New Study Finds Positive Correlation Between Team Sports and Mental Health

Women’s Sports Foundation

Researchers, including the team at the Women’s Sports Foundation, have long underscored the positive physical benefits that come with playing sports. A recent study published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal advanced the conversation by further analyzing the effects of sports on mental health.

Reviewing data from more than 1.2 million responses to a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey, the researchers concluded that “physical exercise was significantly and meaningfully associated with self-reported mental health burden.” The report asserts that exercise can ease the burden of a variety of mental health issues, including mild depression, anxiety, panic attacks and stress.

To conduct the research, the authors of the cross-sectional study looked at data from CDC surveys given to adults 18 or over in 2011, 2013 and 2015. The study, which concerns survey responses derived from a one-month period, compares the number of self-reported bad mental health days between individuals who exercised and those who didn’t.

The conclusion? All exercise is good for mental health, but some forms are more beneficial than others.

The report indicates that “individuals who exercised had 1.49 (43.2%) fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than individuals who did not exercise but were otherwise matched for several physical and sociodemographic characteristics.”

“Even just walking just three times a week seems to give people better mental health than not exercising at all,” Adam Shekroud, an author of the study and Yale University psychiatry professor, told CNN. “I think from a public health perspective, it’s pretty important because it shows that we can have the potential for having a pretty big impact on mental health for a lot of people.”

Not all exercise is created equal when it comes to mental health though, the study found. Team sports had the largest association with a lower mental health burden, with a 22.3% reduction. Cycling and aerobic and gym exercises were next, at 21.6% and 20.1%, respectively. The best amount of time to exercise in terms of mental health is approximately 45 minutes three to four times per week, according to the report.

The study was published in August 2018, but has seen the most traction in the media in the last two weeks. In a climate where mental health is becoming increasingly destigmatized — particularly in athletics, where athletes have begun speaking out about their battles with mental health issues — the research is more relevant than ever.

Breast and Body Changes Are Driving Teen Girls Out of Sports

Photo

Harriet Lee-Merrion

Spring, finally!

So why aren’t more teenage girls out on the playing fields?

Research shows that girls tend to start dropping out of sports and skipping gym classes around the onset of puberty, a sharp decline not mirrored by adolescent boys.

A recent study in The Journal of Adolescent Health found a surprisingly common reason: developing breasts, and girls’ attitudes about them.

In a survey of 2,089 English schoolgirls ages 11 to 18, nearly three-quarters listed at least one breast-related concern regarding exercise and sports. They thought their breasts were too big or too small, too bouncy or bound too tightly in an ill-fitting bra. Beginning with feeling mortified about undressing in the locker room, they were also self-consciously reluctant to exercise and move with abandon.

Experts on adolescent health praised the study for identifying and quantifying an intuitive thought.

“We make assumptions about what we think we know, so it’s important to be able to say that as cup size increases, physical activity decreases for a lot of girls,” Dr. Sharonda Alston Taylor, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, who focuses on adolescent obesity.

The challenge is what to do about it.

After reading the study, some pediatricians and adolescent health specialists said they needed to do a better job informing girls about breast health and development. Almost 90 percent of the girls in the study said they wanted to know more about breasts in general, and nearly half wanted to know about sports bras and breasts specifically with respect to physical activity.

Joanna Scurr, the lead author of the study and a professor of biomechanics at the University of Portsmouth in England, said the breast itself had little internal support, so when a girl’s body moved, the breast moved independently, and the movement increased with breast size. In up to 72 percent of exercising women, she said, that movement was a cause of breast pain or discomfort.

Yet while sports and physical education programs frequently recommend protective gear for boys, like cups, athletic supporters and compression shorts, comparable lists for young women rarely include a mandatory or even recommended sports bra.

Only 10 percent of the girls surveyed said they always wore a sports bra during sports and exercise. More than half had never worn one.

Dr. Taylor said that lack of education about bra fitting and sizing was commonplace in her practice.

“The mom will say, ‘I don’t know what size she is,’ and the patient will say, ‘I just grab my sister’s or my mother’s bras to wear.’”

Using data from this study and others, the researchers from sports and exercise health departments at three British universities are trying to design school-based educational programs.

When researchers asked the girls how they would prefer to receive breast information — via a website, an app, a leaflet or a private session with a nurse — the overwhelming majority replied that they wanted a girls-only session with a female teacher.

At what age? “Most of them said 11,” Dr. Scurr said.

Andria Castillo, now 17 and a junior at Mather High School in Chicago, says she remembers that when she was around that age, she was painfully self-conscious about her breast size; she thought she was developing more slowly than everyone else.

“I felt boys and girls were making fun of me,” she said. “Even though no one called me out, I felt they were, behind my back. I was taking taekwondo, and I would look in the big mirror and try to find ways to cover myself up and hide. I asked my dad if I could stop going.”

She had a friend who had been active in sports. But in the sixth grade, the girl’s breasts developed rapidly. “She eventually stopped going to gym altogether,” Ms. Castillo said. “Instead, she just went to a classroom and did her homework.”

In time, Ms. Castillo turned her attitude around; she is now on her school’s varsity water polo and swim teams. She credits not only her mother, but also a Chicago-based project, Girls in the Game, which has body-positive, confidence-building programs, including single-sex athletics.

