Archive for the ‘Athletes’ Category

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The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.  -Vince Lombardi

I think Lombardi has it right. You pay for success with hard work, dedication, and a decision to offer the best of yourself each and every day.

The real challenge is knowing how to measure whether you succeed.

In a competitive world, it is the simple thing to measure in wins and losses…in points on a scoreboard…in stats we can count. We’re told repeatedly that only winners are successful.

I disagree. It is much more complex than that and I am challenged to stay mindful of what true success means.

Last night, on the way home from my first conference game (a lopsided loss) as the head coach for a boys’ high school soccer team, I had an interesting conversation with a couple of my assistant coaches. One coach commented about how there is a successful 17-year-old phenom who is playing professional soccer as a goalie. He lamented the fact that he is just a college kid, who isn’t playing goalie anymore, and who now has the goalie coaching job for fledgling goalies in a re-building program. Not newsworthy, in his opinion.

Another assistant coach, who is an incredible chorus teacher at the high school, also commented about colleagues who have “made it” and are big-time conductors with doctorates and incredible opportunities.

If success is only possible for the elite few who “make it”, or for the winning programs  and star athletes among us, then what is the point for the rest of us?

The point for the rest of us is the last part of Lombardi’s quote. “We (need to) have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” How we apply ourselves is to compete well. The definition of “compete” is to strive to win.

The point for the rest of us is that we learn how to compete well…always and in all circumstances. Competing well is how we succeed.

For that 17-year-old phenom, the best of himself is obviously incredible athleticism and goalie expertise. It’s going to matter how his stats add up. The task he has been handed is to compete with the world’s best.

We’re not all asked to succeed at that task.

For me, and my coaching staff, the task ahead of us is to build soccer skill, to build teamwork, and to build a program that can compete better in an incredibly tough conference. We need to show up every day with those tasks in mind.

For the players who play on our team, their task is to show up with the best of themselves each day with an attitude prepared to learn and grow as soccer players and as people. They can count themselves successful if daily they strive to compete well as individuals and as a team.

The world may not do a great job of measuring our successes, but if I’m stepping up to the task  I’ve been handed, I sure will.

Meagan Frank is the author of the Choosing to Grow series, a national speaker, athlete, coach, and mother of three. A 1997 graduate of Colorado College, Meagan was a four-year starter and senior captain on the Division I women’s soccer team and lettered in Division III women’s basketball. She has coached recreational, high school, elite, and college-level teams for both boys and girls.

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Copyright 2016       Meagan Frank   Choosing to Grow         http://www.meaganfrank.com

 

 

© Billyfoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Billyfoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos

 

When I asked Dr. Nicole Lavoi , Associate Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports, what aspect of youth sports she would immediately address, she told me, “Mandate equal playing time up to age 14 for all levels of sports. Both at the recreational and competitive levels.”

I thought that was a curious response until I realized that too few youth sports teams implement this policy.

I am continually amazed that the directive to allow equal playing time for EVERY athlete up until age 14 is such a hotly contested idea. Abiding by this policy, and I mean REALLY ABIDING by this policy would solve a number of problems that plague youth sports teams.

“But everyone knows a coach can keep a team from winning by putting in a lesser athlete. Everyone wants to win. Why can’t a coach try to win an important game? The kids all want to win too.” This quote is from a woman who attended a sports class I taught, and at first blush, I agree with her. Coaches should have the right to try to win tough, important games. It is part of the aligning expectations that makes this conversation so difficult for some people.

Parents have expectations, athletes have expectations and coaches have expectations. Until we align the varied perspectives we will continue to see frustration, bitterness and anger associated with youth sports.Because the one common denominator for the three groups is winning, decisions to keep lesser athletes on the bench seems justified. After all, everyone who has gathered has come with the hope of winning the game.

Coaches deserve a chance to coach a team to a big victory, and that should be one of the things they want. It’s part of what the parents want too. They want their children to experience the high of winning, they want their children to have success, and they want their children to be treated fairly. Athletes want to win too. More than that though, and echoed over and over in conversations I had in living rooms across this country, kids want to play.

We need to seek wins, but we need to seek wins without sacrificing kids along the way.

During one of my research huddles, Tony said something that has stuck with me. “The best coaches get the most out of their worst players. Anyone can coach the best kids–only a good coach can improve the worst kid too.”

