Guest Blog: Top 10 Youth Hockey Myths

When I was new to the sport of youth ice hockey, a well-intentioned hockey dad told me, “Don’t buy big when it comes to skates. Buy the best stick.”  A $200 starter stick?  Gulp!  Thank goodness that didn’t prove to be true.  An inexpensive stick won’t cheat your child out of her goals.  When you’re just starting out, bad advice can spin you in all the wrong directions.  I teamed up with veteran Camillus, N.Y. hockey mom Caroline Stanistreet to help set the record straight with our list of Top 10 Youth Hockey Myths.

Myth 10.  Hope you don’t require much sleep, because early ice times are inescapable.

Fact:  There’s some truth to this myth, but only when your athlete is very young, or in a tournament.  Things get better with age, and especially if you play in an area with adequate sheets of ice.

Myth 9.  Youth hockey requires costly equipment.  You should expect a huge upfront financial commitment.

Fact:  Like many sports, some equipment is required to play youth hockey.  And new equipment is often expensive.  But new equipment is not a prerequisite to success.  In fact, gently worn hand-me-down equipment is always available from other parents or your local Play-It-Again Sports (or equivalent), and most teams participate in a handful of fundraisers throughout the season to defray ongoing costs.  It all makes a difference!  For those at the very preliminary stages of evaluating this sport, USA Hockey even provides opportunity for you to try it for free!

Myth 8.  Prepare to clear your calendar, because you’ll have no time for anything else six months out of the year.

Fact:  It’s really not that bad.  And you’ll likely be hanging out with your friends (or making new ones!)  Truth is, youth hockey typically requires a couple of weeknight practices and a few hours on weekends.  But if your kid loves hockey, is there really anything else he or she would rather be doing (or you would rather have them doing)?

Myth 7.  Invest in some industrial-grade nose plugs, because the stank of sweaty gear is out of this world.

Fact:  OK, turns out this is true.  BUT, with an Odor Gladiator in your athlete’s hockey bag and a rigorous routine of air drying (and periodically cleaning) equipment after every session on the ice, you can sink the stink.

Myth 6.  Hockey parents are neither nice nor helpful.

Fact:  Most parents are fantastic, and we’ve built some lasting friendships while investing time at the rink.  Sure, there will always be that one dad who berates his child while he’s playing (and that one mom who thinks her progeny is the only child on the team).  But that’s true for baseball, soccer and lacrosse, too.

Myth 5.  Brrr…!  All rinks are icy cold.

Fact:  Well, it is ice hockey, and sitting besides a sheet of ice is bound to be cold.  But most rinks have a warm concession area, video games for the kids and occasionally a decent pro shop for parents to shake off those shivers during downtime.  On the positive side, you’ll never suffer a sudden deluge while rink side.  Nor will you risk sunburn, bug bites or other environmental nastiness common in outdoor arenas.        

Myth 4.  Youth ice hockey is plagued with serious injuries.

Fact:  Thanks to improved equipment (notably, helmets), there are fewer injuries today than in the past.  Both parents and officiating bodies are focused on initiatives related to concussion prevention and identification, and safe behaviors on the ice.  Nevertheless, youth players still occasionally encounter the larger skater who’s at the peak of his growth spurt and decides to deliver an illegal check from behind.  That behavior is intolerable.  Your coaching staff’s instructions on proper checking combined with your child’s ability to listen, learn and practice such techniques reduce the likelihood of serious injuries arising on the ice.

Myth 3.  It’s important for my kid to score rather than skate.

Fact:  While everyone likes to see their child score, well rounded skaters (and their parents) focus also on developing shooting, stick handling and skating skills.  And while scoring is an important part of the game, so is providing an assist.  And good sportsmanship.  Remind your hockey player not to be a puck hog, especially as assists add points to player statistics.

Myth 2.  The parent sitting next to me is still my best friend, even after my kid scored three goals and her kid scored none.

Fact:  Well, maybe not this evening.  But we’ll be best friends again tomorrow, I’m sure.  Truth is, at this age our young athlete’s performance is often inconsistent.  And tomorrow my kid might not play so well, and hers might be a star.  Meanwhile, parents can take a page out of USA Hockey’s playbook and relax, it’s just a game.

Myth 1.  My kid is going to play in the NHL!

Fact:  Ah, statistically speaking, probably not.  And that’s OK.  Let’s face it, becoming a pro in this or any other sport is an extraordinary occurrence, and while it might be aspired to it really shouldn’t be the primary goal of parents, particularly when there are so many intermediate benefits that the sport provides youth athletes.  More generally, however, parental encouragement of their athlete’s hockey passion is welcome.  Kids who love the sport should be encouraged to play in high school, and later, perhaps, in college.  And who knows…maybe someday, your child will skate with the pros!

