Breast and Body Changes Are Driving Teen Girls Out of Sports

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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.

 

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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.

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?”

Concussions: Being Smart About Your Child’s Brain

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

Committing to Play for a College, Then Starting 9th Grade

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Haley Berg, 15, at home with her sister in Celina, Tex. She accepted a soccer scholarship to Texas four years in advance. Cooper Neill for The New York Times

SANFORD, Fla. — Before Haley Berg was done with middle school, she had the numbers for 16 college soccer coaches programmed into the iPhone she protected with a Justin Bieber case.

She was all of 14, but Hales, as her friends call her, was already weighing offers to attend the University of Colorado, Texas A&M and the University of Texas, free of charge.

Haley is not a once-in-a-generation talent like LeBron James. She just happens to be a very good soccer player, and that is now valuable enough to set off a frenzy among college coaches, even when — or especially when — the athlete in question has not attended a day of high school. For Haley, the process ended last summer, a few weeks before ninth grade began, when she called the coach at Texas to accept her offer of a scholarship four years later.

“When I started in seventh grade, I didn’t think they would talk to me that early,” Haley, now 15, said after a tournament late last month in Central Florida, where Texas coaches showed up to watch her juke past defenders, blond ponytail bouncing behind.

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Berg at a recent tournament. Sarah Beth Glicksteen for The New York Times

“Even the coaches told me, ‘Wow, we’re recruiting an eighth grader,’ ” she said.

In today’s sports world, students are offered full scholarships before they have taken their first College Boards, or even the Preliminary SAT exams. Coaches at colleges large and small flock to watch 13- and 14-year-old girls who they hope will fill out their future rosters. This is happening despiteN.C.A.A. rules that appear to explicitly prohibit it.

The heated race to recruit ever younger players has drastically accelerated over the last five years, according to the coaches involved. It is generally traced back to the professionalization of college and youth sports, a shift that has transformed soccer and other recreational sports from after-school activities into regimens requiring strength coaches and managers.

The practice has attracted little public notice, except when it has occasionally happened in football and in basketball. But a review of recruiting data and interviews with coaches indicate that it is actually occurring much more frequently in sports that never make a dime for their colleges.

Early scouting has also become more prevalent in women’s sports than men’s, in part because girls mature sooner than boys. But coaches say it is also an unintended consequence of Title IX, the federal law that requires equal spending on men’s and women’s sports. Colleges have sharply increased the number of women’s sports scholarships they offer, leading to a growing number of coaches chasing talent pools that have not expanded as quickly. In soccer, for instance, there are 322 women’s soccer teams in the highest division, up from 82 in 1990. There are now 204 men’s soccer teams.

“In women’s soccer, there are more scholarships than there are good players,” said Peter Albright, the coach at Richmond and a regular critic of early recruiting. “In men’s sports, it’s the opposite.”

While women’s soccer is generally viewed as having led the way in early recruiting, lacrosse, volleyball and field hockey have been following and occasionally surpassing it, and other women’s and men’s sports are becoming involved each year when coaches realize a possibility of getting an edge.

Precise numbers are difficult to come by, but an analysis done for The New York Times by the National Collegiate Scouting Association, a company that consults with families on the recruiting process, shows that while only 5 percent of men’s basketball players and 4 percent of football players who use the company commit to colleges early — before the official recruiting process begins — the numbers are 36 percent in women’s lacrosse and 24 percent in women’s soccer.

At universities with elite teams like North Carolina and Texas, the rosters are almost entirely filled by the time official recruiting begins.

While the fierce competition for good female players encourages the pursuit of younger recruits, men’s soccer has retained a comparably relaxed rhythm — only 8 percent of N.C.S.A.’s male soccer athletes commit early.

For girls and boys, the trend is gaining steam despite the unhappiness of many of the coaches and parents who are most heavily involved, many of whom worry about the psychological and physical toll it is taking on youngsters.

