Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Should Michael Vick be reinstated into the NFL?

Should Michael Vick be reinstated into the NFL? On the one hand, having the
opportunity to learn from one's mistakes is an essential component of what it
means to be a human being. Sports are a wonderful arena to make mistakes and
grow from them. If Vick demonstrates that he can learn from his mistakes and
turn his life around, isn't that a positive message for youth? On the other
hand, was his behavior unforgivable? What kind of message does it send to youth
sport athletes that he is allowed to play after committing such despicable acts?
Where do we draw the line? Does this mean that Pete Rose should now be
reinstated into MLB? Is gambling a less egregious crime? Personally, I wonder
about how many mistakes Vick made along the way before he crashed. Was he ever
confronted? Was he ever benched or challenged as a youth sport athlete by
previous coaches and teachers? Or, did his talent simply prevent others from
setting limits with him? Perhaps being confronted for his less offensive
mistakes may have prevented future indiscretions. Or, is Vick a reflection of
what happens to athletes when they rise quickly to fame and wealth without the
proper support and guidance? I am curious to hear what coaches and parents think
about this question. What do we want our players and kids to understand from
this?

Richard D. Ginsburg, Ph.D.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Economic Correction Factor in Youth Sports

Economic Correction Factor in Youth Sports

While Steven Kotler's recent blog, "High Cost of Playing of Playing Ball,"
raises questions about the trickle-down effect the economy will have on
professional sports, will youth sports also experience a correction factor? At
the professional level, Kotler indicates that fewer fans will pay high ticket
fees to attend sporting contests. Given this progression, will parents of youth
in sports continue to pay high seasonal fees for club and travel teams?

Recently, in the Boston Globe, a youth sports facility director said that many
families are continuing to enroll in their sport programs and offerings because
youth sports are still an affordable and healthy way for families to spend time
together on weekends. Yet a sizable group of parents report spending thousands
of dollars seasonally to support the travel, equipment and playing costs of
their children's travel teams. Families with several children in youth sports
are spending much more.

For some parents, they may simply decide that the cost is not worth the
potential benefit and resort to playing for less expensive and demanding
recreational teams. I wonder how many parents are making these decisions now.
Clearly, many children derive great enjoyment and benefit from their travel
sporting experiences, but perhaps these times are taking us toward more
community play as opposed to regional or even national competition. And while
some kids may miss out on a higher level of play or more exposure to potential
college recruiters, they may also benefit from more time at home, greater rest,
and opportunity to enjoy school and neighborhood friends.

But this is also another and perhaps more important correction factor to
consider. With various examples of poor leadership and decision-making among our
business leadership, youth sports offers a key arena to teach the values of fair
play, hard work over time, and respect for the rules and the integrity of the
games they play. Clearly, winning at the expense of values is not really winning
at all in the end.


Richard D. Ginsburg, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist
Co-Director, MGH Sport Psychology Program
PACES Institute (Performance and Character Excellence in Sports)
Harvard Medical School
617-724-6300 (x 136-4416)
617-244-6491 (private practice)
617-244-7979 (fax)
www.whosegameisitanyway.com <http://www.whosegameisitanyway.com/>

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

When Winning is Peanuts and Cracker Jacks

Last Sunday, I took my three-year-old son to a Red Sox game. Given his fascination with Red Sox hats and T-shirts as well as baseball players in
general, I was certain this was going to be a big occasion for him. As we walked
up the ramp and caught a glimpse of the perfectly manicured green field at
Fenway Park, we heard, "Batting third, designated hitter, David Ortiz" followed
by the roar of the crowd. I thought to myself, "Wow, he will remember this day
for the rest of his life."

But he's three. I knew that he would be unable to follow the game much less see
it from our seats in right field. I thought he might be fascinated by the
players or perhaps seeing a real live baseball. But he could care less. The only
thing that captivated him besides the friendly older kids sitting next to us and
the music was the peanuts and cracker jacks I bought for him. He was perfectly
happy snacking but unimpressed by all facets of the game. And he had no idea
about the score.

Some argue that when children reach age four or five, they start to become
competitive. Many parents will report this as well about their children. They
say that their kids cry when they lose and therefore must really care about
winning and losing. Researchers indicate that children become aware of
competitive tasks by age four and five, but do children really understand
winning and losing? Are tears after losing really about the game or about those
who are watching them play? Or maybe these children are simply frustrated in
their drive to learn a new skill.

Recently, I was speaking to a coach who was a former college athlete. He told me
a story of how both he and his best friend believed that their T-ball teams were
undefeated, even though they played on different teams in the same league. But
in their eyes, they actually were undefeated. They got to hit the ball and run
to first base. They celebrated their small successes as they developed a comfort
with the game. This was winning.

So when does a child truly understand what competition is all about? Some sport
specialists argue that children do not fully understand the meaning of winning
and losing until they reach adolescence when they are capable of abstract
thought. If this is true, think of how many children are unsuited for the
intensely competitive environments in which they play.

