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Baseball Hall of Famer John Smoltz on the Benefits of Playing Multiple Sports

May 31st, 2016

Speaking at an MLB event at the Field of Dreams movie location, the newly elected Hall-of-Famer weighed in on the importance of playing multiple sports year round, rather than focusing solely on a single sport like baseball all year round. 

“People think you have to play year around to be able to eventually play professional baseball or basketball or football. That’s simply not true,” Smoltz said. “I love where I grew up (Lansing, Mich.). Seasonal changes meant seasonal sports. I played three of them. The opportunity to get outside and play sports is one of the greatest things kids have.

“I know there are a lot of distractions, a lot of technology,” Smoltz said. “But playing year around, in places like the South and the West, is just not as advantageous as people think. The history of injuries, all the things that go on, that’s why places like here and Michigan and the Midwest, getting the opportunity to play seasonal sports and be athletic is something that ... parents, you just don’t understand how much time your children have.

“As a player who grew up and loves sports, who got a chance to play multiple sports, and that’s the reason I was able to play baseball as long as I did (21 years). It’s the reason, for the most part, that I stayed as healthy as I did. I didn’t consume myself with one sport."

If there's one thing Smoltz knows, its longevity. Smoltz pitched in the majors for 21 seasons with the Braves, Red Sox and Cardinals. 

Sign up your young athlete for a new sport at a Skyhawks Sports Academy summer program! Find programs near you at

This article contains exerpts originally published on May 28 at

To Shout or Not to Shout?

August 16th, 2015

It was awkward when I realized my own husband was sideline-shouter. It was nothing disparaging, mind you, just random things like “Yeah, cross to the middle,” and “Get it get it, woo!”

There are few things that embarrass me, for this for some reason, did. I tried to gently broach the subject by asking:  “Umm, do you think it’s confusing for the girls when they are hearing from lots of different adults?” I really tried to sound innocuous.

“No, I’m just encouraging her; she likes it.”

According to our daughter, she does.

But the issue with our young athlete, like so many kids who participate in rec soccer leagues, is that while she appreciates encouraging cheers, I also think
the finer mechanics of the game are unfamiliar and she gets easily distracted.

Wow. I do sound like a prude.

But imagine how distracting it would be to have these same kinds of well-meaning parents encourage kids from the back of classrooms during math lessons:

“Hey, great job! Algebra’s hard, but you had that first step! Just remember you have to multiply before you divide, buddy. Good try, woo-hoo!”

I asked the coach if the parents’ sideline yelling bothered her.

“Only if they tell them something different than I am.”

On the third time I hassled my husband about it, he became eerily quiet; punishing me with pretend indifference.

Am I just a jerk, as his hurt silence suggests? Am I withholding cheers simply because, understanding the game little more than my 10-year-old, I don’t know what to shout? Perhaps I’ve just done way too many in-depth stories about parental participation in kids’ sports.

Let me tell you, if there’s anyone who takes youth sports more seriously than involved parents, it’s child psychologists. Granted, their main concern is abusive yelling (which is supposed to be addressed when parents sign the code of conduct forms at the beginning of the season).

“A new study found that ego defensiveness, one of the triggers that ignites
road rage, also kicks off parental ‘sideline rage,’” according to Science Daily, “…that a parent with a control-oriented personality is more likely to react to that trigger by becoming angry and aggressive.”

Oh brother, that’s just not at all what I was looking for. Here’s something a little more benign from Psychology Today:

Never instruct your child from the sidelines. You may be telling her one thing, while the coach is advising her differently. Your intervention can easily confuse her, diminish her ability to perform and undermine the coach's authority,”

Right!? But then in the same article, the author says this:

“Act as your child’s cheering squad. When you stand on the sidelines, your child should read encouragement and love in your face.”

Now I’m feeling defensive for my husband; for all the shouters! We are supposed to “cheer” by showing encouragement and love in our faces? Our kids will be so distracted trying to read our loving expressions, they’ll get pummeled!

