Cuts like a knife – but it feels so…

Wrong. It feels wrong.keep-kids-playing-sports

The following is the ‘non-edited for newspaper’ version of an OpEd that @Lauren_Sulz and @LouiseHumbert and I wrote for the Edmonton Journal’s Opinion Page. (Image to the right is from Active for Life – more good reading over there!)

The first time you get cut from a team sucks. The second time is probably no better, but many kids will not ever bother to try out again. And yes, we’ve heard the ‘…but Michael Jordan was cut from HIS high school team and look where he ended up.’ mantra. Regardless of your perspective, cutting kids from sports is controversial and we seem to be staring at each other across a chasm of:

“It builds character – kids these days need to toughen up.” “It’s life – not everyone makes the team.”

OR

“Everyone has the right to play.” “It turns kids off of sport, for life.”

As professionals in physical education who have played and coached sport at a variety of levels, we wanted to take a closer look at the practices of de-selecting (cutting) kids in sport – particularly in school. Perhaps we could begin to bridge the chasm and find out how we can help coaches and kids – maybe even make a painful process less so. Since we also happen to be researchers, we designed a study to do so – go figure! We talked to young athletes who had been cut from a sports team in the past and their parents (52 one-on-one discussions) and surveyed coaches and athletic directors (1667 in total!). Our goals were to understand, from multiple perspectives, the experience of being cut and to find strategies that may ease the stress of this practice and encourage kids to keep playing.

In short, we found out some interesting stuff. First off, de-selection cuts deep. There are negative emotional, social and physical consequences. Athletes lose friends and are forced to find new social circles. They question their own identities and can feel lost and adrift. Perhaps quite obviously, their self-esteem is shaken. Time spent being physically active is reduced – not being on the team means no more practices and games. Cutting also deterred athletes from future participation in the same sport. As well, when no specific feedback was provided as to why athletes were cut there was a tendency to assume a low level of skill and a prediction of future failure. The same results happened when athletes were given feedback about things they can’t change like, ‘You’re too short’.

For coaches, regardless of the way cuts were communicated, our study found four factors that can improve the experience. Immediacy (don’t make them wait!), privacy (please don’t tell them in front of the whole group), encouragement (provide options for continuing to improve in the sport) and expectations (be clear up front about what you are looking for and the process of making the team). As well, the athletes themselves told us that the best way to help them cope with being cut is to provide clear reasons in a face-to-face meeting. In these meetings, coaches can keep things candid and up front by:

  • Stating the outcome right away – don’t beat around the bush.
  • Tell athletes why they were cut – specific, personal explanations.
  • Provide actionable feedback – things athletes can actually improve.
  • Write it up – eliminate miscommunication or misperceptions.

We shared these results on the Canadian Sport for Life blog (http://canadiansportforlife.ca/blog/easing-pain-cutting-kids-sport-are-there-best-practices-dr-lauren-sulz) and were blown away by the attention it garnered – over 10,000+ views of the page and counting. More significantly, we began to receive emails from people who took the time to share their experiences and stories with us:

From a coach (and parent):

“I appreciated your article, and it’s quite timely for me, I am faced with two sessions of cuts from a Pee Wee A Provincial hockey team, and not looking forward to it at all.”

After a detailed explanation of the hockey world, evaluation, coaching and communicating to parents, this reader finished with:

“Looks like I’ve worked through a lot of frustrations – you don’t even have to answer me, doc, I’ll do it for you: ‘In evaluating these young athletes, you tried your best, buddy, and that’s the most important thing.  Don’t give up trying to get better, though.’ Thanks again for the article, I can say your interview and survey efforts will positively affect lots of 11 and 12 year olds this season!”

From a parent:

“I just read your article and I wanted to tell you about my son’s experience in tryouts. My son is 8 (that’s right, only 8) he was on a Tier 1 team.  His team was really good and then after the season, they had tryouts for the next season.  The tryouts were two 1-hour tryout sessions.  At the end of the 2nd day, all of the players were called into a circle around the coaches.  If you made one of the teams, your name was called and you were given a piece of paper to give to your parents to register you for the team.  After all of the papers were given out, the rest were told they did not make a team.  So my son and his teammates that made the team were all cheering wildly. A couple of boys from his team did not make the roster of the new team.  They just sat there while the rest of their old teammates screamed with joy. This made me sick.”

