Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘sports’

Update on Death of the Three Sport Athlete: Sully’s Take

One of my older pieces on the Death of the Three Sport Athlete brought a brilliant response from Sully, a friendly acquaintance with whom I share 170 single degrees of separation. You see, Sully was/is a much more talented athlete than I, but like most of us back in the day he was a three sport athlete through high school. Also, like many of us, he shares a certain disdain for those who would push youngsters to specialize in a single athletic pursuit as a child.

“Intelligent movement, Intelligent thinking and intelligent emotion are all learned behaviors as a child develops into an adult. Development requires committed adults to teach a child each of these qualities. What parent or educator would consider signing their child up for ONLY math classes beginning in 9th grade?”

That’s about as good a response to the decision as I’ve ever heard.

 

The Right Decision

There are some really big decisions in a life. I mean huge, consequential decisions that simply must be made. To do so is very, very hard. There is simply no escaping that fact. You reach a point where you have to make a call on something that matters. Really matters. Like, rest of your life hinges on your decision matters. As part of this monumental process you must make peace with the concept of “certainty”.

You can–you really must, actually– be certain that this is a really big decision, but you must at the same time be cognizant that you cannot be certain that you are making the best decision possible.

I am forever in search of a better vocabulary to describe things I know or things I feel very deeply. In that never-ending search I came across an article about the former GM of the Philadelphia 76′ers, Sam Hinkie. Mr. Hinkie is a polymath who is at any particular time either wildly sentimental or icily objective. Fascinating guy, actually (you can read the article in SI 12/5/16). Throughout the article it was somewhat difficult for me to establish common ground with him (except for our shared devotion to precise language) until I came upon a brief discussion of “certainty” in decision making. Both Hinkie and I had the same decision to make–to prioritize our courtship and subsequent marriage over other pursuits like education and vocation–and we both not only made the same call but continue to describe it as the best call we ever made.

We were certain of its importance, and in response at some point we went “all in” on the decision. Here is Hinkie on the process:

“You have to be careful that you are thinking reasonably. People are too willing to scratch the itch of the near thing. Discipline is the difference between what you want and what you really, really want…I think people often don’t bring that kind of rigor to whatever it is, if it’s important. Because they’d rather make lots of little tiny decisions that a few big ones.”

Certainty is a sword that cuts both ways. One cut you control is the one of knowing that something is really big. Something you really, really want. Something that matters. The quality of the next cut depends on your decision making process: are your motives proper? Are you making the decision in such a way that you not only maximize your chances of success, but at the same time minimize the likelihood that you will suffer remorse at the outcome? You cannot be certain that you will make the right decision, but the only way forward once you are certain about something is to pour everything you have into whatever that thing is.

Hinkie: “What wouldn’t you pay to make it so, if it’s right?”

The Other Side of the Stethoscope: A Surgeon Undergoes Surgery

You know you have a problem when T’ai chi hurts. Quite a come down for a guy who’s been doing CrossFit for 10+ years to be so uncomfortable that this ancient Chinese exercise causes enough discomfort that I have to sit down. Oh, it’s nothing exotic or even interesting. I have a companion sports hernia to the one that was fixed 16 years ago (note for CrossFit haters: 6 years prior to discovering CrossFit) to go with a couple of inguinal hernias. A quick little visit to Dr. Google reminds me that weakness in the pelvic floor is an inherited trait. I have a very vivid memory of my Dad joining us for a golf boondoggle wearing a monstrous, medieval apparatus called a truss to hold his hernia in while he played. Again, not CrossFit-related, but definitely messing with my CrossFit Rx for health.

It’s really weird being a patient. On the other side of the stethoscope as it were. I’m not under any illusions that my experience is a run-of-the-mill patient experience. After all, I’m a mid-career specialist who is going to have surgery at the hospital where I’ve operated for 25+ years, one that is run by my own internist and good friend. My surgeon was chosen after talking with the surgical assistants who see everyone operate. They told me who THEY would let operate on themselves and their families. My pre-op testing was arranged around my schedule in a way that was most convenient for me, the patient, and not the hospital, surgeon, or system. I picked my surgical date to coincide with a planned 4-day weekend.