Some experts in female adolescent obesity and fitness suggested that young girls would be more comfortable in single-sex gym classes. But others said that option had its disadvantages, too.

Kimberly Burdette, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Loyola University Chicago who looks at the psychological factors that promote well-being and healthy weight in girls, says such separation might be helpful at a time when adolescent girls had a heightened awareness that others were looking at their bodies.

“It’s hard to be in the zone, focusing on athletic movement, on what your body can do, if you’re thinking about what others think your body looks like,” she said. “I like programming that is for girls only, where a girl can try a sport, regardless of her ability, without the male gaze.”

But Elizabeth A. Daniels, an assistant professor of developmental psychology at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, disagreed. “I’m not sure the concern or embarrassment is always just about boys,” she said, noting that girls can make derisive comments about one another. “So do we change the structure of the gym class or address respectful behavior?”

Benefits – Why Sports Participation for Girls and Women

Women’s Sports Foundation

 

Sport has been one of the most important socio-cultural learning experiences for boys and men for many years. Those same benefits should be afforded our daughters. It is important for all of us to know that:

  • High school girls who play sports are less likely to be involved in an unintended pregnancy; more likely to get better grades in school and more likely to graduate than girls who do not play sports.
  • Girls and women who play sports have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem and lower levels of depression.
  • Girls and women who play sports have a more positive body image and experience higher states of psychological well-being than girls and women who do not play sports.

Access this link for more information.

 

Photo

CreditGiselle Potter

My son, Galen, had been shooting hoops since he was 4, barely big enough to hold the ball. Now 11, he was 5-foot-6, a head taller than his mom, and light and agile on his feet. He could sink a basket from anywhere on the driveway, including a shot that passed between the branches of the maple tree on its way to the net. Basketball, I’d long believed, was his destiny.

Galen was a standout his first season at the YMCA, when he was 8. The next year we signed up for the club team, which turned our six-week rec league season into six months of intense tournament play. When it became clear that every kid on his team had been a YMCA standout (or had bypassed the Y league altogether), I arranged for him to take private lessons with the captain of the basketball team at the college where I teach.

He played in a 3-on-3 league over the summer and, at the conclusion of the club season the following spring, he began playing with an Amateur Athletic Union team, a national youth sports organization that, in addition to increasing the level of competition also expanded our travel radius to a tristate region. Three weekends a month, from October to July, we crisscrossed the Upper Midwest traveling to tournaments. All the parents complained about the endless driving, the lost weekends, the hours spent in the bleachers, yet all agreed the sacrifices were worth it. They were the cost of success.

I was no stranger to the world of hyper-intense sports. I’d grown up swimming and had spent my share of weekends camped out in stifling, chlorinated natatoriums. I was good enough to swim, on scholarship, at a large Division I university where I routinely lost to swimmers who’d go on to win Olympic medals. Twenty years later, I still swam every morning and I still believed in the power of sports — to focus both body and mind, release stress-busting endorphins, forge lifelong friendships. Even the defeats were useful. Anyone who’s ever loved a sport has learned the hard way that sometimes life isn’t fair.

But while I (most of the time) looked forward to swimming practices and meets, the chance to test my mettle against my peers, basketball tournaments made Galen nothing but miserable. He’d punish himself for days over missed shots and flubbed passes, even if his team prevailed in the end. Whenever a shot went in, he looked more relieved than happy, grateful not to have screwed up again. During the lulls between games, he sat by himself, brooding into his iPad. He didn’t want to talk to anyone, not even me.

For a while I thought I was the problem. I was failing my son by not loving his sport enough for the both of us — until the Saturday I took a seat on the bleachers beside another dad. He told me his older kids had also played competitive basketball; he’d been coming to tournaments for 15 years and figured he had at least a decade more to go. When I asked if his oldest daughter still played, he laughed and said, “By the end of high school she was so burned out she never wanted to see a basketball again. She won’t even watch it on TV with her brothers.”

“Was it worth it?” I asked.

“Builds character,” he said, half-grinning. I could tell he didn’t believe it, not all the way. I’d begun to wonder whether it was even true. Did youth sports really impart discipline and determination in ways that other activities — like learning Greek, say, or taking long hikes in the backcountry, or painting a fence — could not? How often does a childhood sacrificed on the altar of sports really confer advantages in adult life?

“Did she have fun at least?” I asked the dad.

“Some of the time,” he said. “But it wasn’t really about fun.”

To me, it should be, and John Engh, executive director of the National Alliance for Youth Sports, agreed. “Kids need diversity both socially and athletically,” he said in an email. “When their main outlet for both becomes the same activity, then a bad (or even a mediocre) experience can leave them disliking not only their sport but also physical activity of any kind.”

Driving home from Galen’s final tournament, after nearly a year of constant practices and games, I made a radical proposal. “Maybe it’s time to quit,” I said. “Basketball isn’t making you happy.”

I’d been afraid to utter the Q-word for months. Saying it felt a little like suggesting we rob a bank.

“If I quit basketball, what sport do I play?” Galen asked.

“How about NO sport,” I said. “At least not for a while. You can play basketball with friends all you want, but you don’t have to play on a team. We can spend our weekends camping and backpacking, skiing in the winter. You know, things we actually enjoy.”

He hesitated. “Every kid at my school plays something.”

If he didn’t have a sport, he continued, “I’ll be a nobody.”