The same parent went on to say,

“I wrote to you in part because I feel so powerless.  I need to vent about this.  I know that how the kids are being treated is wrong, but that if I complain my son could suffer consequences of being the son of a ‘trouble maker’. Please use my story and I hope that it can save some kids from experiencing what the kids trying out for my son’s team face.”

We are incredibly frustrated and saddened by the fact that 8 year olds, 11 year olds and others are being cut from teams each and every sport season. Come on Canada, we need to do better. We aren’t saying that there should never be cuts for some teams. There is a time and a place. But that time and place should not indicate an END of sport participation. It is obvious to us that the conversation around cutting kids in sport – especially at the developmental level – MUST continue. Canadian kids are less active and less healthy than ever before. Sport can provide quality physical, social and emotional experiences – learning skills and concepts that last a lifetime. Do we want more kids playing sports? If the answer is yes, then sport organizations at all levels need to examine their practices to ensure opportunities for as many kids as possible.

We’d love for you to contribute to the conversation at: Share Your Team Selection Experiences

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If you want to hear a little more, listen to the recording from a local call-in radio show featuring this article . Thanks to @Albertaatnoon for having me on! Good chat.

 

 

A Sporting Chance

I have a problem.  Ok, I have lots of problems but I want to blog about this one…  You see, I want to love school sport and in fact for many years I did.  But my love light is flickering and is in danger of going out.  Before I really dive into this issue, let me share a few quick facts about me and my love.

I played school sport.

I coached countless school teams.

I have watched school sport positively change the lives of kids.

I have seen school sport re-ignite teachers’ passion for education.

Despite all the positive experiences I have had over the past 30 years, why does my taste for school sport seem to turning from sweet to bitter?  After a lot of thoughtful, pensive, pondering; a good deal of reading; hour upon hour of observation; several naps (seriously, naps are awesome); deliberate discussion with many friends and colleagues I have narrowed my reasoning down to three key issues.

#1. Participation Rates.  I spent many years coaching at the junior high (grades 7-9) level.  My last school had a population of about 400.  Because I was interested, I kept track of all the kids that played on all the teams we had.  Over the whole year, only 90 kids out of the 400 played at least one sport (many played more than one).

22.5% of the school population could access all the benefits of being part of school sport (sort of… more on this in the next issue).  But that also means that 77.5% of students had no involvement whatsoever with school sports.  Public education systems around the world are founded on the belief that a democracy requires informed and intelligent citizens.  Egerton Ryerson, one of the key advocates for public education in Canada, firmly believed that schooling should not be a class privilege and should be not only universal, but free (see – History of Public Education).

So why do we continue to commit school resources to something that can only benefit some of the students?  In the very thought provoking article The Case Against High School Sports, Amanda Ripley shares the example of Spelman College.  Spelman spent almost $1 million on athletics for 4% of the student body.  Given the fact that almost half of the incoming class in 2012 had some sort of chronic health issue that could be improved by exercise, the president made a change.  The $1 million dollars was re-directed in 2013 towards a campus wide health and fitness program to benefit all.  Intriguing.  Can we continue to justify only providing the benefits of school sport to less than 25% of our students?

#2. Elitism.  So.  You are one of the lucky ones – you make the school team.  Yay for you!  Life will now be blissful and wonderful as you develop your prowess and skills along with the other kids on your team.  Not so fast.  What I continue to see is that the best 5,6, 11, etc. kids are treated very differently than the rest.  They are given the bulk of the playing time and have the most opportunity to learn and develop in practice.  I suppose this is just an extension of the previous point.  We’ve already got rid of over 75% of the kids.  Why not winnow it down a little further?

Quite simply, we can’t afford this sort of elitism in a school sponsored “educational” sport experience (please note the very sarcastic nature of my finger quotes).  Public school is for all.  A year ago, the director of education in Canada’s largest school board wrote an editorial for the Star. In the article he argues for all the physical, psychological and social benefits to children from school sport.  I don’t disagree with these benefits, however, we must recognize that school sport misses a large number of kids. If we are going to continue to only provide sport for 25%, then at the very least, let’s stop the elitism there.  Segue to my next point.

