Home    Clinics    Tournaments    Forum    Clearinghouse    Links    Comments


Beauty in Cleats...


Are parents ruining youth sports? Fewer kids play amid pressure.

The number of children playing team sports is falling, with experts blaming a parent-driven focus on elite travel clubs, specialization in one sport and pursuit of scholarships for hurting the country's youth sports leagues.

Baseball, basketball, softball, soccer and touch football -- long staples of American childhood -- have all taken hits, worrying public health advocates, league organizers and professional sports organizations.

More than 26 million children ages 6 to 17 played team sports in 2014, down nearly 4 percent from 2009, according to a widely cited survey by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Total sports played have plummeted by nearly 10 percent.

Some of the drop-off is attributable to the recession, particularly in low-income urban areas. But experts fear larger socioeconomic forces are in play, especially in the suburbs, where the shift to elite competition over the past two decades has taken a growing toll: Children are playing fewer sports, and the less talented are left behind in recreational leagues with poor coaching, uneven play and the message that they aren't good enough. Seventy percent of kids quit sports by age 13.

"The system is now designed to meet the needs of the most talented kids," said Mark Hyman, a professor of sports management at George Washington University and the author of several books on youth sports. "We no longer value participation. We value excellence."

And those studying the issue say they know whom to blame: parents.

"The adults have won," Hyman said. "If we wiped the slate clean and reinvented youth sports from scratch by putting the physical and emotional needs of kids first, how different would it look? Nothing would be recognizable."

The Aspen Institute, the Clinton Foundation, and several amateur and professional sports organizations are working on solutions. Officials came together last month for a roundtable at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York and earlier this year at a Washington summit attended by the U.S. surgeon general. Dick's Sporting Goods is appealing directly to customers, asking for donations at the checkout counter for Sports Matter, its new program to pump money into underfunded youth sports teams.

The toughest problem, Hyman said, is that no parent wants to "unilaterally disarm" and acknowledge that the system is broken.

"It's just about impossible to stand up to it if you want your kids to play competitively," said Elizabeth Pelcyger, a Washington mom whose son felt pressure even from his baseball teammates because he wasn't playing year-round. "They could somehow point out that he hadn't been playing since he was 4."

Many of the adults trying to fix the problem remember a simpler, less competitive, less expensive time in youth sports. There were no travel teams, no faraway tournaments -- now a $7 billion industry. There were pickup games with friends and leagues at neighborhood parks, with the focus mostly on fun. All of the kids in the neighborhood played together: the stars, the stalwarts, the daisy pickers. One of the most popular movies in the 1970s: "The Bad News Bears."

Amazingly, kids still made it to the major leagues.

"Sports was everything in my life," said Dick's chief executive Edward W. Stack, who played baseball and football. "I don't remember every teacher I had, but I remember every coach I had. If I didn't have those things, I don't know what I would have done."

Although Wall Street analysts have expressed some concern about how participation drops could affect the sporting goods business, Stack says: "The whole problem is very personal to me. This is not about business. I saw how my life was impacted though sports."

Parent bragging rights

There is little debate over the value of playing sports for children, although the risk of concussions in contact sports, particularly football, has become a concern for parents, pediatricians and coaches. Still, active kids are less likely to be obese and are more likely to have higher test scores, attend college and have higher incomes. And when active kids become parents, they start the process again with their children. Built on Gatorade and shin guards, it is a virtuous, wholesome loop.

That is the idea. It is no longer the reality.

In the past two decades, sports has become an investment to many parents, one that they believe could lead to a college scholarship, even though the odds are bleak. Parents now start their kids in sports as toddlers, jockey to get them on elite travel teams, and spend small fortunes on private coaching, expensive equipment, swag and travel to tournaments.

Youth sports is the new keeping up with the Joneses.