“I’m only trying to consider how our light is spent,” I told Galen.

He looked at me. “What’s that mean? Is that poetry?”

“It’s John Milton,” I said. I’d taught a few of his sonnets the previous spring. “It’s about accepting who we are.”

Galen rolled his eyes. “I just want to go home.”

Over the weeks and months that followed, the idea grew on Galen. Freed from practice, he took to riding his bike and skateboard for hours, turning into the driveway as the last of the dusklight drained from the sky, his cheeks ruddy and his shoulders relaxed. He spent far more time outside without basketball weighing on his mind and schedule. He didn’t become a nobody or stop being an athlete.

Instead, both his definition of sports and his circle of friendships expanded. In the fall, he signed up for a kayaking class and went out for the junior high cross-country team, a far more reasonable eight-week season. When the snow fell, he joined a skiing club. Each new activity introduced him to new friends, and in some cases gave him a chance to hang out with his old basketball teammates without the pressure to win a game. This summer he’s heading to the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota for a weeklong canoeing trip.

Now that the weather’s warm, Galen’s back to shooting hoops in the driveway. More than once, I’ve looked out the kitchen window and spotted him dribbling the ball between his legs while talking trash to an imaginary adversary. He fakes right, spins to the left, stops on a dime, swishes a jumper from behind the garbage cans. When he exultantly raises his arms above his head, full of joy and confidence, I know the decision to quit was the right one. A slam dunk.

Why 70 percent of kids quit sports by age 13

June 1, 2016

According to a poll from the National Alliance for Youth Sports, around 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13 because “it’s just not fun anymore.” I have three kids, all of whom play sports, and my oldest is about to turn 13. I may not have understood why this was happening a few years ago, but sadly, knowing what I know now, the mass exodus of 13-year-olds from organized sports makes perfect sense to me.

“It’s not fun anymore” isn’t the problem; it’s a consequence of a number of cultural, economic and systemic issues that result in our kids turning away from organized sports at a time when they could benefit from them the most. Playing sports offers everything from physical activity, experiencing success and bouncing back from failure to taking calculated risks and dealing with the consequences to working as a team and getting away from the ubiquitous presence of screens. Our middle-schoolers need sports now more than ever.

Here are the reasons I think it’s become less fun for kids to play sports, and why they are taking an early retirement.

It’s not fun anymore because it’s not designed to be. As children get closer to high school, the system of youth sports is geared toward meeting the needs of more competitive players, and the expectations placed on them increase. Often the mentality is that most of the kids who quit at 13 are the ones who wouldn’t make a varsity team in high school anyway. Those who stick around find that being on a team means a greater commitment of time and effort. It also means being surrounded by people who care very much about the outcome. This, consequently, brings with it the potential for experiencing disappointment or being the cause of it. There is nothing wrong with any of that, and it can teach incredibly important lessons about hard work, resiliency and character — but it’s not for everyone.

Our culture no longer supports older kids playing for the fun of it. The pressure to raise “successful” kids means that we expect them to be the best. If they’re not, they’re encouraged to cut their losses and focus on areas where they can excel. We see it in middle school orchestra, where a kid who doesn’t make first chair wonders if it’s worth continuing to play. If a seventh-grader doesn’t make a select team for soccer, she starts to wonder if maybe it’s time to quit altogether, thinking that if she’s not hitting that highest level, it might not be worth doing?

For the small minority of kids who are playing a sport at an elite level and loving it, the idea of quitting in middle school is probably unthinkable. But for everyone else, there are fewer opportunities to play, a more competitive and less developmental environment in which to participate, and lots of other things competing for their time after school.

There is a clear push for kids to specialize and achieve at the highest possible level. Increasingly kids are pressured to “find their passion” and excel in that area (be it music, arts, sports, etc.). There are certainly kids for whom this is true, but it is not the norm (despite the expectations of college admissions officers). For many, there’s a strong argument against this trend, because the message is essentially to pick one thing and specialize in it (to the exclusion of pursuing other interests). For young athletes, early specialization can be harmful in terms of long-term injuries, and it does little to increase one’s overall the chances of later collegiate or professional success.

Perhaps more importantly, the underlying message that “I have to be the best or I’ve failed” is deeply harmful to kids. This is absolutely mirrored and reinforced in school, where the environment is increasingly test and outcome-driven. Sports could be pivotal in teaching kids how to fail and recover, something that educators and parents see as being desperately needed. In privileged Washington, D.C., suburbs such as Fairfax and Montgomery counties (and in others like them, across the country), teenagers find themselves stressed to the point of developing anxiety and depression. We see unhealthy coping behaviors and increased rates of self-harm and suicide. This is not a sports problem, it’s a culture problem.

There is a cost to be competitive and not everyone is willing or able to pay it. For kids, playing at a more competitive level can mean having to prioritize their commitments and interests and work tirelessly. It also means they have to be able to deal with the pressure of participating at a higher level. These can be positive things — provided the environment they’re playing in is a healthy one. But there are other factors that contribute to a young athlete’s ability not just to compete, but to be seen as competitive, and I question how healthy these things are for families.

Training year-round, expensive equipment, individual coaching, camps, tournaments and participation on travel and select teams in many places are no longer really considered “optional” for success in youth sports, at least not heading into high school. The investment of time and money that these things require is substantial. That contributes to an environment where kids of lower-income or single-parent families are simply shut out of the game.

