Two Triggers of Background Anger in Youth Sports

15 02 2010

Over the weekend a Minnesota sport parent assaulted a youth basketball commissioner following an in-house game played by sixth graders. The the father was disgruntled over the officiating during his son’s game. From some of the research I’ve conducted with colleagues pertaining to what we call “Background Anger” the spark to this parent’s violent behaviors is consistent with our data.

We’ve found that many things make sport parents angry, but two big themes are more likely to set off sport parents: 1) their perceptions of injustice and, 2) their perceptions of incompetence.  This father was was upset because he perceived “the  timekeeping of the game” at the end of overtime was not correct (incompetence), and most likely felt it disadvantaged his son’s team (injustice). Based on what data exists, I would argue this combination of sport parent perceptions along side the fact the game was in overtime and probably emotionally charged, provided a perfect storm for an egregious background anger incident to occur.

Our data shows background anger incidents by sport parents are more likely to occur with travel, not in-house levels of youth sport. However, this example illustrates that no level of youth sport is immune to background anger. Requiring research-based education for sport parents, like Minnesota Parents Learning About Youth Sports (MN PLAYS™) or the MYSA Parents And Coaches Together (PACT™), can help to reduce the liklihood these type of incidents.

To see a video clip of me discussing this issue on Fox News 9, click here.





Short Video on Sports Illustrated Photographs of Female Athletes

10 02 2010

One of our local Minneapolis  NBC affiliate KARE11 reporters, Jana Shortal, did a great piece on why the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and Lindsey Vonn SI cover might be problematic. It is short and to the point. To watch the video, click here.





Vonn Watch: Part II

9 02 2010

Ok, so if you didn’t agree with my critique (and many didn’t!) of the February 8, 2010 Sports Illustrated cover of Olympian Lindsey Vonn that can be interpreted as sexualized, the photographs of Vonn and other female athletes in the 2010 SI Swimsuit Issue being released today (shown here below) might help illustrate some of my original points.

Sports Illustrated 2010 Swimsuit Issue

I became aware of these pictures, from a news story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that ran today which stated, “Minnesota skiing sensation Lindsey Vonn is among a quartet of Olympic athletes featured in this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue that is out today in print and online.”  The online version of the SI Swimsuit Issue includes video clips of the Olympic Stars doing their photo shoots.

The critique here is the same, when we DO see female athletes (some of the best in the world at their respective sports!) which happens in only 6-8% of all sport media, they are more often than not in poses that highlight physical attractiveness, femininity, and can be interpreted as sexualized. Is it coincidental that the four female Olympians portrayed here are all blond, attractive, feminine looking, and sexy according to societal norms?Arguably, the Vonn SI cover can be interpreted (or not) as sexualized, but these images are clearly sexualizing in nature and tone.

The obvious target market for the Swimsuit Issue is men.  Therefore, the idea that “sex sells” is viable and research does support that sex sells. What I want to argue however, and some emerging research is supporting, that sex sells sex…but sex does not sell women’s sport.

The point being, by seeing Vonn on the cover of SI, these images of female Olympians, or any other female athlete… does it make the male demographic more likely to attend and pay for a ticket to an event where these women are competing, buy merchandise, or read a story about them? Researchers say it is unlikely. So yes, sex sells sex but it likely does not promote women’s sport or female athletes in a way that helps to grow women’s sport in a meaningful and sustainable way.

The last point I want to highlight is these type of images also reinforce to consumers what is most important and valued in terms of female athletes and females in general, and meaning is constructed from what is chosen to be included and not included. If you want to read more about  how the sexualization of females affects everyone, particularly young girls, go to the American Psychological Foundation’s Task Force Report on the Sexualization of Girls. The report can be downloaded for free, and in short states, “The proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising, and media is harming girls’ self-image and healthy development. This report explores the cognitive and emotional consequences, consequences for mental and physical health, and impact on development of a healthy sexual self-image.”

Therefore,  I hope to see many more images like the one below in the weeks to follow, as Vonn (who I really hope is healthy enough to race given her shin injury) and other female Olympians have great potential to be positive role models, not only for girls, but for us all.

To see a video segment of me talking with KARE11 reporter Jana Shortal about why sexualized images of female athletes are problematic,  click here.

Lindsey Vonn, Great Athlete..in action, in uniform, on the slope.






Paying Youth Athletes for Performance

16 01 2010

A colleague forwarded me an e-news from sports-media.org that contained an article titled Cash For Goals in Youth Soccer: Adults Gone Wild. When I give parent education clinics as part of a research-based educational program I helped develop called Parents Learning About Youth Sports (PLAYS), I always include a brief section about paying children for performing.

Why is it brief?

Because the take home message for sport parents is this: NEVER pay your child for scoring goals, winning matches, or accomplishing some performance standard…NEVER. Just don’t do it.

The sports-media.org piece gets at some of reasons why this is not a good practice, but I’d like to elaborate.