In the past few years, new movements have developed across the country where no
score is kept, where cheering is not allowed. But the problem is not the score,
nor is it about cheering or competition. Anyone working with children in sports
recognizes that while most kids may keep score, the outcome of the game is gone
from their minds shortly after the game is over. After the last out, their
concerns lie in plans with their friends and a trip to their favorite ice cream
joint. Not so with the adults. The outcome of the game often plays into our
ambitions and fears about our kids' development as athletes and happy people. We
want to ensure that they feel good about themselves and win in the process. It
is hard for many of us to focus on skill development and joy of the game when
our kids lose. Each game is a step toward making that next team, solidifying our
kids' self-esteem while perhaps increasing the likelihood that sports will be a
vehicle for college acceptance down the road.

The problem lies with us and our culture. We are influenced by the belief that
we must start early and often with our children in sports - we must push and
challenge them. And in our efforts to provide what is best for our children, we
engage them prematurely in overly competitive and demanding tasks that fail to
mesh with their developmental readiness to play and compete. I was reminded of
this very fact when taking my son to the game. Without question, he absolutely
enjoyed himself. Yet, winning wasn't about how well the Red Sox played or
whether he saw Jason Varitek. Winning was about peanuts and cracker jacks and
time alone with his father.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bad Sports or Not Enough Sports: What's the real problem?

Did anyone read Robert Lypsyte's article, "'Jock Culture' permeates life'" in
USA Today last Thursday? His central point is: "A 'winning is everything' notion
starts in the littlest of leagues. Lessons of hard work and fair play give way
to 'gain the edge at any cost.' But what happens when this type of thinking is
adapted by CEOs, police officers, or politicians?" (USA Today, Thursday April
10th, 2008, pg 11A). Is the desire for immediate gratification permeating all
aspects of our culture? Are the some of the negative lessons of sports stronger
than the values of families and schools?

These are particularly worrisome questions as we are seeing parents with young
children in sports devote most weekends to games and travel looking to provide
for their children and gain the "competitive edge." But as Lipsyte recognizes,
his most significant point is about the kids who are "weeded out" of sports at
young ages. Many sport experts suggest that youth will drop out of sports at
high rates by the time they are 13-years-old. Often the number one reason for
dropping out is that children no longer are having fun. In fact, the elephant in
the room is that not enough kids are playing! Mohoney and colleagues (2006)
conducted a social policy report on organized activities and revealed that in
contrast to what many folks believe, an alarmingly large majority of young
people are not engaged in any form of organized activities at all. Many of us
know that the highest rates of delinquency in children and adolescents occur
between the hours of 2 and 6 PM. The biggest problem for our country's youth is
that we don't have enough teams, fields, coaches, teachers, and activities
available for them. Either the programs are too competitive, too expensive, or
simply nonexistent. Physical education alone has been dropped from many public
school programs.

Yes, as Lipsyte and many others suggest (me included), our efforts should be
directed to the teaching of character in the context of sports to build strong
leaders for the future. But even at a more base level, we need to fund programs
and resources so our children have a place to play and are coached by
character-driven adults. As we mention in our book and my colleague Dr. Steve
Durant often says, "Sports don't build character - People do" (Ginsburg, Durant,
and Baltzell, 2006). But until there are resources for more kids and their
coaches, we will continue to see a sharp split between those who are good enough
to play and able to afford it and those who lack either the talent or
opportunity.


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Monday, April 07, 2008

Will Playing Sports Get Our Kids Into College?
(Also posted on Psychology Today's website).

What if playing sports had absolutely no influence on college acceptance? What
if playing for THE elite travel team meant only that our children were playing
more games at a higher level with no free time for weekend relaxation? Would
playing youth sports hold the same importance it does in present day culture?

I think not. Families across the nation would be relieved. They could have their
weekends back to go to church or synagogue, have a barbeque in the neighborhood,
spend time together as a family, save money on gas, and limit the number of
hours in the minivan. Everyone would sleep more. Parents might actually have
time to do something for themselves. Downtime might return as a realistic
option.

The more I speak on this topic to parent groups and schools, the more I come to
understand that the number one driving force behind the youth sport frenzy is
the hope that athletics will help our children get a scholarship or at least
give them a competitive advantage over another child with equal or better
academic standing.

The chances our children will play college sports are slim. Less than 5% in most
cases as estimated by the NCAA and the National Alliance of Youth Sports. Do the
math. Most of our children aren't going to play college sports. It's unlikely
they will get a "leg up" in the college application process through sport
activities. And scholarships are even more remote. As Bill Pennington wrote in
the New York Times a few weeks back, full scholarships are rarely given. In
fact, most scholarships fail to match the years of annual youth sport bills that
include membership fees and extensive travel bills. Is it really worth our time,
energy and dollars to invest in such an unlikely outcome?