Heard a good hockey myth?  We’d love to hear them!  After all, bad advice can cost you plenty, but good advice is more valuable than a tournament hat trick.

Christie Casciano Burns is the author of The Puck Hog and Haunted Hockey in Lake Placid

Tales from the Aleš Hřebeský Memorial Tournament

The First 40 Hours

So if any of you are into box lacrosse, you may know of the Aleš Hřebeský Memorial Tournament that’s played in the Czech Republic every year.  It’s in a little town right outside Prague called Radotin, and both the town and tournament are amazing in so many ways.  You owe it to yourself to visit this event at least once in your life as a player or spectator.  Seriously.

I play on a team called the Boston Megamen and have been sponsored by Odor Gladiator for this tournament for the last three years.  If an Odor Gladiator can make a stinky Czech locker room smell fresh, imagine what it can do for your lacrosse or hockey bag!

Getting there is half the fun.  This year’s journey to the Czech Republic started on Monday evening in Philadelphia.  I connected through Brussels and then landed in Berlin.  I thought I was in for a pleasant flight, but ended up next to an angry lady who decided to kick and lean on me the entire seven hour flight.  Nothing a quick poke check wouldn’t have resolved, but sometimes you’ve just got to grin and bear it.

After landing in Brussels, I played hide-and-seek with my newly relocated Berlin departure gate before getting back in the air.  No angry woman for this segment, and as a bonus I got to try a waffle snack that was breathtaking (US Airways, take notes, please).  Perhaps I was simply ravenous…and hallucinogenic…from being up for over 24 hours.  I’m not certain, but I always will recall fondly my magic waffle.

Once safely on the ground in Berlin, I hooked up with some of my teammates, most of whom had arrived a few days earlier to enjoy the sights and sounds of Berlin.  We overloaded our gear into a rented and underpowered van, and launched straight to Prague as the tournament was right around the calendar corner.  And did I mention we took the popular Autobahn to get there?

Packed like sardines, we handed our fate over to our team captain as we swayed down the German highway at bug-splattering speed in our soup can on wheels.  I’m not exactly certain how kilometers convert to miles, but I think it’s safe to say we were traveling 375 miles per hour or so.  Maybe faster.

A short time later, we arrived at the arena and met up with the rest of our team.  This was my fourth time at this event, so I already knew what was on the bill for the evening:  a late night in the city at a popular night club.  What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but Prague, well, that’s a different story.  Through the course of the night, I witnessed one of our new guys express his affection to a few parked cars and an ice cream chest at a street meat stand.  One of our transition players also did his best gargoyle impersonation on a ledge affixed to the side of an extremely old building.  And two other teammates attempted to wrestle two bartenders.  Had it continued, I’d have put money on the bartenders.  Those two girls looked strong.  Hey, I never said we were nocturnal role models.

We rolled back into the hotel parking lot at 3:45 AM Czech time, which made it 9:45 PM Philly time, which meant I’d been awake for 40 hours.  I eagerly pressed my face into my pillow after navigating a ridiculously small spiral staircase in the dark.  With eyes closed, I wondered if the ice cream chest would miss our big defender and how much money I might have won had the co-ed wrestling match continued.  The last thought that trickled through my head before unconsciousness is “lacrosse… sometime in the next few hours….”  Lights out.

Czech the Box

So it’s the day of our first game, well…first games. Since there are 22 teams from something like 13 countries playing, they jam a lot of lax in.  Our seeding games are two 15-minute running-clock halves.  First on the docket is Scotland and we handle them pretty well.  Scotland’s team is a whole lot better than last year and if this is a sign of things to come, then we might have our hands full in the semi’s.  A few hours later we play the number two team in the Czech Republic.  We squeak out the W by one goal.

With the group play now out of the way we can spend some time regrouping and focusing on the playoffs. The next day we face England and finish them off with an uncharacteristic victory. Our offense is struggling a bit to find their mojo, but is still finding the net.  Boy, we really are getting a bunch of odd penalties though.

Games wrap and apparently it’s time to go out on the town again tonight, but not into the city. Instead, we head a the local bar called Club Klondike, I think.  It was rapidly renamed to the Chinese Disco because it was in fact some sort of disco house and it was behind a Chinese food restaurant. So we’re jamming out in an empty Chinese Disco house.  It has a small stage with a big brass pole, so naturally we expect this night to get real interesting real quick. Unfortunately the pole was only being used by big hairy English lacrosse players since the team from England was late to join us.  After some broken glass, real intense Foosball, darts, and a few empty bottles of whiskey, we all call in a night and head back to our hotel.