And, of course, it’s just the age. At 13, kids generally find themselves with more (and more challenging) school work. Most are also encouraged to start choosing what interests them the most and what they’re best at. There’s no longer time for them to do as much they did in elementary school.

Some of the major social and emotional changes that 13-year-olds experience also predispose them to making decisions such as quitting sports, especially as that environment becomes more competitive. The CDC describes it on its developmental milestones page as a “focus on themselves… going back and forth between high expectations and lack of confidence.” Kids become more focused on — and influenced by — their friends, many of whom are also walking away from organized youth sports.

Any discussion about being 13 also needs to include social media, smartphones and the Internet. According to the Pew Center’s Internet Research Study, most U.S. kids receive their first cellphone or wireless device by the age of 12. Between the ages of 13 and 17, 92 percent of teens report being online every day, and 24 percent are online “almost constantly.” As kids become teenagers, their priorities change. How they socialize, study and spend their time changes with them.

These things collectively represent a perfect storm. There are no easy answers here. The system of youth sports is set up to cater to more elite players as they approach high school, leaving average kids with fewer opportunities. Our culture encourages specialization and achievement, which actively discourages kids from trying new things or just playing for fun. And all of this converges at a time when they’re going through major physical, emotional and social changes as well as facing pressure to pare down their interests and focus on school.

So why do 70 percent of kids quit organized sports at 13 and what can we do about it? I would argue that most kids leave because we haven’t given them a way to stay. And perhaps more importantly, until we dismantle the parenting culture that emphasizes achievement and success over healthy, happy kids, we don’t stand a chance of solving this problem.

Julianna W. Miner has three kids and lives in suburban Washington, D.C. She teaches Public Health at a college she couldn’t have gotten into because she made bad choices in high school. She writes the award-winning humor blog  Rants from Mommyland and spends too much time on the Facebook.

Breast and Body Changes Are Driving Teen Girls Out of Sports

Photo

CreditHarriet Lee-Merrion

So why aren’t more teenage girls out on the playing fields?

Research shows that girls tend to start dropping out of sports and skipping gym classes around the onset of puberty, a sharp decline not mirrored by adolescent boys.

A recent study in The Journal of Adolescent Health found a surprisingly common reason: developing breasts, and girls’ attitudes about them.

In a survey of 2,089 English schoolgirls ages 11 to 18, nearly three-quarters listed at least one breast-related concern regarding exercise and sports. They thought their breasts were too big or too small, too bouncy or bound too tightly in an ill-fitting bra. Beginning with feeling mortified about undressing in the locker room, they were also self-consciously reluctant to exercise and move with abandon.

Experts on adolescent health praised the study for identifying and quantifying an intuitive thought.

“We make assumptions about what we think we know, so it’s important to be able to say that as cup size increases, physical activity decreases for a lot of girls,” Dr. Sharonda Alston Taylor, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, who focuses on adolescent obesity.

The challenge is what to do about it.

After reading the study, some pediatricians and adolescent health specialists said they needed to do a better job informing girls about breast health and development. Almost 90 percent of the girls in the study said they wanted to know more about breasts in general, and nearly half wanted to know about sports bras and breasts specifically with respect to physical activity.

Joanna Scurr, the lead author of the study and a professor of biomechanics at the University of Portsmouth in England, said the breast itself had little internal support, so when a girl’s body moved, the breast moved independently, and the movement increased with breast size. In up to 72 percent of exercising women, she said, that movement was a cause of breast pain or discomfort.

Yet while sports and physical education programs frequently recommend protective gear for boys, like cups, athletic supporters and compression shorts, comparable lists for young women rarely include a mandatory or even recommended sports bra.

Only 10 percent of the girls surveyed said they always wore a sports bra during sports and exercise. More than half had never worn one.

Dr. Taylor said that lack of education about bra fitting and sizing was commonplace in her practice.

“The mom will say, ‘I don’t know what size she is,’ and the patient will say, ‘I just grab my sister’s or my mother’s bras to wear.’”

Using data from this study and others, the researchers from sports and exercise health departments at three British universities are trying to design school-based educational programs.

When researchers asked the girls how they would prefer to receive breast information — via a website, an app, a leaflet or a private session with a nurse — the overwhelming majority replied that they wanted a girls-only session with a female teacher.

At what age? “Most of them said 11,” Dr. Scurr said.

Andria Castillo, now 17 and a junior at Mather High School in Chicago, says she remembers that when she was around that age, she was painfully self-conscious about her breast size; she thought she was developing more slowly than everyone else.

“I felt boys and girls were making fun of me,” she said. “Even though no one called me out, I felt they were, behind my back. I was taking taekwondo, and I would look in the big mirror and try to find ways to cover myself up and hide. I asked my dad if I could stop going.”

She had a friend who had been active in sports. But in the sixth grade, the girl’s breasts developed rapidly. “She eventually stopped going to gym altogether,” Ms. Castillo said. “Instead, she just went to a classroom and did her homework.”

In time, Ms. Castillo turned her attitude around; she is now on her school’s varsity water polo and swim teams. She credits not only her mother, but also a Chicago-based project, Girls in the Game, which has body-positive, confidence-building programs, including single-sex athletics.

Some experts in female adolescent obesity and fitness suggested that young girls would be more comfortable in single-sex gym classes. But others said that option had its disadvantages, too.

