mascot of a Pacific Northwest team on the shores of Puget Sound not in the mountains of Rwanda – go figure).              

Seattle demonstrates how difficult it is to locate and select a mascot that makes sense. How did the entire culture of mascots begin? We actually have the French to blame even though America has embraced mascots with far more vigor than any other country. Edmond Audran wrote an opera in 1885, “La Mascotte” with libretto by Alfred Duru and Henri Charles Chivot. La Mascotte translates as good luck charm, and the tale was about a girl who brought fortune to all who came in contact with her. So the purpose of a mascot was to bring good luck. The first serious mascot in America was for the Chicago Cubs and was an inanimate taxidermy bear cub introduced in 1908. Early mascots were all “live” creatures (either caged or stuffed), but eventually they morphed into costumed mascots whose actors must remain anonymous and be mute for some reason. Many teams have had nicknames predating mascots, which did not lend themselves to physical characters, for example Alabama’s Crimson Tide and Indiana University’s Hoosiers. Alabama opted for “Big Al” an elephant, because as we all know, elephants are indigenous to Alabama. Indiana tried out a bulldog named Ox, a bison (not named Bulldog), and “Hoosier Pride” for a short period of time and then just gave up and, gasp, has no mascot. By the way, their school colors are white and crimson, so maybe crimson is a mascot curse. However, most schools with non-mascot evoking names have mascots. For example, Brooklyn College, known as the Bridges, has a bulldog, and Knox College, nickname The Prairie Fire, has a mascot called The Prairie Fire. I’m not sure what it looks like but I’m hoping it’s not a stunt person set ablaze right before the start of a game.             

Knox College points out another difficulty with creating nicknames and mascots. In the past, no one thought anything of naming a team after Native American icons such as Seminoles, Braves and Redskins. Knox used to be known as Siwash, a name referring to certain tribes in the Pacific Northwest, even though the college is in Illinios. However, its French roots (those pesky French again) mean savage, so it became offensive. In 1993, the name was dropped in favor of “The Prairie Fire.” The controversy over names considered racially inflammatory has created serious clashes between fans, owners and the general public. These battles clearly indicate the level at which nicknames and mascots drive team loyalty. Marquette University dropped their Warriors affiliation in 1994 because it was considered to be disrespectful to Native Americans and opted for The Golden Eagles. However, 20 years later there is still a prominent and vocal group who want to return to the Warrior nickname and mascot, circulating petitions and appealing to the university Board of Trustees to approve the change. We have recently seen a tremendous backlash against the Washington Redskins with many sports reporters refusing to use the nickname in their writing, while the Washington front office refuses to consider a name change. Those who defend the names argue that they are honoring Native Americans and their proud history of strength and endurance, while distractors point out the stereotypical behaviors associated with these names such as the Braves’ “Tomahawk Chop,” which have no basis in ethnic traditions. These mascot battles will carry on even if all teams remove their Native American components as evidenced by long standing battles over previous changes.              

With the Olympics in full swing, we are introduced to the mascots of the games. This tradition began with the introduction of mascots at the 1968 Winter Olympics in (wait for it) Grenoble, France. Now we are occasionally confronted with up to five mascots (China Summer Olympics 2008), made all the more confusing with names in the sponsoring nation’s language. The Olympics provide the only significantly recognizable non-American mascots, whose primary purpose is to sell merchandise and create a “cute” visual to promote the games. This policy has backfired several times. Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat during the Australian 2000 Summer Olympics was meant as joke and protest against all Olympic mascots yet ended up becoming more popular than Syd, Olly and Millie, the official mascots. People agreed that Nevi and Glitz for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy were just plain creepy as a human snowball and ice cube. 