Why do we need to care about the lesser athletes? What do they have to offer the team in the final minutes of a game? They have their own lessons to learn right?: “Tough love is better.” “Life is tough.””Not everyone is a winner. They will learn the harsh realities of the world eventually, why not now?”

The harsh lessons learned are inevitable, but let the game be the teacher. Let them learn lessons because they made the bad play and lost the game. Let them learn the lesson that they need to pick up a teammate who has made a mistake and learn to encourage someone who is down. Those are the lessons we need to be teaching children. The last lesson we need to teach them is that they are not worthy.

The damage that is done to children under the age of 14 who find themselves sitting on the bench is not worth one more win on the stat sheet.

The cognitive development of children needs to be a part of coaching decisions. Period.

Before adolescence, children are primarily concrete thinkers. For children, the world is more black and white than grey and fuscia. They cannot conceptualize the world in abstract thinking, and they are working to develop a sense of self at the same time.

Without telling a child on the bench they are a less-than, they immediately know they are a less-than. They know it to their core, and it becomes a part of who they are. They don’t understand the abstract concepts of “sacrificing for the team” or “it’s the role you have to play right now.” Too many kids internalize this message and make a decision right then and there about who they are going to be. Or even more tragically, who they will never be. “I am not good enough.” “I am a bad athlete.” “I don’t measure up.”

This fixed mindset is more detrimental than a win is beneficial.    ****read that last sentence again**** A fixed mindset is more detrimental than a win is beneficial.

One could argue, “The non-athletes need to figure out early enough that they are non-athletes and move on to something that better suits them.”

WHAT?!? No one is a fixed athlete, and to do anything that might convince a child, ANY child, that he/she is a non-athlete before their bodies have even grown any real muscle is deplorable.

We need to decide that  youth sports is about teaching. Coaches can take control of how lessons are taught, but the best teachers are the ones who worry about whether every kid in their class learned something worth carrying with them.

What do you think? Should youth teams have bench players?

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Copyright 2013  Meagan Frank                                      Choosing to Grow

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Physical literacy is the language of movement.

If there was any language I learned most proficiently, it was movement. I was athletic. I could swim, jump, run, tumble, catch, kick, throw, shoot, ride my bike, ski- on both water and snow, and swing a bat. I was better at some elements than others, but there were very few physical games in which I couldn’t participate. I was not born an athlete, however. Despite popular belief, there is no such thing as an athletic gene…or at least researchers haven’t found one yet. It is a common assumption that when there are seemingly generations of athletes it is because athletic parents have athletic children. The truth is…athletic children become athletic because their parents do athletic things with them. What matters more is the timing of exposure to certain physical activities, and an intention toward that exposure. We all have the capacity to learn athletic movements.

My childhood had been the perfect, and inadvertent, breeding ground for growing physical literacy. My dad had been a solid athlete throughout his life and he loved to do athletic things with us. My mom became a passionate trailblazer in a time when a door was opening to create never-before-seen opportunities for young female athletes. And then there were the constant teammates and opponents I had in my siblings. Through all of my play, I was unknowingly building physical literacy. The more I moved the more proficient I got.

Instead of accidentally creating athletes, the Canadian Sport For Life  has long supported a more purposeful approach called the Long-Term Athlete Development program (LTAD). Developed in the 1990’s by sport scientist Istvan Balyi, it was created over an eight-year period during his work with Canadian alpine skiers. Since its inception, it has become internationally accepted as the model by which athletes should be developed. Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and more recently organizations in the United States like USA hockey and US Soccer have all adapted youth athlete programming that reflects the LTAD model.

Based on findings of physical development, the LTAD model has evolved into basically seven phases: an active start, FUNdamental movements, Learning to train, Training to train, Training to compete, Training to win, and Retirement and retainment. Instead of chronological age as an indicator for athletic development, the LTAD model uses Peak Height Velocity (PHV) as the gauge by which programming should be implemented. PHV is the point in pubescence when the tempo of growth is the greatest.

****Ideas to promote physical literacy…good for families…easy on checkbooks******

If we want better athletes, it is not hard. Starting from when they are really little, and up to about the ages of 8 to 10, make it a goal to teach them to do the following things:

Ride a bike, swim, kick and dribble a soccer ball, throw and catch a baseball, throw and catch a football, run, ice skate, ski, jumprope, swing a tennis racket, skateboard. There is no prescribed order, just an intention to teach your children these skills before they are 10 years old. The best part about seeing athletic development as physical skill acquisition is that it does not have to cost a single dime. You CAN do all of these things at home.  Granted, there are plenty of awesome programs developed to expose your child to these different athletic skills, and it is fun to sign up with friends as they learn, but it is not necessary.