Kimberly Burdette, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Loyola University Chicago who looks at the psychological factors that promote well-being and healthy weight in girls, says such separation might be helpful at a time when adolescent girls had a heightened awareness that others were looking at their bodies.

“It’s hard to be in the zone, focusing on athletic movement, on what your body can do, if you’re thinking about what others think your body looks like,” she said. “I like programming that is for girls only, where a girl can try a sport, regardless of her ability, without the male gaze.”

But Elizabeth A. Daniels, an assistant professor of developmental psychology at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, disagreed. “I’m not sure the concern or embarrassment is always just about boys,” she said, noting that girls can make derisive comments about one another. “So do we change the structure of the gym class or address respectful behavior?”

When Your Child Wants to Become a College Athlete

 

across the educational pipeline with arrows.jpg

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of blog posts reflecting on the educational pipeline by Karen Gross, former president of Southern Vermont College. She has taught students from preschool through graduate school. Her first piece covered breaking down pre-K–20 silos, and her second piece covered changes in the college admission process. Her next piece will focus on reimagining preschool education. Her children’s book, Lady Lucy’s Quest, was just released.

Many children dream of becoming an athlete in college and then professionally. Parents are excited by the idea of their child receiving a full-ride athletic scholarship, not realizing how challenging it is to obtain and retain one. However, how high school students “get into the collegiate game” is complicated and filled with pitfalls.
Athletic recruiting is a big business. Many books, articles, and movies explore the issue. (See The Blind Side.) NCAA’s rules are numerous. Some provisions make perfect sense. For instance, a student cannot be considered a prospect before ninth grade. Some measures seem absurd. Consider that a college recruiter cannot even buy a cup of coffee for a Division III transfer recruit when visiting that student at his or her original institution.
I am familiar with the vagaries of collegiate and professional athletics from being in the trenches both as a parent of a Division I athlete and an educator at a Division III institution. Our son attended a sports academy in his last years of high school after having been a student at an independent K–12 school. He was recruited and competed as a Division I athlete, but he then transferred out of that DI college to a university that did not offer DI sports. He has since graduated from college, earned a PhD, and is now a professor.
I’ve established my own bona fides in athletic recruiting in many ways. While I was president of Southern Vermont College, an NCAA Division III school, I served as president of the New England Collegiate Conference and also participated in the NCAA Division III President’s Advisory Group. I have personally recruited athletes (I’m four for four), and have worked with a remarkable NCAA lawyer on issues involving NCAA rules and possible infractions. I have also written about collegiate athletics for an NCAA magazine and for the online publication CollegeAD.
Based on my experience, I offer six key points to help guide parents, teachers, school counselors, and coaches of students attending independent schools.

Point 1. The NCAA Is More Than Just Football and Basketball.

NCAA’s moneyed sports, with their televised football and basketball championships, receive the lion’s share of public and media attention. Individual NCAA-sanctioned sports that many independent schools offer, such as tennis, golf, and track and field, receive a limited amount of attention.
But here’s what matters: There are currently 24 sports in the NCAA, although that number fluctuates a bit with emerging sports and sports that are dropped. NCAA sports include soccer, fencing, gymnastics, lacrosse, and rifle. Bowling and rowing are options only for women under the NCAA moniker. This year, the NCAA will add beach volleyball.
The bottom line: A student can be an NCAA athlete without being a football or basketball player and still receive the benefits of being part of the NCAA, including national championships. However, he or she must also deal with the NCAA’s obligations and restrictions, and those can be burdensome.

Point 2. Opportunities to Earn Sports Scholarships Exist Outside the NCAA.

Students can play other sports in college that are not sanctioned by the NCAA. Take squash. The NCAA dropped it from its list of sponsored sports in 2010, but some Division I schools continue to offer squash scholarships. And, strangely, men’s rowing, the nation’s oldest collegiate sport, is not part of the NCAA. The sport’s championship is sponsored by the Intercollegiate Rowing Association. Male rowers can receive scholarships, but the dollar amounts tend to be small.
The bottom line: Many competitive collegiate sports do not fit within the NCAA umbrella, but students can still receive scholarships and play in championships. Independent schools offer many of these non-NCAA sports.

Point 3. Another College Athletic Association Grants Many Scholarships.

The NCAA is not the only collegiate athletic governing body. About 300 schools belong to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), which includes 13 sports. Although the NCAA includes more than 460,000 student-athletes and some 1,200 participating colleges and universities, the NAIA covers some 60,000 students — sizable, but not in comparison to NCAA institutions.
Some statistics to note: Of the NCAA’s participating athletes, about 126,000 receive partial or full scholarships. About 90 percent of participating schools in the NAIA give some form of scholarship. So if a student wants an athletic scholarship, he or she has a greater likelihood of obtaining one from a school in the NAIA than one in the NCAA. Indeed, there are almost 450 NCAA Division III schools, none of which are allowed to provide true athletic scholarships.
The bottom line: If a student aims for a scholarship, it is worth investigating NAIA schools. Keep in mind that these programs do not have the NCAA acclaim and have weaker ties to professional sports.

Point 4. Success Does Not Mean Turning Pro.