“It’s detrimental to the whole development of the sport, and to the girls,” Haley’s future coach at Texas, Angela Kelly, said at the Florida tournament.

The difficulty, according to Ms. Kelly and many other coaches, is that if they do not do it, other coaches will, and will snap up all of the best players. Many parents and girls say that committing early ensures they do not miss out on scholarship money.

After the weekend in Florida, the coach at Virginia, Steve Swanson, said, “To me, it’s the singular biggest problem in college athletics.”

The N.C.A.A. rules designed to prevent all of this indicate that coaches cannot call players until July after their junior year of high school. Players are not supposed to commit to a college until signing a letter of intent in the spring of their senior year.

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Libby Bassett, an assistant at South Carolina, was among hundreds of college soccer coaches at a recent tournament in Sanford, Fla. Many were scouting eighth and ninth graders. Sarah Beth Glicksteen for The New York Times

But these rules have enormous and widely understood loopholes. The easiest way for coaches to circumvent the rules is by contacting the students through their high school or club coaches. Once the students are alerted, they can reach out to the college coaches themselves with few limits on what they can talk about or how often they can call.

Haley said she was having phone conversations with college coaches nearly every night during the eighth grade.

‘It’s Killing All of Us’

The early recruiting machine was on display during the Florida tournament, where Haley played alongside hundreds of other teenage girls at a sprawling complex of perfectly mowed fields.

A Sunday afternoon game between 14-year-olds from Texas and Ohio drew coaches from Miami, Arizona, Texas and U.C.L.A. — the most recent Division I national champion. Milling among them was the most storied coach in women’s soccer, Anson Dorrance of North Carolina, who wore a dark hat and sunglasses that made him look like a poker player as he scanned the field.

Mr. Dorrance, who has won 22 national championships as a coach, said he was spending his entire weekend focusing on the youngest girls at the tournament, those in the eighth and ninth grades. Mr. Dorrance is credited with being one of the first coaches to look at younger players, but he says he is not happy about the way the practice has evolved.

“It’s killing all of us,” he said.

Mr. Dorrance’s biggest complaint is that he is increasingly making early offers to players who do not pan out years later.

“If you can’t make a decision on one or two looks, they go to your competitor, and they make an offer,” he said. “You are under this huge pressure to make a scholarship offer on their first visit.”

The result has been a growing number of girls who come to play for him at North Carolina and end up sitting on the bench.

“It’s killing the kids that go places and don’t play,” he said. “It’s killing the schools that have all the scholarships tied up in kids who can’t play at their level. It’s just, well, it’s actually rather destructive.”

The organizer of the Florida event, the Elite Clubs National League, was set up a few years ago to help bring together the best girls’ soccer teams from around the country, largely for the sake of recruiters. At the recent event, in an Orlando suburb, an estimated 600 college coaches attended as 158 teams played on 17 fields over the course of three days.

Scouts were given a hospitality tent as well as a special area next to the team benches, not accessible to parents, to set up their folding chairs. Nearly every youth club had a pamphlet — handed out by a parent during the games — with a head shot, academic records, soccer achievements and personal contact information for each player.

While the older teams, for girls in their final two years of high school, drew crowds of recruiters, they were generally from smaller and less competitive universities. Coaches from colleges vying for national championships, like Mr. Dorrance, spent most of their weekend watching the youngest age group.

Despite the rush, there is a growing desire among many coaching groups to push back. At a meeting of women’s lacrosse coaches in December, nearly every group session was dedicated to complaints about how quickly the trend was moving and discussions about how it might be reversed. In 2012, the Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association proposed rule changes to the N.C.A.A. to curtail early recruiting. But the N.C.A.A. declined to take them up, pointing to a moratorium on new recruiting rules. (At the same time, though, the N.C.A.A. passed new rules allowing unlimited texting and calls to basketball recruits at an earlier age.)