"The parents try to one-up each other," said Tony Korson, founder of Koa Sports, a nonprofit sports league in Montgomery County that tries to provide an alternative to the youth sports status quo, with trained coaches and encouragement of multiple sports. "You get one parent who says, 'I traveled to Tennessee for a tournament.' Another says, 'Well I flew to California.' And then, 'Oh my son is going to Puerto Rico.' "

Some parents -- usually those on the outside -- look at the situation with astonishment.

"What I want to know is why there are so many families that are into travel sports?" asked one poster on DC Urban Moms and Dads, a popular online chat board. Someone answered: "Honestly I think there are many parents who like it," adding, "in their own mind they are thrilled at their son being an 'elite' athlete." Another person replied: "What playing a travel/club sport can do is take a kid who is a decent athlete and give them a leg up."

But nobody bothered to ask the kids what they wanted. Now, researchers are beginning to survey children. Not unsurprisingly, they have a different idea of what youth sports should be.

Amanda Visek, an exercise science professor at George Washington University, recently surveyed nearly 150 children about what they found fun about sports. (Her sample included kids who play travel and recreational sports.) The kids identified 81 factors contributing to their happiness.

Number 48: winning.

Also low on the list: playing in tournaments, cool uniforms and expensive equipment. High on the list: positive team dynamics, trying hard, positive coaching and learning. Whenever Visek presents her findings to win-hungry parents and coaches, there is a lot of pushback.

"They don't want to believe it," she said.

Yet the No. 1 reason why kids quit sports is that it's no longer fun.

Fixing the problem

This is how youth sports looks now: The most talented kids play on travel teams beginning at age 7 (or sometimes younger), even though many athletes bloom much later; the best coaches (often dads who are former college athletes) manage travel teams, leaving rec leagues with helpful but less knowledgeable parents in charge; and coaches of elite teams pressure kids to play only one sport (the one they are coaching), even though studies show this leads to injuries, burnout and athletes who aren't well rounded.

Particularly with specialization, parents believe they are making the right choice in pursuit of a scholarship.

"I'm done trying to tell parents that the odds are against them," said Hyman, the GW professor. "That's a loser's game. They don't want to believe that. The better approach is to tell them that what they're doing is not helping you reach your goal."

Those who study the issue are more worried about the millions of kids who just want to play sports for fun but get the least attention.

"The rec leagues become much less sustainable," said Tom Farrey, a sportswriter running the Aspen Institute's initiative on youth sports. "These kids kind of know they are second-class, and they check out quickly. The quality of coaching isn't as good. The kids fall behind. It becomes a compounding effect."

With traditional team sports in decline -- the number of kids playing touch football is down more than 7 percent, slow-pitch softball down 5 percent, and baseball, basketball and soccer all down nearly 2 percent -- niche sports might be benefiting from some of the quitters. Lacrosse is up nearly 12 percent. Field hockey is up nearly 8 percent.

Meanwhile, the race is on to put solutions in place. The Aspen Institute has made eight recommendations, including revitalizing in-town leagues, reintroducing free play, encouraging sports sampling, training coaches and, perhaps most important, asking kids what they want.

The largest organizations in sports are making moves. Major League Baseball is partnering with the Positive Coaching Alliance to train youth coaches. The U.S. Tennis Association is encouraging sports sampling and hosting roundtables on the topic. U.S. Youth Soccer is moving next year from 11-on-11 games to 9-on-9 and 7-on-7, which youth sports advocates believe will be more fun and increase skills development.

"Hopefully, these ideas can help change things," Farrey said. "You're not going to change the culture by telling parents to stop acting like fools."

Source: Washington Post

Editorial Note: One of the first pitchers I coached left softball shortly after one year. I asked her why she was leaving. Her response was: "I'm going to dance. My dad knows nothing about dance."


It's so great to see the umpires taking a few moments between innings to coach or to say a few kind words to the athletes!

I have no idea what was being said.

I just know that he was talking and she was smiling and it made a great photo.

Thanks Blue!  Thanks for helping this athlete and showing what this game should be about!


