Wednesday, May 15, 2019

You Are Losing to a Game!

I have written before about students who are addicted to gaming, and shared that we have sleep deprived students at North Fayette Valley High School who are sometimes staying up most of the night playing games with friends.   I know that some people scoff at the idea that kids can become addicted to a video game, or to their cell phones.  If you are one of those, then it probably does not matter what I share in this article, though I would encourage you to do a little research online.  There is a tremendous amount of it out there that paints a pretty scary picture about what it happening to the gamers in our lives.  We see the impact on nearly a daily basis as we have students that cannot stay awake while they are at school and admit to our teachers that they have been up playing games.

I am falling back on an article from Growing Leaders for this piece.  A lot of this rings true to me as I have seen first hand some of the very things described in this article.  For those of you with teenage boys in particular, I strongly recommend you take control of screen time at home, and if that means taking physical control of gaming devices, then do it.  

Parents Are Losing Their Kids to Video Games

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Wrestling and Girl’s Basketball: They Made Iowa Great!

Here’s a little history lesson and perhaps a bit of personal bias snuck in!  Over my lifetime I have had opportunity to meet with educators, coaches, and athletes from all over the country, as well as some journalists that cover sports at various levels.  When talking with folks from other states, more often than not, when I mention I am from Iowa, I commonly hear some form of “wrestling’s really big there.”  They don’t talk about football or basketball, or any other sport.  Honestly, our state is not thought of very highly from a national perspective for having quality high school basketball or football programs, or for that matter, any other sport except for wrestling.  Then, when you get into any kind of conversation about girl’s sports it doesn’t take long until someone says something along the line of “didn’t they play some kind of half-court type of basketball where there six girls instead of five?”  Nowadays I tell them that game disappeared for good in the early 1990’s, but do say that back in the day the girl’s state tournament easily outdrew the boy’s and a lot of those six-on-six players became legends in the entire state.  Since girls started playing the regular game of basketball there are still people in the gym every Friday night in the winter that remark how much “better the game used to be.”

In truth, these two sports put Iowa on the map in the 20th-century.  Wrestling had an incredible history in the State of Iowa with young men from Clarion, Cresco, Eagle Grove, Waterloo, and many other places becoming legendary figures in the sport at the highest levels.  Names like Gotch, Peckham, Gable, Brand, Yagla, Davis, and Zalesky are just a few from the incredible list of outstanding wrestlers who were born, raised, and competed in Iowa high schools, as well as on the world stage.  One of the Olympic teams from the early 1900’s was made up almost entirely of Iowa born wrestlers!  Wrestling is to Iowa what football is to Texas and basketball is to Indiana.  There are some that may very well refer to it as our State Sport!  And, a number of years ago Sports Illustrated declared the the Iowa High School State Wrestling Tournament was the premier sporting event in our state, and the best in the country.

Iowa girls were given opportunity to play high school sports long before their sisters in most others states when in the early 1900’s a few high schools sanctioned basketball teams.  In 1925, a group of school superintendents formed what would become the Iowa High School Girls Athletic Union, and basketball soon became the crown jewel and remained so well into the late 1900’s.  For most of that period of time the game was dominated by teams from small towns as the urban areas were slower to add girls sports to their school programs.  Denise Long, Jeanette Olson, Deb Coates, Lynne Lorenzen, and Connie Yori were “Iowa Girls” and became household names due to the intensive media coverage given to the Sweet Sixteen teams that played in the state tournament.  Back in the day the girls tournament was a production worth of Hollywood or Broadway.

Now that were are just shy of twenty years into the new millennium, it seems to me that a lot of the luster on these two sports — the sports that made Iowa famous — is not quite as bright and shiny.  Neither of these sports are as popular as they once were.  Iowa’s population is higher now that it has ever been, yet these two sports have seen a definite decline in the number of participants.  Wrestling peaked in 1980 with 12,800 high school wrestlers, but the most recent numbers from the 2016-17 season show that the sport has lost almost half the number of participants since that time, dropping to 6,586.  Yes, there are fewer schools in Iowa than there were in 1980, but not fewer students.  Wrestling is a tough sport, yet I would guess there are a number of other factors that explain this drop.  It is particularly frustrating for wrestling fans and competitors to see teams that have more open weights and forfeits than they do varsity wrestlers.  Yes, at the state tournament the finals still sell out and most of the sessions are packed with fans from all over the state.  The state media outlets still give the sport a lot of attention, particularly in February.  However, below the surface the sport is struggling and is currently the fifth most popular boys sport in Iowa behind football, track, basketball, and baseball.