It’s day two, and we’re back at it again playing a Canadian team this time; it’s nice to see our offense find their stride in the victory.  It’s also fair to mention the brand new spider monkey check that PJ Martin landed on the guy he was covering.  We call it the spider monkey check because PJ is about six inches shorter than his man and the moves he needed to strip the ball from behind on this guy resembled a crazy little monkey.  Next up is a different Canadian team.  If we win this game then we’re in the finals.  **Finally** we’re into the games that get real serious. The games are now three stop-time 12 minute periods.  Both teams struggle to finish as the Gaels from Canada find a win.

In an ironic twist, we head to our final game of the tourney playing the host Czech team.  It’s ironic because we played this particular team in the last two championship games.  This would be the rubber match if it were the game for the cup, but instead we’re both playing for third place.  We drop this game too, but honestly we didn’t have anything left in us for a win. We lost three players in the prior game due to injuries, and another two in the first four minutes of this game, leaving us with a total of three subs on the bench, none of which were defenders. We were picked clean and emotionally drained. That was it, no more lax for us this week.

This is the fourth year I’ve been to this tourney and it’s always a good time. While I am sporting two torn/repaired Achilles tendons and can’t run, I was still able to at least serve penalties and drink fresh Czech beer for the team.  Every army needs a little drummer boy right?  I served a bunch of “too many men” penalties and a well-earned “your goalie kicked that guy while he was on the ground” penalty.  At the end of the tourney we read the stats of each team and found that we were two minutes away from doubling up the next closest team that had 88 minutes themselves.  It was then obvious that we certainly had the attention of the zebras.  I vividly remember one of the reasons I took a ”too many men” trip to the box; neither team had a man in the box and we were sending our 5th man out on offense.  Did you follow that?  We had FOUR men on the floor.  Just like that, we go man down.  It was frustrating to say the least.

I think the highlight of the trip for me was taking part in the hand making of my own one handed Czech-style lacrosse stick. It’s modeled after the early native North American sticks, it has a closed loop head versus the standard crook/cross style woodie we’re all used too, and it’s about 24 inches long. It’s super cool and surprisingly easy to use.

On the tail end of our adventure, we once again jam into the tiny clown car (“the Jumpy”) and head back to Berlin.  Some of us stay there for a few days and others just fly right home.  The entire team takes a financial hit by purchasing our own airfare, tourney fees, and hotel costs but it’s all worth it.  We got help again this year from Mike at Odor Gladiator and PJ from Uncommon Fit.  These two guys have supported us for a few years now and certainly deserve recognition.  The Boston Megamen thank you two for your continued support.

In the end, I can tell you this about the Aleš Hřebeský Memorial Tournament: It’s unquestionably changed… my…life.  If you had told me prior to learning about the tourney that I would travel the world the way I do now, I would have laughed at you.  Yet out of the tragedy that was the loss of a young lacrosse player’s life in 1993 blossoms the discovery of new friends, experiences, and life drawn from all over the world.  I think Aleš would be proud of his community and what his memory has done to both grow and unite the international lacrosse community.

As you can probably tell, I think the Aleš Hřebeský Memorial Tournament is easily the best box lacrosse tournament in the world.  If you treasure lacrosse the way I do, you owe it to yourself to travel to Radotin in 2015, whether as a player, spectator or both!

Choosing a Lacrosse Camp for Your Athlete

It’s May and summer is fast approaching.  Between sports practices, games, homework, and graduations, it’s hard to find time to make plans for the summer.  For those of you living with lacrosse players, you’re in luck.  We spoke with the directors of a few of the country’s top lacrosse programs, and they shared these tips on selecting a summer lacrosse camp or clinic.  Whether your child is looking to learn the basics or to “get a look” from college coaches, this advice will ensure you spend your money wisely and help you find the right match.

Coaching

When it comes to choosing a stellar lacrosse program, the quality of coaching and coaching experience make a big difference.  Both of the program directors we spoke with hire coaches with both professional playing and extensive coaching experience. 

“The fact that our coaches all play for the Minnesota Swarm in the National Lacrosse League is a huge draw for parents.  Parents recognize that we’re able to teach kids the importance of discipline, hard work, and what it takes to be leaders both on and off the field,” shared Aime Caines, director and founder of Play Like a Pro Lacrosse in Woodbury, Minnesota.

In addition to coaching for Play like a Pro, the program’s coaches also work with local youth lacrosse leagues, so they are constantly honing their coaching skills.