Now granted, there are some elements that are harder depending on where you are geographically, but there are ways to simulate skiing and skating. It takes creativity. You don’t need to pay for swim lessons, just get in the pool as much as possible and swim. (unless you’re not comfortable in the pool, then it’s better to hire someone who will not exhibit fear in the water). Visit playgrounds and skate parks, buy roller blades (and make sure to buy lots of padding), look up park workouts that you can do in snow and sun. Make up exercises for every card in a deck of cards and when you draw that card, do that exercise. Play family games of kickball, hockey, soccer, or basketball. Play tennis on an open court, shoot baskets outside, take bike rides, go hiking, encourage kids to do cartwheels. I tell my girls cartwheels are pushups in disguise.  Do handstands too. Let you kids have dance parties (aerobics) and dance with them.  If you don’t know these skills then look up how to do them.  Living in the information age provides access to information that is unparalleled to any other time in history.  Take a chance and try it…teach yourself so you can teach your kids.  It is valuable bonding time and you don’t have to pay gas, uniforms, registration, etc. If you work really hard on the first kid, you won’t have to worry about that same energy for your younger kids. They’ll have a model of movement in their sibling (s).

There is no real need to expose kids to team competition until they are about eight years old. They don’t get what it means to be part of a team before then, and the games we adults set up for them provide some skill development, but it seems to be more about being entertained. It is not as much fun to watch children gain physical literacy as it is to see them score a goal, but if we want better athletes, we’d be better off delaying the investment in team activities and exposing kids to all sorts of physical movement.

We need to change our mentality about teams for young kids if we want ALL children to become better athletes.

 

Meagan’s book   Choosing to Grow For the Sport of It: Because All Kids Matter is her current WIP. You can learn more about the project at her website: www.meaganfrank.com

 

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Copyright 2013     Meagan Frank               Choosing to Grow

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I cannot bring myself to watch the video of Kevin Ware’s injury. I too broke myself on a basketball court, and it would hit way too close to home to watch it from an audience viewpoint. My injury exposed more than weakened bones. Being physically broken showed me the weak spots in my emotional and mental game too.

It makes me concerned that we, as coaches and parents, are not doing enough to prepare athletes for the inevitability of injury.

The following is an excerpt from my book: Choosing to Grow for the Sport of It Because All Kids Matter and I offer it up as food for thought.

It could be the noises in the darkened hospital, or maybe it’s the overwhelming sense of helplessness, but either way, the throbbing pain partnered with my over-active brain renders me sleepless. The painkillers have numbed the dull aches in my leg and my arm, but there is no way to make my discomfort go away completely. Without an option of rolling onto my side, I stare out over the edge of the bed and past my elevated full-leg cast, while the full-arm cast rests awkwardly on the pile of pillows on my stomach.

I can see the glow of the nurse’s desk and I can hear the murmurings of patients and machines. It wouldn’t have mattered if it had been dead silent… the motion in my head is distracting enough.

“Why did this have to happen?” my sixteen-year-old brain wonders, “I have never been hurt like this. Who’s going to believe I broke my arm and my leg…playing basketball…at a practice? The orderly’s right…I need to make up a better story than that. I’ll tell people I was saving a small child from an approaching semi…my leg and arm just couldn’t get out of the way in time…that’s a better story for sure. It sounds like a reasonable explanation for why I’ll be doomed to these casts for the next six weeks.”

It is night two of my hospital stay, and I’m finally alone. My dad has come and gone on the breeze of his alcohol-filled breath. My sister has called crying to tell me our basketball team lost the playoff game, and my stupid boyfriend had even less to say on the phone than usual.  It is the first time since arriving I am lucid enough to recognize the fear, pain, and sadness have arrived. I wasn’t afraid when they talked about resetting my badly broken arm…I wasn’t afraid when the doctor explained I had fractured my tibia just below my knee cap… I wasn’t afraid as they wheeled me out of surgery and past the waiting room where my mom and soccer coach were visiting. I wasn’t afraid as the day-time conversations swirled around my mobility. “She’s going to need a specially-constructed pair of crutches. Oh, and to get around school? I guess you’re right, she’s probably going to need an electric wheelchair.”