In Canada, Ireland, and Australia, some clubs have banned parents from yelling criticism or praise. The “Silent Sidelines” movement has signs and logos. (Seriously, couldn’t they have sprung for more than a creepy clip art ghost head?)*
Quiet sidelines are a goal for some teams in the U.S., too. For instance, when St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny coached his son’s youth baseball team, he set strict guidelines:

“We encouraged (parents) to play with their kids at home…take their kids to go get some ice cream after a game, even when we lost,” Matheny told NPR in an interview this Spring, “But mostly, during the game, do whatever you could just to take yourself out of the picture. The kids don't necessarily need you to be yelling words of encouragement… they interview collegiate, high school and even lower-level athletes: ‘What do you want your parents to do at the game?’ And the overwhelming answer is ‘absolutely nothing.’”

When I shared this quote with my husband, he was incredulous. “Well, it will be really quiet when I’m not there AT ALL. If I’m getting up at 7am on a Saturday and freezing my butt off, I want to be able to cheer.”

Then I was the silent one. Nothing kills a post-victory celebration like parents giving each other the silent treatment after yelling about the merits of yelling.

So now I’m working to interpret unsolicited verbal feedback as excitement and joy, because at the innocent beginning of sports participation, that’s the real goal, right?

Letting go of Safety-obsession

March 23rd, 2015

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Everybody loves this quote. You can find it on maritime sales websites and outdoorsy magazines. (It’s usually credited to Mark Twain, but was discovered by scholars to have nothing to do with Twain, and likely written by H. Jackson Browne in the 1990’s. The author, not the musician. But I DIGRESS)

We LONG for our kids to sail on that theoretical boat, but not without a waterproof navigation system, a helmet, and a GPS tracker. You see, two essential goals of modern parenting are fundamentally juxtaposed. For us to be successful parents, we must help our children create their own enlightened, strong, successful personalities; to take risks and learn to fail with grace. BUT! We also want to keep them from social and physical harm. And from the point that buckle them into their first tiny five-point restraint car seat, we sincerely believe we can.

The clash is incredibly evident in the way parents interact with organized sports. OF COURSE we want the social and physical benefits of team play including friendships and problem solving and exercise. But what if they get hurt? There are injuries inherent in any impact sport, but nothing gets more media attention than football, because of the fear of concussions (basketball is the second leading concussion-causing sport)

However, even though (USA Today) an estimated 1.35 million kids are injured playing sports each year, only about 164,000 of them suffer a concussion. Considering 35 million children play organized sports each year, just .005% of young athletes are injuring their heads.

Yet a well-publicized statistic from a recent NBC news report asserts that since 2005, “the concussion for high school athletes has more than doubled.”

So which of these two seemingly opposing trends do we trust? If you accept the research findings of author and “Free-Range Parenting” advocate Lenore Skenazy, it’s the scariest one.

“Parents in the past 20-25 years indulge in ‘extravagant worry’…inflating remote possibilities into looming threats that we think we have to watch out for,” she writes.

The current safety device under debate is an impact sensor in children’s football helmets. While the NFL so far isn’t willing to test them, a handful of high school and recreational sports programs are piloting the sensors, which adhere inside the helmets and communicate via handheld device with athletic trainers on the sideline (you know parents will figure out a way to hijack the signal onto their own phones).

The devices cost between $75-$125.00, and sensors light up when an athlete takes a hit to the head at 80G or more. The player checks in with the coach or trainer before being put back in the game.

One school administrator who opposes the use of sensors asserts that opponents could use the sensors to manipulate results: “... targeting a specific player not to injure, but to remove him from the game from a strategic standpoint.”

As I read more about helmet sensors, most articles pointed to a conspiracy by powerhouse manufacturer Riddell to keep the monopoly on helmets. But, hey, this is a blog, not a Dateline NBC episode, so I’m just wrapping this up.

Grown-ups ruin playing. We get involved, and we put our adult-influenced, liability-focused rationale and need for control rationale all over young athletes who are trying to belong and have fun. Give it back to the kids. Let them sail away from the safe harbor. It’s cool if you want to still be able to see the boat, but trust them to get out there.