Caines, who serves as head coach of his program, also coaches the Minnesota Swarm, the Swarm’s Youth Box League, and a local high school team.  Needless to say, he’s pretty qualified to teach athletes of all ages and levels.

Chris Mattes, director of The Faceoff Academy and middie for the Florida Launch, leads youth clinics and combines across the country.  He agrees that quality coaching is necessary when choosing a lacrosse program.

“Our coaches are all active in the MLL, and are trained to provide guidance to kids of all ages,” Mattes said.  “They are mentors to the players and help high school students network with college coaches and find the right fit for them, whether it’s a divisional or club team.  Even after the clinic is over, our coaches are willing to keep working with players to guide them in the right direction.”

Program Demand & Affiliations

While coaching certainly adds to a program’s credibility, so does demand, according to Caines and Mattes.  Are parents and players recommending it?  How long has it been around?  Has the program expanded or added sessions each summer because of its popularity? 

Play Like a Pro is in its fifth year of coaching youth lacrosse clinics for athletes ages 8-15, and because it has seen such a demand from high school players, it will host a high school clinic for the first time this summer.

“Because I coach high school lacrosse, the older kids have become really interested in a clinic, so we’re delivering that this summer to work on fine tuning position-specific skills,” Caines said.

Though Faceoff Academy is new to the lacrosse clinic scene (this summer will be its second year), Mattes never imagined that it would be such a hit.  He planned to host the program during the summer and the demand was so high that he started running clinics year-round.

Another force multiplier contributing to The Faceoff Academy’s traction is the fact that some of its clinics are co-presented by LB3 Lacrosse, a well-known organization that runs camps and clinics in nontraditional lacrosse hotbeds. 

“LB3 is really highly regarded in the lacrosse community, so the fact that they partner with us is to our benefit because of its great reputation,” Mattes said.

If you’re not sure about a program, Mattes advises to see if it has established partnerships with any well-known associations.  Also, ask people in your local lacrosse community about it and ask the program itself for references.

Quality of Content

Content within programs will vary based on age groups and skill levels, but the quality of what’s covered should be consistent across the board.  Mattes says that the skills being taught should be well suited to a player’s experience level and that parents should ask the right questions to ensure that the program will be challenging enough, but not overwhelming, for their child.

Generally speaking, younger kids (around ages 7-10) who are new to lacrosse should be learning basic field skills and even playing fun games to keep them engaged and having a good time, says Mattes.  Kids this age shouldn’t be pushed too hard.

“Older kids who are more serious about lacrosse, however, should be working on fine tuning position-specific drills, and also strengthening, conditioning, and nutrition,” added Caines.  He hires a professional strength and conditioning coach and a nutritionist to help players learn to take care of themselves off the field.  The program’s aim is to live up to its name and give participants a taste of what it’s like to play lacrosse like a pro.

The Faceoff Academy offers combines for high school and college students that focus on faceoff basics, as well as a host of other skills, such as wing play, shooting on the run, effective transferring through the box, and setting up and mastering the 4 on 3 break.

 “It’s important that programs are very specific about what they cover with players of each skill level, so that parents and players can determine if it’s a good fit,” Mattes says. 

Raising Coin? Check Out These Youth Sports Fundraising Tips

Fundraising used to mean selling Girl Scout cookies, popcorn, or Innisbrook wrapping paper.  These days,  there are countless other ways to raise money for your organization that won’t expand your waistline or clutter your closet.  From car washes to walk-a-thons, it can be daunting trying to choose and plan a fundraiser that will help your athletic team meet its goals.  With the steep price of sports equipment, travel, officiating and coaching, it’s important that your team’s fundraiser packs a punch to help offset your expenses.  Here are a few tips from experienced lacrosse parents on how to run an effective youth sports fundraiser.

Choose a fundraiser that suits your team

There are several factors to consider when choosing a fundraiser.  How old are the players on your team?  Will the players be responsible for running the fundraiser or will the booster organization do all the work?  If your team consists of high school students, they are capable of hosting (and helping plan and promote) a car wash, relay, or other event.  While young kids may not be able to plan an event, they can sell items like raffle tickets or Odor Gladiators to family and friends, but may quickly lose interest or stamina.  Parents we spoke to advised not to expect too much from the kids.  Paul Jones, of Westfield, Massachusetts, said that between school, sports, and other activities, kids are busy and don’t always make a fundraiser a priority. Leslie Voiro, of Marlton, New Jersey agreed and said that she and the parents of her son’s travel team, the Marlton Chiefs, implemented the team’s Odor Gladiator fundraiser.

girls with Odor Gladiators

Because parents often end up doing the bulk of the work, they should choose a fundraiser that they are comfortable with and capable of carrying out themselves if they know the players won’t be involved, Jones said.  However, both Jones and Voiro said that if kids are given enough guidance and understand the importance of the fundraiser, they are more likely to be motivated to work hard to make it a success.