Like I said, not your typical experience heading into surgery.

Nonetheless, this whole patient thing is strange. As a surgeon I am accustomed to being in control of any aspect of the surgical process I care to be involved in. Whether to do surgery and what kind of surgery to do are decisions in my hands. My herniacopia surgery? Not so much. I know that my surgeon is planning laparoscopic surgery, and that both inguinal hernias will be fixed for sure. There’s no way to know the extent of their effect on my most pressing symptoms (see what I did there?), but now that I know they are present I am hyper aware of what they are doing to me in addition to my presenting symptoms. Here’s the rub: I am convinced that it is the Spygelian or sports hernia that’s messing with me, but since it is not obvious on my pre-op CT scan my surgeon is not promising that it will be fixed. There are few things more distressing to a surgeon than not being in control of surgery, and despite all of the wonderful advantages I enjoy because of who I am, what I do, and where it’s happening, this side of the stethoscope is distressing.

What’s the big deal, then? He doesn’t see a hernia he feels is worthy of attention and only does the 2 basic, standard issue inguinal hernias. Less surgery is better than more, right? Sure. Of course it is. Unless it’s not, and that’s the big deal. I had discomfort and weakness as a 40 year old due to a Spygelian hernia on the left side. That hernia was diagnosed by a classic old-school general surgeon without any fancy imaging tests. Just an eerily well-placed index finger and a loudly yelped “YES” when he asked me “does it hurt right here?”, and off to the OR. Why he didn’t fix both sides then I’ll never know, because it was only a matter of time until the right shoe dropped.

Although CrossFit did not cause any of these problems it was definitely CrossFit that let me know I had a problem. Not only that, but it is precisely my performance, both degree and detail, that has convinced me that the Spygelian hernia is enough of an issue to fix. We measure everything in CrossFit. Time, weight, reps. We compare our results with previous efforts as a way of evaluating our fitness, and to some degree to monitor the quality of our workout programming. Gradually, over the course of 12 months or so, I have lost the ability to brace and maintain my mid-line with my abdominal muscles. In a classic cascade of calamity my secondary pelvic support muscles–gluteus medeus, piriformis, obturator, and that rat-bastard the extensor fascia lata–took over and eventually began to fail. At first it was just a little discomfort, followed by a little weakness, ending up in constant cramping and pain in all of them. At this time last year I pulled a lifetime PR in the deadlift; this weekend I could barely do reps at bodyweight.

The first place I felt pain was in that tiny little area that old-school doc poked so many years ago.

Meh. Tough spot, for me or any other patient. I’m not bringing unrefereed information from the internet to the game. I had this same thing 16 years ago, and I have objective data from my CrossFit gym that supports my contention. How best to present this to my surgeon? In this regard I am little different than anyone else with pre-op questions. At our initial visit together I laid out my symptoms and my history. During our post-CT phone call I reiterated my concern about not fixing the Spygelian hernia, however small it might be on direct visualization. Not gonna lie, the thought of having the surgery and continuing to have the same issues when I exercise makes me nauseous.

What’ll I do? Well, I guess this is the place where I really am just like everyone else when it comes to being on this side of the stethoscope. I will just have to have confidence in the surgeon I chose that he will do everything that needs to be done to solve my problem. After all, just like anyone else, I’ll be asleep while it’s going on. Kinda tough to have any input right then, ya know? It will be weeks before I will be able to really test out my results, and those weeks will likely be filled with all sorts of exotic physical therapy exercises geared toward strengthening my abs and accessory muscles, and getting my gluteus maximus to start firing again. Turns out my pain in the ass has actually been a pain in the ass…your glutes turn off in response to losing the ability to brace with your abs.