#3. Winning first. I believe that this issue is actually at the heart of the problems with school sport (and perhaps community and club too).  School is about becoming an informed, engaged, educated citizen – now and for life.  Not about winning trophies and putting banners on the wall.  Don’t get me wrong, winning is not in itself a bad thing.  Pretty sure most of us would rather win than lose.  The problem lies in placing winning as the ultimate goal with all else, including player development and dignity, coming a distant second.

A short story and then I’ll wrap this up.  A few years ago I coached a junior high, junior basketball team.  I had 18 kids try out and 18 kids made the team.  We had a perfect season. 0-6.  Whaaaaaaaat?  The last game of the year, we lost 46-84.  My boys were jumping in the air, cheering, slapping each other on the back.  The other team was asking their coach, “Didn’t we win the game?”  Let me explain.  I had 18 grade 7 boys on my team who had never played on a basketball team before and some had never really played basketball at all.  As a team, our goals were to improve individual and team skills and essentially to be better by the end of the season.  Oh, and to grow to love the sport of basketball.

We were excited to “lose” our last game because we did not define our success individually or as a team by winning.  Here are the important stats of that final game.

  • we had our highest scoring game ever (previous record – 23 points)
  • we were not doubled by the other team
  • we kept the other team’s score below 100
  • every player scored at least one basket
  • one player who had never got on the scoresheet before not only scored a bucket – he FOULED someone!  For a kid who was scared to play defence, this was a big step!

The point is, we would have had a dismal season if we focused on winning.  Instead, we put development first and arranged our season goals around that concept.  Everyone played (line change!), everyone improved and everyone won.

So what should we do? Cut school sport all together?  Let club sports take over? Let high school sports die?

To be honest, I am not really sure what we should do.  I am, however, convinced that we need to do something different.  A re-imagining of school sport, if you will.

What if all kids received quality daily physical education that included true physical literacy foundations providing them with the foundation to pursue a variety of sport and physical activity?

What if late elementary and junior high kids ALL had opportunities to participate in sport clubs that would develop their skills and allow them to compete positively against others of the same level?

What if high school sport was a place that had opportunities for ANY student to play at the level they choose?

What if we made a commitment to place development ahead of winning at all levels of school sport?

I’m not ready to give up on school sport.  But as a society, our relationship with school sport needs to move from infatuation to love; patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not dishonorable and not self-seeking.

Let’s work together to find a way to give all kids in school a sporting chance.

(re-post of my guest post on the ParticipACTION Blog)

Track and Field Ramblings

trackshoes-smallI know.  My Canadian friends are thinking, “What the heck is he writing about Track and Field (T&F) in November for?”  Hey – it’s never to early to start planning your T&F or activity day for the Spring!  As well, my friend Mel (@mjhamada) and I recently had a wee Twitter flurry focused on alternate track and field events/days.  After our short exchange of ideas, we decided to collaborate on this blog post to highlight our perspectives and thoughts.  Take a read, tell us what you think and, most importantly, please contribute to the google doc we have started to share your ideas as well (link at the end of the article)!

Mel’s Ramblings! Recently I have heard a lot of comments online about how PE was very difficult and how rotten we are as a profession!  I have to say that in my High School life I adored running and so Track and Field was a joy to me as I could actually do well in something I really enjoyed.  Now, I know that PE and T&F aren’t everyone’s passion but I take from this that it is also important to respect that a T&F day should also be about allowing our athletic students a place to compete and see success. “What did you say Ms Hamada?”,  I hear you shout!

However, I also believe that we need to not exclude students who find T&F day (as well as other traditional sports days) a grind and who are ‘sick’ on these days to avoid having to participate. It is the participation and the fun that we want to ingrain in our students.  I love T&F days because they were fun for me! I will add here that I work in International schools and I haven’t had a school that has a zone or district carnival or T&F team, we just have our school carnival/day and no more.  This makes me think harder about the fun and participation of our students.