Now, in the solitude of a crowded hospital… with only muted hallway light to cut through the darkness… the fear grows. I am afraid of the unknown.  I can’t picture what this new kind of movement will look like. I didn’t know quite what to make of this new version of myself.

Tears fill my eyes and as they start to pour down my cheeks, I have to let them fall.  I can’t move the casted arm, and the other one is painfully connected to my I.V.

“So this is what it’s going to be,” I think. Tear after tear lands on my hospital gown.

I try to compose myself, as the weight of the casts seeps past my bones and into the very center of my awareness.

“I can’t do this,” I sob to no one in particular.

 

This scene, in my sports story, is more important than any other I experienced. It was a stark wake-up call to how dysfunctional my relationship with sports had become. The moment I hit that basketball floor, the world I had built, and the only world I felt I understood, shattered. I had been functioning as a barely one-dimensional athlete, and I hadn’t realized it.

Successful athletes need to be physically coordinated and conditioned, but they also need to be mentally tough and emotionally stable. Who was I without the physical capacity to compete in sports? I hadn’t had a reason to contemplate that question, and I likely would never have asked it without being forced. So in the six weeks that followed my “accident” I took inventory of my worth. I had to look at my world without the physical language on which I had become so completely dependent. I was forced to gauge whether I had the internal toughness to fight through pain, ridicule, and recovery, and I had to address the gaping holes in my emotional armor.  When I emerged on the other side of that time of reflection, I was not the same person, and I dare argue, the “recovering” version was why I ever came close to attaining my full potential as an athlete.

Breaking myself was the best thing that could have happened to me. Only during the course of research for this book, did I begin to fully understand, and appreciate, why battling through that injury made me a better athlete…and a better person. Of course, I knew that the entire experience had been, as my mom put it, “character-building”, but I hadn’t taken the time to fully analyze why those weeks of immobility were so necessary. Before I got hurt, I truly believed physical work and achievement were all that mattered. Period. I had used both academic and athletic achievement as a way to distract me from the painful parts of my childhood. I hadn’t spent time thinking about the emotional fuel I had been using, nor had I considered whether my internal script was building a solid foundation for my beliefs about myself.  The only piece I had succeeded in achieving in athletics, up to that point, was my physical literacy.

 

The next blogpost will be about physical literacy and the ways parents and coaches can utilize the developmental tool to build physically stronger athletes.

 

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Copyright 2013     Meagan Frank                               Choosing to Grow

 

There are too many indications that we are a society in crisis.

It’s evident in media coverage and popular television shows.

In-fighting among our leaders runs rampant. The obesity rate continues to climb for all of us. Young men are perfectly satisfied  with mediocrity and feel no sense of drive to even move out of their parents’ homes. Young women lack confidence in their own abilities, and/or character, and follow media examples to defer to what they can offer sexually or how best they can engage in dramatic displays of dysfunctional relationship.

What does this have to do with how we coach young athletes?

IT HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH HOW WE SHOULD CHANGE OUR APPROACH TO KIDS!

The best estimate that I could find for participation in organized youth sports activities in the United States is 30- 40 million children.

That is where we need to go to start building creative, energetic, enthusiastic, well-rounded people who are going to make a positive difference in the world.

Analysts and commentators talk regularly about a seeming lack of leadership.  I contend that there can be no leaders without the freedom to create. Secondly, leaders come from a place of inspiration, and if we squash the efforts of the fledgling leader to explore opportunities for themselves…we will continue to spiral as time goes on.

That’s what’s missing in youth sports, you know. Kids have lost the freedom to be creative, to think for themselves, to make mistakes and find a way to fix the problems all on their own. We are killing kids’ desires to lead.

Dr. Vicki Harber, a Professor in the Faculty of Physical Education & Recreation at the University of Alberta and a member of the Canadian Sport for Life Leadership Team, wrote an article entitled Physical Literacy for Confident, Creative, Healthy Children. In it she discusses the very tragic reality of today’s modern child.

We need to listen to this!  We need to be willing to let go and let kids be who they are meant to be. Our job as parents and coaches is not to mold children like piles of clay into a pre-determined statue. Instead our job is to celebrate the innate abilities that these kids already have and encourage them to explore their potential all on their own.