I am SO ready for this to be fixed, and I’m thinking I feel pretty good about how it’s all going to turn out. If not, well, I’m sure I’ll at least be able to enjoy pain free T’ai chi. My surgeon will undoubtedly take my concerns to heart when he is doing my surgery. After all, we will still share the same side of the stethoscope after the surgery is done.

An Open Letter to Parents and Coaches of Girls Who Play Sports

Dear Coaches and Parents,

For more than 30 years I have had the good fortune to be a volunteer assistant coach for boys and young men playing football, basketball, and lacrosse, sports I played in high school and/or college. In this capacity I became very familiar with the particular dangers of concussions suffered while playing these contact sports. Indeed, one of my sons suffered a severe concussion as a high school lacrosse player, effectively ending his competitive career. I applaud the recent efforts being made at all levels of competition, especially in the area of gratuitous headshots in football, lacrosse, and hockey.

As a fitness coach for the last 10 years or so I’ve learned of another, all too common injury in sports, one that is disproportionally concentrated in the younger athletes: ACL tears in girls and young women. There is a veritable epidemic of ACL injuries in soccer, basketball, and volleyball. Girls are 4-6X more likely to tear their ACL playing these sports than boys. The numbers are quite simply appalling, and yet I hear not a word about this from any media source. Girls are being felled by this injury in droves but it seems no one is talking about how to prevent it.

Can anyone tell me why that is?

It’s not like this is a new phenomenon. A brief Google search turns up academic articles published in 1999. It’s also not as if these injuries are only of historical importance. The daughter of a friend was the third girl playing the same position for the same U17 soccer team for the same coach to suffer a non-contact ACL tear in 2015. Nor were they the only girls on that team so afflicted. When asked what changes had been made by the team or the coach in response to these injuries my friend shook his head. Crickets.

Can anyone tell me how this is OK?

The answer, of course, is that it is not OK. Not even a little bit. The causes underlying the increased risk to suffer an ACL tear in which a female athlete does not come into contact with another player are relatively well known. Studies have been done examining the way girls jump and land. As it turns out, girls tend to change direction and land with an outstretched, straight leg. Boys, on the other hand, do so with a flexed leg, reducing tension on the ACL.

If you watch girls running you can’t help but be struck by the valgus position of the knee when their foot lands on the ground; the knee is markedly inside the foot.  Girls tend to have stronger anterior muscles and therefore tend to be quad-dominant runners. They pull their upper leg forward through the contraction of the thigh muscles. Boys, on the other hand, are posterior chain-dominant runners, pulling their legs up through the contraction of their glutes and hamstrings. Without a strong posterior chain to counteract the effect of the quadriceps, the ACL is again under increased tension, magnifying the risk caused by knee position.

We know why the injuries occur, and as it turns out we also know how to prevent them, or at least reduce their frequency: teach young female athletes safer movement patterns, and put them in strength and conditioning programs that specifically train their posterior chain. If you see this type of training you will recognize it immediately: it’s how we train boys.

Can anyone explain to me why this is not occurring with young female athletes right now?

Even at the highest level of women’s sports we still see non-contact ACL injuries. For example, in 2011, 6 of the 21 members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team had suffered an ACL tear at one point in their careers. However, in more recent years there has been a decrease in these injuries at the professional level because teams are training their female athletes in better neuromuscular recruitment patterns, which creates sounder movement. Athletes are doing strength and conditioning programs that emphasize strengthening their glutes and hamstrings. Hence, we are seeing dramatically fewer ACL tears at the highest levels of women’s sports. There is no way to justify not doing the same thing for girls early in their careers.

Proven templates already exist to do just this. Simply utilizing the off-the-shelf PEP program of stretching and plyometrics has demonstrated meaningful decreases in the incidence of ACL tears. Rather than use such a basic program when it comes to high quality movement patterns, why not look to someone like San Francisco’s Dr. Kelly Starrett? The founder of Mobility WOD and author of “The Supple Leopard”, Dr. Starrett is a consultant to dozens of collegiate athletic departments. He recently took over training for an elite 150-member girls volleyball program with the specific aim of reducing ACL injuries in those athletes. His teachings on proper movement mechanics are peerless, as a quick perusal of his book will attest. Perhaps we should be looking at what he is doing.