Researchers have demonstrated that giving extrinsic rewards (like $$) for an activity that is already inherently fun and enjoyable (like sports), can undermine intrinsic motivation. We want kids to play sports and be physically active because they love it, its fun, they meet friends, learn new skills, enjoy competition and thrive on striving to be the best they can be. If adults offer monetary rewards for scoring goals, the primary focus is on scoring goals and success is defined in terms of scoring goals…not because sport is fun and enjoyable. The classic studies around this phenomena involve collegiate athletes who obtain an athletic scholarship. Many collegiate athletes are good at their sport because they love it, but some play only in hopes of obtaining a full-ride. For some of the very few who actually do obtain an athletic scholarship (and the odds are VERY low according to the NCAA), they often face diminishing intrinsic motivation. They’ve worked so long and hard to get the scholarship, and that is how success was defined, that once they get the scholarship, sport has no meaning and is no longer is enjoyable. I’ve seen this far too often with collegiate athletes in my classes.

When intrinsic motivation doesn’t exist or is undermined by adults, athletes will more likely to experience anxiety, burnout and dropout, and will also experience less enjoyment, satisfaction, well-being and optimal performance, and positive development.

If you want to read on your own about the self-determination theory, and learn about the complexities pertaining to why paying youth athletes is a terrible idea, I encourage you to go here.

What should parents do to foster intrinsic motivation, instead of paying their child-athlete?

Based on the evidence, I suggest a few simple things as a starting point:

  • attend the event and look like you are engaged (i.e., don’t read the paper or talk on your cell phone)
  • cheer only when someone does something good & cheer for everyone’s children, not just your own
  • refrain from yelling instructions or “coaching” from the sidelines
  • offer unconditional care, regardless of the outcome or the performance




The “Best” of 2009 and the State of Girls & Women in Sports

27 12 2009

As 2009 comes to an end, there are some trends for those who care about sports–particularly sports for females–that you should keep an eye on in the months to come. Many groups and organizations that have been cornerstones of advocacy, programming, outreach and research for girls and women in sports are in trouble or on the rumored brink of existing no more.  Yes, girls and women in sports have made major advances in participation in the last 35+ years, but gender equity has yet to be achieved, we now have fewer females in positions of power in sport leadership, and sportswomen are constantly under attack. Some stories from the past year put the fact that fighting for gender equity in participation, leadership, and media coverage, to name a few, are not issues of the past.

Under what criteria do organizations decide to shut down or “put out” important programs that make a difference in the lives of sporting girls and women? Who decides what is “out” and what is included?  Who is left out, and who continues to play, lead, and enjoy the benefits of sports, and be portrayed in what ways by the media?  What constitutes “A Real Life Out Clause?” This is real life and the consequences of the decisions of those in positions of power will continue to shape the future of sport for females in 2010 and beyond.

Consider the following, some of these topics I’ve written about in previous blogs, some I have not:

The Melpomene Institute for Women’s Health Research is struggling to survive in this economy.

The National Association for Girls and Women in Sport (NAGWS) “strives to be one of the premiere organizations dedicated to advocacy, education and the promotion of girls and women in sport”. There were rumors this year that AAHPERD, the parent organization of NAGWS, was discussing whether or not to keep or disband NAGWS. So far it appears it has survived.

It Takes a Team (ITAT) is being discontinued as a programming and outreach arm of the Women’s Sport Foundation. ITAT’s purpose was to “address LGBT issues in high school and college athletics… and make sport teams safe and respectful for all athletes regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity”. To read more about  ITAT ‘s “outing” go to former ITAT Director Pat Griffin’s blog post. Be sure the program is not being eliminated because homophobia in sports has been eliminated and is no longer an issue. Homophobia still exists and affects all athletes, coaches, administrators and those involved in sports.

The International Olympic Committee voted not to allow and include ski jumping for females, and endures as a sexist organization.

ESPN sports journalist Erin Andrews, one of the few in the profession, endured a terrible event where she was stalked and sexually harassed. Sportswomen also continue to be sexualized or erased in all types of media-print, broadcast and social.

In 2009 major “newsworthy” stories in women’s sport included “girls behaving badly” such as “extraneous and loud grunting” by one WTA player, a verbal attack on a line judge by another, and”overly aggressive” play by a collegiate soccer player, and the drunk driving of a WNBA MVP …not reports of stellar athleticism. Lest we not forget the obsession of the sex verification of runner Caster Semenya…which only came about because she was FAST, really fast.

Early last spring, when Tennesee Head Women’s Basketball Coach Pat Summitt won her 1,000th game, and Auriemma’s UConn Huskies won another national championship many speculated if they should coach men…the obvious pinnacle of any coach’s career. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprising, Summitt did NOT appear in Sports Illustrated “Coaches of the Decade“, but Auriemma did.

