Did you see today’s story on ESPN talking about Moms and the NFL’s efforts to convince them football is safe for kids? If your kids are athletes, sports safety is king and when it comes to educating coaches, volunteers, and parents alike, the NFL is leading the way. In June 2013, I had the incredible opportunity to join fellow influencers, sports media representatives, and youth sports leaders at the NFL offices in New York City. The 3rd event of its kind in less than a year, the NFL Youth Sports Safety Roundtable and Lunch is designed to educate attendees through the presentations of representatives from youth sports governing bodies. Its also designed to encourage candid conversations about the state of youth sports and how we can all work together for positive change.
There’s no doubt the NFL offices have their fair share of bling. I’d be remiss not to show you the amazing wall of Super Bowl rings from the very first to the most recent just earlier this year.
We were welcomed and by Clare Graff of the NFL who then introduced Dr. Nancy Pieroth. As the leading specialist working alongside the NFL to provide both medical and practical advice on sports and concussions safety, she led the roundtable format. Dr. Pieroth set the tone by talking about balance and why the goal is keeping our kids healthy and safe. Its key in how they engage in sports and play. If you aren’t convinced this is important to youth sports organizations, consider that the presidents or top leaders from the following organizations were all there: Little League Baseball, USA Cheer, USABasketball, USAHockey, USYouthSoccer, USALacrosse, and of course USAFootball. Check out my thoughts after hearing from them all:
Concussions are the most universal form of dangerous injury across all playing fields. So what is a busy Sports Mom who may be a Team Mom to do? Take heart in knowing that thanks to the leadership of the NFL to cultivate this multi-disciplinary Youth Sports Safety Roundtable, collaboration continues to grow. There was a consistent message of unity to slow down the freight train that has overtaken youth sports, turning it into a manic race to first place. All sports called for age appropriate, healthy, and fun sports opportunities for kids of all skill levels. Now the real question is do they mean it?
Upon learning of a 7 year old in travel baseball, the president of Little League Baseball stated that its just flat wrong for a child to play that level of competition that young. How will Little League Baseball lead the way in making change? You and I both know all too well kids who are playing in the Little League World Series broadcast by ESPN every summer have been playing baseball year round since they were at least 7 with fall and spring seasons. Trust me, we said no and didn’t enlist our son in that madness. But there’s no way the 12 year olds on TV haven’t. Hitting lessons. Position coaching. Speed and agility training. Off season workouts. Cal Ripken Allstars start as young as 7 and while its an entirely different league, the intensity in baseball and all youth sports is on board early to compete and win. Its how the game of elite youth baseball is currently played. I want to know how Mr. Keener will make that change.
How about high school athletics and concussions? Dr. Pieroth spoke to the issue of cognitive rest and how important it is to work with schools for individualized academic plans. The CDC has training for coaches and parents in sideline concussion management which is easy and takes 20 minutes. Parents are overwhelmed with all the information out there on health and sports safety and it’s important to arm your self with standard care guidelines and its all found at the CDC. Dr. Pieroth is working with PTAs to make computer labs available for all parents to access online training about concussion care and how they can protect their child. The CDC Heads Up program is entirely data driven and is the key resource to know what to look for no matter what sport your child plays.
Parents are challenged by circumstances outside their control, such as states have their own laws about safety and concussion training for coaches and the very real possibility that rural vs. urban areas often have varying standards. This means that tragically,some kids have very strong concussive care, others not so much with life altering effects. Once of the greatest challenges surrounding how research is applied is that often, what is utilized is for elite athletes, pro and collegiate, and therefore totally not applicable for youth sports safety. So parents have to first know what should be in place and then second, work with their local authorities to change the laws.
You have to take charge of your child’s health and sports safety by educating yourself about the rules of the game they play, about the organization and its standards of concussive care, heat stroke, time in competition, coaches training, governing body oversight and so very much more. Look at your child’s athletic journey like you would any other investment in time, talent, and treasure. You are in the driver’s seat and if you sign up for something that isn’t what you expected, don’t be afraid to make a change.
Which leads me to this ~ I left this event with SO many questions about the transition from youth sports to high school and college prep leagues. Its not all about having fun and learning the game. Its about earning a spot on a state championship team, about getting showcased for college recruitment, about letting your child take the lead in realizing their dreams. Revolutionizing youth sports is a good thing for everyone at the table. Its how we navigate guiding our high school athletes through what could be the last years of playing the sport they love that is wide open without resolve.
I’d love to see a Youth Sport Roundtable dedicated entirely to that. In the mean time, I’d love to know…
What do you think about competitive youth sports and safety measures to keep your child safe?
Does winning come first?
An overview from each presenting organization and a special appearance by the NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell ~
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thrilled that the event kicked off with Little League Baseball. To know me is to know its 14 years and counting that I’ve been cleaning white baseball pants and in my eyes, Little League Baseball is where my journey as a sports Mom began.
Mr. Keener opened by thanking the millions of Team Moms out there who make it possible for Little League Baseball to even exist. Little League owns 65% of the market share of youth baseball and player safety is king ~ pitching is a perfect example. Little League Baseball engaged Dr. Andrews to devise pitch count guidelines and how after discovering injuries while sliding or on deck in the circle, they made changes to the rules of the game with player safety first in mind.
Little League’s commitment to safety and player health supersedes any concern about losing a charter in a community and it will make sure every Little League charter follows the rules as outlined. With the goal of getting out ahead of problems that affect older players, Little League is leading the way to educate parents about high school player enhance performing drugs and has introduced an anti-smokeless tobacco program as part of their player educate platform to get out ahead of this habit threatening the health of players.
