Normally I like to keep things focused strictly on topics that relate to the game itself. But this is a subject that really should be of concern to any parent whose kids – male or female – are participating in activities where they have long periods of exposure to adults.
It was sparked by this article, sent to me by my friend Tim Boivin. The article is about the revenge a dad in Pennsylvania was able to extract after one of his daughter’s coaches not only touched her inappropriately (smacked her on the behind, even after being asked to stop) but then tried to smear the dad’s name in the local town. He did it by using his long standing with the league, and the fact that he’d lived there in that town his whole life, to get the dad looked at as an outsider. It’s a pretty good read, and a good lesson about being careful who you mess with, no matter how much power you think you have.
But it also brings up a bigger point. During tryout season, the focus is on making a team. Sometimes it’s the “right” team, and sometimes it’s just any team. But after the stress of tryouts are over and you’re feeling the relief, there’s another question that needs to be asked: how much do I really know about the people who will be coaching my child?
The usual reaction when you find out something terrible about a coach (or other authority figure) is “I had no idea.” Of course you didn’t. Someone who acts like a predator, or a person who will dole out inappropriate physical abuse on players, doesn’t walk around wearing a t-shirt that advertises the fact.
He/she also doesn’t act that way in front of the parents. If he/she did, he/she wouldn’t get access to kids and thus be able to satisfy whatever needs or urges he/she has. Just like a con man trying to convince people to give them money, coaches who want to do terrible things to kids must appear to be completely trustworthy.
Many of them put in the effort to learn the game, too, further helping them hide in plain sight. I remember a guy about 15 years ago who used to contribute regularly to the old eTeamz softball discussion board. His signature phrase was that he would always talk about teaching the FUNdamentals.
The message, of course, being that coaches shouldn’t take themselves too seriously, and remember that it’s a game and games should be fun. Just the kind of person you want coaching your child, right?
Well, one day he just sort of disappeared from the board. Eventually it came out that this guy was arrested, tried, and convicted of several counts of having sexual contact with minors. Now the only FUNdamentals he needs to worry about is watching his back in prison, as many prisoners don’t take too kindly to child molesters.
That’s an extreme case, but it illustrates a point. Not all concerns are around sexual predators, however. For example, would you want a known felon with a history of violence toward women coaching your daughter? Probably not. Or what about someone who had punched a player (or a parent, or an umpire, or an opposing coach) in a fit of anger?
These are all legitimate concerns. Your daughter will be spending a lot of time with the coaching staff in the coming year, especially now that fastpitch softball tends to be a 12-month sport. How can you find out if any of the coaches (not just the head coach) have any skeletons in the closet you should know about?
One way is to ask if the organization does background checks with the state police on everyone who will play a coaching role or be on the bench with the team. If it does, don’t just take their word for it that everything is ok. Ask to the see the reports.
If there’s nothing to hide, they should be more than happy to do it. If they are reluctant to share the information for “privacy” reasons, that could be a red flag. No matter.
You don’t have to be an organization to request a background check on someone. Anyone can do it. If you have any concerns, request it yourself. The cost for a state check is generally $10-$20, while the cost for a nationwide check is typically $25-$45. When you think about what you’re paying to play, it’s worth a few dollars more to gain peace of mind if you have any concerns.
In most cases, the background check is going to turn up clean since it only covers criminal known criminal acts, and despite what the headlines may lead you to believe the people who commit them and get into coaching are rare. Still, there are some out there.
If the organization runs background checks and still allows someone who shouldn’t be there to coach, you might want to re-thing your decision to play for that organization. Clearly they don’t care now. How much are they going to care if you find a problem later and bring it to their attention? It’s obvious that letting that person coach is more important to them than protecting their players.
If the organization doesn’t run the background checks but you do and find something, you should bring it to their attention. Their actions from that point will tell you what you should do. It’s up to you, but if your daughter is going to be coached by someone you don’t want her to be around, and you allow it to happen, you will share in the blame if something happens later on.
Here’s the other thing. As I mentioned, background checks only catch those who have already been caught. You may want to do a background check of your own via Google or another search engine to see if there are comments from past players or parents out there that might give you an indication of the person’s character.
Does this coach have a reputation for being abusive to players, physically, verbally, or emotionally? Is he/she the type of person that will cause excruciating pain to young players despite their screams, as in the story of this cheerleading coach? Will this coach help your young player grow and become the type of person you want her to be, or will he/she teach life lessons you don’t want your daughter to learn?
When you’re with a new team where you don’t know the coaches, one other good idea is to hang around at practices for a while to see how they’re conducted and what the coaches’ approach to interacting with players is. Understand that practices should be hard, and it is not only good but necessary to push players to improve. But there is also a limit to it. They shouldn’t be doing things that are abusive or patently unsafe.
At the same time, understand that you will be going there as a silent observer. It is not your place to offer advice or suggestions, or really do much of anything to interject yourself into the practice unless something truly illegal or inappropriate is occurring. And you’d better have proof.
If you’re told you’re not allowed to watch practice, especially with younger teams, that may be another red flag that something’s not quite right with this team, coaching staff, or organization. As long as you’re silent no one should have a problem with you watching. Heck, it’s probably a good thing, because then you can reinforce what they’re teaching when you work with your daughter on your own.
Again, you hope that none of those bad things are happening. But better safe than sorry. Knowing who is coaching your kids is an important step in ensuring sports/activities participation is a good, positive, and safe experience for your child.