Seasonal Affective Dissorder and Children

November 24th, 2014

Even for the most Nordic-minded—those who LOVE skiing, snowshoeing or hunting trips—the struggle of starting and ending our (school and work) days in the dark can range from drudgery… to depression.

Once the Autumnal Equinox and the loss of Daylight Savings Time cuts our daylight hours nearly in half, it’s no surprise a large majority of us do our own version of hibernating; we are slower (who can speed walk in Sorels?) quieter, more tired, and particularly during holidays, likely to slip into egg nog and pie-sourced semi-consciousness. 

Fighting this slothy, often potentially gloomy “new normal” requires encouragement; new ideas and vital routines. 

Yet, about six percent of people around the feel trapped by this sense of emotional and physical lethargy.

People who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), are depressed by the lack of daylight; their bodies are programmed to be sleepy and withdrawn. And more than one million of those people grappling with SAD are children.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, SAD is linked to the hormone melatonin, which affects the body’s sleep-wake cycle. “And when there is less daylight, melatonin production increases” which makes us more tired. 

The main distinction of children who suffer from SAD is that their weight gain, lack of energy and concentration are only seasonal. Kids who are positive, active and engaged during the sunnier months but whose moods and activity levels tank as the days get shorter may be falling into a SAD cycle. 

The recommended treatment for people with SAD is light therapy, which helps regulate melatonin levels. And while the affect of exercise on melatonin levels is nominal, there is a proven benefit of exercise on depression! 

Even Harvard Medical School concurs. In a 2011 study, researchers showed “Aerobic exercise is the key for your head, just as it is for your heart. It has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress,” they report. And, “exercise and sports also provide opportunities to enjoy some solitude or to make friends and build networks. The mental benefits of aerobic exercise have a neurochemical basis. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.”

But you knew that, right?

Even in the absence of a game or a scrimmage, being out sledding, ice skating or trudging through the snow can also be an emotional, non-medical treatment for kids suffering from SAD.  

So if your kids are bummed about having to stay inside, give them opportunities to leave the house, and participate in play they’re not responsible for generating (Who has the energy for THAT) And if the lethargy and sadness still seem to be getting the best of your kids, research SAD further, and know that it will pass as the days get longer!

Youth Football: Certain Benefits Outweigh Possible Risks

October 27th, 2014

Early in October, Detroit Lions cornerback Rashean Mathis told a local sports reporter he doesn’t want his now two-year-old toddler to play pro football. You know, later.

"He doesn't have to play any sport, as far as I'm concerned,” Mathis told the Detroit Free Press. “But if he does get into it, football will be the last thing I introduce him to.”

Why? Because it’s physically “taxing” he says, and, like all NFL dads, he knows the potential damage caused by the repeated concussions inherent to such a high-contact (professional!) game.

However, Mathis’s fear being transferred to standard parents of standard children playing a standard youth league football team is fairly ridiculous. It’s like not allowing your grade schooler to pursue engineering because of the stiff competition among honor students at MIT.

And yet, recent coverage of former NFL players’ concussion complications is reportedly affecting the choices parent make about their children’s participation in youth sports.

Since 2008, participation in youth football has dropped more than five percent, and soccer seven percent.

It’s a consumer trend based on such unfounded fears, that neurologists at top hospitals have begun advocating for youth football.

"If somebody says 'I like playing (football or soccer), but my mother and father are worried that I am going to get a concussion so therefore I'm going to chose not to play,' – that’s a tragedy," asserts a child neurologist at Children's National Medical Center.

That’s because, like so many choices we make to protect our children, he says there is a balance between potential risks and benefits.

He and other colleagues maintain that the risk of inactivity is a far more urgent issue that the far-off potential risk of high-level participation football. But, seriously, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon (Get it? They are neurologists! That cliché was made for this discussion!) to realize that the impact of a possible injury is uncertain, while the benefits of playing YOUTH football (not NFL football, but YOUTH football) are certain:

  1. Mental: Children learn the values of delayed gratification, overcoming obstacles, preparation and hard work, controlling emotions, overcoming fear and even pain, and the experience of one-on-one and group competition.
  2. Physical:Improved health and weight control, lower diabetes risk. Most youth teams require 20 hours of conditioning—including running and stretching—with no pads and no contact. (And guess what they CANT play on the field? X-Box and Netflix!)
  3. Academic: Players (aka students) particularly in football, learn the value of discipline, and as I’ve pointed out in previous blogs, the benefit of focus and concentration, and confidence which reflects on academic performance.
  4. Social/professional: Commitment also extends to relationships with other people, and eventually with bosses and co-workers. Good sportsmanship is also a lifelong value: Learning to win and lose with graciousness, and be part of a team, and have something greater than oneself.