How do we do that when our youth development has become so structured and programmed?  Kids don’t have the opportunities, or the time, to go out on the playground and imaginatively play. They want to be with their friends who are signed up for teams and activities, so they sign up too.  The problem is, when they get there, the structure remains adult-driven, and what the kids really NEED is lost in the programming.

So build it in…

As coaches of youth teams, how is creative play built in to your practice plan? Schools have recess, choice time, and movement exercises where the kids can form some autonomy.

Why can’t we do that for the sports teams?

Let kids be a part of the practice plan.  Ask them what they want to do, and don’t get annoyed that all they want to do is play games.  All they SHOULD be doing, at most youth levels, is playing games.

Kids are crying out for help. They are dropping out of youth sports at an alarming rate. They are giving up on activity altogether because it was never fun from the start. Be challenged by this. At whatever level you participate: as a parent, as a coach, as an administrator…take a good hard look at how creativity is built into the sports experience and how creative leadership is celebrated for all of the kids who participate.

If we are dissatisfied with where things are, we need to be working to make it better. It’s a matter of principle:

“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

Thomas Jefferson

Our kids deserve more from us. They deserve a chance to be kids…to develop passions…to be celebrated not for doing things just like everyone else, but instead for coming up with a new idea.  Let’s bring that to the sporting arenas!

I know I’ll revisit this topic, and any thoughts on the subject are welcome. The dialogue is necessary, and I hope you’ll engage with comments and suggestions.

For more information on Meagan Frank or her current book project: Choosing to Grow: For the Sport of It you can visit her website:  www.meaganfrank.com

2012 Copyright   Meagan Frank                                                Choosing to Grow

Alyssa Grogan, University of Minnesota #33

If you follow women’s hockey in Minnesota, you have heard of Alyssa Grogan. If you pay more attention to the Gopher men, or the Wild, or the peewee who skates in your backyard, you may have heard of her but you probaby don’t know much about her. If hockey’s not your thing, you don’t know her story, but it will inspire you just the same.

Alyssa was the starting goalie for the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team for two full years. She started three games her junior year before suffering an injury that would sideline her…permanently.

On October 18, 2010 Alyssa geared up for a Monday afternoon practice. Toward the end of practice, and during a race-to-the-puck drill, Alyssa skated out to challenge the racers. She dove for a pokecheck and was kneed in the head by one player while the other player crashed down on the back of her head.

The fog of concussion crept in on Alyssa immediately. She has suffered symptoms from that collision for the last fifteen months, and on November 30, 2011 the doctor explained to her that her college-hockey-playing days were done. He told her that she was still too symptomatic and it was too dangerous to put her back on the ice.

It sounds like a tragic story, but it is in Alyssa’s resilience that heroism is found.

Just after the injury happened, Alyssa found herself without the one activity that had been so integral to her identity. She had played for the US national team, she had been the starting goalie for her time at the U, and all of a sudden she couldn’t play hockey…she couldn’t attend classes… and she was desperate to find something to help combat the depression that often accompanies head injuries. The athletic trainers, who were helping her to work through her injury, asked her what were some other things that gave her gratification.

She told them, “it makes me happy to do things for other people.”

So, that’s what she did. While her teammates were practicing, playing and traveling, Alyssa began brainstorming and organizing.

Just prior to Christmas break in 2010, Alyssa organized the first Give Back with the Gophers event. The players hosted girls’ hockey teams from the surrounding area and, as a group, they shopped for toys for the needy. The Gopher women then gave the local girls a tour of the Ridder ice arena facility, and Alyssa set up a scavenger hunt through the building.  It gave Alyssa something to do, but it also became an incredible way for more and more people to give back too.

“When you get to the U,” she said, “and you see how the girls idolize you. It’s humbling to know I’m in this position to impact so many people by doing the right things.”

For the start of the 2011 season, Alyssa couldn’t use her role in front of the net to inspire people, but she knew as a Gopher she could rally plenty of people to help at a level she could never be able to impact all on her own.

So, for the 2011 event, Alyssa included more people and the impact grew. 55 girl hockey players attended, and with the Gopher players, they collected money, food, hats, gloves, and toys for the needy, they made 13 fleece tie blankets, created 75 decorations for area nursing homes and crafted 175 cards to be sent overseas to the Red Bull unit in Kuwait. Alyssa had collected signed memorabilia from the players as raffle items for the girls, and everyone walked away with something from the event.

