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Skyhawks News
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.

Students + Team Sports= Better Grades

August 25th, 2014

Every flipping Fall I miss the deadlines for sports team signups. (It’s logical, really, because I miss spring signup for summer swim lessons, too) When it is still 90 degrees, I think it’s cruel to not only make us buy school supplies, but also register for soccer and football. But, yeah, sorry, LATE registration started JULY 25. What the--?

Part of why I wait so long to think about fall sports isn’t just that I’m putting off the end of summer, but that I’m cheap (or poor). Before I fork over hundreds of dollars to put my children onto any kind of team, I really need to be assured I’m going to get something out of it. I mean, like, I want to know that perhaps parenting will be easier, somehow, if they learn a fabulous life skill. Or if the coach will MAKE them do homework so I don’t have to bargain and threaten?

And I’ve found quite a bit of assurance, actually. Team sports not only build social skills and goal-setting. It turns out involvement—ANY involvement, not just star players and athletes (good news because my kids are, at best, merely “athletic”)--in team sports has big impacts on academic performance.

A 2013 study by the University of South Carolina and Pennsylvania State University surveyed 9,700 high school students aged 14-18, who spread across all races, communities and socioeconomic groups.

The study looked for correlations between students’ after-school activities and their school success, including the likelihood of moving on to higher education.

The researchers found team sports, more than academic and vocational clubs, and performing arts societies, have “a consistent and significant effect on students’ grades across all schools.” Specifically, they found team sports are “significantly related to higher GPA’s” and “a higher likelihood of completing high school.”

Also, a totally over-achieving doctor who heads the Division of Adolescent and School Health for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reviewed 50 studies that examined “the effect of school-based physical activity on academic performance and discovered that half of the studies showed positive associations and virtually none of the research demonstrated any negative impact” Dr. Howell Wechsler even found studies that proved short spans of physical activity help increase the length and intensity of concentration.

Short spans? Like camps and classes? Sweet! You can still register for volleyball, basketball and tennis through Skyhawks. Those classes and clinics start in October. When it is actually Fall.



The Frustratingly Unavoidable Draw of Video Games

June 23rd, 2014

Here’s a little “virtual” reality for you: Video gaming is a more than 25 billion dollar industry. That’s twice as much money as Hollywood movies make each year.

Gaming has a massive influence on children—an estimated 99 percent of kids play an hour a day (that’s according to Psychology Today, but I can’t believe it’s that high). The draw of video games is strong…certainly enough to decrease the number of boys who participate in team sports and civic clubs.

My son showed me a 14-minute video a few days ago “Why We Play Games”…to help me understand/tolerate why he can play hours on end. I tried; I really did, to remain open-minded and accepting. I tried. But even the most compelling case, backed by science, can not convince me that staring at a screen—even a fascinating one-will ever offer the benefits of playing outside with others, or even alone!

Clinical Psychologist and gaming developer Dr. Scott Rigby asserts in Glued to Games: How Video Games Draw Us In and Hold Us Spellbound asserts that video game playing “fulfills three core needs”:

1. Competence

2. Autonomy

3. Relatedness

Gaming may provide children—if you believe Rigby— an experience of COMPETENCY by letting them develop mastery; learning, growing and progressing as they rise up levels in a video game. But I assert that, in a very real not at all virtual world, you get a more powerful and personal sense of competency by becoming a more masterful reader, hitter or kicker.

AUTONOMY, the book claims, is accomplished by video gaming because it gives players the sense they have control over their actions and the world around them. They get to “choose their own adventures.” At this moment, as I am researching the validity of these claims, my son is next to me playing Skyrim, cited as a perfect example of a game that allows you to choose aspects of your appearance, home and quest.

RELATEDNESS (I really can barely discuss this one without rolling my eyes) applies to multiplayer games, where kids (some from other countries! It’s like the United Nations!) talk through headsets working together to finish a mission.

Dutch researchers suggest that not only do the newer video games provide young people with compelling social, cognitive, and emotional experiences; they also can potentially boost mental health and well-being.

Gamers wrote all of this, trust me. Gamers with psychology degrees.

Well, guess what? Here’s three more key needs (not already discussed and proven by Skyhawks through 30 years of camps) fulfilled by young people playing on teams.