Less than half of women's college sports teams are coached by women

Female coaches were all over the headlines this summer. First was Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Spurs, who became the NBA's first female head coach at Summer League--and brought home the League trophy. Then came the news that Nancy Lieberman will join Hammon in the NBA as assistant coach of the Sacramento Kings. And in football, Jen Welter was the first-ever woman to land a coaching internship in the NFL, though her gig has since ended.

But with school starting back up, some sports fans are now turning their attention back to college athletics. And on campus, the picture for female coaches is decidedly less rosy.

The percentage of women coached by women has declined to an all-time low, even while Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in any education program or activity that receives federal dollars, has dramatically increased participation numbers for female athletes.

In 1972, when Title IX was signed into law, 90% of women's college teams were coached by women, according to research from the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport. By 2012, that number had fallen to 42.9%. Meanwhile, the percentage of women coaching men's teams at the collegiate level has remained almost exactly the same--around 2%--for the last 40 years, according to Tucker.

The shift is one of the unintended consequences of Title IX, according to researchers. With more money flowing into women's sports, some coaching positions at women's teams have become more lucrative, and so drawn more interest from male coaches. These jobs are also seen as valuable "layovers" for male collegiate coaches who are waiting for chance to "move up" into the men's leagues.

"It's pretty dire," says Nicole M. LaVoi, Tucker's associate director. "It's a complex answer to why that is, but I think at the heart of it is power."

In recent years, billions of dollars have funneled into college athletics coffers, either through lucrative television contracts, taxpayer dollars, booster support or ticket sales. Some of that money has gone into coaching salaries--indeed, a few college football coaches are now the highest-paid public employees in their respective states.Yet none of those top earners are women.

The highest paid male coach in college sports, Nick Saban of Alabama, earned around $7 million. The highest paid female coaches in college sports, such as Sherri Coale of Oklahoma, make about one seventh of that, around $1 million.

And, while the salaries for women's coaches have improved, they continue to lag those of men's coaches. In 2011, head coaches for all women's teams in the BIG 10 conference made less than a third of what the men's coaches pulled in, $149,000 compared with $490,000, according to research from Tucker. The average salary for a college football head coach in the conference was $2.27 million and men's basketball coaches made $1.9 million on average, compared with $365,000 for the head coaches of BIG 10 women's basketball teams.

"Post Title IX, men have enjoyed the opportunity to coach women," LaVoi said, noting that Title IX opened up a plethora of jobs coaching women. "But the women's coaching opportunities have not opened up the same way. You could argue that Title IX has benefitted male coaches more than women coaches."

The case for high coaching salaries, particularly in men's football and basketball, is often that a star leader brings in more enthusiasm--and revenue. However, in 1997, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published guidance that said that schools must look beyond that, the thinking being that if women's coaches are not being supported equally, it becomes difficult for them to generate the same amount of money as their male counterparts. (Individual schools are required by the Department of Education to publicly disclose data related to the equity in athletics.)

Tucker analyzed 76 schools, assigning letter grades based on the percentage of women serving as the head coaches of women's teams. An underwhelming nine schools (11.8%) received an A or B grade--while half received Ds or Fs. Only three institutions (Cincinnati, Texas and the University of Miami) received As for being above average when compared to peer institutions and at least one school, Oklahoma State, didn't have any women head coaches for women's teams.

The lack of women in coaching and leadership roles in collegiate sports is "devastating,"says Deborah Slaner Larkin, chief executive of the Women's Sports Foundation. Not only does it lower the potential career ceiling for women in athletics, but it also means fewer female role models.

Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel and director of equal opportunities in athletics for the National Women's Law Center, says she regularly hears from female collegiate coaches concerned about retaliation when discussing pay or promotion, although many may not pursue legal claims. Much of what constitutes a gender-based disparity depends on a particular case, she said.

