Recent research: 1) Can coaches be trained to make sports more enjoyable for kids? and 2) What type of competitive environment encourages anti-social behavior?
YES WE'VE CHANGED OUR NAME!
If you think something looks different, you're right. We are proud to announce that we have changed our name from the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles to the LA84 Foundation. We do so to honor the spirit of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games that led to our creation and signal our renewed energy, urgency and commitment to advancing youth sport in Southern California and enhancing public understanding of the role of sport in society.
SportsLetter: Why did you decide to take your magazine story and publish a book about this topic?
Regan McMahon: The genesis of the story that I wrote for the Chronicle magazine was that, as a mother of two athletic kids playing at the rec level, I knew that we were running around like crazy. It felt like a total rat race, and I felt trapped by the system. I looked at the families around me, and it didn't seem like they were particularly happy leading this life.
One day I just thought, this is so different from how it was when I grew up. Everything starts so much earlier, and people are running around like crazy when they have seven year-old kids. I just wondered, how did we get here? What happened in the evolution of youth sports over the last 20 years that made it be this way? Does it have to be this way? And, whose fault is it that we're in this? Is it the parents? Is it the coaches? Is it the system?
The other thing I was really concerned about was how this affected family life. That's also something that's very different now. People are not eating dinner together at home. People are not having any downtime or time together on the weekend because the family is split up, with one parent going with one kid to a tournament 50 miles away and the other parent with another kid at a game 100 miles away in the other direction. So, I started thinking about what that does to marriages and what that does to sibling relationships. It seemed like a lot was going on, and people who were swept up in that lifestyle weren't challenging it. They might be grumbling about it, but nobody was standing back and examining it. I wanted to hold a mirror up to the culture and report on what I saw.
Within a couple of weeks after the article came out, I was approached by a publisher who said, "There's enough meat here for a book." I got an agent and we shopped the idea to the big publishing houses in New York. Within a month, I had a deal.
SL: In the book, you reveal that you skated competitively when you were younger. Now, with your kids, you're a "soccer mom." How have youth sports changed since your skating days?
RM: I led an unusual life because I chose a very demanding and individual sport. I was skating before school in the morning and then in the afternoon I went straight from school to the rink and skated into the evening and did my homework at the rink. Most people in my class didn't get serious about sports - and we're talking team sports -- until middle school or high school.
Back then, you got to be a kid, learning different sports in P.E., playing pickup games in the park, playing catch with your dad, shooting baskets in the backyard, riding your bike around town. You got to do that for years. Then, midway though grade school, you played Pop Warner or Little League. So, you had all those years, from zero to eight or nine or 10, where you just got to be a kid and have a lot of free play and unstructured play. That's what's dried up and disappeared.
One of the big factors that's changed is that now everybody puts their kids in soccer in kindergarten. So, the time commitment for sports starts early, and the parents start getting wrapped up in it. Some of these parents immediately want to move their kids from a recreational league to a more competitive league because they think that's going to lead to a college scholarship. They start making decisions about how their seven-year-old kids spend their time based on this fantasy, or illusion, of a college scholarship years in the future.
All this has had big sociological implications. Now, it's hard for kids to have friendships -- it's hard for kids to have a social life -- if they're not on one of those teams. Sports has become the main place where kids experience their socialization now. They can't get play-dates after school because all the other kids are at practices.
SL: Why do you think this has occurred?
RM: Part of it is because, in most families, both parents now work. In the classic paradigm from the 1950s and the 1960s, mom was at home. Now, 72 percent of the workforce are women with kids under 18. One of the things parents are looking for now is, where do I put my kid that's a safe environment? So, they plug the kids into sports programs.
Related to that, in the 1980s there were a handful of sensational stories about kids being abducted. The media went nuts about that, and everybody began to think that they shouldn't let their kids play on the street because they would get abducted. The reality is, stranger abduction is extremely rare. It happens, of course, but mostly children who get kidnapped are involved in custody disputes.
Then, there's the factor of the baby boomer parents. They felt that, as kids, their parents weren't that involved in their lives. The kid would ride his bike to the Little League game, play the game, come home, and the parents would say, "How was the game?" And, that was it.