Girls basketball seems to have lost even more luster than wrestling.  The concept of the Sweet Sixteen disappeared when the IGHSAU made the decision to divide schools into classes, and now that we have five of them in basketball there are actually 40 teams that make it to the state tournament.  In the eyes of many it is not as “special” when over twice as many schools make it to state.  Another factor with that many teams is that the media is not able to give as much attention to each team.  There is no doubt that the change to five-on-five changed the sport as the play of the girls is more easily compared to boys and a lot of games are very low scoring compared to the six-on-six days. It truly is a different game.  When one looks at participation, in 1981 14,146 girls played basketball in Iowa high schools.  That has dropped to 7,576 in 2016-17, ranking the once most popular sport for girls in Iowa fourth behind volleyball, track, and softball.  Closer to home, for some schools in the Upper Iowa Conference and Northeast Iowa Conference, the low number of participants is concerning.  Five schools in the UIC and one in the NEIC started the season with just 15 girls out for basketball, including NFV and Decorah.  That makes it impossible to play three levels — 9th grade, JV and Varsity — and very difficult to  build a program to compete at the 3A level.  

If you listen to some, the number one reason that basketball has dropped in popularity is because of the emergence of volleyball.  In the glory days of girls basketball in Iowa, volleyball was not a sport that was played, though the growth of the sport started picking up before six-on-six was abandoned.  Now it is the most popular girls sport with over 11,000 Iowa girls participating.  As it has grown in popularity, girls not only play high school volleyball during the fall season, many also join club teams and play in the winter . . . the same time high school basketball season is going on.  At NFV in recent years it is not unusual to have over forty girls play volleyball during a season when they also have a choice to run cross country.  And once basketball season rolls around, the past three seasons there have been twenty or fewer players.  This is the same at a lot of schools.  What is equally discouraging is that the crowds have also declined despite the fact that these players work just as hard as their male counterparts.

I do not see either of these sports going away but it is interesting what has happened to the sports that made Iowa famous.  People will hold on to memories and take pride in the legacy that has been built, but I am a bit saddened that our student-athletes who battle on the mat and mix it up on the court no longer get a chance to have that special feeling that comes with that bright spotlight on them.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Free Range Children! Are You Kidding Me!

This was my response the first time I heard the term “free range children."  I had heard of free range chickens, and later on, free range hogs.  Both of those terms emerged basically as marketing terms to let consumer know that the meat they are consuming comes from animals that were not raised in confined spaces.  Taking that understanding,  I figure that free range children must refer to raising them in a manner where they are not confined.  I’m not talking cages, rather from a little research it refers to the concept of raising children in the spirt of encouraging them to function independently and with limited parental supervision, in accordance of their age and development.  This runs contrary to how many parents — often referred to as helicopter parents — have chosen to raise their kids in recent years.  In reality, this is basically the way I was raised, back when parents got a lot of their advice from Dr. Benjamin Spock.  That said, I am still somewhat surprised by the use of the term free range!

To be very honest, my generation of parents has in many ways disabled their kids because of the control we have exerted over their lives.  I can’t count the number of times that I have made the comment that we should “just wrap out kids up in bubble wrap” to protect them!  But what have we been protecting them from?  In retrospect, I believe we have protected them from growing up and living life.  And what I find very interesting is that there are examples of parents who have taken this “free range approach” and have been met with some serious pushback.  For example, not that long ago the Washington Post reported about a mom from Wilmette, Illinois that created a huge uproar in her neighborhood when she let her 8-year-old daughter take the family dog on a walk around the block by herself.  She saw this as giving her daughter a little more independence and responsibility.  Apparently neighbors thought different and reported her to authorities!  Really!

It went even further in Maryland where a family from Silver Spring found themselves under investigation for neglect by Child Protective Services for letting their two kids, ages 6 and 10, walk home alone from a park a few blocks away from their home.  When I think back to when I was ten, I was living in Council Bluffs, Iowa and on more than one occasion I walked home from school by myself along Highway 6 for at least three miles because I behaved badly at school and had to stay after.  My parents added to my punishment by making me walk home!  I shake my head when we have some parents in our own community that drop off and pick up kids at school rather than expecting them to walk four or five blocks!  (By the way, I know it was three miles because I checked on my odometer about ten years ago because I was curious how far I actually walked!  However, it was not uphill both ways and there was not ten foot of snow!)