So it is important to find the middle ground.  Recently I have worked with different schools who have had varied philosophies on what should constitute these days and found that the winning formula should provide some time in the curriculum for learning about T&F concepts such as how to throw, jump and run and time to practice these with no pressure.    Maximum practice is the most important factor.  Try some of these ideas:

  • Long Jump – set up your students to jump across the pit on the side rather than the long end.  Set up stations, have 4-7 lines all jumping at the same time into the pit and then running around back to the line.  You get to see your students frequently and they get to jump a lot!  Set up tiered stations next – regular jump at one end of the pit and then add a cone 1.5m back from the sand; then add a small hurdle to promote the height of a jump (over length) then add the next line with a hurdle 1.5m back etc.  Students can then quickly get to their level and work at it and in a 60 min lesson you can have students jumping every 1 minute.  Set up student coaches to assist with visual feedback or use your fave app to assist you.

  • High Jump – use hurdles frequently in your HJ lessons to practice scissor jumps.  Set up hurdle stations and have students practice scissor jumps while waiting for the HJ bed.  Differentiate with mats, hurdles, HJ soft bars etc with lots of places for kids to practice and get maximum jumps.

  • Running – complete running drills for sprints with student pairs watching specific technique (eg. arm swing) so they can learn about correct technique and coach each other efficiently.  Set up mini relays or games for students that involve timing and sprinting for success, but limit competition.  Avoid too many block exercises or peers that can ‘watch’ or evaluate time or distance, make the emphasis fun!

Okay so coupled with these athletic pursuits, we have some fun activities thrown in for students who dislike T&F traditional events and who haven’t participated at all!  The T&F day schedule has been pretty full on with 4 sessions in the day and a lunch break.  Each Grade level had 4 sessions to complete the field activities offered: Long Jump and Shot put; Javelin; Discus;  High Jump.  The Track sessions had a separate schedule that ran all day and Field event participants went to the Track when required.  Our last school hosted: 100m, 200m, 400m, 1500m and 4 x 100m relays.  It was a struggle to get kids into the 1500m and I wondered if we were better off with 2 x 1500m, one for girls and one for boys to avoid the long waits!

I would love to see the alternative events in-between the field or during the field events.  We could then have the egg and spoon or water relay races on for Middle School while High School are completing another T&F activity and vice versa.  This would bring a nice blend to the day.  I am excited about implementing more of this at YIS this year and hope that our fun and participation values drive the day!  I am excited to hear of great alternative activities that we could do on our day to promote fun, friendly competition between Houses and generally improve this day for all concerned!

Doug’s Ramblings! I started teaching PE at a school that followed a very traditional program and T&F was run as a school wide meet.  When I took over as the male PE teacher there was actually a “passing of the starter gun” at the former PE teacher’s last meet (crazy eh!).  I started to keep stats on the T&F day the next year and realized that many kids skipped the day and many did minimal events (format was 2T and 1 F required or 2F and 1 T) or nothing at all.  Lots of sitting around, minimal activity etc.  Over my five years at that school, I slowly made a few changes but was still not really happy with how the day met student’s needs (or the PE curriculum).

When I moved to a new school I was again asked to take charge of the T&F day (which had been very traditional).  I decided to do something completely different and ran an activities based day in which the kids (grades 5-9) were mixed up into multi-grade level groups and moved throughout the day as a team to a variety of active living themed stations.  We did not do any traditional T&F events on that day although we did do them in PE class and invited anyone to join the inter-school team.  Over all I thought the day was successful but…

The next year, I taught a grade nine leadership class with a group of students that had now had a traditional TF day as well as my crazy new format.  I asked them (nuts, I know) what kind of day they would like.  They met and discussed things, I put in my two cents and objectives (essentially to have fun, learning, LOTS of activity) and we came up with a plan.  The students wanted to be able to move with their friends and choose from a variety of active living activities as well as traditional events.  But the TF “events” were not to be used to determine who went to Zone meets – that would happen separately, after school.

With the students taking the lead, our eventual T&F day looked like this: student’s chose from a menu of track, field and active living sessions (AL). Each student needed to get a stamp on their “passport” for a minimum numbers of events – no limit on how many you could choose.  My leadership students invented and ran the active living sessions, teachers ran the TF events and students were free to roam around with their friends and complete their passports in any order they wanted.  In the morning each student had to do a required 3/6 T events, 2/4 F events and 3/6 AL events. In the afternoon it was 2/4 T, 1/3 F and 2/4 AL.

