Talent: Hard to identify when they are only 10 years old

When my oldest daughter was seven, I was approached by a coach about her moving up to Travel soccer. She was going to turn eight in a few weeks and, in the fall, would be ready to play travel. At least that was his point of view.

My wife and I talked about it and decided that Travel was not the best choice for our soon to be third grader. She would be entering the GT Center and it seemed to us that it was just too early. I wanted her to continue to play rec soccer (I really believe team sports are important for kids). The coach thought we were nuts. I’ll never forget what he said, “You are ruining her soccer career!” “Career?” I thought. “She’s seven!”

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Northern Virginia Football Hall of Fame

Sunday night, March 5th was the 27th Annual Northern Virginia Football Hall of Fame Annual Awards Banquet. The event is a cornerstone of youth and high school sports in Fairfax County. Every year it is attended by players, parents, coaches and referees from every youth football program in Northern Virginia as well as many high schools.

Fairfax County leaders attend every year. This year, Rep. Gerry Connelly, Supervisors Herrity, Faust, and Smith, as well as school board members Ryan McElveen and Ilryong Moon all attended. Neighborhood and Community Services Director Chris Leonard and NCS Athletic Services Branch Manager along with Stephen McLaughlin and Harold Leff from the Athletic Council were also there.

But the real focus of the evening is the award recipients. Continue reading

I thought $60 million for a high school stadium was a lot…

In August 2012 Eagle Stadium in Allen, Texas, opened. The $60 million stadium had seating for 18,000, a massive scoreboard with 38 foot wide high def screen, practice areas for golf and wrestling and opened with lots of fanfare. While stadiums open every year, this one was different. Why? Because if was a high school stadium.

On top of this, the stadium had to be shutdown less than 18 months later because of “extensive cracking.” The story of the stadium was covered by many media outlets including the Washington Post. It reopened in 2015 with Chik-fil-a, upper-deck seating, and more.

I remember reading about this at the time. $60 million for a high school stadium? At the time it seemed completely out of control. Now? It still seems completely out of control. But when I looked back to see what happened with Eagle Stadium, I found out that a $60 million high school stadium was just the start. This past September, a school district just down the road from Allen broke ground on a $70 million stadium.

Fairfax County releases new report on county’s demographics

Fairfax County has released a wide array of updated demographic information. This data provides a lot of insight into who we are now and who we may become.

One interesting trend is the increase in students eligible for free and reduced lunch:

From 2002-2014 the Fairfax County elementary student membership increased by 17%. During the same time period the number of students eligible for free and reduced lunches increased by 72%.

One of the reasons this jumped out at me is the ongoing struggle to make sure that these children have the opportunity to play sports as well as have access to other extracurriculars like art, museum visits and more.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth saying again. We need to make sure we help these children and their families. Sports (and other activities) should never be out of their reach. Through scholarships, assistance with uniforms and equipment, and opportunities to achieve their full potential, we can make sure that all the incredible benefits of sports are available to everyone in our community

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.

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.

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.