Jeff and Mikki Martin have been training kids in Southern California, the epicenter of youth soccer, for well over a decade. Their protocols include meticulous attention to the type of mechanics taught by Kelly Starrett and emphasize the importance of strengthening the posterior chain beginning around age 10. As the developers of the original CrossFit Kids program and more recently founders of The Brand X Method™, they have trained hundreds of young girls who play soccer without a single one of their athletes suffering an ACL injury while under their care. They arguably have the longest track record of successfully and safely training youngsters. Perhaps we should be looking at what they are doing.

One thing is for sure: it is not OK to continue with the status quo. Simply doing what you have always done is nothing less than condemning a high percentage of your girls and young women to suffering an ACL tear and all that goes along with it. The nature of the sports in which we see an epidemic of concussions is such that the only way to prevent them is not to play those sports. This is not the case with non-contact ACL tears in soccer, basketball, volleyball and other sports played by girls. Prevention is possible through the institution of training programs that emphasize the teaching of new, safer movement patterns, as well as strengthening the muscles of the posterior chain.

I’d like to propose a 3-part solution to this problem. First, we would like to offer training to coaches in how to teach better basic movement patterns. One of the most fundamental goals for those of us who utilize The Brand X Method ™ to train kids and teens is to create a cadre of coaches who can do this. We hope that this can become a core part of in-season team training. Secondly, we wish to make available our coaches, and coaches who share our concerns and philosophy, to train your athletes to have a stronger posterior chain. The data supporting the inclusion of weighted squats, deadlifts, and power cleans both in season and out of season is compelling. Our coaches are experts in teaching the proper mechanics involved, and our athletes progress in a safe and measured fashion.

Lastly, the data supporting the inclusion of full-body functional movements executed at relatively high intensity is equally compelling when it comes to not only injury prevention, but also in developing stronger, faster, more durable athletes. The Brand X Method ™ is a proven program that emphasizes proper mechanics and safety. It is the latest version of a program that has been creating highly athletic youngsters and teens for more than 10 years. This type of physical fitness directly translates to more capable and confident athletes in all of the sports mentioned. At CrossFit Bingo our Alpha X Youth Athletics program is available to train your athletes all year round, either individually or in team settings.

It’s time we all start talking about these non-contact ACL injuries in girls’ sports, just like we have been talking about concussions in boys’ sports. Parents should be asking what is being done on behalf of their daughters. Coaches should be committed to stopping the epidemic of non-contact ACL injuries in their female athletes.

We can help.

 

Darrell E. White, M.D.

Co-Founder, CrossFit Bingo

Co-Founder, Alpha X Youth Athletics

 

 

The Dress, The CrossFit Open, and Jerry Tarkanian (Adopted from Sunday musings 3/8/15)

The Dress. You know what I’m talking about. Admit it. That picture showed up all over your internet stuff and you actually looked at it and thought about it. Admit it. So did I.

In my day job I spend my time thinking about vision. The Dress is all about wavelengths of light and direction of gaze and just-prior view. Not only do I understand the intersection of physics and physiology behind the color shifting, but as a semi-professional teacher I can actually explain what’s going on. Just not here. Sunday musings is a place for metaphor, more meta-physics than Mendellian. I see The Dress and I think Point of View, Frame of Reference, and of course since this started off as “Sunday musings” on CrossFit.com I go directly to The CrossFit Games.

Shocking, I know.

Last week brought us our annual kerfluffle about something CrossFit HQ did or didn’t do that will certainly be the ultimate destruction of the CrossFit Games. Happens every year. Usually not quite so quickly but, hey, The Dave Castro is getting better at everything CrossFit Games related so why not better and faster at Games controversy, too? For those who missed it (both of you), a few gyms and a few athletes figured out a “security flaw” in the rules for Open 15.1 and gamed the WOD. Once discovered Messieurs Castro and Berg “patched” the software as it were, and The Games 2015 were saved. Probably a penguin or two was also saved along the way.