Alyssa’s role on the team and as an organizer for the event will change next year. She believes the juniors on the team are motivated to keep the event going strong, and she has agreed to help in any way she can.

The story that unfolded for Alyssa during her time as a Gopher hockey player, was not the one she had envisioned. However, when asked if she would have avoided playing hockey if she knew her career would have ended the way it did, Alyssa responded, “No. It’s a huge blessing to be at the U for two healthy years. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

She may not hold a high spot in the record books, or become a household name because of the way she can play hockey, but the mark she has left during her time on the sideline very well may be more enduring than anything she ever did on the ice.

Copyright 2012 Meagan Frank  Choosing to Grow

If you want to learn more about Meagan, or her current book project Choosing to Grow: For the Sport of It, visit her at her website www.meaganfrank.com.

 

Kids cannot help being bigger...but they can be discouraged from being goons.

 

I eavesdrop in ice hockey rinks, in sports bars, and I listen in on conversations that happen in the grocery line. I lurk in chat rooms and listen to radio programs that deal with the hottest issues having to do with sports.

I’m listening for the bigger picture. The one that portrays some sort of societal commentary that plays out in the microcosm of a game.

In the wake of Jack Jablonski’s injury, (and most certainly before the injury too) I would hear things like…”Hockey is for goons.” and “Violence in sport is what people pay to see,” and you can’t play hockey without fighting…or checking,” and “it’s too bad my kid probably won’t be able to play hockey by the time he is fourteen…he won’t be big enough to check well.”

What I hear in these comments is that youth sports mimic professional sports too closely. People may be willing to pay for violence (like an “R”-rated movie) but until kids are old enough to even attend those violent movies, they should not be allowed to play a game in such a violent way. Fourteen is too young to be excluded from a kids game…that is unless it’s not intended to be a kids’ game anyway.

I know there are some hockey purists out there who think like I do, and who believe that hockey can absolutely exist without fighting, even at the NHL-level. If anything has saved my marriage to my college-hockey-coaching husband it is that he and I have agreed to disagree about our philosophies on this subject.

Checking is an entirely different ball of wax, however. Legal checking is absolutely a part of the game of hockey. It is a form of physical contact that moves the game to another level of intensity and strategy, and it is as necessary as tackling is to football. It needs to be taught well and implemented efficiently.

Hal Tearse, the Coach in Chief of Minnesota Hockey, explains it beautifully in the recent enewsletter sent to all Minnesota hockey families. He distinguishes between a “hit” and a “check”. Hitting is for intimidation…momentum shifting…and taking good players not only off the puck, but sometimes out of the game. My addition…(if they are not physically hurt in a hit, the hits are an attempt to take them out mentally)

Intimidation works, and I can hear the “Hockey players are goons” proponents nodding their heads in adamant agreement.

Hockey has goons, but the declaration that all hockey players are goons is incredibly misinformed. The goons (at least in the NHL) are often there to protect the smaller, more skilled players, and there has yet to be a shift in hockey culture to deem them unnecessary. That is the pros though.

There are goons in every sport, however, and they are often the biggest, strongest and meanest among us.  Goons in football stand over the sacked quarterback, or the returning punt-returner, that they have just leveled, and get cheered for delivering blows with incredible brute force.

Maybe the problem is not the goons, but rather the fans who cheer for them. The money we throw at them to be big and strong and brutal is enough to motivate anyone to foster that in the kids with goon potential.

Young athletes watch what the rest of us watch, and they hear what the rest of us hear. Goons are valued. What else explains a high school basketball player throwing his weight around (literally) in one of the most brutal displays of goonism (totally made up word) I’ve ever seen.

The problem is that our culture tolerates goons, and hockey seems to have a system in place that breeds them early and reinforces their behavior too regularly.

So, what do we do about it? Here is my never-having-played-hockey-but-watched-a-million-games idea:

Let kids check the kids their own size.

Contact sports should be separated by weight…until everyone has grown up enough to decide to put themselves in the mix with the big boys. Football has heavy-weight and light-weight teams in middle-school and wrestlers are brilliant enough to know that wrestling in a weight class is the safest and fairest way for wrestlers to compete.

So why isn’t there a weight-class distinction for checking hockey players? At least while the kids are going through maturation and at the ages when puberty is so varied among them.