Little League Baseball sees pedophilia as a very real threat to student athletes in all sports. To make sure this threat is erradicated in all charters, it offers every league 125 free background checks a year so they can vet volunteers. Future issues Little League Baseball will tackle? Protective head gear for pitchers and educating parents regrading the hazards of specialization sports to young.
I have to be honest, this presentation concerned me the most. I live in the Raleigh, NC area and if you know basketball, you know we are a hotbed for amazing college basketball thanks to Duke, UNC, and NC State. We are surrounded by friends who are heavily involved in the world of AAU Basketball and our local high schools produce college caliber recruits yearly. But I had no idea how dark this sport has become at that level. Key talking points from USABasketball representatives revealed:
As an organization USABasketball has a blank canvas in front of them. They can’t clean up the ugliness of pre-recruiting environment. But they can focus on youth basketball and working hard to change the tide. All efforts are focused on working with kids 8-18 as a servant leader to teach, promote, and lead ~ this I love! The program is rooted in an athlete development model that makes it clear teaching and coaching 3rd graders is not the same as working with 8th grader. Key is teaching players at the right level. USA Basketball is working with Safe Sport to discuss bullying and other difficult topics, coaching certification and more. And interestingly enough, AAU Basketball does not play a huge role in USABasketball.
What worries me about youth basketball is that while I applaud USABasketball for focusing on younger players and changing the league dynamics at the start, there are so many kids currently in a system that is admittedly corrupt. I would love to see more about how USABasketball might lead the way in creating positive change to interrupt the status quo today.
“One injury is too may for us ~ we need to be forever vigilant” Jeff Webb won the day for me with this single statement. Every youth sports league needs to follow USACheer’s lead to value every…single…athlete with this kind of concern. Its an incredibly high risk sport and simultaneously challenging to cultivate good injury data. But USACheer is determined to gather it because that information is the single most important key to make cheerleading as safe as possible.
USACheer has worked hard to introduce standardization of instruction, coaching, and more to dramatically reduce collegiate injury. The key is to take that same level of success to the youth level, below middle school, where currently there isn’t standardization for volunteers. Based on the injury vigilance that is changing this incredibly high risk sport, something tells me this will come.
I think we can all agree that when you hear concussion in conjunction with youth sports, its football that often comes first to mind. USAFootball, with the support of the NFL, is revolutionizing youth football with its Heads Up Football Program. USAFootball recognizes they are at a critical time in history for the game of football to make it safer in both flag and tackle formats. In its 2nd year of the pilot program, there are already 2200 organizations working together with USAFootball to protect kids while training coaches and volunteers. Player safety coaches are certified and trained, and then Coaches are certified and trained. Each serve two different roles. The player safety coach supervises equipment fittings as well to make sure the right gear is on the right child. One of the biggest goals is to teach correct tackling. Heads Up Tackling teaching kids how to hit correctly ~ and so many Coaches might not have learned this in childhood. And that’s the difference. Teaching Coaches that today’s football isn’t the football of their childhood.
While I realized we were at ground zero for NFL awesome, it hadn’t occurred to me that we might hear from the NFL Leadership. However much to our delight, Commission Roger Goodell stopped by for a spell to listen in. Apparently he had been sitting 5 feet from me for like 20 minutes ~ who knew!
When you think of violent sports, raise your hand if hockey comes to mind. I think both football and hockey are the two most obvious sports that breed physical confrontation as part of the game.
To address that, USAHockey stated that they are fighting hard to change the perception that youth hockey is NOT the same entertainment as professional. Read that again. Youth hockey is not the same entertainment as professional. Entertainment = fights. Remind me again why we encourage sports where fighting is part of the drill? USAHockey is working to redefine skill development to eradicate fighting by removing body checking in teh pee wee leagues. To support this shift in instruction, there is mandatory coach education ~ 16 hours online and off ~ coaches must engage and this can only be good for young players.
USAHockey stated that the end goal is healthy kids ~ that of course they believe hockey is the best sport of course ~ but they also believe in multiple sports. USAHockey is working to take the lead to make sure that youth athletes lives are defined by more than just one sport
I have to be honest, USALacrosse surprised me the most ~ it is the fastest growing youth sport in the US, growing 10% or more yearly for a decade straight! USALacrosse believes in a lifelong, cradle to grave Lacrosse experience…that you could play for your life with player safety and education first. Standardized coaching education and multi-level certification ~ girls specific and then boys specific. USALacrosse is unique to every other sport in attendance because it has to meet two different sports needs basically, yes they are both lacrosse but boys and girls rules differ.
What was very refreshing to hear from USALacrosse is the belief that sports is a pyramid and all sports disciplines need to shift their focus from top of that very small group to the base ~ the youth leagues where it all begins. Way too much emphasis is placed on that very small group of elite athletes and in the long term interest of the sport, it helps no one. USALacrosse prides itself on being committed to promoting research through its own funding as well as partnering and following that of other agencies for the good of youth sports safety standards. Finally, I loved that USALacrosse believes that parents are the #1 key influencer in their children’s lives. Amen.
Thanks so much for stopping by ~ see you next time!
Disclosure: Special thanks to the NFL for inviting me to the Youth Sports Safety Roundtable. I was not asked to post ~ clearly my protective opinions are entirely my own.