If you read even .001% of the comments on internet posts that followed this “controversy” you had to be impressed by how broad and varied the viewpoints were. Who was to blame? Why did it happen? What should/shouldn’t be done? All of this with a heaping helping of ad hominem aimed at both HQ and the athletes/Affiliates. Like The Dress, what one thought or wrote about L’affaire 15.1 was driven by where you were looking from and what you had looked at before. Your POV, your Frame of Reference, the pre-conceived notions you apply color the issue and give it meaning that isn’t really there.

There really is no deeper meaning. What color dress you see when you look at your screen is a simple fact and has no extended significance whatsoever. The Dress does not provide any examination of your psyche or your soul, and the potential to game 15.1 provides no deeper insight into anyone involved.

HQ simply didn’t think 15.1 out the way a few competitors did. The Dress is just a dress.

Which brings me to Jerry Tarkanian the famous college basketball coach who died on February 11. You might find it odd that I choose to remember that today, right after talking about rules and rules enforcement in the CrossFit Open. For those of you who don’t know who Jerry Tarkanian was (no doubt the same two of you who didn’t hear about the Open rules Kerfluffle), the Tark spent much of his career battling the NCAA over what he felt was unequal application of the rules.

Did Tarkanian break any rules along the way? Was he singled out for more vigilant policing and enforcement of those rules? Kinda depends on where you are and where you’ve been when you are looking. I think there really is a difference between The Tark and the athletes/Affiliates who found a loophole in the rules. I’ll let the Sports Illustrated writer Tim Layden explain:

“Tarkanian was a basketball junkie with a disdain for rules that impeded him.”

Like golfers who not only seek to know and follow the letter of the Rules of Golf (always capitalized, BTW), CrossFit in general is populated by folks who also follow the spirit or intention of the rules. That does leave room for the Bill Belichek approach of knowing the rules so well that you can sometimes use them to your advantage (see Woods, Tiger: The Masters). Again, Layden:

“[Tarkanian] was about the scoreboard, the money, the wins.”

We all cheer for winners. We can’t take our eyes off them. The ones who seem consumed with the winning appear almost larger than life. Their quest for victory fascinates us. Love him or loathe him, Belichek commands your attention, much like Jerry Tarkanian when he was battling the NCAA while winning basketball games by the bucketful. The difference, I think, is in that disdain for the rules that Layden ascribes to Tarkanian. Does Belichek feel the same way? Woods? You may agree or disagree about whether walking through the loophole in 15.1 is in keeping with the spirit of the rules, but you cannot find that there is disdain for the rules, or the Games, or CrossFit in general on the part of any CrossFit Games Open athlete.

Layden: “[Tarkanian] wasn’t larger than life at all. He was just life…”

Life, and the Open, go on.

 

 

The Magnificence Of The Struggle

“What counts in sports is not the victory, but the magnificence of the struggle.”

There is more than a little merit to that quote. Have you played a sport? Been on a team, or stood alone in the crucible of game day? Everything you have done to prepare, every sacrifice you have made to arrive at that moment in that place now there for the realization. The struggle is not only that which lies before you in the match, but also that which lay before that you could be here, now.

You enter the arena, perhaps filled to the rafters with spectators, just as likely empty and near silent. It matters not; your struggle has brought you here, ready for the game. It’s you vs. them, or him, or her, but it’s just as much you vs. you. Will I commit fully to the struggle? Will I do anything and everything in my power within the rules of whatever game we play to emerge victorious? Aye, and if I have done so, and if the score at the end says I’ve lost, was my struggle any less magnificent? Any less worthy? I did what I could. I did ALL that I could.

