Trophy Kids

I am a huge believer in the positive value of youth sports. But I also know that some parents take it too far. HBO aired a documentary that looked at some of these issues. When you have a chance, Peter Berg’s The State of Play: Trophy Kids is worth taking the 55 minutes to watch.


Girls Volleyball Now Has More Players than Girls Basketball

espnW has a new story about the growth of girls volleyball. Why volleyball — not basketball — is winning the popular vote, is worth a quick read.

One of the interesting things in the story is the changing numbers between girls volleyball and basketball.

Two years ago, for the first time, more high school girls played volleyball (432,176) than basketball (429,504), according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. In 2015-16, volleyball added another 4,133 girls to those numbers, while basketball lost 276 participants.

Examine the past decade, and the numbers are more striking. Statistics compiled by the NFHS show an increase of more than 40,000 volleyball players in that span and a decrease of 23,000 basketball players.

But buried deeper in the article is a not about places where volleyball growth is beginning to slow. They note, “The boom in what she [Kathy DeBoer] calls ‘pay-to-play’ youth volleyball makes it less and less likely that a girl with minimal experience will be able to play at her high school…’And that’s what happened in basketball,’ she said.”

While not the focus of the article, this is an important cautionary note for all sports. As any sport grows, so does the professional or “pay-to-play” infrastructure. And we all need to work hard to make sure that the growth of this infrastructure doesn’t force out players or make sports less accessible.

How Sports Advance Women at Every Level

On October 14, 2015, Ernst and Young partnered with espnW and released a report titled, Where will you find your next leader? EY & espnW explore how sport advances women at every level. This great resource explores a variety of topics. Some of the report’s conclusions include:


The report is a great resource. So is the E&Y page releasing it.


Washington State Dept of Health: No Cancer Cluster Among Soccer Players

On January 19, 2017, the Washington State Department of Health released a study titled Investigation of Reported Cancer among Soccer Players in Washington State. The News Tribune reports, “The study was prompted by an ongoing debate over whether the use of crumb rubber — made from recycled tires — to cushion artificial turf fields could cause cancer in young athletes.”

The report found lower rates of cancer among soccer players than expected. “[T]his finding does not suggest that soccer players, select and premier soccer players, or goalkeepers in Washington are at increased risk of cancer compared to the general populations.”

Fairfax County continues to look at these and other materials as part of the Health Department’s ongoing efforts to ensure the safety of county residents. A memo was sent to the Board of Supervisors on February 2, 2017, by County Executive Ed Long. In the memo, he concludes, “Currently available research on artificial turf has not shown an elevated health risk from playing on fields with crumb rubber. As such, the county will continue its standard practice of using crumb rubber as a synthetic infill until new scientific evidence or guidance about the public health risk of crumb rubber emerges.”

The Washington State Department of Health has an excellent FAQ about the study on their site.

2013 Synthetic Turf Task Force Report

Recently, several people have brought up the County’s Synthetic Turf Task Force from 2013 and the report that was generated.

A lot of work and effort went into this report. The task force met for months and was able to address many issues. Among the conclusions was the recommendation to move as many schools as possible to the two field model, work with diamond field users to explore their long-term interest in turf fields, explore life expectancy and more.

Here are links to the report and to the PowerPoint that accompanied its presentation.

The Participation Gap

I had never considered that there could be a link between a parent’s level of education and a child’s participation in sports. I should have. It makes sense. Closing the Gap in Access to Summer Camp and Extracurricular Activities finds that there is a connection and that we need to figure out how to deal with it. And it’s not just sports. It’s summer camps, trips to the zoo, after-school extracurriculars, and other enrichment programs.

This graphic illustrates the problem in sports. There is a 50% increase in the participation of children 6 to 11 years old in sports if the parent has an advanced degree v. some amount of college education.

And the numbers are similar for clubs and various kinds of lessons. (Like piano lessons.)

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More Proof High School Sports Help Girls

In this 2009 paper, Beyond the Classroom: Using Title IX to Measure the Return to High School Sports, author Betsey Stevenson finds that increase participation by girls in high school sports leads to increases in girls going to college as well as increases in female participation in the workforce.

Here’s the official Abstract:

Between 1972 and 1978 U.S. high schools rapidly increased their female athletic participation rates—to approximately the same level as their male athletic participation rates—in order to comply with Title IX, a policy change that provides a unique quasiexperiment in female athletic participation. This paper examines the causal implications of this expansion in female sports participation by using variation in the level of boys’ athletic participation across states before Title IX to instrument for the change in girls’ athletic participation. Analysis of differences in outcomes across states in changes between pre- and post-cohorts reveals that a 10-percentage point rise in state-level female sports participation generates a 1 percentage point increase in female college attendance and a 1 to 2 percentage point rise in female labor force participation. Furthermore, greater opportunities to play sports leads to greater female participation in previously male-dominated occupations, particularly in high-skill occupations.

Here’s the full paper online.


Heads Up: Not a Silver Bullet, But Part of the Solution

A New York Times investigation finds that there may be flaws in the National Football Leagues conclusion that their Heads Up program has reduced concussions. After going through the detailed data of the study that the NFL relied on, the Times concludes that the program had little impact and that other changes in the Pop Warner program actually were the cause of the overall changes.

Rather than looking at Heads Up Football leagues in one category, the paper instead split them into two groups: those that did or did not also belong to Pop Warner Football, a division of youth leagues that has added its own rules to mitigate injuries. Pop Warner leagues have disallowed certain head-on blocking and tackling drills and drastically reduced full-contact practice time, measures that were not a part of U.S.A. Football’s program.

As it turned out, only leagues that adhered to Pop Warner’s rules saw a meaningful drop in concussions. Leagues that used Heads Up Football alone actually saw slightly higher concussion rates, although that uptick was not statistically significant. The previously reported drops were clearly driven by a league’s affiliation with Pop Warner, not Heads Up Football.

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