Now, the pendulum has swung the other way. The baby boomer parents - and the generations that have followed -- have decided that they have to be involved in every minute of their kids' lives. They have to be at every game. Some parents are at every practice. They think that they're bad parents if they don't do everything in their power, financially and otherwise, to give their kids every opportunity to be a success. They feel that they can't deny their kids any opportunity because, if their kids just get the right opportunity and the right training, they have the potential to be special, to get a college scholarship.
SL: Whom do you blame for this - parents? coaches? kids? - or is the blame to be shared?
RM: When I started out, I had a sense that it was the coaches' fault - that the coaches are pushing the kids too much. What I concluded after my research was that it's the parents' fault. I think that there are occasions where it's the coaches' fault, but it's the parents who are the ones who've made it kind of nuts. So many coaches I interviewed, from the youth level to the college level, told me, "We wouldn't push the kids this hard if the parents weren't demanding it."
SL: Why are parents so emotionally invested in their children's sports?
RM: I think there's a guilt factor. With two parents working long hours and trying to hang onto their jobs, the only time they have with their kids is on the weekends. So, they plug them into sports programs, which are pre-programmed activities, and that becomes the family time. Parents feel they have to be super-involved because that's the only time they have with their kids. Going to the soccer game and sitting on the sidelines and chatting with the other parents becomes their social life.
SL: You mentioned college scholarships: do many parents believe their kids will get a scholarship playing sports?
RM: Less than 1 percent of kids who play youth sports will ever get a college scholarship. Still, it's shockingly prevalent that people think that a college scholarship is a possibility. And, the coaches have bought into this. Some of the coaches at the private clubs make promises along those lines. They say to parents, "If you want your kid to play on a college team, join our club. If you don't do it - if you stay in the rec league or just play for the high school - you're going to be left behind." It's a threat, and parents feel that if they don't do it this way, then they're letting their children down.
Also, the emergence of ESPN, which televises minor sports like beach volleyball and lacrosse, glorifies youth sports. When I was growing up, they didn't used to televise the Little League World Series. Sports Illustrated didn't used to put the best sixth grade basketball player in the country on the cover, but now they do. The whole model of what happens in professional sports has been translated down into youth sports. So, people think, "Wow, if I can get my kid into lacrosse, maybe he can be a star."
SL: It sounds like involved parents are good, but over-involved parents are not: where do you draw the line?
RM: I think the most important thing is to listen to your kids to see if they're still having a good time. If your kid lives and breathes basketball and wants to go to every basketball camp on top of the regular team, it's a good thing to support that -- provided you can afford it and it makes sense for your family life and the kid can still have some balance in life. The danger is when it becomes about the parents' needs and not the kids' needs. That's the only crime of parents - when it becomes all about their expectations, rather than listening to their child and finding out what their child wants.
What's troublesome is when a kid is not having fun anymore and the team becomes like a job to them. One of the girls I interviewed - she was 15 at the time - was on a highly competitive soccer team in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. I asked her how many girls on the team were there because they wanted to be or because their parents were pushing them. She said that, out of 15 girls on the team, six or seven wanted to quit but felt they couldn't because it would disappoint their parents.
Parents also have to do what's best for their children. There's a big concern now about overuse injuries. I think this trend to specialize early and play one sport all year long - instead of playing multiple sports seasonally - is another mistake some parents are making. They think it's for a good cause [to specialize], but it's hurting the kids physically and possibly psychologically.
SL: How do you measure the cost - financial and otherwise - of the increased presence and importance of youth sports among families?
RM: The financial cost is daunting. Club teams are extremely expensive, with all the travel expenses and the membership fees. Many kids have trainers - even at age 10 - and $100-an-hour goalie coaches. By the time they're in eighth grade and their parents have invested all this money for all these years, the kids feel like they have to stay with it.
What I think is an unfortunate byproduct of all this is that it's promoting a class divide. Sports used to be a great equalizer. People from all backgrounds used to sign up for Little League and play together. Then, if they had any potential, they went on to play for the high school team. That experience used to be this special thing, with kids from a lot of different backgrounds playing together and bonding for three or four years.
What's happened now is that many kids are being aced out by rich, generally white kids whose parents can afford to pay $3,000 a year for them to compete at the club level. The kids who make the high school team in sports like soccer and volleyball are the kids who play on club teams and have extra professional training. The coaches know that the kids who've been on a travel team for three summers have the background and the footwork so they won't have to teach them everything from scratch. That's a pay-to-play system.