Ironically, female coaches who push hard for what they deserve are sometimes punished for being too aggressive, says Chaudhry: "If they're really tough, they're fired." On the other hand, those qualities are often seen as assets for male coaches, she says.

"If you look at the numbers and see big disparities, that's a red flag," Chaudhry said of the salary gaps between male and female coaches. "Clearly coaching makes all the difference."

Source: Fortune Magazine


Brooksville Florida bank executive stole $140,000 from youth sports, authorities say

A Brooksville bank executive faces fraud charges after authorities say he stole more than $140,000 from a youth sports league where he was a treasurer.

David Donato, 58, worked as a senior vice president and commercial lender for the CenterState Bank, 12435 Cortez Blvd. and was treasurer of the Hernando Youth League, a nonprofit sports organization. As treasurer, Donato maintained the league's bank accounts at his branch and had sole signature authority.

Between 2011 and 2015, Donato received five lines of credit and loans from the bank in the name of the Hernando Youth League, according to a release from the United States Attorney's Office.

The league did not have knowledge of the loans and Donato didn't receive permission from the league's board, the release said.

Records show Donato received $143,878.80 on behalf of the Hernando Youth League based on false statements and forged bank documents.

He used $98,420 to pay for his mortgage, credit cards, cell phone and cable, among other personal expenses, the release said. Donato also wrote checks to himself for $39,350 and wrote checks in exchange for cash totaling $3,400.

Officials at CenterState Bank discovered the suspicious activity in the accounts during a routine audit, authorities said.

If convicted, Donato faces 30 years in federal prison.

Source: Tampa Tribune


La Crosse Logan High School's Kleman picks Winona State over D-I offers

Jordyn Kleman was flattered that NCAA Division I softball programs were taking notice of what she accomplished at La Crosse Logan High School, but she was never blinded by the opportunities they were willing to give her.

If one of them provided the best fit for her future, she'd play there. But during no part of the recruiting process was the pitcher inclined to be a Division I player just to say she was a Division I player.

"That was never important to me," Kleman said Wednesday. "And then you see the hype when you get recruited and see how they get treated, and it makes you think."

Kleman did all of her thinking and even with scholarship offers from Wisconsin, Green Bay and North Dakota State -- among others -- she has decided to play softball at Winona State University after graduating in 2016.

The interest level for Kleman's skills spiked after a spectacular performance at the WIAA Division 2 state tournament in Madison, Wis. A memorable season for Kleman individually and for the Rangers as a team ended with a 3-0 championship victory over Waupun on June 13 at Goodman Diamond.

In two state games, Kleman pitched 14 innings and allowed one earned run on six hits with 24 strikeouts and no walks. She also went a combined 3-for-5 with a double, two home runs and four RBI as Logan completed a 28-1 season and became the school's first girls team to win a state championship.

It wasn't long before Kleman started picking up her first Division I offers. Wisconsin, which is where former Logan standout Michelle Mueller -- an assistant coach at Logan for the championship run -- played, was probably the biggest threat to the foundation built by the Warriors.

"The coaches from Winona State were the first to really say they wanted me, and they stayed in regular contact with me," said Kleman, who was named the Division 2 state player of the year by the WFSCA. "Coach (Greg) Jones made me feel like part of the family right away.

"Not that Wisconsin didn't do that, too, but I just had a lot more contact with Winona State, and it felt like the right place for me."

The Warriors were 46-14 and won the the NSIC Tournament last season. They qualified for the Division II Midwest regional but lost their first two games.

The bulk of the pitching was done by senior Ashley Walker and junior Hanna Lythberg. With Lythberg gone after the 2016 season, there will be a chance for Kleman to earn early playing time.

Onalaska Luther graduate Mariah Schultz, a Lewiston, Minn., native, is also at Winona State this spring after a transfer from Minnesota-Duluth. She is another pitcher vying for innings after Walker's graduation.

After posting a 17-3 record, 0.85 ERA and 215 strikeouts as a sophomore, Kleman came back to go 22-1 with a 0.35 ERA, 314 strikeouts and 16 walks in 159 innings as a junior.