Many students (and their families) dream of the possibility of “going pro.” But most student-athletes never do. NCAAdata show that fewer than 2 percent of collegiate basketball and football players become pros. For baseball players, the number is 8.6 percent. Nothing to write home about, for sure.
These numbers make it important for a student to choose a college based on more than who coaches his or her particular sport, which college program has the best win-loss record, and which institution produces the most pro athletes. For one thing, coaches can leave. Next, a successful program could mean that new student-athletes, even those who are recruited, do not play initially (if ever). If a student cannot play for whatever reason, is he or she still happy at the institution? It’s crucial to consider the quality of the college’s academics and the range of career options other than becoming a professional athlete.
The bottom line: The definition of success, athletic or otherwise, is not so clear-cut. Success does not equal turning pro.

Point 5. Families Should Start Thinking About Athletic Participation Before 11th Grade.

All NCAA divisions allow walk-ons, and some of these student-athletes have incredible careers. (See the movieGreater about Arkansas’s football player Brandon Burlsworth.) But, this is not the norm.
Colleges typically recruit high school athletes who have participated in extracurricular athletic camps and clinics, particularly in the summer. Football camps, soccer camps, and basketball showcases allow high schoolers to hone their skills and catch the eye of college coaches. Much recruiting starts with these showcases and camps.
Recently, an NCAA rule banned what’s called satellite showcase football camps. These traveling clinics allowed college coaches to observe high school athletes’ skills and help them develop as players. Sadly, those most hurt by the rule change will be low-income kids who cannot afford to travel to attend camps.
Here’s an important caveat: For some collegiate sports, coaches can study national rankings to determine a high school athlete’s ability. Take a golfer with a very low handicap — that ranking speaks for itself. Or consider ski racing, with its international ranking system. A coach can examine a high school skier’s accumulated points in specific races to see how he or she compares with peers. To be sure, that does not address the question of team fit or an athlete’s work ethic.
The bottom line: College coaches recruit at established events and camps. It’s worth considering whether to pursue a sport with a ranking system, if your family can afford to travel from event to event to rack up points or garner national or international ranking.

Point 6. There’s Much Value in Competing in the NCAA’s Division III.

Many people are under the misconception that the only NCAA division with competitive athletics is Division I. I know from experience that Division III offers quality, competitive athletics, too. Students who cannot or choose not to compete at the Division I level can enjoy enormous success in Division III.
Some also believe that Division I actively recruits whereas Division III does not, and that money is only available at Division I institutions. Both statements are wrong.
At the Division III level, students often have more opportunities to play — and sooner. In less hierarchical programs with fewer players, first-year students can play. Division III championships are considered major events for the student-athletes, the coaches, and the institutions.
While Division III institutions cannot offer athletic scholarships, they can and do offer other scholarships and financial aid. Two examples follow:
  • An institution that offers aid to families with incomes below a certain threshold can offer that money to student-athletes. Athletes must not be treated differently than other students with financial need.
  • Institutions that offer leadership or community service scholarships can offer those to student-athletes who have met the criteria.
The bottom line: There’s remarkable value in Division III athletics by any measure.

Weigh the Pros and Cons of Pursuing Athletics in College — Carefully

Collegiate athletics and college admission for athletes are complex topics, filled with rules, choices (both athletic and academic), and financial implications.
As a parent, a professor, and a college president, I believe in the power of athletics.  Some students first find their way on a court or a field. And good coaches can be lifelong mentors. Moreover, many employers like hiring athletes for several reasons: They understand hard work, embrace competition, appreciate failure — and know that “team” has no “I” in it.
Nonetheless, being a collegiate athlete takes immense effort, even for those who have no wish to go pro. It’s important to be as informed as possible early on.
It’s hard to play in college if you don’t understand the game in every sense of the word.

16-0222-KarenGross-bio.jpgKaren Gross has taught and continues to teach across the educational pipeline. This spring, she is teaching at Bennington College in Vermont. She writes, consults, and advises on how to improve student success and has a forthcoming book titled Shoulders to Learn On (2016) on this very topic.
 
A former college president and senior advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, Gross currently serves as senior counsel to Widmeyer Communications, a Finn Partners Company, and as an affiliate to the Penn Center for MSIs at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. She writes for many education outlets, including The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, InsideHigherEd, Unplugged, DiverseEducation, Evollution, CollegeAD, and NAIS.

Concussions: Being Smart About Your Child’s Brain

The New York Times
Frank Bruni Frank Bruni DEC. 19, 2015
Photo

PROBABLY no one tracks concussions among young athletes in the United States more closely than Dawn Comstock, and in many ways, she’s encouraged by what she sees.

It’s now less common for a player whose head has collided violently with a ball, a wall, the ground or another player to return to competition right away. It’s now more common for him or her to get medical attention.

But Comstock, an epidemiologist at the Colorado School of Public Health, is frustrated by stubborn gaps between truly safe behavior and the status quo. She told me that more than half of the high schools with football teams don’t have a full-time athletic trainer, so there’s no immediately available person with the specific mission of preventing and treating injuries.

There are also sports other than football — and trauma other than concussions — that don’t attract nearly the vigilance they should, she added. Above all, there’s an enduringly strange, dangerous relationship between parents and sports, specifically between parents and coaches.

“What I would love to see is parents taking as much time to investigate their child’s coach, the league that they’re putting their child into and the officials officiating the game as they do a day care center when their child is young,” she told me. “They don’t have trouble challenging a teacher, even a pediatrician. But somehow they have trouble challenging a sports league.”