Meanwhile, a lot of high school teams are being gutted because club coaches don't want their kids to play at the high-school level. They tell parents that high school is an inferior level of play, and that college recruiters aren't looking at the high schools anymore.
SL: What does that trend mean to youth sports big picture?
RM: I think it's unfortunate. I think there are all sorts of intangibles that come from being part of a high school team. One of the biggest aspects is representing something larger than yourself. You're representing an institution with a history. You're representing your friends, your classmates, often your community. You might be representing a legacy - like, if your brother went to that school. So, when they introduce you at the game and call out your name, it's this special feeling that you're part of something bigger. Kids who are advised by their club coaches to not play for their high school are not getting that experience. When they go play in a tournament, who's there? It's their parents, not their classmates. And they're not really playing for their team; they're playing for themselves. They're playing to be seen by college recruiters. They're representing their personal goal to get ahead so that they can attain a college scholarship.
SL: You write that girls now participate in sports in much greater numbers, particularly after Title IX. What's the impact of this change?
RM: On balance, it's been very positive. I think sports are good for everybody, and they're especially good for girls because of self-esteem issues. A girl can feel good about her body and feel good about being strong and experience positive ambition and success. If they have a healthy attitude toward their body and nutrition, they tend to be kids who don't smoke and don't get involved in substance abuse. What I've found is that the girls who do participate in sports tend to have more self-confidence and a better opinion about themselves. They learn skills they can use in the workplace, like teamwork and working hard toward a goal.
What I point out is, by adding girls to the equation of youth sports, parents are running around with their girls just as much as they do with their boys. So, it's double the amount of running around.
The significance of Title IX is that, even though it was passed in 1972, the rules for colleges didn't get ironed out until about 1992. Suddenly, a lot of colleges realized that they had to have more scholarships for girls and had to have more teams for girls. So, there was this moment in time where there was a flood of girls that got college scholarships. That has influenced parents within the larger culture to think, "I've got to get my kid in youth sports because Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain and all these girls are getting college scholarships." Those were the girls that people refer to as the "Title IX Babies" because they were there when the floodgates opened. But now, getting a college scholarship is just as tough for girls as it for boys. There's just not that many slots that open up every year.
SL: You mention Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain: why did the sport of soccer become so popular among youth?
RM: Part of it is that kids starting out in soccer at five years old use skills that come naturally to five-year-old kids: running and kicking a ball. It's so much less difficult, at that age, than trying to hit a baseball or put a basketball through a hoop. Obviously, soccer is a complex game, but at the beginner level, it's very easy for kids to have fun instantly. There's a lot of people on the team, and everybody gets a chance to play. And, it was a fun social thing for parents to bring their lawn chairs, sit on the sidelines, and watch their kids run around. It was a win-win for everybody. The sports establishment thought, "This will never catch on in America -- soccer is too European." But then it did catch on, and it got bigger and bigger and bigger. I think it's good that kids are out there playing and using their bodies. It's good that kids can pick up a sport when they're little. I think it's a little unfortunate that soccer has completely taken over American life so that nobody does anything else on Saturday mornings except go to their kids' soccer games.
SL: When did the emphasis on specialization in one sport -- and even one position -- start occurring and how does that impact youth sports?
RM: All of these excesses happened in the 1990s. The saddest thing is when parents feel that they have to have their kids specialize in one sport starting as early as five. They say, "You're going to play soccer and you're going to keep at it until you're the best."
There's all sorts of benefits - physical and mental - from playing different sports. It used to be that kids played football or soccer in the fall, then basketball in the winter, and then baseball and track in the spring. During the summer, they played everything and did a lot of swimming. It's good to use different muscle groups. That way, you can avoid overuse injuries. And, each sport requires different types of thinking. It's totally different to strategize in baseball - Do I steal or not steal? Should I sacrifice here? - compared to playing linebacker in football.
When I talked to the college coaches, they said that the best athletes on their teams were the guys who played three sports in high school. I also talked to professional athletes and coaches who said that there's no evidence that specializing early makes you a better athlete or guarantees you a college scholarship.
I just think it's good for kids to have an opportunity to try different things. Maybe he's a terrific soccer player, but he might have a passion for basketball. If you're pushing your kids to do one thing, you're denying them all the regular aspects of childhood - like summer vacations and going to the school dance and having sleepovers with friends and holidays with relatives.