The WNBA lost a team, the Sacramento Monarchs, and another very successful team the Detroit Shock moved to Tulsa. I fear the WNBA is teetering on the brink of collapse in 2010, I hope I’m wrong. The WNBA now has 10 teams.

With 10 teams, The Lingerie Football League debuted its inaugural season in 2009 in cities across the US. According to the LFL website, the mission of the LFL includes: “the LFL will offer the ultimate fan experience providing unyielding access to players, teams and game action.” I fear the LFL will thrive and survive, I hope I’m wrong.

Women’s collegiate sports will never achieve gender equity unless real reform occurs unilaterally at the highest administrative level of institutions of higher learning. This was a clear message of the Knight Commission Report on Intercollegiate Athletics released in late 2009.

Earlier this year I critiqued a piece on ESPN.com titled The State of Uncertainty of Women’s Sports. I’m not certain if there is stability or uncertainty or both pertaining to women’s sports. What I do know, and these stories above (and many others not included here) provide evidence, that the work for those who care about sports for females is never done. We must work together to ensure girls and women in sports are not left out, or pushed out.

Stay tuned in 2010 for more information, and certainly more critiques, of these important issues. I’d also encourage you to visit the Women Talk Sports Network and read blogs by colleagues who also write about these issues here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Other WomenTalkSports posts of “Best of ’09”:





Benchmarking Women’s Leadership

21 12 2009

Since it is finals and I don’t have much brain power left after grading to come up with clever original blog material, I’m sharing links to information already out there you may not know about.

The White House Project, just released a new report title Benchmarking Women’s Leadership which can be downloaded for free by clicking here.

Related to women in sport leadership, a research topic of mine and which you can read more about within previous blog posts, see pages 101-112 of the report.





“The Smartest Kid in Class”

4 12 2009

I was sent this video by @DigitalMaxwell and I wanted to share it with you. It is called “The Smartest Kid in Class”. As I wind down the semester and am soon heading into final exams, I find this particularly relevant. And the moral of the story?… KNOW YOUR STUDENTS!

Caring enough to know your students and creating a learning climate in the classroom that makes each student feel heard, valued, and known is just good practice.  In a previous blog I outlined “The 3C’s”-care, competence and choice. These are 3 essential human needs, that when met lead to more self-determined forms of motivation and potentially a host of positive outcomes such as improved self-perceptions, enjoyment, health, well-being, intrinsic motivation, and sustained participation and effort….all things we should be striving to attain or facilitate in others.





Mother-Baby Workout Solution!

30 11 2009

This morning I saw a segment on my local TV affiliate about a program called StrollerStrides, “a total fitness program for new moms that they can do with their babies”. The program seemed like a perfect physical activity solution for mothers with stroller-age children, and also solves many of the barriers to physical activity many women face due to afforadabilty, accessibility and availability.

StrollerStrides workouts are conducted by certified instructors in large indoor public spaces (mostly shopping malls in off hours) which cuts expensive gym memberships. Mothers can work out alongside the strollered child which cuts the need for childcare. It also provides  mothers with a social support system and affords the opportunity to get out of the house to a safe, warm space (this is key during Minnesota winters for those of you who don’t live here!) to get physical activity. The workout combines strength, flexibility and cardio components along with fun songs and activities that engage the children and keep their attention.

It also got me thinking what a better way to start a love of physical activity for infants! Researchers have proven time and again that parents are very important physical activity role models for their children. If parents are active and value and believe that being active is an important part of life, their children are more likely to be active. I also recently came across another resource from the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport & Physical Activity, Mothers in Motion, a program “dedicated to physical activity promoters working with mothers of low socioeconomic status”.

Many women must overcome a host of barriers in order to be physically active, which is why females are less active than their male counterparts at all ages and within all types of physical activity. Assisting women in starting and sustaining physical activity can lead to a host of positive physical and mental health outcomes. You can also read more about Developing Physically Active Girls, a report I helped to co-author and produce in my role as the Associate Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport.

Picture from StrollerStrides





I graduated or I’m injured…and I’m an athlete, now what?

17 11 2009

A One Sport Voice reader sent me an email looking for resources helping collegiate athletes transition into “the real world” after they no longer are competitive athletes. Great query! There is a fair amount of literature from the sport psychology world on this issue. While it is not my primary area of expertise, I can provide some guidance into existing resources.

The first is a book titled Career Transitions in Sport (Lavallee & Wylleman, 2000). This book gives some theoretical perspectives on transitions, self-identity issues, causes and consequences of transitions, as well as some intervention strategies.

Another book that is helpful is book pertaining to the psychology of sport injury-a common cause of career transition- is titled Counseling in sports medicine (Ray & Wiese-Bjornstal, 1999). If an athlete suffers from a career-ending injury, a transition is inevitable.

While both these resources are geared for sport psychology students and professional, it is a starting place for those looking for information on this important, but scarcely talked about phenomena.