Coaches from time immemorial have preached a gospel of lessons learned on the pitch applied to a life outside the sport. You play how you practice. It’s a 60 minute game, and you’ve got to play all 60. Call your own fouls. Be both a good winner and a good loser. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. I think it’s instructive to make a tiny little change in that quote, one that might have been said by any number of non-sports sages:

“What counts in life is not the victory, but the magnificence of the struggle.”

This fits. This fits in an infinite number of ways and an infinite number of places. Why? Because life has no clock, at least not a clock that we can follow, or a clock on which we can base “game strategy”. We can’t “run out the clock”, manage the shot clock, or make it to the TV time-out. The struggle is continual, and it is endless.

Everything else fits, too. The struggles of yesterday hopefully prepare us for the struggles of today. What will we bring to today? Am I ready for the struggle today? Will I fully commit to the struggle before me today, do all that I can within the rules, all that is asked of me, expected of me, required of me? Life, unlike sport, is not a zero-sum game. I win, if one can call it that, if I’ve done my best. In life, but not necessarily sport, others may win as well, but it is not necessarily so that others must lose so that I, or you, may win.

“Struggle” is a very good word in this context. One doesn’t read “struggle” and think “easy” or “soft”. The magnificence of the struggle lies there, I think, in the inherent difficulty of the endeavor. One is struggling. It’s hard to live well. It’s hard to do the right thing because the right thing is so often the hard thing. It’s how you play the game.

Isn’t it?

The struggle is indeed magnificent when you engage in it. When you don’t turn away from the struggle because it is hard but rather embrace it in an attempt to win. That in itself is rather a victory; failure to struggle, failure to try, failure to do what must be done because it is a struggle is a loss. It takes courage to do so. It takes integrity and honor to engage the struggle when no one is watching you, you are alone, and you must make the call. On the pitch and in life.

At some point, in the game or in life, we will be called upon. Take the shot. Make the call. Hold the line. Make the save.

When the game is over, when life winds down, each of us will look back on the struggle and ask these questions. What did I bring to the struggle? Did I fully commit myself to it? Did I do all that I could within the rules, all that was asked of me, all that was required of me?

How magnificent was my struggle?

“What counts in sports is not the victory, but the magnificence of the struggle.” –Joe Paterno

 

 

The Role Of Adults In Youth Sports III: Fun

Do you remember playing sports when you were a kid? If not, if you are old like me, how about do you remember the last time you drove by a bunch of kids playing some sport or other in the absence of any adults? What I remember about both of those experiences is the sound. It’s a beautiful sound, and it cascades over any and all who are within earshot. It’s the sound of children having FUN!

Somewhere, sometime, there was a very significant change in what it meant to play a sport when you were very young. It used to be, at least when I was a kid, that sports were really just games, and the responsibility for playing a game rested with the kids who are doing the playing.  I distinctly remember neighborhood versus neighborhood baseball games, true nine on nine games played with wooden bats and a hardball, not a batting helmet or adult insight. We could play pickup basketball for literally hours any place we could find a hoop. To find this kind of scene nowadays, at least with children over the age of 10, you have to visit the bleached sand fields of South Africa or the barrios of Rio de Janeiro and watch the bearfoot urchins play their games with whatever they can find that will roll.

Here in America, though, it seems you can’t find any kind of game being played by kids of any age without uniforms, lined fields, and of course, adults. Think about it. When is the last time you drove by an open field and saw 10 kids chasing a soccer ball all by themselves? It couple of kids on a local tennis court whacking a ball back and forth? Or how about this one, a bunch of boys all dirty and muddy playing football without pads? Admit it… you can’t remember EVER seeing that, can you?

As long as we adults are going to be present there is one final role that we must play in youth sports: we must ensure that our children are having FUN! The younger the children involved, the higher priority this becomes. As offensive as it is to hear a parent screaming at his or her child during a high school soccer game, it’s borderline repulsive to hear the same kind of language directed at an eight-year-old.  It’s a game for heaven sakes! These kids are playing! Let’s have a little fun.