SL: When should kids start specializing in one sport and/or one position?
RM: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children not specialize before puberty because their growth plates are still forming. If you get an overuse injury in your shoulder or your elbow before those growth plates have formed, that's going to be a more damaging injury.
SL: How about the role of coaches in youth sports: how has that changed over the years?
RM: Coaches used to be teacher-mentors. They were interested not just in skill development but character development. They were history teachers who were also the basketball coaches. They were on-site and part of the school community. They knew if there were pressures on kids that week because of finals that might affect how they ran practice or how they related to the kids.
What's changed is that there are more professional coaches. Now, it's all business. Even in high school: they're outside people who aren't seeing the kids all day long in school and who don't know what's going on in their lives. It's a different role.
The business of the private, year-round clubs and the personal trainers -- those are commercial enterprises. You're now out of the realm of volunteer coaches who are doing it because they love kids. These people have a financial stake in having kids specialize in one sport. So, the soccer coach is going to strongly recommend that your kid also play in his summer clinic.
SL: Do most coaches receive adequate training about being responsible leaders?
RM: I don't think so. Certain organizations have tried to address that, like the Positive Coaching Alliance. They work with leagues and do workshops to train coaches and parents. They talk about winning not being the only thing in sports.
SL: What can coaches do to strike a balance between making sure the kids are committed to their team and letting them be kids?
RM: At the recreational level, keep things at a sane, balanced level. That means one practice a week and one game a week. If they throw in an extra practice, there should be a good reason - like there's a big tournament coming up.
My son's Little League team had one practice a week. The coach sometimes said, "I'm going to the batting cage on such-and-such night, and anybody who wants to come can come." It was an honestly optional practice, and it was something that was going to help the guys without high stress. The thing that makes kids better in sports is repetition -- not having them stand around in the outfield for hours.
On the ultra-competitive teams, the coaches will say, "We only practice two nights a week, and then there's an optional practice." Well, a lot of times the "optional" is phony. The kids are expected to be there, and their attendance affects how much playing time they get. So, coaches can be honest about the optional practices.
Finally, coaches should be aware that kids sign up for teams not because they want to win. They sign up because they want to play. If the coach is too focused on winning, some kids will sit on the bench a lot and won't have a good time. That's a delicate balance because one of the main things that drives parents up the wall is playing time.
SL: What are the implications of the disappearance of unstructured play among youth?
RM: Parents see the value in studying a lot. They see the value in playing team sports and being involved in organized activities. They've forgotten the notion that there's a benefit to unstructured play. The value of unstructured play has been lost.
When kids are playing in the backyard and making up games, they work out the situation and the rules. They decide that, because there's no third baseman, if you hit it to this tree that's an out. So, kids learn all these conflict resolution skills.
SL: You write about the decline of physical education and recess at school: how does this impact the situation?
RM: I think it's enormous. Again, I think that's another place where the culture has taken a wrong turn. If you want kids to lead a healthy lifestyle, they should be running around for part of their day at school. They should get exercise at school. They need to associate physical activity with fun and play so they can develop lifelong habits of being active. I think it's a crime that less than 50 percent of the states now have P.E. requirements. Institutions should be concerned about educating the whole child -- their mind and their body.
SL: You write about the increased participation in youth sports, and yet there's been a rise in obesity among youth. How do you explain this?
RM: That's a fascinating situation. One of the coaches I interviewed in the book said something interesting. He wondered: how much time do kids who are so involved in youth sports actually spend playing sports? They spend so much time driving to the games, and then they play for just a little while. They're eating crappy snacks in the car, and there's no dinner at home so they end up eating fast food.
The other thing is, with kids leading this kind of stressful life, when they get home they want to plug into a videogame. They want to watch TV. They don't want to go shoot hoops in the backyard.
SL: When you talked to teen athletes for the book, what did they tell you about the nature of organized sports?
RM: I think most kids like it. I think some of them feel worn out. They're aware of what they're missing. I talked to kids who missed the prom because they had to go to a volleyball tournament. I think that's a shame - I mean, the prom only happens once.
Some of them said, "Well, I know I'm giving up a lot. But it's my favorite sport, so it's okay." I felt that way as a skater: I knew that I was living a different life than other people. What concerns me is that so many kids are leading this life.