1. Intensity

2. Continuity

3. Balance

INTENSITY: according to Psychology Today, (yea, more psychologists!) “With greater time commitment, children develop better mastery of skills and superior knowledge of tactics and strategy”…leading to “the development of strategic thinking…including the ability to find and excel in the job market.”

CONTINUITY: While sporadic or intermittent participation is better than no playing, a commitment to team sports over teaches kids to “overcome challenges and obstacles in their performance,” as well as “opportunities to interact with teammates, learning to cope with the interpersonal challenges of working with others.”

BALANCE refers to children participating in activities that present real-world challenges, like volunteering in their communities, achieve greater developmental benefits. These activities encourage youth to develop a civic identity and see a world beyond a game of winning and losing.

Want to go deeper into the study of the long-term benefits and even potential pitfalls of long-term involvement in youth sports? Paradoxes of Youth and Sport, by Margaret Getz.

Oh, and sorry, son, I still don’t get it. Let's go shoot baskets.

Skyhawks Camp: Hope for The Perpetual Procrastinators

June 9th, 2014

Between cutting mold off cheese and unearthing potato chip remnants from the pantry to put together the last few sack lunches, remembering to sign permission slips for pizza in the park, Silverwood, or whatever the last-week-of-school-shindig might be, many of us don’t have time to think about our- kids’ summer plans.

As a perpetual procrastinator, I have faced the reality (for nearly every summer since being a parent of preschool aged children—11 years?) of a “CLASS FULL” prompt upon attempting to register for the session I WANT to take at the nearest pool or sports camp. If you’re new to the game, June is typically LATE registration unless we’re talking about something in August. Everyone knows that the BEST classes are full months in advance.

Except with Skyhawks!!!

The depth and breadth of available locations and sessions—and the comparatively encouraging “almost full” prompt – is like a cool gulp of water on a sweaty Mid-July afternoon to procrastinating parents.

Okay, ONE Skyhawks camp (in the home area of Spokane, WA) has been full since May–a Soccer camp, but not THE ONLY soccer camp! There are a handful of other Skyhawks soccer camps still open around the city.

“Our Mini-Hawk camps sell out first,” Skyhawks Marketing Manager Sam Dascomb advises, “Then combination camps,” The rest, Dascomb explains, is based on geographic and cultural preference. “Soccer sells out in California, and Lacrosse sells out in Colorado,” she explains. “It depends on the market.”

The flagship program, Mini-Hawk, offers a combination of Soccer, Baseball and Basketball or Soccer, Baseball and Flag Football. Both still have plenty of slots. And new this year? A Soccer/Swim all-day camp (ages 6-12)! What a perfect combination! Set up like a traditional weeklong summer day camp, The Soccer/Swim Camp is a joint effort with Spokane Parks and Recreation. Both the July and August sessions will take place at Comstock Park.

Unlike traditional camps, there is not a page-long checklist of gear and clothes to bring to Skyhawks camps. (“Yea!” again, from the procrastinators)

For shorter camps, outfit campers in running shoes, layers of clothing and sunscreen, with a couple of snacks and a water bottle (with the camper’s name). For camps longer than four hours, add a healthy lunch. Add a swimsuit and towel to the soccer swim combo. Voila! Summer handled. The days, anyway…

Nicknames – Standing Out In a Good Way

May 19th, 2014

The very first coach my son experienced, as a five-year-old baseball player, was fantastic. He gave encouraging and specific feedback at the right times, and was patient with clumsy catching and throwing skills. But what made really stand out – to me – was his skillful nick-naming. On the first day, he called out to a blonde kid with sunglasses, (who had decent hitting and throwing prowess) “Hey, Hollywood!” The name stuck. The kid wore sunglasses every practice and game. Even when it was cloudy. And he had this Fonzie-cool vibe, too. Now, did the being create the nickname, or the nickname create the being?

Not every coach can pull this off; in fact nicknaming children without their permission can easily hurt feelings. In just about every stage of childhood, there is some trait about which we feel self-conscious or insecure… even if it’s something others envy, like height.

But when it is an established tradition, as with Skyhawks coaches, it’s an easy, fun way to create community.

There are basic guidelines for choosing the right nickname in sports (or other cases of team-building).