I know, I know, this is just one more example of some mamby–pamby,  soft in the middle American parent who doesn’t have the guts to push his kids to excel, right? The only problem with this, of course, is that this description couldn’t be further from the truth. I LOVE to win! I LOVED coaching when I had permission to try to win. Loved it. The whole “everyone plays the same number of minutes”, feel good, raise the self–esteem thing was really hard for me. I certainly got it, and certainly was on board when the children were really young, elementary school or junior high school, but I’m also of the mindset that it’s perfectly okay to try to win once you reach a certain age, probably high school.

But even there these are still kids, and they should still be having fun.

Let me indulge myself (as if this whole blog thing wasn’t self–indulgent enough) and share a couple of memories. There are all kinds of basketball games I remember from when I was a kid, but the one memory that came to me first while thinking about this was one of the very first practices after I made the JV basketball team in high school. We played “dribble tag”, with a towel tucked in our shorts and each of us dribbling a basketball. The object of the game was to pull your teammates towell, knocking him out of the game. Man, I just don’t remember laughing so much, or having so much fun on a basketball court before or since.

My sons each have a memory from junior high school football–the same one, actually just separated by three or four years. We live in Cleveland; in the fall it rains in Cleveland. Every year there is an opportunity for a mud practice, a session where pretty much no useful coaching is possible because it’s raining too hard and the field is too muddy. Cancel practice? Heck no! This is when the boys get to perfect their mudslides, mud dives, and mud flops. At the end of this particular session, and it happens just this way every single year, the young defensive coordinator brings the boys over to the garage and literally hoses them down with the church garden hose. He then piles them into the back of his pickup truck, refusing to allow the parents to befoul their cars with these muddy, wet, sloppy boys, and drives the kids home. The fun of this pracitce is what both of my sons remembered first.

Even playing sports in college it can be fun. I was a cornerback at Williams College. I’ve written before that I was good, but probably not nearly as good as I could have been or should have been because I didn’t work hard enough at the game. I was probably a “middle of the bell curve” defensive back for my day. When I was a junior the other starting cornerback was REALLY good. Despite that, the two of us had a rather poor week of practice one time, and the defensive coordinator, Coach Farley, gleefully pointed this out. “Ack… Look at my cornerbacks. One’s bad and the others worse!” Well, the next day every single defensive back rolled into practice with some sort of denigrating label on his helmet. Stu was “Bad”, I was “Worse”, and we were joined by our teammates “Terrible”, “Awful”, “Putrid”, etc. We got ahold of Coach Farley’s coat and taped “Tremendous” on the back. THAT was fun!

These are games, these sports. Always have been, and it’s really our responsibility to make sure that they always will be. We adults who are involved in youth sports need to make sure that our children are safe, and that they ( and we) take advantage of the life lessons that can be learned while playing sports. We must also accept the responsibility to make playing sports  fun. (If you want a great example of how to make fitness fun take a walk over to www.crossfitkids.com sometime. These folks make WORKING OUT again, fun.)

I think there’s a role for adults in youth sports, I really do. I’m convinced that the role has expanded too much, and the fact that most of us have never seen children playing sports without uniforms, or officials, or coaches is the most damning testimony to this fact. If we are going to be involved it is our responsibility to fully accept our three roles. Keep our children safe. Teach them through the vehicle of sports.

Help them have fun!

The Role Of Adults In Youth Sports II: Teach

At the news conference following a heartbreaking overtime loss, the head coach of Boise State had this to say: “one player can’t lose a football game all by himself. A player can WIN the game, but no one can lose it by themselves.” How good is that?! Seriously, after losing the opportunity to represent every underdog in the history of forever, in a football championship game for the ages, what does the coach do? He sees the situation for what it is, what it always is when you are an adult involved in youth sports; he sees this as just another “teachable moment.”

It’s gone so far beyond the cliché that they are life lessons to be learned by children playing sports that many of the adults who are involved in youth sports seem to have taken this for granted and just assumed that it will happen automatically. BZZZZZZT. Sorry. It doesn’t work like that. Never did. The second most important role that adults play in youth sports is to foster and facilitate learning among the children playing sports.

