2016 NEYSA Coaches Meeting

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voutour

Great to finally meet Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour

“If we’re ever going to end domestic violence, it’s going to have to start with the way that we raise our sons.” – Linda Dynel

This quote was included in the literature that was given to over three hundred youth football coaches yesterday evening at the Niagara Erie Youth Sports Associations’s annual coaches meeting. With sixteen member organizations, NEYSA is Western New York’s largest youth football league. I was happy to be able to help Ray Turpin, President of NEYSA, put together a program that would make a lasting impression on all of the attendees. 

I’m pictured here with Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour who spoke to the packed auditorium about topics like being a good role model and the lasting impact that coaches have on their players. Sheriff Voutour asked thought provoking questions like, “Are you going to be successful or significant?” and tried to impress upon the crowd of mostly men that they have a “golden opportunity” to teach each and every young person that steps onto their field to be respectful, decent and thoughtful young men (and women) by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:”There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing.” Addressing the topic of domestic violence, he encouraged the group to speak up if they thought that something was amiss with one of their player’s families. “If you see something, say something.”

Sheriff Voutour ended his presentation by suggesting that the group practice standing at attention with their players for one minute at the end of each practice, as sometimes children have a hard time standing still and paying close attention during our national anthem. “If you teach respect for our country,” he told them, “everything else will follow.” 

I’m glad to have had the opportunity to meet Sheriff Voutour and to help make the 2016 NEYSA coaches meeting one that  don’t think any of the attendees will soon forget. 

Too Many Coaches Send The Wrong Message

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Screenshot_2015-09-21-21-21-03It’s a scene that could be straight off of the big screen: A high school football team is boarding a school bus for travel to an away game. Testosterone-fueled tension fills the air as one boy approaches another near the back of the bus.

“Get outta my seat!” the all-star running back snaps at the second-stringer.

“No way, jerk! It’s not your seat!” the pudgy linebacker barks back.

Mr. All Star, losing his patience and fearing that he’s beginning to look foolish in front of his friends grabs the seated boy and raises him to his feet while snarling in his face, “I told you, get outta my seat!”

What happens next sometimes depends on whether you’re at the movies or actually on the bus. In the movies, the coach would immediately take charge. He would firmly and without reservation explain to the two boys that they need to look out for each other, not tear each other down. He would explain the old story about what happens to a house divided. Then Mr. All Star would find a seat elsewhere and the entire team would understand that there was no room for arrogance or dissension among them because they are a family.

Ah, the movies; where everything turns out all right in the end. But it would be tough to sell tickets to a movie if the story ended the way it frequently seems to in real life. Who would pay to see the coach yell back to the angry and humiliated second-stringer to “get over it”, while Mr. All Star receives nothing more than a sideways glance of disapproval?

Things like this happen every day in locker rooms and on buses and on high school football fields all over America. A school can have the most thorough and stringent anti-bullying policy around, but if coaches aren’t willing to address the issue when it arises or worse yet, sweep it under the rug with a chuckle and a “boys-will-be-boys” attitude, enforcement becomes almost impossible.

It’s not just bullying policies that are being ignored by coaches, either. Infractions against the use of alcohol and tobacco as well as lagging academic scores are often overlooked when a starting player is involved. Make no mistake about it, the message that we’re allowing to be sent to our sons is being received by them loud and clear: The win has become more important than how we get there.

If less than one percent of all high school football players go on to enjoy careers in the NFL, then we need to begin selecting high school football coaches who understand that their time with the boys is as much about teaching character as it is about how to throw a perfect spiral or how to run a post pattern. Since many coaches also teach at the schools where they coach, perhaps it’s time that administrators start asking these double-duty staff members what their coaching philosophy is (or if they have one at all) and what they expect their players to come away with at the end of the season other than a winning record.

Our children can learn some of life’s greatest lessons through high school athletics. Let’s make sure that the people we’re selecting to help them learn those lessons are mentally, morally and psychologically equipped to do so.

{This article was originally printed in the “My View” section of The Buffalo News on October 19, 2007 under the title, “Too Many Coaches Send the Wrong Message”.}

** As an aside: I received a lot of public push-back after this article was published almost seven years ago. Local high school coaches called me out in writing, blasting me for not knowing what I was talking about and saying that instances like the above “don’t happen in real life”. Though I had no way of addressing their comments back then, I can say now that the above was a real incident that did actually happen. Sadly, even with all of the anti-bullying education programs that have been put in place since then and the abundance of lip-service given to them, not much seems to have changed in almost a decade. There is still bullying being endorsed and perpetrated by high school coaches in America, as evidenced by the article below:

JV player beaten for wearing opponent’s colors while coaches watched http://a.msn.com/02/en-us/AAeaoqw?ocid=se

Require Baseline Concussion Testing For Youth Sports

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Football-big-thumb~2A modified version of this was originally published in the “Viewpoints” section of The Buffalo News on Sunday, June 24, 2012 under the title “Require baseline concussion testing for youth sports”

 
“To be fair, I should state right off the bat that I’m a football mom and a coach’s wife. Three of my children are boys and all of them played for youth sports associations. All three of them also suffered injuries during their time playing sports. Luckily, none of those injuries was severe enough to warrant a trip directly from the field to the emergency room for further treatment, although over the years I have witnessed more than my fair share of ambulances rushing an injured athlete from the field to the hospital. I’m positive that I’m not the only mom who has ever said a silent prayer for the child being whisked away while at the same time breathing a sigh of relief that it wasn’t mine.