I think the kids feel the rat-race aspect of it. One of the girls I spoke to said that sitting in her bedroom and listening to music is the unattainable dream. All her life is programmed to be on these teams. She spends all her time playing and traveling, and then she comes home and has to plug into homework. They're under so much pressure to perform and succeed. It's not okay to just be okay. You have to be great. If you're on one of these competitive teams, the coach and the culture is telling you that you're great. That wears on people - they feel they have to be a winner all their lives.
SL: How about steroids among youth: is this a big problem?
RM: I think it is a problem, and I think that high schools are trying to grapple with it. My friends at the Chronicle who wrote the "Game of Shadows" book about BALCO [reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams] told me that coaches have been complicit in this. They'll tell some kid, "Well, you really have to bulk up." That's a euphemism for "go get some supplements.
" Unfortunately, testing [for drugs] is very expensive. School boards are not excited about this. They'd rather handle it with education and making sure the coaches are watching out. New Jersey is the first state to have regular testing in the high schools.
I think the news is out about the physical harm that steroids can cause. But a lot of kids are taking supplements, which have their own health risks. They're not illegal, but they're dangerous for kids to get into. Once they've done supplements, it's not that much of a leap for them to say, "Well, if I want to compete at a higher level, I'd better start taking steroids."
SL: What general advice would you give parents about not letting sports consume their lives and their kids' lives?
RM: I would advocate balance. Try to think of the things that are also important to kids besides sports and winning, like spending time with family and relatives, eating dinner together at home, having family vacations that are not team related.
In the book, I quote the coach of a nationally-ranked soccer team who tells the eight-year-old kids who sign up for his program, "Everything in your life for the next eight years has to be put on hold. All of your vacations and all your free time are going to be spent playing this sport." To not have Thanksgiving with your relatives for eight years -- that's your whole childhood!
I would also encourage parents to have a realistic outlook. College scholarships are rare, so parents shouldn't do everything based on the notion that their kids are going to get one. They can hope for it - and they can support their kids with their passion - but a college scholarship shouldn't be the guiding force in their decision-making. Also, keep in mind what many college coaches told me: kids don't need to specialize in one sport until middle school or later. So, why not consider having a life that's more balanced when the kids are still young?
SL: What strategies should parents use if they do have a child who's very talented? And how should they deal with pushy coaches?
RM: One couple I know has two very talented kids, one of whom is a prodigy. Their goal is to support their kids, but they don't have the expectations that their kids are going to play professionally. That's not what's driving them. They're trying to do their best and have their kids be on competitive teams so that they're not bored. They're not consumed with this fear that if they don't follow the path that, rumor has it, is the path to the pros, they're going to fail their kids.
With coaches, I would encourage parents to ask if what the coach is suggesting is necessary. A typical thing that happens at the club level is the coach will say, "Our team will play four tournaments this season." Later in the season, the coach will say, "We've been invited to this tournament and it would be great if our girls went because we might play that other team in the championship." They add things that wipe out family time and add to the expense and travel time and stress. I would encourage parents to say, "Wait a second. We signed up for four tournaments, and that's what my family can handle. I'm voting no."
SportsLetter: What was your inspiration to create the National Sports Museum?
Philip Schwalb: It was kind of an epiphany that came on the heels of a disappointing visit to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001. I'm a lifelong basketball fan - I went to school at Duke - and for my 38th birthday, I wanted to go to the Basketball Hall of Fame. It was something I always wanted to do. But I realized that I didn't know where it was, which struck me as strange being such a big basketball fan. Anyway, I found out it was in Springfield, Mass., and made the visit. I was there two days, and I was shocked that the building was so empty. There were maybe 20 visitors over the course of a couple of days. When I thought about that relative to places in New York City - like the Empire State Building or the Intrepid Aircraft Museum or the American Indian Museum - it struck me as bizarre that something as popular nationwide as basketball would not have much visitation. When I came back and started doing research on this, I found that very few people ever visit Canton [home of the Football Hall of Fame] and, relatively speaking, very few people visit Cooperstown [home of the Baseball Hall of Fame]. On a personal level, it occurred to me that I hadn't been to either, and I'm as big a sports fan as anyone. So, that was the impetus for the idea.
SL: Why do you think those places get so few visitors: is it because of their geographic remoteness or is it a lack of marketing?
