Developing Physically Active Girls: A Pecha Kucha

13 12 2010

I’ve put together a Pecha Kucha video presentation on “Developing Physically Active Girls”.

If you are not familiar with Pecha Kucha, it is a 20 slides x 20 seconds (6:40 mn) presentation format in which the slides advance automatically while you talk. To learn more about Pecha Kucha, the Japanese term for the sound of conversation (“chit chat”)  click here.

The full report and executive summary of Developing Physically Active Girls: An Evidence-based Multidisciplinary Approach, which I co-authored, can be downloaded for free here. The video contains key points from this report.

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Mini vs. Mature Pros: Physical Activity Across the Lifespan

1 12 2010

Ironically two New York Times articles showed up in my inbox today from different colleagues (thanks ED & ALN) about physical activity on different ends of the age spectrum. I find this ying-yang juxtaposition interesting.

pic by Ann Johansson for The New York Times

One is an article by sports journalist and author Mark Hyman titled “Sports Training Has Begun for Babies and Toddlers”. Hyman knows this topic well as he’s written a book called Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession With Youth Sports and How it Harms our Kids, which I think is one of the best books about youth sport. I have many concerns about the products and programs Hyman details.

First, the target market is not the little ones, but their parents who will do anything to help their child get ahead, “keep up with the Joneses” and do right by their children.  I’d even go a step further and argue the target market is White, middle- to upper-class parents who are highly educated. Some call this demographic of parents “helicopter” parents. Someone told me recently that the youngest members of our society are now being called the Super Millennials and they will be more savvy, entitled, pampered and demanding than Millennials (also known as Gen Y, born between 1981-2000). One of the best books I’ve read about the Millennials is Bruce Tulgan’s “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y.” These sports training programs (Gymtrixx, Baby Goes Pro, athleticbaby, The Little Gym) for Super Millennials and their parents are a perfect example how sports can go wrong and why and how youth sports is becoming increasingly professionalized. I mean the little guys in Hyman’s story have on uniforms!

Kotelko picture by Patrik Giardino for The New York Times

The second article is by Bruce Grierson titled “The Incredible Flying Nonagenarian” about Olga Kotelko. Kotelko is a 91 year old Masters Track & Field athlete who started competing at age 77 and in that time holds 23 world records and has won over 600 gold medals. She is considered one of the world’s greatest athletes. WOW! In the NYT piece if you scroll down a bit, there is a video of her talking about competing and some footage of her in action. Amazing! Tangentially, last spring The Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport invited Mariah Burton Nelson to give a Distinguished Lecture on Are Women Aging Successfully? New Thinking and Research about Gender and Physical Activity. You can watch the full length video here.

The reason why I put these two articles together is important. As I stated earlier, youth sport is increasingly professionalized and children are being “trained” at higher levels like “mini pros” at younger and younger ages. While a longitudinal study on the effects of early training, sport specialization, and  year round training without rest periods on children and youth has yet to be done, based on data that does exist in pediatric sports medicine, child development, sports psychology and sports sociology I feel I can safely claim that “sports training” for babies is NOT a good idea.

Here are a few reasons why–early sports training can lead to a host of negative and detrimental psychosocial and physical outcomes like burnout, anxiety and eating disorders due to pressure to perform, lack of lifelong enjoyment of physical activity, chronic and overuse injuries, and drop out of sport altogether. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an advocate of kids being active and encouraging free play with children that develops motor and life skills and love of physical activity, but I think there is a fine line between this approach and some of the companies/products Hyman writes about.

Grieger in his piece about Kotelko nails the important link when he writes, “While most younger masters athletes were jocks in college if not before, many competitors in the higher brackets — say, older than age 70 — have come to the game late. They weren’t athletes earlier in life because of the demands of career and their own growing families. Only after their duties cleared could they tend that other fire.”

Olga Kotelko wasn’t enrolled in “baby sports training” but despite a lack of exposure to this ‘opportunity’, she is a professional athlete. More importantly I’d argue, is that she is an exemplary cautionary tale for eager parents bent on early sport specialization. In the big picture of why parents want their children to participate in sport, what is more important: a) nurturing a lifelong ability and love to participate in physical activity, or b) creating a mini pro that might burn out or not be able to compete in college (let alone later in life) due to over use injuries?





What Can Coaches Use Besides Punishment?

17 11 2010

In my last blog A Word About the Use of Punishment in Youth Sport I wrote about some of the potential negative consequences of using punishment. Punishment from a sport psychology perspective is adding something an athlete perceives as negative or aversive (i.e., sprints, push-ups, yelling).

When I present the idea that coaches should use punishment sparingly, if at all, I get some concerned looks. Many coaches are fearful that if they can’t use punishment, then the athletes on their team will not pay attention, run amok, and all “you know what” will break out. This concerned look quickly leads to a raised hand, “Well, what do you suggest we do besides using punishment?”