Kleman had eight shutouts as a sophomore and two no-hitters to go with seven one-hitters among 13 shutouts as a junior.

Pitching, of course, is what she wants to do for the Warriors, but she can also contribute with her bat after slugging seven home runs and batting .404 with 33 RBI as a junior.

"I want to have an impact as a soon as possible, and they said I could possibly hit as well as pitch," Kleman said. "I want to pitch, but they also said I can fight for a position on the field."

Source: Winona Daily News


Angie Ryan bids adieu to renowned softball program

In 11 years, Angie Ryan changed the culture of Forest Lake softball.

She took a team with a losing record and created a program known statewide as a fastpitch powerhouse, returning a favor to the city that helped shape her own success as a star player from 1998-2000.

Now, Ryan embarks on a new start at the Division III collegiate level as an assistant coach at St. Thomas University in St. Paul. She plans to stay on staff as a health and physical education teacher at Century Junior High in Forest Lake.

At St. Thomas, Ryan will coach under Tommie head coach John Tschida, a well-renowned softball guru with three NCAA National Championship titles to his name. In 21 years as a college coach, Tschida is the winningest Division III coach in history with an overall record of 813-149. He enters his 16th season with the Tommies, who have made it to five College World Series in the past 13 seasons under his reign.

"I love this opportunity, since I get to work with one of the best softball coaches in the world," Ryan said. "But it's not just about moving to the next level. I love coaching and I love my family, and this actually allows me more time to spend with my family, since I won't be running a whole high school program. Life's not all about work, and I need to find that balance. This was a hard choice, but it's the right decision for me."

Tschida said he's more than pleased with Ryan joining his staff of six assistants. The head coach said Ryan is set to primarily work with infielders, but will have a hand in all facets of the team. The former Ranger coach will also have the opportunity to work with 2015 Forest Lake graduate Chase Shortly, who debuts on the Tommie softball field in 2016.

"Angie's a great addition because, one, she has great character and is a great role model for the girls," Tschida said. "And two, she has tremendous knowledge of the game of softball. She's in it for all the right reasons. It's not for the money; it's an opportunity for her to grow as a coach and help develop people as well as players."

Following four years as a starter at shortstop for the St. Cloud State University softball team, where she earned all-conference and all-region honors her last three years, Ryan took a position in the Forest Lake school district in the fall of 2004. That spring, Ryan took the helm of the Ranger softball team and jump-started a youth feeder program during the offseason that would be home to numerous state-qualifying squads.

As for the Ranger varsity team, after three building years with an overall record of 22-41 on the field, Ryan's Rangers won the section tournament in 2008. It would be their first of six-consecutive section titles and state appearances.

During the 2014 and 2015 post-season tournaments, Section 7AAA underwent a realignment in which three of the state's top-ranked teams shared a section. Forest Lake took second place to Anoka both years.

"We still have tons of high-caliber kids coming up in the youth program; they are going to be awesome," Ryan said. "It's been so fun being a part of this softball community and working with such amazing kids. They are extremely hardworking, talented, smart, fun young women. I'm going to miss them tremendously; they are second to none."

Longtime Forest Lake assistant coaches Erin Casey and Don Cramer have no plans of leaving the program, with Ryan stating that both are "very dedicated to the Forest Lake program."

Ryan departs from the Forest Lake softball program with an overall record of 183-93, as well as six Section Coach of the Year honors and Suburban East Conference championships in 2010 and 2012-2014. Another important factor to the longtime coach is her athletes' performance in the classroom. In 2015, the softball squad averaged a team GPA of 3.75.

Forest Lake activities director Aaron Forsythe said Ryan's presence as a leader in the sports community will be missed.

"I think what strikes me about the softball program specifically is that Angie's kids learn a lot about softball, but even more about life," Forsythe said. "They take responsibility for their own actions and handle challenges very well. And as a peer, I watched Angie's practices in order to emulate her structure and results. The kids were always doing something, and got the most out of every drill."