PS: I think it's both. The former aspect is enough to kill off attendance. The fact that the Football Hall of Fame is in rural Ohio, a couple of hours from Cleveland, is enough to ensure that most people from L.A. and Miami and New York and New Orleans just don't visit. It's not as if you'd be in Canton for some other reason. Cooperstown is even more difficult to get to: it's a five-hour drive from Manhattan and at least a three-hour drive from Syracuse. And, Springfield is a city in disrepair that very few people visit.
It's also that they're non-profits that, to most people's surprise, are not connected to, owned by, or supported by the leagues. They're entirely different and separate. They have to support themselves, and they just don't have any money for marketing. [Editor's note: The baseball, basketball, hockey and pro football halls of fame are independent entities, but each receives some level of direct and/or in-kind support from its respective major professional league.]
SL: What is your experience in museums?
PS: Immediately prior to coming up with this idea and pushing it forward, I was working for Caroline Kennedy's family. Her husband, Edwin Schlossberg, was the person I worked with primarily, and he has a museum design firm [ESI Design] and owns patents for different devices that, for instance, you carry with you as you walk through a museum. So, I got a chance, as a side thing, to see his museum design company and to learn about museum design.
SL: What are your favorite museums, and what museums do you aspire to emulate with the National Sports Museum?
PS: One museum model that's compelling to us is The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. It's gotten great attendance in each of its four years - a lot of buzz - and it is, like us, a museum that is not a 501(c)(3). Meaning, it's not a non-profit. And, that's a little unusual. It's been marketed in a very aggressive way, and it's been designed very cutting-edge, very interactive, very innovative. We're using the same museum designer who did that one.
I've really enjoyed the EMP [Experience Music Project] Museum in Seattle, built by Paul Allen. That's a cutting-edge museum, very interactive and hands-on. It's about music, which is similar to sports in that it's very evocative, very sensory. It's very inspirational to us.
But what happened with me was that as I visited more museums, I was stunned by how unimpressed I was. That became an impetus for us to try to do more innovative things and to put it in the right location.
SL: What was the most difficult obstacle that you had to overcome to establish the NSM?
PS: Securing the real estate. We wanted a building that would be within feet of the Statue of Liberty ferry, and that was very difficult to find.
SL: How will the National Sports Museum be different from other sports halls of fame?
PS: First, of course, is that we're celebrating all sports under one roof, as opposed to focusing solely on a single sport. And, we'll be very interactive versus the old-school museums, where you go in and see artifacts -- like Bob Cousy's sneakers and Wilt Chamberlain's jersey. We'll have some of that - that might be 30 or 40 percent of what we have - but that aspect will be layered with lots of films, computers, databases and mechanical things that you can touch and use.
My vision has always been more oriented toward highlight clips that you might see on ESPN - I'm big on footage because I think it gives you a visceral feel that's hard to get from books. On the other hand, the museum designer and the museum general manager don't want us to mimic too much of what you can see on TV. So, in an effort not to make us too much audio-visual, each of the different rooms offers different types of experiences.
SL: Where will your artifacts come from?
PS: The artifacts will come from the collections of the other halls of fame and museums that we are partnering with. We have over 60 partners, and they're either halls of fame - like the Basketball Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame - or sports-related museums, like the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the Louisville Slugger Museum and the Legends of the Games Museum. We also have agreements with governing bodies - like USA Track & Field, USA Hockey, and US Soccer. They will be the source that loans us artifacts. So, we don't have to own our collection; it'll all be borrowed. That makes it easy to switch out items if we want to.
If we find that we need other items, we'll borrow from private collectors interested in putting their stuff on loan. That will only enhance the visibility for the collectors.
SL: The Museum will serve as the permanent home of the Heisman Trophy. How did that partnership happen?
PS: The Downtown Athletic Club, which was located right around the corner from here, went under after 9/11. So, the DAC was sitting there with the trophy and the legacy, but as of 2002 they had no home and no building for it. What they tried to do was build a Heisman museum downtown, but their plan didn't pass muster. We talked to them over the course of three years and kept saying, "Look, there's no need to build your own museum. We'll build a whole wing for the Heisman. We project 800,000, 900,000 visitors each year. Let us leverage that to put people in front of the Heisman and make it part of our museum. It'll be win-win." Ultimately, they decided that was the way to go, and so we'll be the site when they televise the award show for the Heisman.
SL: How did your partnership with the Women's Sports Foundation come about and how important is it for the NSM to be able to showcase the story of women in sports?