It seems that leaders in at least one state see that this coddling of a couple of generations of kids has been taken too far.  However, it is a bit ridiculous that it has come to this!  In Utah, a state Senator introduced a measure that “exempts from definition of child neglect various activities that children can do without supervision, permitting a child, who’s basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm, to engage in independent activities . . .”  That includes kids being able to walk, run, or bike to and from school, travel to recreational facilities, play outside and remain at home unattended.

When we have thirty-somethings still living at home, twenty-year-olds deeply depressed because they have no sense of self-worth or confidence, and teens who balk at being told “no,” one has to at least consider that we need to “open the range” and free young people from the cocoons we have built around them.  I truly understand the fears that parents have raising a child, but at some point we need to recognize the responsibility that comes with being a mom or dad is to raise an adult, not a child.  

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Image of the Ideal Life

I am sure that most of us have dreamed about what the perfect life would look like.  Maybe we have done that with a friend or significant other around the question “What would you do if you won the lottery?”  I think most people do subscribe to the belief that money does not buy happiness, but boy it would be fun to see if it could!  The reality for all of us is that life is a combination of ups and downs, good times and bad.  All of us are going to experience struggles in one form or another, and hopefully we are all able to experience life’s joys as well.  However, today there seems to be a new force at work, with social scientists and mental health professionals expressing concern that we are living in a world where we are creating an unrealistic expectation of life, and it is being provided to us — especially young people — through social media.  Some refer to this as creating a “fake life” that ultimately leads to significant mental health issues for some.

I am an regular Facebook user.  In my life I have lived in a number of different communities and worked in five different school districts.  I have a lot of friends that I rarely see, and until Facebook, had lost track of.  I’ve had my negative moments on Facebook, and in fact, “banned myself” for four months after the 2016 election because of all of the negativity that was being posted, me included.  I was falling into it and was not a real happy person.  That said, today I check it out at least once a day.  I am sure many of you do the same.  While Facebook is not the social media platform of choice for young people today, there are still many that use it, or at least browse through it.

So what’s the problem?  Have you seen many people post “bad” pictures, or share about the crappy things about their life? Sure, there a people that share out about loss or bad things that happen to them, but that’s not what social scientists are concerned with.  Most of us share out about the great things that have happened to us.  We put up pictures when our kids do something impressive, and brag a little in the comments we add.  When we take trips we show all of the cool things that we have done.  In essence, we have sanitized our lives, creating a snapshot of a beautiful perfect life.  We show ourselves in a positive light creating an image that all is good.  An example of this that went indescribably wrong was the Watts family in Colorado, who friends and family believed lived a beautiful, happy life, in large part due to what mom Shanann posted on social media.  She covered up the financial disaster the family faced, as well as all of the other negatives the family faced.  When she was murdered by her husband, along with their two children, people were shocked, in large part because they had no idea about all of the problems the family was facing. 

Young people that are computer savvy have taken it to another level, often exaggerating and creating unreal or artificial images of their life.  They use Photoshop to enhance images, both literally and figuratively.  Whether they literally “touch up” photos to make them look better, or simply self-edit what they post, the images they present are not accurate.  This has a negative impact not only on themselves by denying reality, but it also impacts others who see these “perfect lives” and determine their life does not measure up.

So what are we to do?  We adults have experienced life’s ups and downs, and most of us acknowledge that painting an unrealistic picture of a “perfect life” could have a negative impact on a young person.  Heck, it had a negative impact on the young mother of two mentioned above!  A good starting spot is to have direct conversations with our kids about our own life, the difficulty we have had and how we persevered and overcame the tough times.  We also need to talk about the good times and put into perspective what really made those times good.  Another conversation we can have is to sit down with our son or daughter and discuss a person that both of you know well.  Talk about what you know about them, the good and the bad.  Then pull up their Facebook page or Instagram posts and discuss whether they tell the whole story.  It become obvious that most people post about their best days, not their common old ordinary ones.