Mascots can be so tricky. Just as some children have faces only a mother could love, mascots have constructions only a fan could appreciate. Stanford’s “Tree” looks like Tannebaum on drugs. I recently learned that the costume is homemade by a Stanford Pep Band member, so that may explain its disturbing appearance. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers have “Big Red” as their mascot, which appears to be a giant, gelatinous felt blob. This shapeless mass has a “head” demarked from his “body” by a black swash of a mouth extending clear around what would most likely be his neck. If I were under the age of 12, I wouldn’t want to get within 50 feet of this creature, much less pose for a picture with it. The Texas Christian University Horned Frogs mascot is a mix between the Teenage Ninja Turtles and “Child’s Play” villain doll, Chucky, complete with demonic grin. I’m sure I’m offending the fans of these teams, but if they could look objectively at their mascots I think they would have to agree with me.            

Our family has strongly supported the University of Oregon with its engaging “Donald Duck” mascot. Up the road is Oregon State’s Benny Beaver, a bit less cuddly and the focus of any number of cheap jokes. But out there are worse mascots like a slug, a parrot, a shock of wheat, an artichoke, a spider and a hockey puck. As schools, professional teams, Olympic committees and club teams scramble to find distinctive and appealing mascots, the pool dwindles. It will be interesting to see how David Beckham decides to brand his new MLS team. He may hold a contest to find an appropriate nickname and mascot. I would like to humbly suggest that he stay away from some possibilities: The Daunting Dugongs, South Beach Southies, Flaming Flamingoes, Miami Sunstrokes, Reef Rowdies and Everglade Gladiators. The power of a good nickname and mascot to accompany that name can make or break a franchise. So avoid anything blobby, slimy and/or creepy.

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Hail Mary

Susan Boyd

When I begin to lose faith in youth sports witnessing the absurd competiveness, the overbearing parents, the “professional” emphasis that singles out better players at the expense of others, and the lack of joy in play, I wonder if we can ever find that core experience that translates into fun for all young players. Then a story crops up that renews my faith in the real reasons we play and support youth sports. Last month, an amazing feat was achieved by a high school basketball player in North Carolina, but that wasn’t the complete story. In a richly nuanced and powerfully emotional chain of events, a boy and his team made a strong statement about the power of youth sports to change lives without any of the trappings of ambition, self-promotion and parental intervention.             

Josh Thompson, the coach of Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School in North Carolina, decided to have a “Dedication Game” as they met their rival Mount Airy. He brought an old basketball to a practice and asked his boys to write on the ball the name of someone they wanted to dedicate the game to. Most boys chose a parent, grandparent or another significant adult in their life, like a teacher or clergy. However, Spencer Wilson knew immediately who he would write on the ball, his friend Josh Rominger. Josh wasn’t a teammate or even a classmate. Spencer had met him while undergoing treatment for a rare form of tissue cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma. Spencer had beat the cancer once, but it came back requiring him to have leg surgery when he was 13. Despite weakness, immune problems, and damaged leg muscles, he persevered at basketball, his refuge from the pain, nausea and often hopelessness of his disease. When the cancer returned he was told he had less than a 7 percent chance of survival beyond six months. Then an experimental treatment became available at the National Institute of Health, and Spencer was approved for a trial. In 2011, his cancer went back into remission and his strength and health returned to its pre-cancer levels. His friend Josh was not so fortunate. He passed away from his cancer last year.          

Once Spencer wrote Josh’s name on the ball, he said he felt a burst of strength and optimism. Throughout the nail-biter game, he would touch the ball during each time out and get a new surge of power. He said he felt that Josh was there with him, urging him on. The game eventually wound down to the final seconds with Mount Airy ahead by one and at the free throw line. With only two seconds left in the game and no time outs, Mount Airy missed the free throw. Spencer’s teammate got the rebound and passed it to him at the top of the key. Spencer dribbled once and then heaved the ball 50 feet toward the basket as the clock ticked down. The buzzer went off just as his shot fell through the net, giving Bishop McGuinness three points and the win. Spencer couldn’t believe what he had just accomplished. “It was a dream.”            