So I’m posing this question to all the coaches out there who read this blog: What do you use to get athletes to pay attention, stop screwing around, teach a life lesson, reduce the likelihood the behavior will happen again, focus, or do something correctly that isn’t a punishment?

Leave your comment here. After people weigh in I will also offer some suggestions, but I want to hear your creative strategies.





A Word About the Use of Punishment in Youth Sport

15 11 2010

I get many calls and questions from coaches about the use of punishment in youth sport. Punishment from a sport psychology perspective is adding something an athlete perceives as negative or aversive.

Examples of commonly used punishments yelling, exercise including push-ups & running, and sitting on the bench (adding bench time).

Punishing mistakes is not an effective way to shape behavior, teach life skills (i.e., being on time, listening, focusing attention when the coach is talking) or develop skill. Researchers have proven that positive approach to coaching involves strengthening desired behaviors by recognizing them when they occur and giving information about training and instructions that helps an athletes improve or do it differently is the most effective way to communicate.  A “negative approach” to coaching involves attempts to eliminate a behavior based on criticism and the use of punishment. While punishment can help eliminate an undesired behavior in the short term, it does little for teaching skills that develop over time.

Punishment also has a number of potential negative consequences including:

  • Fear of failure
  • Increases likelihood of choking because athlete is thinking more about mistakes than on what needs to happen to perform well
  • Creates stress and anxiety, especially because it is usually done in front of peer teammates
  • Creates an unpleasant social and learning environment
  • Cohesion is built on hatred of coach
  • Undermines coach-athlete relationship and erodes coach as a positive role model that young athletes look up to and admire
  • Inappropriate modeling (Do we want youngsters to yell and scream at others when mistakes are made?)
  • Embarrassment
  • Resentment
  • Hostility
  • Decreased enjoyment
  • Increased likelihood for drop out
  • Conveys the wrong message about exercise as an enjoyable activity
  • I hope this short piece helps coaches think about their use of punishment in their coaching praxis.





    Hazing Has No Place in Sports

    28 10 2010

    Every week I hear stories from across the country about hazing in sport contexts. The recent attention nationally around bullying, including a stand from the White House, illustrates the seriousness of these issues and that social change is necessary. Here in Minnesota a hazing incident involving a MN high school football team garnered a lot of media attention. Unfortunately, stories of hazing in high school and college sports is not uncommon. I teach a hazing unit  in my Psychology of Coaching class, so I’ve been thinking about this issue for some time.

    I feel it is important to educate current and future coaches, parents and athletes that hazing has no place in sports (or any context!). Here are some of the reasons why hazing should not be tolerated, punished swiftly and severely, and not minimized as harmless “teasing.”  To hear me talk about hazing, you can watch an interview I did with Fox 9 News.

    There are some great resources available about hazing including HazingPrevention.org and StopHazing.org

    • Hazing is a serious issue in which psychological or physical harm is intentionally inflicted in order to gain membership to a group, and in that way it is different than teasing. The guidelines for what constitutes hazing can be found here.
    • Many myths of hazing include: it is harmless, the victim agreed or consented to do it so it isn’t that big of a deal, it is tradition, it teaches respect and discipline, or it is just kids having fun…but these are just that, myths. Hazing is an act of power and control over others. One of the myths is that hazing is just “boys being boys.” If physical and psychological harm is attributed to “boys being boys” than this societal belief needs to be challenged and changed. What does this message teach young men and boys? Unfortunately this type language is used repeatedly to normalize or minimize the bad behavior of those who haze.
    • Hazing is typically used as a means to achieve team membership, improve performance, teach respect or discipline, reflect a sign of tradition, and/or to facilitate team bonding, but in reality hazing events are embarrassing, degrading, can be physically and/or psychologically harmful, can cause resentment and hostility, and undermine trust, positive relationships, and team cohesion.
    • It is quite common despite educational efforts to thwart the occurrence of hazing. Exact numbers are not known due to the fact most hazing goes unreported as the victims are under a veil of secrecy, don’t want to call out their peers, and face the potential of more hazing, retaliation, or losing friends. Statistics vary but between 50-80% of all students report being hazed.
    • Most kids, and many adults, think hazing is normal and just accept it uncritically, but there are some questions that can be asked to help discern if it is indeed hazing.
      • Am I asked to keep it a secret?
      • Would I want my parents, teachers, principle or coach to know?
      • Would I want this in the newspapers or on TV?
      • Is there risk of injury or is it safe?
    • Hazing is common enough to cause concern. Experts on hazing argue proactive, consistent, and explicit educational effort to coaches, parents, and athletes is the best preventative measure along with firm policies and strong consequences. Many coaches turn a blind eye and view it as harmless team fun, when in fact it is a serious issue.