Early Commitments

The National Collegiate Scouting Association helps athletes navigate the recruiting process. Here is the percentage of N.C.S.A. clients in each sport who received and accepted a scholarship offer before the official recruiting process began.

WOMEN

MEN

PCT.

Lacrosse

36

Lacrosse

31

Soccer

24

Volleyball

23

Basketball

18

Volleyball

18

Field hockey

15

Soccer

8

Basketball

5

Football

4

“The most frustrating piece is that we haven’t been able to get any traction with the N.C.A.A.,” said Dom Starsia, the men’s lacrosse coach at Virginia. “There’s a sense that the N.C.A.A. doesn’t want to address this topic at all.”

 In an interview, Steve Mallonee, the managing director of academic and membership affairs for the N.C.A.A., reiterated his organization’s moratorium on new recruiting rules. He said the new rules on texting and calling were allowed because they were a “presidential initiative.”

Mr. Mallonee said the N.C.A.A. did not track early recruiting because it happened outside of official channels. He added that new rules trying to restrict the practice would be hard to enforce because of the unofficial nature of the commitments.

“We are trying to be practical and realistic and not adopt a bunch of rules that are unenforceable and too difficult to monitor,” he said.

Club Coaches in Key Role

The early recruiting system has given significant power to club coaches, who serve as gatekeepers and agents for their players.

One of the most outspoken critics of this process is Rory Dames, the coach of one of the most successful youth club teams, the Chicago Eclipse. In Florida, Mr. Dames kept a watchful eye on his players between games, at the pool at the Marriott where they were staying. As the 14- and 15-year-old girls went down the water slide, he listed the colleges that had called him to express interest in each one.

“Notre Dame, North Carolina and Florida State have called about her,” he said as one ninth grader barreled down the slide.

Another slid down behind her. “U.N.C., U.C.L.A. and I can’t even remember who else called me about her,” he said.

Mr. Dames said that he kept a good relationship with those programs but that he generally refused to connect colleges with girls before their sophomore year in high school, when he thinks they are too young to be making decisions about what college to attend.

Some colleges, though, do not take no for an answer and try to get to his players through team managers or other parents. After one such email was forwarded to him, Mr. Dames shot back his own message to the coach: “How you think this reflects positively on your university I would love to hear.”

He did not hear back. Mr. Dames said that when his players wait, they find scholarship money is still available.

Most club coaches, though, are more cooperative than Mr. Dames and view it as their job to help facilitate the process, even if they think it is happening too early.

Michael O’Neill, the director of coaching at one of the top clubs in New Jersey, Players Development Academy, said that he and his staff helped set up phone calls so his players did not miss out on opportunities. They also tutor the players on handling the process.

“You almost have to,” Mr. O’Neill said. “If you don’t, you can get left behind.”

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Girls from the Players Development Academy, a New Jersey club, at the three-day event. Sarah Beth Glicksteen for The New York Times

Once the colleges manage to connect with a player, they have to deal with the prohibition on making a formal scholarship offer before a player’s final year of high school. But there is now a well-evolved process that is informal but considered essentially binding by all sides. Most sports have popular websites where commitments are tallied, and coaches can keep up with who is on and off the market.

Either side can make a different decision after an informal commitment, but this happens infrequently because players are expected to stop talking with coaches from other programs and can lose offers if they are spotted shopping around. For their part, coaches usually stop recruiting other players.

“You play this goofy game of musical chairs,” said Alfred Yen, a law professor at Boston College who has written a scholarly article on the topic and also saw it up close when his son was being recruited to play soccer. “Only in this game, if you are sitting in a chair, someone can pull it out from under you.”

Mr. Yen said that colleges withdrew their offers to two boys his son played with, one of whom ended up in junior college and the other at a significantly less prestigious university. Other players who made early decisions went to colleges where they were unhappy, leading them to transfer.

The process can be particularly tricky for universities with high academic standards.