PS: As we were collecting our numerous partners, we reached out to the Women's Sports Foundation. As discussions ensued, we realized that, more than the standard partnership, we could serve as a primary home for a first-ever women's sports hall of fame. The women's sports hall of fame is very important for us because it enhances the visitor experience for a broad segment of the population, and this segment (girls and women) has become an increasingly important force in sports since the passage of Title IX legislation.
SL: You have partnership agreements with every major sports hall of fame except baseball. What happened there?
PS: We have, literally, partnership agreements with every sports hall of fame of significance in the country, including the Table Tennis Hall of Fame. So far, Cooperstown has not wanted to sign with us. I think they will sign an agreement before we open, but they may not ever be willing to sign the same agreement that everyone else did. The contract is onerous in the sense that it requires them to agree not to participate in any other cumulative sports museum. And, Cooperstown does not want to do that. So, we may do a modified agreement with them. We haven't approached them in three years. We've just let it be while we've done everything around them. But we expect to approach them again very soon.
SL: What does sports tell us about the American experience?
PS: Sport is emblematic of the American experience and has always served as a microcosm of what was transpiring across the nation at large. This includes triumph, perseverance, breaking gender and racial barriers, and a sense of opportunity.
SL: How does sports fit into the larger field of pop culture in America?
PS: It's a leader, not a follower, within American popular culture. Sports has defined and set trends within fashion, music, film, literature and even common, everyday language. For instance, expressions such as "covering all the bases" and "running neck and neck" have become part of the American lexicon.
SL: Why do you feel that there is a need for a national museum devoted to sports?
PS: It's shocking that there has never been one. The transcendent nature of sports, its role in American culture, its inherent beauty and inherent value certainly merit celebration and homage on a par with art, science, history and other subjects that have always had museums dedicated to them.
SL: Will the museum be confined to sports in the United States?
PS: It will always be anchored in the American sports experience. With the Olympics, for instance, we'll focus on American exploits at the Games: Jesse Owens, Mary Lou Retton, Mark Spitz, et cetera. We don't have a room for Australian Rules Football, we don't have a room for cricket.
SL: How large is the museum and how much are you planning to charge for admission?
PS: We have 100,000 square feet, but the part that the visitors will roam around is more like 30,000. Basically, the average ticket price will be $17. But there's reduced prices for groups and reduced prices for seniors and children.
SL: Will there be space for traveling or temporary exhibits?
PS: Unfortunately, we won't have temporary exhibits for the first year or two. In our first building cycle, we left out the temporary space. We plan to build that space about two years after we open.
SL: How were you able to finance The National Sports Museum?
PS: All the money came from two sources. One was the selling of bonds, not unlike with other large municipal projects, like building a power plant or a toll highway. The difference being, our bonds were what's called triple tax-exempt bonds known as Liberty Bonds. When you bought these, the interest that you earned on the bonds was exempt from federal, state and local taxes. That's very unusual, and that was an award we were given by the governor [of New York] and the mayor [of New York City] together. And so, that was $57 million of the financing.
These bonds came about after 9/11. In fact, if it were not for 9/11, the project probably would not have been able to occur. After 9/11, there was a commission put together to select what ended up being about a dozen projects that they thought would really help re-grow the city. Fortunately, we were one of those dozen that received the financial incentive package. It's a two-way street. The reason we've been given the opportunity is the expectation by the mayor and the governor and the officials beneath them that we will serve as a catalyst to drive re-growth in a decimated downtown.
And then, $36 million came from private individual investors, a lot of them well-known figures in New York, ranging from the president of Goldman Sachs to the chairman of Showtime Network. I have some stock, as does my partner, [CFO] Sameer Ahuja, but it's a very small piece.
SL: Will you sell naming rights at the museum?
PS: I would prefer that it be within the museum itself, and there are a number of rooms and galleries that we would be very comfortable selling the naming rights. For instance, there's what's called an immersion theater, which is the first thing you do when you enter the museum. It's a 360-degree, surround-theater experience that gets you acclimated to the museum. If that were sponsored by, say, Sony or Panasonic, we'd be very comfortable with that. There's also an exhibition in the museum on people who broke gender, racial and ethnic barriers in sports. If that were sponsored by a company that felt that was part of their mission, like Home Depot, we'd feel comfortable with that.