This coming week, the major Hollywood movie “Concussion” opens. It stars Will Smith as a scientist who sounded the alarm about the long-term impact of repetitive head injuries in professional football.

And it reflects a storm of attention over the last decade to the serious, sometimes fatal damage done to the vulnerable brains of football players of all ages — and of soccer players, too. We’ve learned, for example, that soccer carries a greater risk of concussion for girls than it does for boys.

But the talk of a “concussion crisis” and the pronounced concern about football and soccer are blinding us somewhat to a larger picture, a broader lesson: Our veneration of sports, our adulation of athletes and our ethos of toughing it out put kids needlessly at risk of all sorts of preventable injuries in all kinds of improvable sports.

“I worry that we’ve been so focused on football that parents are pushing their kids out of that and into something else and not realizing that there are dangers there, too,” said Kevin Guskiewicz, one of the directors of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We need to improve safety in all the sports that children play.”

Did you know that while the incidence of injuries in cheerleading is much lower than in the majority of high school sports, nearly a third of those injuries are concussions? The reason, Comstock explained, is a shocking lack of common sense and caution in monitoring an activity that isn’t automatically associated with violence.

 

“We’ve seen cheerleaders who’ve sustained concussions because they were practicing on the asphalt in the parking lot or on the cement sidewalk — or in the school cafeteria on a tiled floor,” said Comstock, adding that grass or mats would be infinitely more appropriate. “Why on earth would parents let that happen?”

Guskiewicz drew my attention to a study published just a few months ago in The American Journal of Sports Medicine that determined that among college athletes, concussions were most likely in wrestling, followed by men’s ice hockey and then women’s ice hockey. And women’s soccer and women’s basketball, in that order, were right behind football in terms of the danger of concussion.

Comstock, who supervises an ongoing national inventory of athletic injuries among high school students, said: “I have 22 sports in my surveillance system, and concussions have been reported in all but one of them. That includes swimming.” A distracted kid will swim head-on into the wall or into someone coming from the other direction. The sport without concussions, she said, was tennis.

BUT head injuries are just one peril, and not necessarily the chief one, even in football. There are many more deaths among football players of all ages from indirect trauma, including heatstroke and cardiac arrest, than from such direct trauma as head and spinal-cord injuries.

Douglas Casa, the chief executive officer of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut, said that from 2000 through 2009, which was the last full decade studied, such indirect-trauma deaths outnumbered direct-trauma deaths by 108 to 41.

Casa, who monitors and compiles that data, told me that he knows of 14 deaths among football players below the college level since July 1, which is about when practice for the fall season usually begins. Four were from cardiac arrest and two were from heatstroke.
“Anytime you hear about a kid dying from heatstroke in high-school football, it was 100 percent preventable,” he added. And he said that there are an even greater number of preventable cases of severe heatstroke that leads not to death but to prolonged or permanent health complications.

Last August, for instance, a 16-year-old in Riverhead, N.Y., who developed heatstroke during practice ended up in the hospital, where he spiked a 108-degree fever, was treated for serious kidney damage and spent the next five weeks.

Casa said that heat acclimatization — or the incremental acceleration of practices during a season’s start — can guard against heatstroke. But while many leagues and teams have implemented that, many haven’t.

Players’ posture can affect the likelihood of head injury but often isn’t studied and adjusted. And Comstock said that there’s no widespread, dependable monitoring of the nature and incidence of injuries among athletes in elementary and middle school.

“Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against sports,” she said. “I was a three-sport player. And I played contact sports. I played rugby for 13 years.” She and Guskiewicz both stressed that, at a time when too many kids are obese or diabetic, they want more of them to play sports.
But they also want more prudence in the mix. Some parents obsess about a high school’s success or failure in getting kids into Ivy League colleges but know nothing of the school’s athletic teams’ safety protocols. Some question the amount of homework more readily than the number of laps athletes run on a 95-degree day.

Some shop for lenient physicians who will declare their child healed and let him or her back out on the field. Athletic glory beckons.

“Sports has achieved an almost mythologized place in our country,” Comstock said. She’s wrong about the “almost.” She’s right about this: It’s not concussions per se but an unquestioning worship of sports that puts young lives in jeopardy.

Fitness May Boost Kids’ Brainpower

Healthday.com

Study found fitter kids had different white matter, which helps brain regions communicate with each other

Fitness May Boost Kids' Brainpower

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Aug. 19, 2014 (HealthDay News) — Exercise and brainpower in children may not seem closely related, but a small new study hints that fitness may supercharge kids’ minds.

The finding doesn’t prove that fitness actually makes children smarter, but it provides support for the idea, the researchers said.

“Our work suggests that aerobically fit and physically fit children have improved brain health and superior cognitive [thinking] skills than their less-fit peers,” said study author Laura Chaddock-Heyman, a postdoctoral researcher with the department of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Hopefully, these findings will reinforce the importance of aerobic fitness during development and lead to additional physical activity opportunities in and out of the school environment.”

The researchers launched their study to gain more insight into the connections between fitness and the brain in children. Other research has connected higher levels of fitness to better attention, memory and academic skills, Chaddock-Heyman said.

And two recent studies found that fit kids are more likely to have better language skills and to do better on standardized tests for math and reading.