Ivy League colleges, which generally have the toughest standards for admission, generally avoid recruiting high school freshmen, but the programs do not stay out of the process altogether, according to coaches at the colleges, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the topic.

Two Ivy League coaches said they were generally able to look at players with a grade-point average above 3.7 and a score above 2,000 on the College Boards — out of 2,400 — much lower than the standard for nonathlete applicants. Ivy League coaches can put their recruits on a list of preferred candidates given to admissions officers, who in turn help the process along by telling coaches in the summer after an athlete’s junior year whether the player is likely to be admitted — months before other applicants find out.

Fearing a Toll on Minds

At the Florida tournament, many players said they had given up all other recreational sports in middle school to play soccer year round.

A growing body of academic studies has suggested that this sort of specialization can take a toll on young bodies, leading to higher rates of injury.

For many parents, though, the biggest worry is the psychological pressure falling on adolescents, who are often ill equipped to determine what they will want to study in college, and where.

These issues were evident on the last morning of the Florida event, on the sidelines of a game involving the Dallas Sting. Scott Lewis, the father of a high school sophomore, said his daughter switched to play for the Sting before this season because her old team was not helping steer the recruiting process enough. He watched scholarship offers snapped up by girls on other teams, he said.

“Is it a little bit sick? Yeah,” he said. “You are a little young to do this, but if you don’t, the other kids are going to.”

A parent standing next to Mr. Lewis, Tami McKeon, said, “It’s caused this downward spiral for everybody.” The spiral is moving much faster, she said, than when her older daughter went through the recruiting process three years ago.

Ms. McKeon’s younger daughter, Kyla, was one of four players on the Sting who committed to colleges last season as freshmen. Kyla spent almost 30 minutes a day writing emails to coaches and setting up phone calls. The coaches at two programs wanted to talk every week to track her progress. Throughout the year, Kyla said, she “would have these little breakdowns.”

“You are making this big life decision when you are a freshman in high school,” she said. “You know what you want in a week, but it’s hard to predict what you’ll want in four years.”

Kyla said that when she told Arkansas that she was accepting its offer, she was happy about her choice, but it was as if a burden had been lifted from her.

“I love just being done with it,” she said.

 

In the Midst of a Warzone there’s an Afghani Skateboarding School for Girls

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In “don’t be a tourist” “Featured” “have you met” on November 27, 2012 at 1:21 pm Today I learned there’s a skateboarding school in Afghanistan where 40% of its students are female. In a part of the world where little girls are … Continue reading

Why Ex Athletes Are More Successful

Why Ex-Athletes Are More Successful

Your high school football glory days could pay off at the office.
By Cassie Shortsleeve, Men’s Health

altlete(Photo: Getty Images)

In a new study at Washington University in St. Louis, researchers found that playing team sports was a greater predictor of success in a residency program for doctors-in-training than test scores or a good interview.

“Not all of the outstanding students end up being the best doctors,” says lead author Richard Chole, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the American Board of Otolaryngology. When researchers noticed that a lot of the doctors-in-training were former athletes, they sent questionnaires to successful residents and indeed found that many good docs shared varsity letters in common.
 
Dr. Chole says the leadership lessons and social skills you learn from playing team sports can help you become a better worker. “Very good students are usually in the library studying madly to get wonderful scores on tests, but social interaction and maturity are lost on that sometimes,” he says. Sure, your ability to throw a deep spiral or seal a last-minute layup matters little when it comes to prepping sales reports–but that doesn’t mean your time on the field won’t come in handy at your 9-to-5. Here are three ways your sports experience can help you in the workplace.
 
When You’re Forced to Work in a Group
Different people with different roles must work together in order for an office–no matter the size–to succeed, says Steve Edwards, Ph.D., a sports psychologist at Oklahoma State University. It’s the same lesson you learned in your high school huddle: Make the right passes for the point. Or, even more broadly, you can’t score unless someone passes to you, Edwards adds.
 