The jury's still out on the idea of selling naming rights to the whole venue. I don't know whether that's a good idea or not. If we did it, it would be done in what's known as below-the-line form. So, it would be "The National Sports Museum presented by American Express." But the jury's still out on whether we want to do that.
SL: Are you happy about your location in downtown Manhattan?
PS: We didn't want to be in midtown Manhattan or Times Square. That was an environment we didn't want to be in. We felt that this was an iconic, national museum of sports, so we wanted to be downtown. We're allied with the World Trade Center Memorial, the Statue of Liberty, and a couple of new entities, like the Museum of American Finance. Our goal, as a group, is to get people to visit downtown for a good day or two.
SL: You've had several projected opening dates. How frustrating has it been to work on this project and keep having delay after delay?
PS: I wouldn't say frustrated, but it's been tiring, hard, challenging. When we started in earnest on this project, after 9/11 in 2002, we felt we would open in 2004. Now, we're talking 2008. You learn that this is a process. Frankly, we feel pretty lucky to have raised almost $100 million and to be able to have it where it is. That overcomes the frustration factor.
SL: What is the projected opening date?
PS: The good news is, we're now in construction. They're working every day, and they're right on schedule. The construction actually will finish in October, and then all the exhibits will come in over the next few months. We're on a schedule to open on April 15th of next year.
Effects of a Motivational Climate Intervention for Coaches on Young Athletes' Sport Performance Anxiety Ronald E. Smith, Frank L. Smoll and Sean P. Cumming. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 29 (1) 2007.
Do youth coaches contribute to feelings of performance anxiety in their young athletes? Can they be trained not to? These questions were the focus of a study involving "37 coaches (33 males and 4 females) and 216 athletes (117 boys and 99 girls) between the ages of 10 and 14 years who participated in community-based basketball programs" in the Seattle area. About half of the coaches participated in a 75-minute workshop on teaching athletes to take satisfaction from playing to the best of their abilities, to learn from their mistakes, and to simply enjoy the game, the practices, and interactions with teammates. This positive coaching, as opposed to "critical or punitive feedback" and an overemphasis on winning, did in fact have a dramatic effect on reducing the amount of stress in the athletes. These athletes reported having feelings of success from just playing well, and from not feeling anxious (or queasy) when they felt they did not perform well.
The Effects of Goal Involvement on Moral Behavior in an Experimentally Manipulated Competitive Setting. Luke Sage and Maria Kavussanu. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 29 (2) 2007
Popular belief holds that sport builds character and that competition can have a positive impact on participants. Research has shown that in a competitive environment, "cheating, breaking the rules, and intentionally injuring an opponent are not uncommon." In an experiment involving table soccer and 90 male and female college students, an attempt was made to identify the settings in which "positive and negative social behaviors" were exhibited. The students were divided into three groups and given three different explanations about the goal of the experiment. Researchers told one group that a cash bonus (reward) would be given to those who showed improvement in a set of table soccer skills. "The reward aimed to strengthen the focus on personal improvement" rather than results of the competition. The goal of the second group was to outscore (outperform) the competitors from the other testing sessions. Indeed, investigators told the second group that all scores would be publicly posted on a board and on the school's website. Members of this group also were told that there would be an opportunity to receive increasingly higher rewards the more goals they scored. The third group was a control group that did not receive extra instruction on skill improvement or information about any reward system for outscoring the opposition. Through the use of post-competition questionnaires and observed behavior, the authors concluded that "when motivated by learning and improvement, individuals adopt principles of fairness. In contrast, individuals who were motivated to outperform their opponent … displayed more egocentric" and antisocial behavior ("e.g., taunting opponents and breaking the rules"). Competitors who focused on outperforming others prioritized "superiority over issues of justice and fairness."
This aquatic creature is the mascot of the XIIth Games of the Small States of Europe, taking place this week in Monaco.
The Games website neglects to mention the mascot's name or species, but we are guessing it's some kind of Mediterranean hat-wearing dolphin. The 2007 edition of the Games of the Small States of Europe features competition in 12 sports. Andorra, Cyprus, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco and San Marino have sent teams. The athletes' village is the MSC Melody, a cruise ship docked in the harbor. The Opening Ceremony on June 4 presented a "ludic and theatrical vision of sport and ecology … [i]n the form of allegory of fight between pollution (smogus) and of nature (écolus)."