As you might have guessed, my disclaimer about this proposal is due in large part to the fact that our oldest hockey player, an 11-year-old boy, is one who will NEVER be a goon. Not only is that behavior not tolerated in our house, but he has also been straining on the scale for over six months now to finally weigh in at 80 pounds, (and that was with his wet towel tied around his waist!)

I know he’s worried about what checking is going to mean for him, when it starts in a year-and-a-half.  (He was  relieved when the checking age was moved to the next level).

He doesn’t want to say he is afraid, but he has collided with bigger players, and he knows it doesn’t feel great. There is a line I tread as a mother of a small hockey player. I tell him there is value in being tough, and there is value in being smart enough to stay out of the way. The problem with hockey, is that there are instances, when it doesn’t matter if you are tough and smart…one-hundred pounds makes a big difference when two bodies collide. (Especially if the 100-extra-pounds are hell bent on taking you out)

I think by the time boys turn into men and they know what sacrifices they are making by setting themselves out there to physically collide with another (bigger) player, they are consciously choosing to put themselves in harm’s way. My issue with the current state of checking, and the cultural support of goonism, is that the sport my kids love isn’t safe long enough to protect them from the goons among us.

My kids love to skate…they love the workout that hockey provides for them…and just because they are not big enough to deliver big blows yet, they shouldn’t be closing in on a time to make a decision about whether the game is worth the risk they take playing it.

Copyright 2012  Choosing to Grow

If you want to learn more about Meagan, or her current For the Sport of It book project, visit her at her website:  www.meaganfrank.com.

What? There might not be an NBA season at all? Okay, I would probably be okay with that. I don’t watch much professional basketball anyway.

I have never really been a fan, actually. In my opinion, pro basketball players don’t seem to play hard until the playoffs. They go through the motions, score at will during the regular season games, and then, when the playoffs start, the teams miraculously remember how to play defense and the scores reflect a tighter battle.

I do feel for the thousands of people who are either not working or who are adversely affected by the NBA lockout. It’s actually for them that I find myself frimly stradling a line of opinion. I am angry with the owners and the players for forgetting to take care of the people who support them, but then, the more I think about it, the more I start to blame the supporters too.

I spent some time online today trying to better understand what the fight is about, and I really wanted to find reasons to defend both sides of the negotiating table, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t find a reason to defend the players’ contract argument nor the owners’ pleas for more concessions… I think they are both wrong, and personally I am okay that none of them are making money right now.

It got me thinking though. Whose fault is it, really, that there is this strike in the first place?  Whose money are they really fighting over?

The owners aren’t fighting over their money and the players aren’t fighting over their money, the two groups are fighting over OUR money. WE, the American public consumer, are the reason there is a lockout. We have fed this beast to ridiculous proportions, and it has reached yet another pinnacle.

This is actually not a basketball issue, but rather a societal one that revolves around priorities. Don’t forget, professional football players just narrowly avoided this exact scenario not even four months ago.

There are enormous issues in this country, and not unlike how it is a stage for historical and political commentary, the sporting arenas remain a metaphorical symptom of deeper problems. The current state of professional sports is no exception.

Owners and players believe they deserve the money that people are willing to pay, and the fans want to be entertained and distracted from their lives. The problem is, we are all paying  much more than the cost of admission, and something needs to change.

We have been willing to sacrifice the development of wholly contributing members of society in the name of sport. Athletes are worth one thing…their athletic performance, and without that, the business-machine of sports deems them worthless. This is a terrifying approach to building people, to building teams and to building a country that can effect change on its citizens. It says something that, according to Sports Illustrated, 60% of former NBA players go broke within five years of their last outing on a court.  All that they could contribute to society was earned and spent in the short athletic span of a professional athlete. This should bother people.

It is also telling that if a newly adopted NCAA rule about athletic teams and their academic performance had been instituted last season, 99 of the men’s basketball teams that competed in March Madness would not have been eligible to play…including the National Champions, UConn. Football programs would be similarly affected by the new rules, and I commend the NCAA for taking this step. Academics have clearly not been priority enough, and to be a one-dimensional person is not acceptable. We must expect more, from ourselves and from the athletes.

Americans are addicted to sports…and too many people are enabling it to stay that way. Maybe this lockout is like an enormously-scaled intervention.

I love good competition, and I am inspired by the physical feats and miraculous teamwork that can happen on a playing field, but I am concerned about the business-side of sports. We’re losing access to the motivating human stories behind the life-changing moments… and we’re losing perspective one outrageously high paycheck at a time.