Early sport training, early sport specialization, and travel teams do not
guarantee success. In fact, there is no solid research evidence that early
specialization helps performance. But there is plenty of evidence about the risk
of burnout, over-use injury and stress from early specialization and
over-training. Ask any pediatrician or sports medicine doctor, and they will
tell you that their practices are inundated with child over-use-in-sport
injuries.

So why play sports? Why are we enrolling our kids in Little League baseball or
encouraging them to try out for the high school team? There are countless
reasons why children should play sports. Studies reveal that the benefits range
from increased cardiovascular health and reduced risk of obesity to improved
social skills and overall mental health, just to name a few. Sports are an
opportunity to cultivate character in our young people so that they may be
versatile adults capable of independent thought and leadership. Physical
activity helps them become more comfortable and confident in their own bodies.

When it comes down to it, I am going to take a leap that these are the reasons
most parents want their children engaged in sports. The powerful current of our
win-at-all-cost culture plays off of our fears. We worry that our children will
miss out and fail to reach their full potential if we don't push them hard
enough.

If this were the stock market, would we continue to devote hard-earned dollars
to a long-shot of athletic scholarship? And it is not only our pockets that are
at risk. Some children pushed to the extremes in sports either become injured,
burned out, or even worse, turned off from sports entirely. The safest
investment is in our children's overall health which entails a balance in their
sport, and academic and artistic activities. There is nothing wrong with
encouraging excellence in athletics, but sports are more likely a vehicle to
build life skills applicable to life after college as opposed to a ticket to
college.


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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Psychology of Sport - From the games of youth to the big leagues

Playing youth sports has drastically changed in the last twenty years. When I
was young, we played pickup games in my neighborhood. Basketball, wiffleball,
and touch football - without the involvement and supervision of adults - were
our games until dark. Presently, neighborhood, unstructured play has dropped
off. Both parents work. Many of us worry, "Who will take care of our kids? Will
they be abducted if we give them freedom to play?" Organized sports seem to
assuage these concerns.


But, I am seeing increasing numbers of burnout and overuse injuries among our
youth. I am seeing parents under great financial and emotional strain trying to
keep up with an overwhelming sports' schedule that overtakes family dinners and
dominates weekend activities. And for what? It's unlikely any of our kids will
receive athletic college scholarships, despite all of our fantasies (mine
included).


The physical and emotional health benefits from playing sports are being
undermined by extreme training and intense adult pressures. Among our teen
athletes, I am seeing increasing demands on them to perform at exceedingly high
levels. Cheating, steroid use, overtraining and rage are rearing their ugly
heads in the service of achieving that savored "competitive edge."

In this blog, I hope to address these concerning issues related to youth sports
and their connections to the collegiate and professional sport world. I hope to
facilitate a dialogue among parents about what is healthy and edifying for their
children in a fast-paced, win-at-all-cost sporting world.



Richard D. Ginsburg, Ph.D.

Clinical Psychologist and Sport Psychology Consultant

www.whosegameisitanyway.com

Thursday, October 05, 2006

T.O Means Time Out

Given the recent troubles in professional sports, it has made me want to call time out and reflect on what we’re teaching and promoting in sports. Clearly there are thousands of professional athletes who conduct themselves honorably on and off the field and serve as wonderful role models for young athletes, but the recent events involving Terrell Owens, Albert Haynesworth and Jason Grimsley among others are reminders of how off track things can get. I don’t know any of these men personally. I don’t know the efforts their coaches and teams have made behind the scenes. I don’t know the true stories behind the struggles of these men, so I can’t speak specifically to their situations. However, their behavior highlights the various vulnerabilities athletes face in the wake of competing at such high levels. The desire to cheat to win, the propensity to become overwhelmed in the face of failure, and the inability to control impulses effectively on and off the field are scarring the face of sports at all levels.

 

Perhaps this is a societal problem. We’ve become so focused on entertainment and its financial benefits to the extent that whatever sells is good regardless of the means to get there. Or sports have become so advanced and competitive that athletes at all levels athlete have to go to greater extremes just to keep up. The irony of it all is that the “win at all cost” mentality often leads to the opposite result, losing. Taking short cuts, cheating, and breaking rules (acts that lack character) often undermine individual and team performance. Typically, athletes who lack character run into trouble. They get caught; they explode; they implode. And they lose. They lose and so does their team.

 

Teaching players how to play and live with character at young ages is a growing necessity given our quick fix, entertainment driven culture. Character prepares the average athlete to be a good citizen, and it prepares the elite athlete to manage the strains of high level competition with perspective and grounding values. I am glad to see that professional sports’ administrators and coaches are beginning to take a harder line with these character breaches. More often than not, teams that do this are the ones that are most successful and set the best example for the next generation.

 

 

Richard D. Ginsburg, Ph.D.

Clinical Psychologist and Sport Psychology Consultant

Co-Director, MGH Sport Psychology, PACES Institute

Harvard Medical School

www.whosegameisitanyway.com