As we raise our kids there are common themes that we try to stress with them, most often connected to core values that we hold as parents.  We do need to sprinkle in conversation that points out life can be hard and disappointing.  We have done a disservice to our kids proclaiming that “all we want for them is to be happy.”  Happiness is often very difficult to attain!  Life throws tough things at us that are not going to make us happy!  We also need to stress that life does not revolve around you.  Many kids have a strong sense of self-importance.  The sooner they understand that it is not all about them, the better.  And finally, somehow we have to get the message across totem that they cannot live life in constant comparison to others.  All of us know that we can never measure up to some people, and now in the social media world, that “fake world” created by some is certainly unattainable.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Opioids: The Scourge That Is Comin

I have lived long enough that I have seen various “drug eras” come and go, often decimating families, communities, cities and other institutions, not to mention killing and destroying the lives of millions of individuals in our country.  I was a young child in the ’60’s but was well aware of young people experimenting with weed, LSD, and a variety of other things, and had an extended family member that did a pretty good job of messing up his life due to his addictions.  I remember reading about the horrible experiences people were having with heroin, particularly when they were trying to shake the monkey and get off that drug that controlled their lives.  The cocaine-obsessed party culture of the 1980’s followed by the crack epidemic established some of the most powerful criminal organizations in the world that still have to be reckoned with.  And now, we are seeing parts of our country once again battling a vicious foe.  In March of 2017 the governor of Maryland declared a State of Emergency because of the toll it was taking in that state.  In Maine, New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Ohio the rate of death by overdose is climbing at a never before seen rate.  Nationally, the present epidemic has the highest opioid death rate ever with an average of 10.3 per 100,000 dying because of the drug.  We don’t hear much about it in Iowa, but within the past year, recorded incidents of opioid overdoses have taken place in northeast Iowa and in Fayette County.

The crazy thing about this plague is that in large part most people get addicted to opioids by using it legally.  According to the U.S. Surgeon General, this crisis started with the over-prescription of powerful opioid pain relievers in the 1990’s, and shortly after that, they because the most prescribed class of medications in the United States with over 289 million prescriptions being written in 2016.  The most common of the opioid pain killers are oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet) and hydrocodone (Vicodin).  These very potent drugs are far more powerful than an opioid that more people have heard of, morphine.  Two other types of opioid that are getting a lot of attention now are fentanyl and the incredibly dangerous carfentanil, the later being 1o,000 times more potent than morphine!  And of course, once addicts cannot afford or get their hands on the pills they want, they can get a much cheaper opioid on the streets, heroin.

The reality is that these drugs are highly addictive.  With doctors diagnosing about a third of the population with chronic pain in the late 1990’s, drug companies went into overdrive to produce these pain killing drugs.  And, they worked, at least for a period of time.  And since they did work, patients wanted and used them, and gave little heed to their addictive nature.  The problem is that some patients continued to take the medication beyond what their doctor prescribed.  Perhaps it was to continue to minimize pain, or maybe for the euphoric rush that it gives.  Just like heroin junkies in the 1960’s that feeling of euphoria after a hit was something their body craved.

As shared by Assistant United States Attorney Patrick Reinhart at a community meeting held at NFVHS in early 2018, this is a United States crisis as 80% of the opioid produced in the world is consumed by Americans.  Not only that, it is a crisis that is currently centered in the northeast and midwest with the number of deaths related to opioid increasing by 4x since 2000.  In Iowa,  while not quite the crisis as it is in states to the east, it is still dramatic as can be seen from the chart below.

In talking with a friend that lives in southeast Ohio, every week there is reference in the newspaper to another opioid related death.  Towns in that region, as well as parts of Pennsylvania, Indiana, and West Virginia have gone broke trying to deal with the economic costs of the crisis.  Medical examiners and coroners in some communities have quit because of the volume of victims that have literally piled up.  In fact, in some areas they have had to resort to commercial refrigerated facilities and even trucks to serve as makeshift morgues.  Just a few weeks ago over 40 people in the same park in Connecticut had to receive medical attention because the synthetic marijuana they had all purchased from a dealer was tainted with fentanyl.

As mentioned above, law enforcement has dealt with opioids in Fayette County.  What is particularly concerning for me is that we have a number of young people in our community that use drugs.  It is a reality, and what I worry about is that someone is going to get something that is tainted with one of these powerful substances and die.  I have heard that different agencies in Iowa are handing out Narcan, a nasal mist used  in emergency situations to block the effects of opioids, so they have it on hand in case they come across someone who overdoses.  It has be pretty serious when steps like this are being taken.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

8th Grade All-American!