Ryan publicly announced her resignation as head coach on Thursday, Sept. 3, with the position posted on the district website shortly after. Forsythe is optimistic about incoming candidates.

"It's a very attractive position in terms of where the program already is and the community and facilities for softball," Forsythe said. "As sad as I am to see Angie go, I'm excited to see the next chapter for the program."

Source: Forest Lake Times


Luverne, Alabama softball teams question park fees

Blue Krush softball coaches, parents and players met with Luverne's Park and Recreation Board Monday evening to request a change in park rental pricing.

Organizer Marvin Barginere said his nonprofit organization could not afford the current $75 rate for two-hour practices after dark.

Mayor Joe R. Sport is a member of the board. He said the price was in place to cover the rising costs of electricity.

"And that's the main reason we're here. We don't believe that $75 is a fair price for turning on the lights. I don't think it costs $75 to turn the lights on," Barginere said. "We don't want it for free, but we want it to be reasonable."

Barginere also took issue with the daily rates for renting the park. He quoted $125 for half the park and $300 for the entire park. The fees included umpires, security, field prep and maintenance.

"We get our own umps … and police patrols the park. Why should we have to pay extra for that?" he said.

Barginere took offense to Sport's implications that he made a profit from running Blue Krush.

"That's totally, totally wrong," he said. "Nobody benefits, other than the girls."

Parents ante up to cover tournament fees and any expenses the teams incur. Barginere estimated the annual costs to be more than $4,000 per player, which was another reason he found it hard to come to parents and ask for them to pay a fee for using Turner Park for a batting practice once a week.

"To turn around and ask them to pay an unreasonable amount for lights, I don't think it's fair," he said. "I especially don't think it's fair for the girls. Seventy-five for two hours is not fair, not at all. Can you look those parents in the face and tell them that's what it will cost?"

Blue Krush players drive to Luverne from neighboring areas like Montgomery, Greenville, Red Level, Troy and Enterprise. Many are residents of Luverne. Board member Gary Sport asked Barginere to estimate how many of his players lived within city limits. He also asked for an estimate of players who also participated in Luverne's league.

Barginere said, of 71 girls, he estimated 20 to 25 participated and 10 to 12 were from Luverne. An 8-and-under coach estimated nine of his 13 players played at the park. Barginere said unfair practices like the park charging $75 for softball teams to turn on park lights while running lights on unused tennis courts kept others from joining park leagues.

"I come home from a football game at 11 p.m. or 12:30 a.m. and the tennis lights are on. Nobody's on it," he said.

The lights on the tennis courts are set with a timer to go off nightly at 11:30 p.m. Lights around the walking track are also on a timer.

The ball fields do not have a timer. The city would have to pay an employee to stay until softball teams finished.

"Those lights (on the tennis court) were put out there when the Koreans came here. They're the only ones who play tennis," said Mayor Sport.

The Mayor referred to those who relocated to Luverne to work at SMART America and Dongwan Auto Parts, two of the city's largest employers.

"So, the Koreans who came here 10 to 15 years ago are more important than those two girls right there?" said Barginere, pointing to two Blue Krush players who attended the meeting. "So, I guess our kids just don't matter."

Mayor Sport said the 1500-watt bulbs on the ball fields were very expensive and the costs had to be covered by the city's electric board. He added that the city only made a 15 percent profit on the retail sale of electricity.

"I'm not here to argue with you," he said.

Luverne resident Earl Dees suggested the city allow the organization to practice for free for 60 days while the board reaches a decision. He also reminded the board that softball practices and tournaments drew in tax revenue related to travel and dining.

Only one of six Blue Krush teams needed to practice after dark for one day per week.

Charles Johnson, head of the Park and Recreation Board, offered two weeks of use while the board made a decision.

Source: Greenville Advocate