There are also very strong parent support groups in youth football, as well as a sports wide effort to teach preventive strategies that cut down on injuries. Here’s an example of a great resource: (sources:,

Easing Homework Stress

September 29th, 2014

My fourth grader doesn’t understand why letters suddenly represent "unknown quantities" on her math worksheets, she doesn't remember the difference between median, mode, range and mean, and when she feels stuck during homework, she freezes. She's a despondent deer in headlights, or a captured bank robber in the glow of a policeman's flashlight. Pick your own dorky metaphor. When I can my child to speak, she admits that she feels like she will "never be smart" like the other kids in class.

To make matters worse, if she turns in incomplete work, my daughter will be penalized by losing 50 of her classroom "dollars" and will not be able to shop in the "Friday Store." This may sound silly to an adult mind, but to a nine year old, this is all a very big deal. One of these scenarios occurred 15 minutes before school was starting. So, naturally, I finished her homework, doing my best to replicate her handwriting.

I'm certain my "solution" is nowhere on the countless lists of "tips to help your kids with homework."

I've read them all.

If you're like me (I also don’t remember the difference between median and mode. And I JUST looked it up before finishing my nine-year-old's homework. Don’t be like me) consulting any type of parenting website or magazine can turn out being less-than helpful. In the stock images that accompany "simple tips," for homework help, children and parents are smilingly working together in clean, organized spaces. No one is in the fetal position, crying or pulling at their hair because they don't know why "Common Core" has come up with all new math vocabulary. (And that's just the parents…)

Truly, does the following homework help suggestion from "wiki-how" strike you as a tad condescending?

"Pump Yourself Up: Sometimes it's hard to settle down and do homework because you've been sitting in class all day and need to burn off some excess energy. Do some jumping jacks or sit-ups, run a mile, or just dance around like crazy in your room. It'll get the adrenaline going, and you'll feel like homework is just a little hurdle to jump over."

Sounds fun, unless, like my daughter your child gets frustrated beyond the point of being open to work or movement; much less crazy dancing.

So how can parents help?

First, know your kid. Be in open communication with the teacher about the workload and whether or not your children seem to be working at a comfortable pace. Here are a few other tips I paraphrased from both the wiki-how page.

  1. Set fixed hours. There should be a set schedule for homework, and make the special study area free from clutter and distractions. It might be a good idea to set up a bulletin board (or at least a white board.)
  2. Make a List, Check It Twice: Create a priority list that starts with what's due soonest as number one. Rate assignments based on how long you think they'll take, which ones seem like the hardest, or by subject. Being organized is a foreign concept to grade schoolers, and they will be thankful the earlier they learn to do it.
  3. Take a Break: Encourage 15-minute breaks for breathing outside, eating a snack, calling a friend or listening to music loud on headphones.
  4. Get It Over With: Encourage your child to complete a project as soon as possible, (if time allows) and to imagine how it's going to feel when it’s complete. You're free! You can play basketball! You can ride your bike!
  5. Multiply with Music: Studies have shown that the part of the brain that is used to solve mathematical problems is stimulated by classical music. So crank up the Mozart when you're multiplying fractions!
  6. Reward Yourself: Encourage kids to make deals/create small rewards with themselves. i.e. "If I finish this paper a day early, I'll buy that new DVD I've wanted," or "When I finish 20 math problems, I get to watch the game on TV tonight."

Getting out of the house and being physical might be just the release they need. An hour of indoor tennis, basketball and volleyball may be the perfect antidote to schoolwork overwhelm. Let them group play, camaraderie and success.

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