Before the game, Spencer wrote a letter to Josh’s mom in which he said, “His joy illuminated the room, and it was always apparent to me that he was special. Just wanted to let you know the impact your son has on my life still to this day. I will never forget him. Play for Josh." Spencer’s coach stated, “It was one of those surreal moments where you know you were part of something bigger than yourself.” These two statements exemplify the best of youth sports. The game was about playing not only for the team, the school and the win, it was also about understanding that no one is more important than the sport. When Spencer played for his friend, he did so without any expectation of glory for himself. He wanted to highlight Josh, and even when the shot went in, his first thoughts were for the role his friend played in the win. Spencer’s parents also had no expectations. His mom stated how difficult it was to watch her son struggle through 15 rounds of chemotherapy and two battles with cancer with little hope of survival. She and Spencer’s father were just grateful that the coach made allowances for Spencer’s treatments and his limitations, keeping him on the squad so he could continue enjoying the sport that sustained him through his agonies. While his shot would certainly make any high school player proud to put on his or her highlights tape, Spencer isn’t looking to cash in on his success. He just wants people to remember his friend. As he put it a week after the game, “Today is Josh’s birthday. He would have been 19 years old. I think of him every day.”            

This message of both hope and dedication enrich the experience of youth sports for all of us. It reminds us that playing a sport isn’t about getting a college scholarship or a professional contract. Those are achievements which may or may not come. Instead we need to live in the here and now, enjoying the  moments of play that occur daily without having to apply each event to some unrealized ambition. Today my granddaughters ran to raise money for their school. They were asked to get pledges for up to 36 laps around the track. My youngest granddaughter just ran her laps and my daughter texted me as she completed 26 still going strong. Eventually she ran all 36 laps plus four more. The event had no winners or losers because it wasn’t really a race other than the runners competing  against their own drive. But in completing the 40 laps, I couldn’t help but think of my granddaughter as a winner for persevering without any reward other than a pat on the back. I wished I could be there to give her a big hug for her day. It’s difficult to remember that youth sports can exist solely for the enjoyment and physical training of our kids. We don’t need any other agenda for them to achieve. We forget that because we are constantly bombarded with stories about 8-year-olds being signed to European soccer contracts and 16-year-olds skipping high school and college to play pro. We are so driven for our children to be the LeBron James of their generation that we forget there is only one of him and there are millions of young players. Having a dream isn’t bad, but sacrificing the fun of childhood in the pursuit of that dream steals from our players and us the opportunity just to luxuriate in the moment.             

My hope is that Spencer’s and Josh’s story will inspire all of us to play selflessly for the joy of the sport. If we can honor the contribution of friends, parents, coaches and families along the way, that would be wonderful. Learning to be part of “something bigger” teaches our children humility and perspective. We would all do well to develop the vision. It is difficult to remember that this is a planet of 6 billion, so the chances of our child being the best and brightest in a sport isn’t even as good as the odds of winning the Powerball. But the odds of our kids having great memories of a childhood well-spent are in our favor if we can remember to provide them love, praise and joy. We always hope that we’ll be the parents of that special one. The irony is that each of us already is the parent of a special child. If that exceptionalness translates into someone as strong and capable as Spencer Wilson and Josh Rominger, then I would say we’ve hit the jackpot.

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Celebration Time

Susan Boyd

The clock is ticking down. With determination and sheer will, the ball ricochets off one player to the next until a player — knowing that time is nearly gone — strikes the ball with blind hope. In legendary “he shoots, he scores” fashion, it sails past the keeper and into the back of the net. The celebration erupts. Players pile on the scorer, and the fans go crazy.             