  • It must be an accurate, positive characterization; conveying fun and appreciation. Bonus if it points out a yet-to-be realized trait which the child (or older person) can look up to. Consider these classics: Roger “The Rocket” Clemens, Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Tom “Flash” Gordon, Shaun “The Flying Tomato” White, Ozzie “The Wizard” Smith,
  • Nickname NO-NO’s – Pointing out physical characteristics: Fats, Pigpen, Four Eyes and Sleepy, as well as Slim Jim and Princess or any other sarcastic names.

Tom Vogt is known as the quietly firm and kind “Mr. Vogt” by his own first grade class at Jefferson Elementary School in Spokane, Washington. But refer to him as “Mr. Vogt” up at Camp Reed, and you’ll get hundreds of weird stares. He is “Tom Buck Tu,” or “Bucky,” up there, where he and his wife, “Loco Lisa” have been Camp Directors for 13 summers.

Nicknames are as big a part of Camp Reed’s culture as insect repellant and sleeping bags. According to “Bucky” Vogt, staff nicknames have been a camp staple since 1968, when “Tricky” Tracy Walters (who, incidentally, coached “Joggin” Gerry Lindgren, the legendary Track and Field runner who graduated from Rogers High School in 1964).

“During Staff Week, we have a “Name Night,” Bucky explains. “Each person will leave the room, and we brainstorm. It has to be a phonetic match, fit inside the name, and be camp appropriate.” It usually takes about a half hour to hit the right one, and there are never any repeats. Also, siblings with established names influence the names of younger brothers and sisters. For example, Anna “Conda”’s little brother was obviously going to be “Python” Pete.

“It builds Unity,” among the staff members, he says, and gives hundreds of campers a collective goal. “They all spend the whole week trying to figure out the counselor’s real names.”

While your children won’t be given nicknames at Skyhawks, their coaches come with them. And it will be up to them whether to pursue their given names. They’ll likely be having too much fun to think about it.

No, Java-coding is Just NOT a Summer Activity

April 27th, 2014

My dad never woke me up at ten A.M. on a sunny spring or summer morning to say,

”Get out of bed, the computer screen is getting cold and that Java code isn’t going to write itself!”

(Granted, personal computer screens didn’t even exist when I was little.)

I can almost guarantee that even Mark Zuckerberg’s mother didn’t promote excessive technology use; she was trying to do what we all do… get our kids OUT THERE. You know, into the WORLD.

I have a dominant right bicep after the daily prying of mobile devices from my teenage son’s desperate hands when he needs to eat, sleep or do homework.

So it’s tough to be open-minded about the new existence of “TECH SUMMER CAMPS.”

You can find plenty of experts (since I’ve declared myself not to be, beyond having a Masters degree in Elementary Education) who will say that the knowledge kids gain in game-modding, java script coding and robotics are vital, particularly in the promotion of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

It’s also great if the talents of computer geniuses can be celebrated. However, I shudder to think that these high-cost, indoor-dominated “camps” would be a child’s only away-from-home summer experience.

A promise on one popular computer camp’s website? “Be Like Steve.” To be clear, Steve is NOT the charismatic green-stripe-shirted man who used to host Blue’s Clues (OMG, mom, that’s SO pre-2001. That’s even pre-OMG!) Steve is a Minecraft hero: A pixelated cube warrior guy who mines himself pixelated cube castles, and protects said castles from the likes of pixelated cubed “Creepers.” Or something like that. Is Minecraft a less violent, more creative gaming alternative than Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty? Of course, but neither is even in the same world as a traditional day or overnight camp.

The child-centered watchdogs at Common Sense Media are onto the trend, too.

“Instead of rolling rivers, cabins, and canoes,” on camp brochures, they write, “it’s all about computer screens, ear buds, and kids gathered around an iPad.”

Technology, in the form of streaming TV shows and movies, social media, personal computers and smart phones are for disengaging in life – not a replacement for engaging.

Camp is a sacred time to be AWAY from technology, to unplug and engage with other un-plugged children, trees and grass and sky. And in our opinion, it ideally involves balls – soccer, base or basket – skillfully led by actual coaches.

And, ok, fine, we’ll even try to find you one named Steve.

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