I probably heard this phrase mentioned by someone else a long time ago because I rarely have an original thought!  I may have very well coined the phrase myself because I have been using it so long!  The first time I actually recall hearing it was when I was in high school myself and someone made the comment about a football player a year ahead of me.  This particular young man was an incredible athlete for a small town Iowa high school as a freshmen, and unusual for the time, there was speculation that he may even challenge for some varsity playing time.  Freshmen simply did not play varsity football in the late-1970’s!  His story did not work out like a lot of people speculated.  Yes, he did get on the field in the first varsity game of this season playing wingback and returning kicks.  In the second game he blew out his knee and missed the rest of the season.  Over the course of the remaining three years, he continued to play football, ran sprints on the track team and threw the shot put.  He was an all-conference athlete, but he never reached the level that so many had believed he would before that first football game his freshman year of high school.  It was about him that I heard an adult remark that he was an “8th grade All-American” and never panned out in high school.

The term refers to those students who perform at a very high level in middle school who people believe are destined for greatness in whatever sport it might be in high school.  More often than not, at least with boys, they are more physically mature than their peers and are thus able to dominate smaller, weaker peers.  Many of them have some natural ability and strength, and have not had to work very hard at developing skills and fundamentals.  With females,  it is a little different.  In fact most of them have not matured physically but have some strength and a high level of flexibility and coordination.  They also have a strong sense of determination and mental toughness that gives them an distinct advantage over their peers.  Many of these kids do succeed at a high level, and as word of their exploits spread, people develop high expectations for when they step out under the bright lights of high school athletics.  Some parents (and grandparents) are talking college scholarships and are making mental lists of where they plan to travel to watch their child play once they sign that scholarship offer.

What happens, and the reason I chose to write about this, is that all too often the “All-Americans” struggle and often quit in high school because they cannot live up to expectations.  I find this something that needs to be addressed so that they can have a positive athletic experience in high school and contribute to their teams.  We are all very aware of the differences in physical, emotional, and social growth among children.  Take any classroom of fourth-graders and one will see 25 different shapes and sizes, and an incredible range of social and emotional maturity.  Our athletic All-American is most often mesomorphic, physically mature male that is most likely the strongest, fastest kid in the class.  He has a fundamental grasp of the rules and skills of the game, and can dominate nearly every game he plays.  Most important, in many cases he does not have a great work ethic and borders on being lazy because he can still win without pushing himself.  This happens at practice too, because at that age he is often the best player and thus he doesn’t have to develop a commitment to hard work and putting forth effort.  Because of that, he relies primarily on his physical dominance rather than developing good technique and fundamental skills.  He hasn’t had to!  And, most of these fellas only compete in the local region and therefore rarely match up against an equal.  Thus, the legend grows.  Everyone in the community starts to hear about this outstanding young athlete coming through the ranks that will be in high school setting records before you know it!

I do want to qualify a very important point, there are a lot of outstanding young athletes, both male and female that come into high school each year and go on to successful careers, and some of them are really good as middle school students.  What makes them different from the “All-Americans” are basically three things.  First, they have developed a very strong work ethic and have drilled the skills and mechanics of the sport.  Some of these kids may have actually lagged behind in physical development yet when they learned and practiced, they put forth a lot of effort, listened to their coaches, and spent a lot of time perfecting their skills.  Second, they have parents that keep things in perspective, and have thus helped their child keep perspective.  They also have a degree of humility and are goal driven.  In a sense they do not read the headlines!  And third, they have sought out a high level of competition to challenge themselves.  They have not just beat up on the local competition, rather they have sought out a high level of competition to challenge themselves and grow.

Not that long ago we had a group of students come through that were very good athletes as youngsters, and a lot of people told them how good they were.  Some of them were very driven and did whatever they could to enhance their chances of success at a high level.  A couple reached that goal, but most did not.  Some either gave up along the way, or injuries played a factor.  That said, of all of the kids in that group, the one that left the biggest impression on me was a skinny little kid that as a young kid was an afterthought.  However, he stuck with it, and once he grew a bit, developed some strength, improved his coordination, and developed a skill, he became a solid senior athlete.  When he is middle age, he will be able to look back and take a great deal of pride in his perseverance and the success that came with it.  Unfortunately, for many of the members in that group there will be a lifetime of “what-if.”  I cannot help but think that this may have been a lot different if the expectations had been different.