Margins Matter

Brian Rhode, of Noblesville, Indiana, helped organize an Odor Gladiator fundraiser for his son’s lacrosse team, Noblesville Youth Lacrosse.  “I looked at several fundraisers and considered a variety of factors, but the margins for Odor Gladiator are higher than others and that makes a difference,” Rhode said.

Odor Gladiator fundraising graphics

In addition to higher margins, Odor Gladiator also offers custom colors, graphics and point-of-sale displays for fundraisers.

Delegate Tasks

No fundraiser can be successful without delegating tasks amongst the booster organization, parents and team members.  In some cases, boosters decide to involve the kids, as was the case with Jones’ son’s league, Westfield Youth Lacrosse.  Jones brought the idea to the boosters to sell Odor Gladiators, as he nearly passed out every time he smelled his kids’ lacrosse bags and figured other parents must be dealing with the same stench.  The boosters bought $800 worth of Odor Gladiators and sold them for a generous profit, but the parents and booster organization did all the work.  Jones says this can work as long as expectations are clear in advance as to who will be planning and executing the fundraiser.

Think outside of the box

Jones felt that selling something unique that people actually need would help boost fundraising sales and was convinced that every kid with a smelly athletic bag needs an Odor Gladiator.  To present his idea to the booster board, he brought his kids’ sports bags into the meeting, and made everyone put their faces inside the bags to smell them. 

“See—they work!” he said.  The booster was on board and the fundraiser was a hit, as few parents could say that their kids’ bags smelled like roses.

Jones (clearly a fundraising guru) also ran a pub crawl for adults in the community.  The boosters sold tickets for $25, and each ticket came with an event t-shirt.  They called several bars in the area to let them know that they would be bombarding their watering holes for a fundraiser and asked for a donation in exchange for bringing in the extra business.  While this wasn’t the most profitable of the fundraisers they’ve held, it brought awareness to the youth lacrosse league and was a great for promoting partnerships with the community’s businesses.  And it was fun.

Keep it Simple

For those who have limited resources or are just looking to simplify the fundraising process, Jones recommends cash raffle calendars.  These are easy to print from a home computer and if each team member sells around 15 tickets, the team is guaranteed a great cash return.  Jones advised against giving donated items as prizes, as this increased the amount of legwork significantly. 

kids' hands Odor Gladiator

“Keep the prizes to cash and the surplus is money in your league’s pocket,” he said.

Rhode said that Spirit Cups by Brax Fundraising cups are selling really well.  A local football team recently made $30,000 from this fundraiser.

The cups, however, are only available for National Football League teams, National Baseball League teams, and colleges, so this fundraiser may not be the best choice for lacrosse, hockey or other sports teams, Rhode said.

 

Just STOP

*Time change: Hey folks – I was mistaken about the time for this Tweet Chat on sports injuries. It seems the chat is scheduled for today at noon east coast time. Sorry for the mix up and thanks to Joe for letting me know!

Parenting a young athlete means I’m always on the look out for resources that can help me make smart decisions for (and with) my son about his health and safety. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon a chat on Twitter about youth sports injuries and that’s how I discovered STOP Sports Injuries.

STOP Sports Injuries was born out of a need to prevent athletic overuse and trauma injuries in children. With organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, SAFE Kids USA and a whole host of other coalition members and partners, I think this organization can do a lot to help families, coaches and athletes involved in sports.

Organized sports are an important part of my son’s childhood. Sports have introduced him to some of his closest friends. He’s learning respect, responsibility and teamwork through sports. And his pediatrician loves the health benefits he gets from physical activity. For all these reasons, I can get behind STOP Sports Injuries’ aspiration to “keep kids in the game for life.”

There’s going to be another Twitter chat on Wednesday, April 25th starting at 8:00 p.m. east coast time. The chat will focus on concussions (a pretty important topic for this hockey mom.) If you’re on Twitter, you can join the discussion by following the #SportsSafety hashtag and following @SportsSafety.

Hope to see you there!

 

Save a Life? I Can Do That.

What would you do if you saw your child’s friend choke on the team snack?  Or your child’s baseball coach stop breathing?  Or your bantam hockey player collapse on the ice?

For $60 and 2 1/2 hours of your time, you could save a life.