Photo credit: Vetustense Photorogue via Foter.com / CC BY-NC
A new infographic from Ohio University’s Masters in Athletic Administration program provides some very interesting information regarding injuries in youth sports. While not softball-specific – in fact, fastpitch softball is fortunately NOT called out as one of the top sports for injuries – it does provide some eye-open statistics regarding injuries generally.
For example, it says 62% of organized sports related-injuries occur during practice. That may come as a surprise to some. You would think that the intensity of games would be more likely to lead to injuries than the more relaxed atmosphere of practice – even if the practice does have a level of urgency to it. But not so.
For me, one of the more interesting stats is that 66% of high schools have access to athletic training services. That seems low to me. My high school had a trainer, and all the high schools in my area have them. But apparently one out of three high schools in America do not. It also says that all but 13 spent less in 2013-2014 than they did five years previously.
The most common types of injuries are sprains and strains – 43% in practice, 41% in competition. The next highest is concussions at 16% in practice and 26% in competition.
With the summer season coming up, there’s also some great information about recognizing and preventing heat stroke. I’ll just add that athletes aren’t the only ones at risk for heat stroke at weekend-long tournaments. Coaches, umpires and even parents should be aware of the risks and take preventive measures. Heat stroke can make you very ill, and in extreme instances it can kill.
There’s plenty more great information on the infographic, and worth a look not just for your softball players but for any athletes you know. You can view it at http://athleticadminonline.ohio.edu/resources/infographics/player-safety/.
Guest post by Shana Brenner, Marketing Director of CoverSports
According to recent reports, injuries to teenage athletes across all sports are on the rise. In particular, there has been a significant increase in knee injuries among teen athletes, specifically ACL tears, and females under the age of 18 are believed to be at a higher risk than their male counterparts. While softball might not seem like an inherently dangerous sport, knee and ankle injuries are common and account for the majority of injuries requiring time away from the sport.
The good news (and bad news) is that many of these knee and ankle injuries in softball are unnecessary and could easily be avoided if fields were maintained properly. That’s right — often times, the biggest hazard in softball is the field itself.
How can a poorly maintained softball field lead to knee and ankle injuries when using metal cleats?
For proper performance, athletes require a smooth, resilient playing surface that affords them sure footing and the right amount of friction between their metal cleats and the ground. As you might imagine, stepping into a rut or hole while running full speed during a game or practice is an easy way to roll an ankle or twist a knee. Likewise, if an athlete is trying to plant her foot to make a throw but the surface isn’t sturdy, her foot could go one way while her body goes another, causing joint tension, which could lead to a serious knee or ankle injury.
Proper Maintenance Can Prevent Field-Induced Injuries
Without a doubt, the top priority for field-maintenance crews is player safety. A well-maintained field can help athletes stay safe while also improving the overall quality of the game.
With that in mind, there are some important areas to focus on when maintaining your softball field to create a safe playing environment.
- Regular mowing — Throughout the year, you should keep the grass on your field cut so that it doesn’t overgrow around the edges and harm the field’s performance. Not only does regular mowing preserve the integrity of the playing surface, but it can also help you identify any issues, like holes or uneven surfaces, that might be obscured if the grass was too long.
- Replacing top dressing — Over time, top dressing deteriorates. It’s unavoidable. This happens because of a combination of things, like wear and tear from on-the-field play, weather and poor maintenance. Top dressing needs to be refinished and leveled occasionally to maintain a safe, healthy playing surface.
- Dragging and raking — Dragging and raking the field helps create a smooth, uniform surface. Doing these things regularly helps fill in any ruts, holes and eroded areas, making the field much safer for play. You could even use a roller after dragging the field for optimal results.
- Lip maintenance — The lip is a hump on the field that forms where the grass and dirt meet. An unmaintained lip can cause ground balls to take nasty, unpredictable hops that can put fielders in serious danger. A power washer or hose is a great tool for knocking down the lip on your field, provided it’s not too large.
- Mound maintenance — The pitcher’s mound is one of the areas exposed to the greatest wear and tear. During every game and practice, the pitcher’s mound gets damaged from routine use. The pitcher needs a smooth, resilient surface where she can plant her foot to make her throws. If the mound has any ruts or wear, the pitcher could easily hurt her ankle or knee when planting or attempting to field a ball. Regular mound maintenance can keep athletes safe and even reduce the costs of renovating this heavily trafficked area. Here are some simple tips to properly maintain your pitcher’s mound:
- Sweep away any debris from the mound, particularly the landing area in front of the rubber.
- Tamp uneven clay before watering.
- Use a small roller to smooth the mound area.
- Lightly water the clay to create a stronger bond between new packing clay and existing clay.
- Add new clay to damaged areas. Tamp into ground.
- Water the entire mound thoroughly. Let dry.
- Place a mound cover over the area until its next use.
- Batter’s box maintenance — As batters dig in throughout practices and games, the batter’s box degrades and can develop severe wear and tear. Adding mound clay and infield mix to fill in holes and create a level surface should be a regular part of field-maintenance duties. Make sure to rake down newly repaired areas to create an even surface.
Proper field maintenance can go a long way to keeping softball players safe from minor and major knee and ankle injuries, especially when wearing metal cleats. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Shana Brenner is the Marketing Director of CoverSports, an American manufacturer of baseball field tarps and protection with roots tracing back to 1874.