We need to be careful about assigning All-American status to young kids.  It is a label and a burden that many cannot carry.  Youth sports are valuable, yet we must keep some perspective.  Go to any kids event and someone will make a reference as to “when they are in high school.”  Well, let’s get them to high school with good solid skills and a strong work ethic so they can succeed before we start planning state championship parades.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Pulling All Nighters in High School

In the past couple of months I have had a half dozen conversations with teachers about students — almost all of them males — that are staying up very late playing video games.  Most often the game of choice is the relatively new phenomenon Fortnite.  Perhaps your son is one of these, or if not one that stays up late and night, is playing video games more than doing anything else.  The reality is that video games are tough competition for other things going on in a young man’s life, and it should be a concern to parents.  On Tim Elmore’s Growing Leaders blog, Andrew McPeak has written an article that provides advice to parents as to what they can do if their child is spending large amounts of time playing video games.  

What Can Parents Do About Fortnite

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Can Less Be More When It Comes To Work?

Perhaps no other nation has identified more with a strong work ethic than the United States of America.  Settled first by Puritans who believed in the morality of hard work — the Puritan Work Ethic — our nation has been built on strong backs and a commitment to getting the job done.  Generations of Americans have believed that one can get anywhere they want in life if they work hard enough.  While the average American does not do the amount of physical labor of workers of previous generations, work is something that is still highly valued.  For example, most of us are highly critical of people who are lazy or are slackers.  In fact, many of us are resentful of people that do not work, though that is a topic for another day.  

As I write this, according to recent statistics, our state has reached the point where everyone looking for a job has a job.  In fact, in many parts of our state’s economy, there are simply not enough workers.  That said, the point that I want to make is that while this is a good thing, in the bigger perspective, is it good for us as individuals?  Is it good for us in our social and family life?  Is it good in terms of productivity and the economy?  Lets take a look.

Americans work 137 hours more per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours a year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers, according to data gathered by the International Labour Organization. In addition, workers in the United States do not have any federal laws that require paid sick days, annual leave or parental leave, thus adding more working hours compared to workers in other parts of the world.

In 1930, famed pro-capitalism economist John Maynard Keynes proposed that the workaholic culture of that era would eventually give way to a more efficient work economy with a very high standard of living in which Americans would be working as few as 15 hours a week.  That has not been the case, contrary to his belief that technological advances in the work place would allow people to work less and produce more.  In fact, the opposite has occurred.  

Boston University professor Erin Reid has produced research that shows that the longer people work, their level of productivity drops.  Working longer hours does not result in increased productivity, and it actually decreases after 50 hours of work a week.  In fact, Reid found that a person who works 70 hours in a week actually produces the same amount as an individual who works 55 hours.  The law of diminishing returns kicks in and employers are actually paying for nothing at that point.

There is no question that Americans value their weekends and other free time.  Some pack as much into that time as possible, with the leisure market in our country a very profitable industry.  And, there is some early data that the millennial workforce that values a balance between work and play are forcing employers to look at different options in terms of work schedules to attract the best and the brightest.  Flexibility in the workplace is much more common as the young labor force is not prepared to sacrifice their personal life for work.

When one looks at the modern American family, it is not too much of a reach to suggest that in some families parents are too busy working to spend time with this kids.  It is a simple argument to suggest that some of society’s problems could be lessened if people were working less and giving more time to supporting their children and serving their communities.  Europeans in the middle class tend to take full advantage of holidays (vacations) experiencing the world and spending time with family.  When it comes to starting families, other developed nations provide significant paid time to both mothers and fathers after the birth of a child. Is it possible that our American work ethic has turned around and bit us in the tail?  While we have been out there working to make a good living, we have lost site of other important things.

Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate work in our country.  What is important is that the work gets done, and from what we know, it is getting done.  There is no doubt that many businesses are responding to worker’s desires for more flexibility, and perhaps it will not be long before Americans are taking care of themselves and the stresses they have because of work.  It would seem that the rest of the world is doing just fine working less and maybe it is time we do the same.

Friday, January 4, 2019

My Suggestions for Change to a Sport I Love

Watching football, especially college football, is one of my greatest pleasures.  I plan my weekends in the fall around the Nebraska Cornhuskers football schedule.  I love almost everything about the game!  The one thing I don’t like, and I haven’t liked for years, is what is the gratuitous attempts by someplayers (and coaches) to inflict injury on opposing players.  I personally remember the night that Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders launched himself like a missile at Daryl Stingley, a receiver for the Patriots.  Stingley never took another step in his life as he lived the rest of it in a wheelchair.  The game was always rough, but after that it seemed that defenders recognized that they could intimidate offensive players with the threat of blasting them to Kingdom Come.  That’s also how you could get on Sports Center.  And, it was with this that players started talking publicly about inflicting injury or harm on other players.