We’ve witnessed this scenario play out in every sport. Auburn did it to Alabama this season in football, retrieving the ball in the end zone after Alabama’s field goal attempt fell short, then running it back for a game winning touchdown as time expired. Baseball fans love a walk-off home run and love a walk-off grand slam even more. The first post-season walk-off grand slam didn’t happen until October of 2011 when Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers hammered one out against the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series. In August 2007, Georgia won with a walk-off home run against Japan in the Little League World Series. In each of these triumphs there was an eruption of joy from fans and fellow players. In other cases, the last second victory takes a bit longer to evolve. Take for example, a first round match at the 2010 Wimbledon tournament. American John Isner met French qualifier Nicolas Mahut in a contest that wasn’t considered worthy of being broadcast until it promised an unprecedented match length of 11 hours and five minutes stretching out over three days. The match began at 6:30 p.m. on June 22. The third and fourth sets went to tie breakers, bringing play to a halt due to darkness before the fifth set could begin. When the match resumed, the eyes of the world were on a pair of battling players. The fifth set began at 2:05 p.m. on June 23 and as the set evolved into another long tie breaker at 59-59, it had to once again be suspended due to darkness. They continued on June 24 and drove the score to 68-69 in favor of Isner. Then, with a passing shot, Isner secured the necessary two point margin to win the tie breaker 70-68, the fifth set and the match. Isner collapsed to the ground and Mahut seemed genuinely glad, despite his loss, to have the trial ended. These squeaker victories encourage wild and rough celebrations by players and prompt spectators to surge onto the field of play to congratulate their team or player and to share in the emotional moment in a stampede of joy.              

Sometimes in the course of a celebration, disaster can strike. Just this September, Georgia wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell leaped to chest bump Todd Gurley after the latter scored a 75-yard touchdown against rival Clemson. Mitchell landed awkwardly after his leap and ended up with a season-ending ACL tear. Rafael Nadal leapt over the net during a practice match for the 2004 Roland Garros tournament, tripped and injured himself enough to have to withdraw from the event. That same year, tennis player James Blake caught his foot on the clay surface, lurched forward into the net post and broke his neck. Despite the rough guy reputation of hockey, Ryan O’Reilly was injured by a hug. Just last week the Colorado Avalanche player was celebrating a goal with his teammates. During the group hug his shoulder became dislocated, and he had to leave the ice missing the rest of the game and the next one. Soccer isn’t immune to celebration injuries. After Steve Morrow scored the game winner for Arsenal in the League Cup final against Sheffield in August 1993, teammate Tony Adams lifted him up in celebration and broke Morrow’s arm. Morrow was out for the rest of the season, including Arsenal’s FA Cup victory that year. In 2010, Kendry Morales of the Angels hit a 10th-inning walk-off grand slam against the Dodgers. The exuberant team rushed to home plate to congratulate their hero and celebrate their win. The ensuing dog pile quickly turned from joy to concern as Morales’ lower left leg suffered a season ending fracture due to players falling all over him after he landing awkwardly.             

Injury shouldn’t be a reason to stifle celebration as those injuries are rare. We do see fewer tennis players leaping over the net as they consider the possibility of catching a toe or foot on the fly. But players will continue to do their chest bumps and the even more risky head butts following a great score or tackle. Baseball players still pile on when a contest is won by a teammate’s great hit or strong defensive play. Players throw their shirts, shoes, sticks, balls and helmets as they experience the exuberance of a victory. While a celebration can result in injury, everyone seems to take it in stride as an unusual but not unheard of outcome from the physicality of these fetes.               

That is until a few weeks ago. A Little League coach has sued one of his players for injuring him during a celebration. The Sacramento area team needed one run to win their game. The runner rushing towards home plate realized he would score the game winner and couldn’t contain his enthusiasm any longer. As he crossed the plate, he threw off his batting helmet. Apparently the helmet bounced off the ground and then struck the coach in the heel rupturing his Achilles tendon. In most reports, doctors agree that the bouncing helmet wouldn’t have caused the injury, although moving to avoid the helmet and turning his ankle in the process probably snapped the tendon. Nevertheless, the coach felt his injury was entirely due to the player’s actions and filed a lawsuit two weeks ago asking for $100,000 for medical costs and lost wages and $500,000 in punitive damages for pain and suffering. When he was served, the boy’s father at first thought the suit was a joke but quickly discovered the coach meant business. I suspect that a clever lawyer found out the family’s home owner’s insurance allowed for exactly the amounts in the suit for a plaintiff. In a sense, the excuse will be that only the insurance company will suffer. But naturally that won’t be the case. The costs will be passed on in the form of higher premiums for the family and other insured. Possibly, the family will have their policy canceled and be unable to secure a new policy putting their mortgage in jeopardy. Even if the boy’s family should win the case, they would have been put under the financial stress of paying for an attorney and the emotional stress of dealing with a trial. I can’t even begin to think how much guilt this young player will feel if his family suffers some form of financial consequences due to his actions. I’m also certain that any joy he found in playing baseball has been sucked out of him.              