    There are far better and more positive ways to build team cohesion, mutual respect and create positive relationships among athletes than hazing rituals.





    Observations from a summer of golf

    24 09 2010

    So I’ve been golfing again this summer, which I’ve enjoyed. I even have a handicap now like a real golfer. It isn’t very good, despite my image of myself as a scratch golfer. Hey, as someone trained in sport psychology I’m imagining my future goal!

    I have a few observations from my summer of golf. I would love to hear from others if your experiences have been similar.

    1. This past weekend I went “up north” (to non-Minnesotans, that means north of the Twin Cities to Lake Country) with a friend to test two premier courses, The Classic and Deacon’s Lodge. It was a beautiful weekend so the courses were busy. We golfed both courses and saw a TOTAL of ONE other female on the course besides the two of us the entire weekend. ONE.

    2. The results of my mini-research study conducted over the summer lead me to conclude that if a female is playing with a male golfer, he CANNOT resist giving the female golfer tips and advice. CAN-NOT. Even if the female is a better golfer than he.

    3. If there is a twosome or more of women playing golf together, the assumption is that we play SLOW. Conversely, if a twosome or more of women are behind a group of men, the men will NOT hurry one bit. They will spend minutes looking for a lost ball that will never be found, and have no regard for the group of women behind them. I have  a sneaky suspicion some hustle would arise if the group behind them waiting were comprised of males.

    I found a YouTube video of a male golfer who talks about his observations of Sexism on the Golf Course, and his suggestions on how to change the climate of golf that often isn’t very friendly to women.





    More Thoughts on Equal Playing Time in Youth Sports

    10 08 2010

    Thank you for everyone who weighed in and took the time to provide insight and opinions on equal playing time in youth sports for a previous blog. It is clear playing time is a pressing issue across all sectors of youth sport and parents, coaches, and administrators alike are struggling to make informed decisions.

    Existing and emerging evidence from child development, pediatric sports medicine, sport psychology, sport sociology, and moral development seems to point to the idea that equal playing time is imperative for children up to age 12 (and some would argue age 14).

    From my observations and interactions with youth sport stakeholders the debate over playing time starts with differing views on the purpose of youth sport and the tension between winning/being competitive and athlete development/fun/enjoyment. I reject the notion that winning, athlete development and fun/enjoyment can’t simultaneously be achieved. This dichotomous thinking is part of the problem in organized youth sport.

    Adults who run, organize, and coach youth sport consider many factors when making decisions about playing time and arguably factors change in weight as the child gets older. The graphic in Figure 1:  Playing Time Considerations illustrate this complexity.

    I’ve outlined EFFORT in red as this is one of the few factors that a child can control. Giving full effort in practice and games regardless of the situation is a very important life lesson that can be taught and learned through participation in sport.

    A father in a recent sport parent workshop asked me about the danger of “teaching children to be  mediocre” by awarding equal playing time. His point was that a child who didn’t work hard or give full effort would automatically be awarded the same playing time as a child who was working hard, and that if playing time weren’t used as “the carrot” (i.e., you work hard, you get to play) that kids wouldn’t work hard. It was a good question.

    To answer his question used evidence and borrowed some wisdom from my colleague Clark Power, Ph.D., a scholar in moral development and Director of the Play Like a Champion Educational Series at the University of Notre Dame. Power argues playing time is not a reward for displaying virtue, it is a means for developing virtue. I also pointed out the carrot approach is a problematic way of using playing time. First, children need to be taught that working hard is an inherent part of sports, skill development, and life. Children should want to work hard because it is inherently enjoyable, as hard work can lead to improvement, satisfaction, sense of self worth, accomplishment, and many more positive outcomes. These intrinsic motives for giving full effort will lead to a much greater likelihood of long term participation than using playing time as an extrinsic reward that can be taken away or awarded by adults.

    Second, up until age 10-11, developmentally children cannot discern between effort and ability. They equate effort with being good at something. Therefore, under an unequal playing time system a child who gives full effort but does not get to play, is likely to think he is not good at that sport. Based on evidence in sport psychology, perception of competence is one of the biggest predictors of enjoyment and sustained participation. The take home message here:  a child who believes he is incompetent because he is sitting on the bench even thought he believes he’s given effort in practices, will be much more likely to drop out. If he drops out before he can understand cognitively that effort and ability are not always the same, and that effort is a virtue, then he will not reap the developmental and health benefits which can be accrued through sport participation.

    A great deal more evidence than what I’ve presented here exists in support of an “equal playing time through age 12” youth sport policy, but this is an evidence-based food for thought starting point for youth sport stakeholders to consider. For more information on youth sports visit the Minnesota Youth Sport Research Consortium.