When You Need to Form a Team for a Project
Individual sports require a certain self-examination that can be difficult, says Edwards. (Think: beating yourself up for every last mistake.) But in team sports, you learn to assess people’s strengths and weaknesses in addition to your own, he says. The same is important in a work scenario. Building the best possible team starts with being able to figure out who’s good at what (writing, analyzing, or speaking in public).
 
When Someone Screws Up, Big Time
“The kind of people who are successful in team sports are generally the people who have great determination, and are able to concentrate and learn from mistakes,” Edwards says. Here’s the thing: You may not realize it, but a high school playoff run that ended all too fast showed you how to push through the ups and downs of working with others. (Yes, your kicker missed the game-winning field goal, but you’ve got to move forward). Being able to handle setbacks that are out of your control while completing a tough task is a skill you can hone in your pickup league.

Preventing Sports Concussions Among Children

Preventing Sports Concussions Among Children

The New York Times

By ROBERT C. CANTU
Published: October 6, 2012

This fall, about three million children younger than 14 are playing organized tackle football in the United States. Is that a good thing?

For many parents and coaches, that means three million children are getting some pretty serious exercise, hanging out with old friends and making new ones, and unplugging from technology, for a few hours at least.

I see those positives. Yet if it were my call, those millions would be playing touch football instead. Many would be learning the fundamentals of tackling and other football skills. But they would not be playing tackle football until they turned 14.

The reason is simple. Tackle football is too dangerous for youngsters. Exposure to head trauma is too risky. What we know about football and the vulnerabilities of children’s brains leads me to this conclusion. More worrisome is what we don’t know. How will the hits absorbed by a 9-year-old today be felt at 30, or 50?

I’ve been treating young athletes for concussions and other head trauma for four decades. In an average year, I’ll meet with patients to discuss their concussion symptoms 1,500 times or more. I’ve treated children for concussions in any sport you can name, and a few you wouldn’t think of. I’ve seen pole-vaulters, BMX riders and tennis players. Not that long ago, I treated a young man injured playing Ultimate Frisbee.

I’m not in favor of abolishing any sport for children, football included. Sports have too much to offer young people. There is nothing like being part of a Little League team or competing as a swimmer, tennis player or golfer to promote perseverance, sportsmanship, fair play, to keep fighting until the last point in the match or the last out. These are traits that carry us through life’s challenges.

In light of what we now know about concussions and the brains of children, though, many sports should be fine-tuned. But many parents and coaches are satisfied with the rules as they are. They like seeing youngsters in helmets and pads, and watching them slide headfirst into second base. The closer the peewee games resemble those of the professionals, the happier we are. It’s natural for a parent or a coach. Even a neurosurgeon.

But children are not adults. Their bodies are still maturing. Their vulnerabilities to head trauma are far greater.

A child’s brain and head are disproportionately large for the rest of the body, especially through the first five to eight years of life. And a child’s weak neck cannot brace for a hit the way an adult’s can. (Think of a bobblehead doll.) A child’s cranium at 4 is about 90 percent the size an adult’s. That’s important to a discussion of concussions and concussion risk.

We cannot eliminate head trauma from youth sports. What we can change is our mind-set so protecting the head and the brain is always a top consideration.

The guiding principle should be that no head trauma is good head trauma. Let’s re-examine youth sports and take steps to keep young athletes safe. I would like to see these changes written into the rules across the country.

SOCCER Many parents and coaches are surprised to learn that soccer is not among the safer sports for head trauma. It is actually one of the riskiest. In 2010, more high school soccer players sustained concussions than did athletes in basketball, baseball, wrestling and softball combined, according to the Center for Injury Research and Policy in Columbus, Ohio.

Most of that risk comes from one play: heading the ball. When two or more leap to direct the ball with their heads, a number of collisions can occur with heads, shoulders and elbows. From a neurological standpoint, nearly all are bad. About 90 percent of the patients I see with soccer head trauma and concussion are related to heading accidents.

