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Wednesday, July 2, 2014: Interesting perspectives on youth sports

   Leading off today: "Tee Ball has ruined the way children are brought up in America."

   That was the opening salvo in a column late last month by Mitch Pritchard, an editor at the Democrat and Chronicle.

   Pritchard's line of thinking is that the rules of the sport -- everyone bats every inning, trophies for everyone at the end of the season, etc. -- do not prepare children for what's ahead in life.

   "In principle," he writes, "this is a good idea. Ease kids into a pretty difficult sport. The idea, however, has been abused and carries over not only to other youth sports, but to classrooms and every other aspect of kids' lives."

   Pritchard goes on to say kids "are coddled and protected so much that they are not allowed to learn from failing."

   He draws upon experiences from his own youth to explain his viewpoint, admitting however that the school of hard knocks can't be the only classroom to prepare kids for life. "My high school football coach relished in 'abusing' us, but it was all to teach us to be tough and earn what we get," he wrote. "He would have been arrested for some of the things he said or did to us in those days, but I learned more from that man than anyone else in my life.

   "You have to learn how to fail before you can truly succeed."

   For another perspective on youth sports, read the op-ed written by ProPublica's David Epstein and published recently in The New York Times.

   Epstein, formerly a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, says we're raising waves of young athletes bent on "hyperspecialization that is both dangerous and counterproductive." He advocates for making sure that children sample a variety of sports through at least age 12.

   "We may prize the story of Tiger Woods, who demonstrated his swing at age 2 for Bob Hope," Epstein writes. "But the path of the two-time N.B.A. M.V.P. Steve Nash (who grew up playing soccer and didn't own a basketball until age 13) or the tennis star Roger Federer (whose parents encouraged him to play badminton, basketball and soccer) is actually the norm."

   Neeru Jayanthi, director of primary care sports medicine at Loyola University in Chicago, conducted a study that concluded diverse sports backgrounds protect athletes from over-use injuries and help develop skills that can benefit them in their eventual game of choice.

   "Kids who play multiple 'attacking' sports, like basketball or field hockey, transfer learned motor and anticipatory skills -- the unconscious ability to read bodies and game situations -- to other sports," Epstein summarized. "They take less time to master the sport they ultimately choose."

   Information presented recently at the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine showed that varsity athletes at UCLA began to specialize on average at age 15.4, whereas undergrads who played sports in high school but did not make the intercollegiate level specialized at 14.2.

   Connecting Epstein's column back to what Pritchard wrote, Epstein is a proponent of focusing on skills rather than wins and losses at the youth level. He notes that many Brazilian children get their first exposure to soccer by playing "futsal," a lightly structured game played on tiny fields or indoor courts with just five players per side.

   "Players touch the ball up to five times as frequently as they do in traditional soccer, and the tighter playing area forces children to develop foot and decision-making skills under pressure," he writes.

   A decade ago, officials of England's Football Association grew tired of poor performances by their age-group teams and national squad in international competitions and began looking at all aspects of player development. One of their most controversial conclusions was that youth leagues put too much emphasis on winning at the expense of developing skills.

   A few years ago, the FA decreed that leagues for the youngest players should do away with season-ending

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    trophies, league standings and reporting scores in the media. The policy is being phased into older age groups so that players won't join a season-long competitive structure before the age of 12. Instead, junior players' primary competition is shorter "cup" competitions that run three or four weeks to break up stretches of skill-driven practice.

       Harrison veteran retires: Harrison football coach Art Troilo Jr. has retired after winning 197 games in a career that began in 1986, the school district confirmed Tuesday.

       MSG Varsity's Kevin Devaney Jr. broke the news last week; Troilo stated he was "too emotional to talk" at the time. Troilo guided the Huskies to 14 league titles, eight Section 1 championships and two victories in NYSPHSAA finals in Syracuse.

       "We have had great success with the Harrison football program before my time and during my tenure and I'm sure we'll have great success moving forward," Troilo said in the news release.

       Harrison expects to name a new head coach at its school board meeting Monday. Devaney tweeted last week JV coach Dominic Zanot is the likely successor and Troilo may retain some role.

       Tidying up: Work is in progress on our annual updates to the reference section of the New York State Sportswriters Association website, freshening up various files with results from the 2013-14 school year and adding to our library of past state championships data.

       Among the updated files are those for coaching wins in football, wrestling, boys basketball and boys lacrosse.

       Please take a look at those lists in particular and shoot us an email if you notice a glaring omission.

       PSAL linebacker to Rutgers: Erasmus Hall linebacker Deonte Roberts committed to play for Rutgers beginning in 2015 after receiving an offer from the Scarlet Knights last week.

       "I think his athleticism translates well," Erasmus Hall assistant Ray Lizzi told "He can see the field early if he continues to work hard the way he has. We've got a great relationship with (head coach) Kyle Flood and the coaching staff there. We know he's in good hands."

       Roberts will play middle linebacker this fall but projects to play on the outside in college.

       More football: Section 2 Class D teams left with schedule holes due to the merger of Cambridge and Salem have found replacement opponents courtesy of Sections 1 and 9.

       Cambridge/Salem will follow the original Cambridge schedule, and their scheduled matchup against each other in the 2014 opener will be replaced with a game against Class C Cairo-Durham, which had a bye.

       New games on the Section 2 schedule are:

        • Sept. 6: Cairo-Durham at Cambridge.
        • Sept. 13: Pine Plains vs. Whitehall at Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk.
        • Sept. 20: Hoosic Valley vs. Pawling at site TBA.
        • Sept. 27: Rensselaer at Sullivan West.
        • Oct. 4: Tri-Valley at Warrensburg.
        • Oct. 11: Fort Edward at Liberty.
        • Oct. 17 or 18: Red Hook at Canajoharie.

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