US and Canadian national teams shake hands after Canada wins the gold medal

Shaking hands with an opponent is supposed to be a sign of good sportsmanship.

I don’t agree. It’s not that you shake hands…it’s HOW you shake hands that matters.

After emotionally-charged soccer or basketball games, I always lined up with my teammates to go through the ritual post-game congratulations. The thing I’ve discovered…only the winning team ever really feels like doing this.

I have either witnessed, or been personally involved with, several incidents that were anything but sportsmanlike.  I’ve seen spitting, pushing, elbow jabs, aggressive high-fives and the high-five that was offered and then moved at the last second…psyche! I’ve heard completely inappropriate comments and I’ve seen all-out brawls.

A post-game handshake that escalated into a fight recently challenged my opinion on this subject.

Saturday night I was running our children from a hockey rink to a birthday party to a hockey rink and then home, and all the while I kept up via Livestats with the game for the college hockey team my husband helps coach.  UW-River Falls was playing the second of a two-game series against the defending national champions, St. Norbert College. Because River Falls had won the game Friday, 6-3, they had a chance for a weekend sweep.

When I got home, River Falls was losing 3-0 and I was sure my husband would be relieved with a split for the weekend. By the time I took our youngest to bed, the score was 4-0 in the third period. I read her a book and went back for one last check of the score…it was 4-2 with 9 minutes left in the game. I’ve watched enough hockey games to know that a 2-goal game is far from over… until the last buzzer sounds.

I ran downstairs with my computer, pulled up the radio broadcast of the game and listened, with our older two, as the Falcons came back to tie the game and then go up 5-4. It was somewhat unbelievable. SNC tied the game 5-5 and it remained tied through the overtime.

The broadcaster explained that there was understandably plenty of emotion for both teams at the end of the game.  Pushing, shoving, and emotional (colorful) commentary. It’s hard to imagine being a player on either end of that sporting contest without having an emotional opinion about what just happened.

The real problem arose when the teams lined up for the hand-shaking ceremony. Practically immediately, the players from both teams were involved in a fighting scrum. Coaches and the referees eventually broke things up and the players took their emotions to their respective locker rooms.

Should these two teams have been asked to go through a handshaking line when they had (only seconds earlier) been yelling and fighting with one another?

I initially had a real problem with this entire episode (a conversation that rose to its own escalation when my husband and I talked about it later).

“You HAVE to keep it together at the end of a game and it is good sportsmanship to tell your opponent good game,” I argued.

“There is no reason those guys should have been allowed to stay on the ice. Emotions were just running too high.,” my husband said.

So who’s right about this?  We tell parents who are emotionally charged after a game to wait 24-hours to talk to a coach.  Anger-management experts agree that your heart rate needs to be below 120 if you are to make reasonable decisions, so arguments when you are emotionally charged are useless conversations.  Can players who have just spent emotional, physical, and intellectual energy in a tight and emotional contest be expected to make rational decisions shaking hands?

There were plenty of commentaries about this very issue when two NFL coaches practically went to blows during an after-game handshake.

I know handshakes can happen without incident, but I was not in that rink…my husband was…those officials were.  They should have made a different call.

The national teams for Canada and the US were able to hold intense emotions at bay for the handshake of a lifetime, and after what was arguably one of the most emotioanally intense games I have ever seen. Athletes and teams should aspire toward the class that was displayed during that gold-medal game. There are times, however, when the decision to just walk away is not only appropriate,  it may be necessary.

Maybe there should be two options for the end-of-game handshake routine:

If the teams are in control enough to come to the middle, everyone from both teams should shake hands.

If the teams seem as though they will  only make a volatile situation worse…just send the captains.  It is much harder to dive into mob mentality when there are only a few representatives from each team, and you would expect your captains would represent the team and/or school with the integrity that a handshake should really be.

What do you think? Should we make teams take part in hand-shaking no matter what?

We spend a lot of our time in cars headed to practices and games. We spend even more time on the fields and in the rinks where the cars end up. We tell people we are a sporting family, but it is really important to us to maintain perspective in the increasingly competitive world of youth sports.

As much as I know about sports, teams, competition and being an athlete, I know there is still so much to learn.  I am invested in learning how to best guide our children through what is yet to come for them, and enjoy the journey along the way.

Game on!