I recently received my CPR/AED certification.  I needed it for professional reasons, but as the mom of a youth athlete, I see value in it in my personal life as well.  In all of my son’s athletic programs, he is using facilities that have AEDs (automated external defibrillators) and people trained to perform CPR and address other medical emergencies.  But if that person is Coach and Coach collapses, then what?  What if the staffer trained to use the AED is on a soccer field hundreds of yards across the park?  Time is critical.  The sooner a person is treated, the better the outcome.

I was trained through the American Heart Association.  It seems weird to use the term “easy” when learning how to save lives, but CPR/AED training is easy.

Assessing the situation. We learned how to assess a crisis situation, to identify someone in need of help and to be aware of other factors that can impact the safety of the victim and person providing aid.  Two critical things: have someone call 911 and have someone get an AED (if one is available.)

CPR.  We were taught how to do chest compressions, including how many compressions to do and how deep they need to be. We were taught how to do this for adults, children and infants. And if you’re squeamish about the mouth-to-mouth part of CPR, you don’t have to do mouth-to-mouth breathing.  Chest compressions alone can save a victim.  (We were taught breathing techniques, however.)

Choking.  We practiced helping choking victims, including troubleshooting a significant height or weight difference between the victim and person helping the victim.  We also learned how to address the needs a choking victim who is a child or a pregnant woman.

AED.  If you’ve ever watched a medical drama on TV, you’ve probably heard a doctor yell, “Clear!” then shock a patient to get their heart pumping.  Small versions of AEDs are popping up all around our communities, in restaurants, sports facilities and shopping malls. The machine literally walks you step-by-step through how to apply the “paddles”, if/when to administer a shock and when to return to CPR.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year there are approximately 935,000 heart attacks and 795,000 strokes.  The more people who can perform CPR and use an AED, the better chance we have at saving lives.

So why don’t more people get trained?  Fear of lawsuits or “getting in trouble” if something goes wrong is a common answer.  In these situations, something is wrong.  Someone is dying.  You cannot get in trouble for administering CPR.  Afraid you’ll hurt someone?, It rarely happens, but what if you do crack someone’s ribs or burn them slightly with the AED?  I’ll take a cracked rib over death any day.

I encourage everyone to participate in CPR/AED training.  It’s easy, inexpensive and closer than you think.  Find an American Heart Association class close to your home by clicking here.  I left feeling incredibly empowered.  That said, I hope I never have to use my new skills.

Pittsburgh Doesn’t Stink (Thanks Odor Gladiator!)

The college basketball season is almost complete. With just a couple of games and some skills competitions left on the schedule, it’s time to appoint the champions. I’ll make the assumption that most people are just like me and have been glued to their televisions as teams slowly get knocked out of their respective tournaments.

While talking to Mike via Twitter, we decided to make a friendly gentleman’s bet on who the national champion would be after the final matchup had been announced. No, I’m not talking about the NCAA tournament which always receives too much hype. I’m not even talking about the NIT. The real national champion would be the winner of the CBI tournament.

In case you are unfamiliar with the format of this tournament, once the field is cut down to two teams, these finalists face off in a best of three series at the school’s home courts. The championship series had personal meaning to both me and Mike. I was rooting for the Washington State Cougars as I am currently a senior there and he was pulling for the University of Pittsburgh Panthers due to attending there and now residing in Pittsburgh.

After taking the first game by one at home, WSU then traveled to Pitt and proceeded to lose both games there making Pitt the national champions. The Cougars stunk. In fact, they played so poorly that I would say that they were almost dead. I’m pretty sure that they could have used an Odor Gladiator on their flight home.

It’s tough for me to think that some team other than WSU is the national champion, but especially with it being Pittsburgh. I’ve lived my entire life just south of Seattle and y’all probably know why it’s difficult to like Pittsburgh teams for me. Cough, Super Bowl, cough.

Well, I lost the bet and I will now talk glowingly about the ‘Burgh. My mother’s side of the family grew up in Pittsburgh (specifically Bellevue) so I have spent plenty of summers there. I have fond childhood memories of riding up the incline and running around the Carnegie Science Center. In all honesty, Pittsburgh is a great city. Most of the people that I know always laugh at me for saying that because they still have the image of the Industrial Revolution in their mind. In reality, it’s no different than any other east coast metropolis (it might actually have more greenery).

While I do like Pittsburgh, one thing that I do not like is odor. I’ve played soccer my entire life and have a bag sitting right inside my door filled with my cleats, shin guards, and my goalie gloves. Playing soccer outside in Washington is quite fun but the moisture mixed with the sweat has made my gloves quite pungent. One of my favorite things is when someone needs to use an extra pair of my gloves at practice and they smell their hands afterwards. I know, it’s sort of sadistic but you have to find your fun somewhere while playing soccer. I’ve only heard good reviews of the Gladiator, so I thought that I would give one a try.  Mike is sending one along (in maroon and silver…go Cougars!) and I’ll report out on my experience soon.