It’s pretty easy in the beginning. Heck, if you are coaching very little kids you actually have to teach them the rules of the game! I once tried to teach a bunch of kids in England play baseball. Piece of cake, you say. They play a game called “rounders” which is very similar to baseball, with a little bit of  Cricket mixed in.  Rounders doesn’t have foul lines, though, and English kids have no concept of what a foul ball is. I spent pretty much the entire game trying to explain why a perfectly good hit just to the right of first base didn’t count. In the beginning being an adult in youth sports is ALL about learning, ALL about teaching.

There’s a really cool phase in youth sports, whether you are a coach, booster, or simply an interested spectator, when the kids get the rules, they know how to keep score, and you are simultaneously teaching them technique and nuance while at the same time trying to win. Junior high school, Junior varsity in high school, times like this. This can be the most satisfying time to be an adult involved in sports. Somewhere in high school the “win mode” kicks in so strongly that teaching and learning can go by the boards, all teaching and learning geared toward just one measure, the one lighting up the scoreboard.

It’s not just about the game though of course. This would be a pretty trivial post if it was, eh? No, playing sports, especially team sports, leaves open all kinds of possibilities for learning. Even if you are the absolute star of a football team or basketball team or any other type of team, being part of the team means learning how to depend on your teammates. It means learning how to have other people depend on you. You have certain responsibilities, and the success of the team depends on you and everyone else doing exactly what they’ve been taught to do at exactly the right time. I’m going to my office in a very short time where I will be a member of yet another team. All of the lessons I’ve learned from all of my teams over the years come into play every time I go to the office. Same thing in the operating room this morning. Good outcomes depend on impeccable teamwork, with each team member doing exactly what he or she should be doing. Some may get more credit than others, at least publicly, but playing team sports should teach each athlete that he or she succeeds only if the team succeeds. The adults who are involved in youth sports have an obligation to teach this lesson to both the stars and the grunts.

Winning and losing are important measures, but it really DOES matter how you play the game. Did you play within the rules, even when no one could see whether or not you did? Did you cheat, break a rule that gave you or your team and advantage? Some of the individual sports are the best opportunities to learn these lessons. Have you seen those PGA commercials about the First Tee program for youngsters playing golf? Integrity and fidelity to the rules are mentioned by everyone. Adults should not only teach this but should also model these behaviors and attributes. What is your athlete learning if you use the “foot wedge” in the rough?

It’s possible to learn some very valuable lessons about how one might meet adversity in life simply by playing youth sports. How do you handle winning? Success that just can’t be hidden? Conversely, how do you handle it when life throws you an enormous curveball, and you look at terrible on a swing and a miss? Humility in victory, and grace in defeat are lessons that are there to be learned by our children playing sports. Sometimes all it takes is a gentle reminder, maybe even just setting a quiet example. There are other times when the designated adult must demonstrate a firm hand in teaching the lesson. I have visions of golf clubs helicoptering across fairways, tennis rackets splintering during fits of rage, trash talking and posturing under the basket or in the end zone. Failing to intervene and teach the PROPER lesson is nothing short of inexcusable if you are the adult present at those times.

It doesn’t sound easy, does it? I mean, that’s a lot of responsibility. It kind of sounds like… WORK! And it is, if you get right down to it. The adults who are involved in youth sports have great responsibilities, and they really have no right to expect a pass when it comes to fulfilling these responsibilities. This goes for coaches on the sidelines, officials on the field, parents in the stands, and boosters and administrators behind the scene. The opportunity to teach our children about fair play, following the rules, and being a good teammate are there for the taking. Even when it becomes time to win, as we saw in the example above with Boise State was on the verge of making history, there but for a missed 26 yard field goal, the imperative to teach our children, to foster their learning through sports, is one that we simply must seize as the adults involved in youth sports. Just like that head coach at Boise State.

They may not know it now, but every one of those Boise State football players walked off that field with a win because their coach played his role.