But there are still mysteries. While moderate exercise boosts brainpower for a few hours — making it a good idea to work out before a test — it’s not clear how fitness affects the brain in the long term, said Bonita Marks, director of the Exercise Science Teaching Lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “The chronic impact is less certain and, for health, really the key for future research and health management,” she added.

The new study didn’t examine any thinking skills, but instead looked only at the brain’s “white matter,” which helps different brain regions communicate with each other. The researchers scanned the brains of 24 kids aged 9 and 10, and found that white matter was different in the fitter kids, potentially a sign of better-connected brains.

Higher levels of fitness may boost blood flow, increase the size of certain brain areas and improve the structure of white matter, Chaddock-Heyman said.

What do the findings mean in the big picture?

It’s hard to know for sure. Megan Herting, a postdoctoral fellow with the division of research on Children, Youth, and Families at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, pointed out that the kids with lower fitness levels also weighed more, “so it is unclear if it is actually fitness or ‘fatness’ that may be affecting the brain. “Studies show that individuals with obesity have different brains compared to their healthier-weight peers,” she said.

As for the stereotype of the 99-pound weakling nerd, Herting suggested it may be time for a rethink. “These findings do challenge that if you are aerobically fit, you are likely to be dumb. In fact, from an evolutionary perspective, we were made to move. So rather than fitness being ‘good’ for the brain and cognition, it is feasible that being sedentary may be ‘bad.'”

The researchers are now working on a study that assigns some kids to take part in exercise programs to see what happens to their brains over time when compared to other kids, Chaddock-Heyman said.

The study appears in the August issue of the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

More information

For more about fitness, try healthychildren.org.

SOURCES: Laura Chaddock-Heyman, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher, department of psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Bonita Marks, Ph.D., professor, exercise physiology, and director, Exercise Science Teaching Lab, department of exercise and sport science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Megan Herting, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow, division of research on children, youth and families, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles; August 2014 Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

How Parents Are Ruining Youth Sports

The Boston Globe

Adults should remember what athletics are really about.

By Jay Atkinson

MAY 04, 2014

ALEKS SENNWALD

Not long ago, I was invited to speak at the annual banquet for an “elite” youth hockey organization. Before dinner, the organization’s president mentioned how he and his neighbor, another hockey dad, had seen the need for a top-tier program in their area, and how much planning and money it had required to create one. He rhapsodized about the championships his teams had won in their first two years of operation. He also said his 6-year-old son and his neighbor’s boy were hockey-crazed best friends — or at least they used to be. His neighbor’s son was not selected for the mite team that first year, and the two men and their boys had not spoken to each other since.

In brief, that’s exactly what’s wrong with youth sports. Too much money, too much parent involvement, and too many brokenhearted 6-year-olds. (Not to mention too many well-meaning adults who have no clue about all of the above.)

Three out of four American families with school-aged children have at least one playing an organized sport — a total of about 45 million kids. By age 15, as many as 80 percent of these youngsters have quit, according to the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine. One reason is the gap between the child’s desire to have fun and the misguided notion among some adults that their kids’ games are a miniature version of grown-up competitions, where the goal is to win. In 20 years of coaching youth and high school sports, I can say unequivocally that adult expectations are the number one problem. As we approach summer, when the living is supposed to be easy, too many families are searching the Internet for a private batting instructor, a summer hockey program, an expensive strength camp, and that elusive AAU coach who can get their 11-year-old to improve her jump shot. This is a misguided attempt to accelerate a process that may not even be occurring, since most young athletes will never reach the elite level.

When I was growing up in Methuen, we organized our own football, hockey, and baseball teams. Any kid who had a football helmet, a pair of Bobby Orr Rally skates, or a first baseman’s mitt could play. We contacted teams from other neighborhoods and played entire seasons without our parents having anything to do with it. My friends and I even staged our own tennis tournaments at the public courts. (The baseball players swore it helped with their timing at the plate.)

Except for renting the ice at the local rink, and a set of hockey jerseys we pitched in to buy, it was free. We played for the love of it. Indeed, many of us went on to play high school and college varsity sports.

Maybe you’re thinking: So this guy went to grammar school with Huck Finn, good for him. But how’s little Eliza going to get a scholarship if she’s not throwing heat? But the fact is, approximately 1 percent of high school athletes will receive a Division 1 scholarship. And those scholarships, on average, are worth much less than the family’s investment in private lessons, sports camps, and other training.

Some kids are sick of playing, and some are sick of playing in pain. A 2013 study of 1,200 young athletes showed those who concentrated on a single sport were 70 percent to 93 percent more likely to be injured than those who played multiple sports.

At that hockey banquet, I said adults must set their egos aside and remember to let the kids have fun. And to do that, we need to return youth sports to the neighborhood, where they belong.

This summer, encourage your children to go fishing, play mini golf, and invite their pals to shoot hoops in the driveway. Have them visit the library, and loaf around in the backyard chewing on blades of grass. And keep in mind that the interior experience of playing a sport, the beauty and the joy of it, is sovereign territory and belongs to the kids themselves.

BY THE NUMBERS

1 in 6,000

Estimated number of high-school football players who will make it to the NFL

2.5 in 10,000

High-school basketball players who will make it to the NBA.

Jay Atkinson runs the Methuen Fun Hockey League “Skate & Read” program and is the author, most recently, ofMemoirs of a Rugby-Playing Man. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.