Congratulations to Mike and his Pitt Panthers on a CBI championship. Hopefully we get to beat you for a NCAA championship next year.

Dan Shirley is a senior math major at Washington State University.  He’s also a soccer player and lacrosse fan.  Dan also writes for www.inlaxwetrust.com.  You should follow Dan on Twitter at @danshirley

The Off-Season

My mite’s hockey season is almost over, which means it’s time to decide what the off-season will look like, not just from a hockey perspective, but from a what-are-we-doing-this-summer perspective. Last year I completely botched the off-season. I thought summer would be a great time to relax, head to the beach, maybe hit the museums. I signed the Kid up for a once-a-week instructional hockey program and one camp and left it at that. Unfortunately, what I define as relaxing, my son defines as boring. In my attempt not to over-schedule him, I neglected to consider his need to be busy. Poor little guy was miserable. This year, I’m doing it differently.

I checked out the calendar. There are some things that are immovable (like the week our friends let us borrow their beach house.) I also need to block out a trip to visit the grandparents. Anything the Kid does has to fit around those things.

I determined my budget. Camps and sports programs get expensive! I want my son to be able to participate in things he loves and to try new activities, but I still need to buy groceries and pay the air conditioning bill. (We’re very sensitive to heat around here.) The Kid can do as much as he wants within those budget parameters.

I created a list of camps and activities I thought the Kid might like. Based on what I know about my son’s interests, I’ve bookmarked e-mails, saved brochures, pinned Web sites and taken notes. I also checked in with these programs to see how flexible they are. If the Kid has a baseball game that conflicts with a spring hockey league game, is that a problem? Mostly, I just need to know what will be an absolute commitment and what trade-offs are possible if scheduling conflicts arise.

I let the Kid choose. He’s chosen a baseball team, a spring hockey league, a power skating clinic, tennis camp and time travel camp. (Yes, you read that right. He’ll be time traveling.) He owns his schedule and he’s proud of that. If he feels like he’s not getting enough ice time or playing tennis in the ridiculous heat isn’t much fun, well, chances are, I won’t hear many complaints. No self-respecting eight year-old wants to admit they were wrong.

I stopped projecting. I tend to project my feelings onto my son. It’s unfair. I may think that the greatest thing ever after getting up at 5:30 a.m. for hockey practice is to take a nap. The Kid, however, often wants to follow up early morning hockey practice with a snack and then throwing the football around and then hitting the basketball court and then having lunch and then… Exhausting for me, but he has energy to spare. He’s a happier guy when he’s busy and this year I’m doing my best to meet that need for stimulation. (Including intravenous caffeine drips for me.)

The Kid has chosen some great activities for the summer. And we’ll still get some family time, some travel time, some video game time, some water balloon fights with the neighbor kids time. Bring on the off-season, this year it’s going to be awesome!

When Children Burn Out

When my young son stopped taking skating lessons after a year of loving it, I freaked out a little. Did I push him too hard? Was he burned out? Now I can laugh at my overreaction. Still, that experience made me think about how I can determine if my kid becomes a burned out athlete and what we can do about it.

Perhaps it’s just intermission.

No matter how much a child loves a sport, at some point it won’t be fun. Waking up early on Saturday is hard. A disagreement with a team mate can make the locker room unbearable. The video game version will seem more attractive than the real thing. What to do?

  • Determine what the real problem is. If a kid loves a sport, then suddenly doesn’t want to play, it might not be burn out. Little problems include having a disagreement with a team mate or a minor injury that hasn’t been mentioned. Serious problems include bullying or inappropriate behavior from adults. It’s important to find out what’s really fueling a change in passion for a sport.
  • Consider taking a mini-break. I once told a figure skater’s mom that I would be an awful skate mom because at some point the weather would be nice outside and I would let the Kid skip practice to go for a bike ride. She laughed and said, “We do that. Bike rides are important.” Sometimes it’s beneficial to play hookey from a chosen sport. That bike riding figure skater is raking in all kinds of medals, maybe because she has balance in her life. If it’s okay with Coach to miss a practice or game in the short run, it might be worth it in the long run.
  • Don’t specialize too soon. There’s a lot of discussion about when it’s appropriate for youth athletes to specialize in a sport. I think it’s best to let young children explore their options. My seven year-old plays three sports and he’s in the chess club. Having variety keeps him from feeling burned out with just one activity and possibly from getting hurt.