I’m not unsympathetic to people suffering medical problems at the hands of others. Two summers ago, I contracted a rare bacteria at an expensive seafood restaurant. I suffered from a serious loss of fluids leading to extremely low potassium far below that which can cause the heart to seize up. Luckily, I got great care and survived with no ill effects. My health insurance covered all my hospital costs and the doctors’ care, so I had no out of pocket expenses. The recuperation also kept me from returning to teaching that fall semester. But I made the decision just to be sure that this restaurant improved its hygiene and acknowledged that it had created the situation so that future patrons would be protected. I do think people can be made “whole” without going to excess. If this coach had out of pocket medical expenses, it might not be unreasonable for the boys’ family to cover those if it can be established that there was a direct link between the toss of the helmet and the injury. More than that is, as the boy’s father said, “absurd.”              

Beyond the issue of the injury, I take another exception to this lawsuit from a coach. When people agree to the position, whether volunteer or paid, they are accepting the job of being mentors and role models. Teachers, coaches and caretakers experience some form of abuse during their careers and occasionally are injured, yet few will sue the kids seeking some windfall from these circumstances. They understand that part of the job includes some minor risks. This coach could just as easily have slipped while teaching a drill spraining his ankle, or breaking his leg, or tearing his Achilles’ tendon. I would expect a coach to put this incident in perspective and look to the more significant moral role he should be playing. There was no intent or belligerence. This player didn’t attack the coach because he was angry about playing time or the coach’s style. He was a 12-year-old caught up in a moment where he felt suddenly significant. I’m certain that when he realized the coach was injured he felt terrible in sudden, huge emotional nosedive. A good coach would recognize that he or she needs to bolster a child in that circumstance. The coach is the adult who by the nature of his or her commitment has agreed to be a teacher, not just of the sport but of life’s lessons.             

The injury was definitely painful as anyone who has had an Achilles’ tendon rupture knows. But it’s not a life-threatening injury and has a good long-term outcome after healing. I understand that we don’t know all the facts in this case, but the excessive amount asked for in the suit doesn’t lend itself to a positive point of view from outsiders. I’m worried that if this coach wins anything more than unreimbursed medical expenses that it will set a serious precedent for further suits by coaches, referees, fellow players and spectators. We’ve watched basketball players who crash into photographers, cheerleaders and fans behind the basket, sometimes causing physical damage and property loss. The same holds true on the sidelines with football players and soccer players sliding into team benches and referees. Baseball players regularly send line drive foul balls into the stands occasionally striking a fan. Pitchers can seriously injure a batter with a misplaced throw. We don’t even need a celebration to have injuries occur during a game that are accidental. But when these injuries come as a result of a celebration we need to take a step back and view them in the light of good spirits and unintentional fallout. I fault this coach for not taking his role seriously enough to overlook a possible financial bonanza from his player in favor of making this a teachable moment of forgiveness. He could have asked and expected the player to apologize and offer support like volunteering to mow the coach’s lawn until he can get around on his own. Celebrations should be a way to validate a player’s and team’s performance, giving them a sense of self-worth and pride. They also should be a way to teach players to learn humility in victory. But they shouldn’t turn into a lesson in crass materialism. I don’t see that behavior as anything to celebrate.

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