With better equipment came more fearless players and more physical play.  Back when they first emerged, helmets were soft and used with the purpose of protecting the players head, not to be used as a weapon.  Bigger, stronger, faster players have become capable of delivering incredibly hard hits.  The result of this has been the discovery of CTE and the incredible number of concussions and head injuries suffered by players.  The crazy thing is that there was a time in the history of professional football that the game was so violent that President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to end the sport in the country unless rules were implemented to bring about more humane play.  At all levels today, rules have changed, but from what I read, they are not resolving the problems they were designed to prevent.  Of course, Roosevelt was responding to players dying on the playing field, but I would argue that what is happening to players today is only slightly less serious when one takes into consideration that some ultimately end up taking their own lives or dying well before their time.

Participation numbers at the high school level have been on a downward trend for the past few years.  In some states there has been as much as a 10% drop in the past decade.  Participation in youth football has declined across the country.  In the past two years over 35 players under the age of 30 have retired from playing in the NFL, giving concern about head injuries and CTE as the reason.  From my perspective as a school leader, I do not blame parents or students at all if they choose not to play.  The risks are there, and each year despite the efforts of our coaches to teach safe technique, we have multiple players experience concussions.  So what can happen to make this sport more safe without doing too much to change the integrity of the game?  Is there anything that can be done?

Rule-makers at various levels are heeding the concerns and are making some changes.  For instance, at all levels new rules in recent years against targeting, or a defensive player leading with his head, have been put into place.  Referees have been diligent in making the calls in spite of some players, coaches, and fans disagreeing with some of the calls that are made.  The point is, the officials are cognizant of the potential harm that might come from these blows.  Some argue that it has changed the game and at times defensive players are being unfairly punished.  Along with these changes, the NFL is putting a couple of new rules in place this season, one being a change to kickoffs, where they report a large number of damaging hits take place, and another more specifically defining what leading with the head looks like, including from the perspective of an offensive player.  It will be interesting to see if these rule changes have the impact they expect.

While the rule changes may have an impact, there are changes to the game otherwise that have some traditionalists frustrated.  The game has become more wide-open with a lot more passing and reliance on speed over brute force and power.   For many, it is more exciting than watching teams run the ball between the tackles.  Regardless, the physical play still exits among linemen, banging heads each time the ball is snapped.  And, with the speed at which they are playing, collisions in the open field are still physical.  The vast majority of coaches are doing a good job of teaching technique for tackling and blocking that lessens the risk of head injuries, but the reality is that one cannot eliminate it.

I want the game to remain, and I want it to be safe.  My primary idea seems radical, and usually people instantly dismiss it when I share it.  What I propose is to take the helmets and shoulder pads off the players.  As soon as I say that I get one of three responses.  The first is, “Oh, you want to turn it into rugby."  The second one is usually along the line of “Then it wouldn’t be football.”  And the third is, “So you want them to play touch or flag football?”  No, I am suggesting that you keep the vast majority of the rules of the game in place, but players do not wear helmets or shoulder pads.  I wouldn’t’ be opposed to using some soft padding to protect a bruise, sprain, or contusion, but nothing that is hard that can be used as a weapon to injure an opposing player.  The helmet gives a sense of invincibility and some players simply believe that they will be protected.  They don’t give a thought to colliding with another player, or leading with their head.  Take the helmet off and it won’t take long before they change their ways.  They will not play with the reckless abandon risking a hard lick to their head.  The reality is that we as humans by our nature avoid situations that hurt!

Yes, the game will look different, and it may be even more wide-open than it is now.  I don’t think it will look like rugby, other than the players may be outfitted the same.  And even if it does, fans in many countries are as fanatical about their sport of rugby as we are with football.  The current game looks a lot different than it did back in the early 1900’s, and I am sure if we could bring back some of those old players they may not be fans of the way the game is played today.  But that said, I believe it is a way to save the game.  Let youth players go back to playing flag football where they learn the fundamentals.  Put more running into the game so that players are healthier and fit.  It can still be a tough, physical game, just safer.