Or maybe it’s retirement.

You’re passionate about a sport, a job, a hobby and then…you’re not. This happens to kids too and it’s important to be prepared for when it does.

  • Set the ground rules. In our family, the Kid has to finish what he starts. If he doesn’t want to play hockey anymore, that’s fine. But he has to finish the season. He’s made a commitment to his team that he needs to fulfill. Additionally, finishing out the season may help determine whether or not he’s really tired of the sport or just experiencing short-term frustration.
  • Let the athlete decide. The Kid determines what sports he plays. Hockey, baseball, underwater basket weaving…it’s up to him. He has true ownership over what he commits to decreasing the likelihood of burn out and giving him an opportunity to “opt out” if his interests change.
  • Don’t call it quits. There’s a difference between “quitting” and “making a change.” I’m teaching my son that “quitting” would be leaving a team in the middle of the season. No quitting! But if at the end of the season he decides he doesn’t want to play hockey anymore, he’s not “quitting,” he’s making a choice. And that’s fine.

So, that whole no-more-skating-lessons thing? The Kid kept skating on his own and now he’s in a great mite hockey program that he loves. I’ve learned to take the long view about his athletic pursuits and how to better deal with day-to-day frustrations that pop up.

What I don’t know…how does all of this change as youth athletes get older? Any thoughts?

 

Guest Post: Something About Stink

 

 

 

 

 

Queen Elizabeth once declared, “I take a bath once a month whether I need it or not!” I think everyone in our modern age goes “ewwwww” after reading that sentence, but in the Elizabethan era she was considered the epitome of cleanliness because most people bathed less than ten times a year, if they bathed at all. Then in 1605, Francis Bacon wrote that “cleanness of body was ever deemed to proceed from a due reverence to God.” That quote became the oft-repeated, “cleanliness is next to godliness” line that we have all heard since childhood. Ever since then, being clean was very much the thing to do.

So why, oh why do athletes love their stinky gear? They know it is harboring bacteria. They know how unpleasant it feels to put on cold, sweaty equipment. They know it is unhygienic, and can cause staph infections. So why do they do it? Simple – there is something about stink.

I challenge you to find one high schooler who will go to school in stinky clothes, but they will go to practice and open up an equipment bag that is so rancid smelling that passing birds fall dead from the sky. Then they put on that foul smelling gear and play! They know it stinks to high heaven yet they still put it on. Why? Because there is something about stink.

As a former lacrosse player I know all too well the allure of stinky gear. It is a badge of honor, a right of passage, and an on-field weapon. I used to brag that my gear smelled so bad that opposing players would not try to dodge against me, for fear of the stench. One day I went to get my gear bag out of the garage and it was gone. My mother had had enough. She took my shoulder pads, arm pads, gloves, and the bag and stuffed them into the washing machine. I was devastated. Plus, all of my gear felt weird on my body after being pummeled in the dryer, which just added insult to injury.

The next day I dragged my bag to practice, extremely unhappy that all of my gear felt alien on my body. I dressed for practice, started moving, and then something strange happened. I forgot that I was wearing clean, non-smelly, and ill-fitting gear. Eventually the equipment conformed to my body again, and I was playing as well as I usually played. The lightbulb clicked on in my head, I could play with clean gear and still be comfortable!

However, it took some trial-and-error before I figured out the golden rule of equipment washing: air-drying. There is something about putting gear in a dryer that makes it feel funny, especially the gloves. I have found that I can put my shoulder and arm pads in the dryer without ill-effect, but my gloves need to be air dried in order to preserve their “feel.” Last is the helmet, which usually got either a healthy helping of Febreze or wiped down inside and out with Lysol disinfectant wipes.

Over time, practicing and playing with clean equipment became the normal thing to do. I just had to overcome my initial resistance to the idea before realizing that wearing nasty gear made about as much sense as walking the school hallways in clothes from the bottom of my hamper.

To the parents - If your child is hesitant about cleaning their equipment, reiterate to them that playing sports is a privilege, not a right. In order to play they must also be able to keep their own gear clean and smell-free.

To the players - Is it a pain to wash your equipment? Yes. I’m not going to try and spin that chore as being pleasant. Want to know what is more unpleasant? A six-week staph infection that will not go away and requires you to shave your leg to keep the medicated bandage in close contact with your skin. That happened to me my junior year of high school and that really stunk.

Cheers,
Gordon

Gordon Corsetti is a guest blogger from Atlanta, Georgia. He blogs for Atlanta Youth Lacrosse whenever he is not officiating.