The day was AWESOME! Lots of choice, lots of activity and lots of fun for all involved.  Very few behaviour issues due to the high level of autonomy and almost no absences that day.  Most importantly, the feedback from the students was amazing.  Those who wanted the athletic challenge could compete against themselves and their friends, those who wanted to take a more relaxed approach could do that all well – but all were active!

YOUR TURN! Please share what you have done for T&F days (or just activity days!) at your school.  These can be event descriptions, key resources, day overviews – whatever you like!

Click the link to share!

https://docs.google.com/a/ualberta.ca/document/d/1q5Cz881tMSDZGYsnH6fbXcODSVse9eW7rGnHhH9VpHM/edit?usp=sharing

Ol’ Yeller

20130304-194451.jpgOK – time for the first rant of my blogging career…  Why do we tolerate  / allow coaches (especially, but not exclusively, in school sport) to yell at youth?  Allow me to share the impetuses for my rant.

Exhibit#1: I was watching a junior high basketball game and the coach on the other team was a YELLER.  He YELLED (I am capitalizing to illustrate how frickin’ annoying YELLING is) at a lot of players through-out the game but one particular instance stands out for me.  One of the girls on his team was at least three feet taller than all the rest and as such was gathering in a substantial amount of rebounds.  Apparently, that was not quite good enough for the coach because he proceeded to YELL at her, “JUMP ALREADY! JUST JUMP! JUMP! JUMP! WHY WON’T YOU JUMP! AHH – WHY WON’T SHE JUMP?” The girl was obviously embarrassed, chagrined, uncomfortable, mortified, etc. but to her credit she kept smiling, albeit a little painfully.  Hmm, wonder how long she’ll stay in basketball…

Exhibit #2: A teenager I know tried out for, and made, the football team (for my non-North American friends I mean the kind with helmets) at his high school this year.  Despite an expressed interest and potential burgeoning love for a new sport – not to mention the fact that he is a bit of a beast and would do very well – he decided to not play for the team.  One of the main reasons was a coach who YELLED something very similar to the following, “WHAT THE F@$% WAS THAT? ONE MORE MISTAKE AND YOU ARE OUTA HERE! THERE IS NO ROOM FOR MISTAKES ON MY TEAM. GET IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME OR RIDE THE BENCH.”  Add this to a few racist slurs and I applaud this teenager’s decision not to play. Keep in mind that these words weren’t even directed at my teenage friend, but at another player on the field.

Let me make a few clarifications to the above exhibits and then close with two main thoughts.  Although I was in attendance at the basketball game, the words above are in no way to be considered a direct quote – only my remembrance of a vivid event.  I do not know if he was a teacher as well as a coach at the school.   The words of the football coach are from the teenager’s perception and, in his mind, accurately portray at least the spirit of the exchanges that went on at practice.  This coach is a teacher at the school.  Ladies, lest you think you are off the hook, it just happens that these two recent exhibits are men – ladies can be YELLERS too!

Thought #1: Does it strike anyone else as odd that while we would we never condone a teacher YELLING at our kids in a classroom, for some reason it becomes accepted in a gym / field setting?  “THAT’S A F@#&ING MULTIPLICATION SIGN NOT DIVISION! DROP AND GIVE ME 20 YOU MISERABLE EXCUSE FOR A MATH STUDENT!”. Weird.  Stupid.  Simply put, yelling (see, I stopped, it is that easy) does not work.  Yelling does not inspire performance.  Yelling does not show that we care. Yelling does not develop skill. Yelling does not build up our youth. Stop. Please.

Thought #2: So far, whenever I have shared the football story, people say, “Oh, but that is just the way football is.”  Really?  Football can operate in no other way than by demeaning and belittling youth with public humiliation and slander (@lifeisathletic – I’d love your thoughts here!)?  What a crock!  I love contact sports but can think of no reason why this mentality has to be the culture of football, rugby, hockey etc.  I know plenty of coaches in these types of sports who are very effective without being an Ol’ Yeller. Please, save the yelling for cheers and praise.

Waiting to be moved by your responses (but leave the megaphone at home…).