However, our oldest son did end up in the ER a couple of days after a game for a CT scan. When the doctor asked if he’d ever sustained a serious head injury, we could only shrug and say that to the best of our recollection he hadn’t. Sure he’d been knocked around quite a bit over the years; he’d played football since he was in elementary school. But a serious head injury? We’d never considered any of the hits he’d taken to be serious, even when he’d been removed from play for fear that he might have sustained a concussion. When the results of the CT scan came back that he had a possible brain bleed and we took him for further testing, we were asked over and over again how many serious hits to the head he’d taken over the years. Because there was no baseline testing for youth sports done at the time, we had no records to fall back on and had to rely solely on our memories in order to try and assist medical staff.

There is an interesting debate going on right now about the safety of the athletes in all facets of youth sports. We see stories on the evening news about children who have suffered concussions so severe playing youth soccer that they suffer constant, debilitating headaches. Concussions have also long been an issue in youth football and hockey. And although every team strives to make sure that its athletes are being supplied all of the necessary safety equipment so that they might avoid injury, the rate of children being seen in emergency rooms for concussion-related symptoms has doubled in the last decade.

This dramatic increase in numbers begs the question: Are there actually more concussions being suffered or are coaches, sideline trainers and parents better able to identify the symptoms of concussion and therefore availing themselves more frequently to the medical community in order to treat that which is now being recognized as a very real and serious health risk to young athletes?

The question that continues to go unanswered, though, is when is enough, enough? What standards are youth sports associations guided by in order to determine if symptoms that could signify concussion are serious enough to sideline a player for the remainder of a game, the remainder of a season or worst-case scenario, indefinitely? Who is making the rules and what criteria are the policy makers using in order to keep our children safe?

The lack of a comprehensive national standard for very young children (under ten years of age) involved in youth sports only serves to muddy the waters when it comes to local associations trying to put together any sort of remedial, cost-effective baseline testing program for their own athletes. Without a baseline test it’s difficult to gauge the severity of a very young athlete’s concussion, which may lead to a child being sent back out to play before he/she is actually medically ready. There’s also the question of cost. It seems a logical conclusion that the suburban associations would have an easier time absorbing the cost of hiring a qualified physician to administer baseline testing to each of their athletes than their urban counterparts, although any association that is struggling financially, no matter where it’s located, could end up under water on the issue. The unfortunate reality is that until a mandatory national standard for children ages five and up is put in place and used by all youth sports associations, only some kids will receive the necessary testing.

So what’s the solution? We as parents are our child’s first line of defense. We need to approach our associations and ask whether they are working toward instituting a comprehensive baseline concussion testing program and if they are, what sort of testing is being done for children under the age of ten. We need to ask what the costs associated with it will be and how we as parents can help to make it work. Will our role be to do extra fundraising or will we simply have to accept the fact that our children’s teams may not get all of the cosmetic improvements that we might like? Perhaps we need to let our associations know that we are in favor of substance over style and that we are willing to forgo non-essentials like new uniforms or our children’s names on their jerseys in order to put those same funds to better use.

I wonder what the loved ones of NFL players Dave Duerson, Andre Waters, Terry Long and our own Justin Strzelczyk would say if we asked them? Or family members of NHL “enforcers” Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien? Would they say that we should sit idly by and let our youth sports associations make a decision about our children’s safety based on what they believe is most cost-effective? Would they agree that until handling a safety concern is legislated and made mandatory, ignoring it is acceptable because it might be “difficult” or “too time consuming” to administer? Would those deceased players’ moms say that we should let an association brush off our concerns by labeling us as stereotypically overprotective? Would their dads agree that it’s O.K. to be intimidated into not asking questions because we might not know as much about the rules and fundamentals of the game as the coaches do? Or would the family members who have lost loved ones due to complications associated with traumatic brain injury after playing in the NFL and NHL say that parents of youth athletes should stand up for their children’s best interests; that we should approach our sports associations and ask to open a dialogue about the real cost of comprehensive baseline concussion testing in youth sports?

Tiaina Baul Seau Jr. used to say, “Work for today, plan for tomorrow and pray for the rest.” I think we need to work diligently to keep our children safe today, help to put systems in place in order to ensure that they are given every opportunity for bright tomorrows and to say a prayer for the people who administer youth sports associations and make the rules that our athletes will have to play by. We owe our children no less.”

**For more information on baseline concussion testing, please visit http://www.impacttest.com