It’s an easy call for me: take heading out of soccer until the players are 14.

ICE HOCKEY The progressive leadership of USA Hockey and Hockey Canada have done most of the heavy lifting in this sport. Hockey Canada outlawed checking to the head throughout amateur hockey. In 2011, USA Hockey approved a ban on body checking before the age of 13. I would extend the ban on body checking to 14. (The previous rule permitted body checking for players as young as 11.)

BASEBALL AND SOFTBALL Batting helmets are mandatory at every level of baseball, yet it’s surprising how little we do to ensure that they stay on. Some youth leagues around the country have mandated chin straps for years. All youth and high school leagues should require them.

In addition, headfirst slides should be eliminated. When a child’s head plows into an ankle or a shin, the leg always wins. Worse are home-plate collisions in which the head of the base runner can crash into the catcher’s hard shinguards.

FIELD HOCKEY AND GIRLS’ LACROSSE

I have heard that girls would be emboldened to play more aggressively if helmets were required in these sports, and that the net effect would be more injuries, not fewer. I say hold officials accountable for enforcing the rules, and that will not happen.

In lacrosse, some officials now favor something like a bike helmet to protect the top of the head. That is not good enough. When helmets that cover the entire head are required, fewer young women will sustain concussions.

Field hockey rules state that players should not raise their sticks above the knee. But that rule is broken in every game, often resulting in concussions, eye injuries, cuts, broken noses and more. Helmets are needed, although they do not have to be as robust as football helmets.

]I would expect resistance to these recommendations from parents of the 16,000 players in Pop Warner football’s tackle division for 5- to 7-year-olds, for example. But let’s begin the debate.

Robert C. Cantu, a clinical professor in the department of neurosurgery and a co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at the Boston University School of Medicine, is a co-author with Mark Hyman of the new book “Concussions and Our Kids.”

“In The Water, They Can’t See You Cry”

Interesting thoughts from Amanda Beard, a 7 time Olympic swimming medalist.  The article, an excerpt from her book, chronicles Amanda’s successes and failures as a world-class child athlete.

A year after the 1996 Olympics, I ranked twenty-third in the world in the 100-meter breaststroke and twenty-sixth in the 200-meter.

My parents did their best to shelter me from the unanimous criticism of public opinion. I didn’t need anyone to tell me how bad I stunk; I knew that already. The harsh numbers of my ranking told the whole story. At least that’s what I thought until I got acquainted with a whole new kind of low.

I had come into the living room of our house to find the newspaper because I wanted the movie listings; I needed to find a flick I could lose myself in. After looking on the couches and coffee table, I sat on the recliner chair where my dad read the newspaper and all of his books. I saw a piece of newsprint sticking out from in between a stack of books. Thinking it might be the paper, I lifted up the four or five volumes on top. Instead I found a hidden stash of clippings and knew immediately they were about me.

Since the start of my career, my dad was my own personal archivist, clipping any and all articles about me so that I could have them later on in life. But after carefully cutting them out, he always put them into the big red scrapbook he kept in his room.

Reading the dozen or so articles in my lap, I saw clearly why these hadn’t made it into the book. Sportswriters called me fat, washed-up, and finished. I’d never do anything good in swimming again, they wrote. There it was in black and white, a complete validation of the negative voice playing on a loop in my head. It was true, I was a fat loser. The words I attacked myself with stared out at me from the page, causing a kind of sweet dread. I had suspected that everyone was talking about me, and they were. The shame — this wasn’t just a couple of mean girls at school but the whole world — hurt so much it almost veered 180 degrees into pleasure. I wrapped myself up in sadness like a martyr, then tucked the clips back in their hiding spot so my dad wouldn’t know I had found them.

For the rest of the article, go to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amanda-beard/amanda-beard-in-the-water-they-cant-see-you-cry-memoir_b_1397581.html?page=1