John Oliver Is Right: Women’s Soccer Deserves Better

By Alex Perdikis

All it took was the 2015 Women’s World Cup Final between the United States and Japan. An estimated 25 million American viewers tuned in to watch the match, a giant leap in viewership from the 17 million who watched the men’s final the year before. Since the U.S. Women’s World Cup win, participation in girls’ soccer programs has surged.

The surge in popularity has not been without its growing pains however. Recent developments such as wage discrimination lawsuits and new programs to develop world-class players are working to challenge old assumptions while building on soccer’s growing popularity.

The Equal Pay Debate

The U.S. women’s national soccer team is more profitable, watched more and wins more than the men’s national team. In a lawsuit filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March 2016, top female players, including Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn, accused U.S. Soccer of wage discrimination. Solo said, “The numbers speak for themselves.” The men’s team members, she added, “get paid more to just show up than we get paid to win major championships.”

The current debate is not the first time women’s soccer in the U.S. has struggled to gain respect. In the 1980s, there was no women’s soccer Olympic event and no Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup in which to compete. That began to change after Title IX became law. The federal civil rights law prohibited the discrimination based on sex of any federally financed educational program or activity. Public school programs were mandated to give girls equal access and training programs for sporting activities, including soccer.

One of the first beneficiaries of Title IX was Mia Hamm. Hamm, along with teammates Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett, dominated the first FIFA sponsored tournament for women, called “The M&M’s Cup.” But the U.S. public barely noticed.

The team finally caught the public eye at the 1996 Olympics. The women’s team earned less than the men and only earned a bonus if they won the gold. Playing on the largest stage of their lives, team members realized the opportunity they had to both gather a following and make a difference. After negotiations failed to reach a resolution, the team held a strike and refused to report for practice sessions. When the Olympic Committee failed in its attempt to bring in nonunion players, the team won the fight and went back to work.

Many believe the latest lawsuit, which has yet to be resolved, is simply the next step on the road to equality for women’s soccer and female sports in general.

Developing Tomorrow’s World-Class Players

U.S. Soccer announced early this year that it will launch a Girls’ Development Academy Program beginning in fall of 2017. The new Development Academy will impact thousands of young female athletes. Through specific curricula, training requirements, higher-quality games and added resources, the new program will focus on developing world-class players. The program’s core values include coaching and teaching athletes in a positive learning environment. Competition will range from local and regional matches to regional and national events.

Youth Sports Team and Crowdfunding: A Rising Trend

By Alex Perdikis

Schools and sports teams have a long-standing tradition in America. True stories of small-town teams taking on high-powered athletes from the big city and winning against all odds is the stuff of feel-good films like “Hoosiers.” Because of budget cuts, school sports departments have suffered significantly. Funds to train, pay for equipment and travel expenses are extremely limited and gone completely in some locations. More and more, middle and high school sports teams are turning away from the traditional forms of fundraising and moving to crowdfunding for money. If your youth sports team is dealing with a lack of money for essentials, you may be asking if crowdfunding is the answer. Here’s the scoop.

What is It?

Crowdfunding in some form has been around for some time. Selling raffle tickets for a cause is one example of crowdfunding. In its simplest form, crowdfunding is when members of the general public donate a little money that adds up to a substantial amount when enough people contribute. Crowdfunding now is facilitated through the Internet, where people can use different sites for a wide variety of causes, including everything from business startups to helping cancer victims pay for their treatments.

Why Now?

Sports these days can be expensive. Travel alone costs thousands of dollars. Most sports teams still fundraise through traditional methods. But bake sales, raffles, car washes and selling candy bars only go so far in this time of rising costs. Crowdfunding is a means of raising more money faster. Crowdfunding also gives fundraising events a worldwide reach with a much larger group of potential donors.

For example, Cher Fuller, Oregon Dream Teams head coach in Beaverton, used GoFundMe to raise enough for her elite coed cheerleading squad to pay for travel to the World Championships in Florida. The cost of the trip was $1,200 per athlete and an additional $4,000 for practices and competition events. Her campaign raised enough to pay for the entry fees and the rest was split among team members. Done right, crowdfunding can help take the bite out of the budget cuts most school sports teams now face.

Tips for Crowdfunding Success

The trick to raising funds through crowdfunding is to have a specific goal in mind. Successful crowdfunding campaigns cover a certain time period with a specific monetary goal. A goal of “helping the Buffaloes” won’t interest most people, but a goal of “Help the Buffaloes pay for their championship trip” will.

Social media is prime territory to advertise your fundraising event. Friends, relatives and acquaintances from around the world can easily donate to your cause.

It’s not just sports teams that are turning to crowdfunding. Fees and expenses for sports team members have skyrocketed and many families turn to crowdfunding to offset the individual costs as well.

For Parents: A Practical Guide From Soccer Manager Alex Perdikis

As a parent, team manager and former student athlete himself, Alex Perdikis knows about the benefits of kid team sports. He also realizes that parents have the power to make team sports a fun and healthy activity or create a living nightmare where children drop out. Here is a practical guide for parents that outline best practices that build interest, encourage and support children who play team sports.

Pushing: Yes or No?

It’s not a problem if your child shows an interest in and has an aptitude for a team sport. No need to push. But, what if your child shows no interest? You know the benefits. Sports builds confidence, teaches people skills, develops problem-solving skills and promotes an active and healthy lifestyle. Children who participate in team sports are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol or become obese. They also tend to get better grades. With all of those advantages, why shouldn’t you push?

A little encouragement may not be a bad thing. Far from a “push,” encouragement includes different techniques to draw your child out and perhaps open the door to interest. Here are some ways to open your child up to the possibility of playing a team sport:

  • Go to games and practices as observers: Children are frightened of the unknown. Getting them comfortable with the game atmosphere, team play and environment removes the fear of the unknown.
  • Play in your own backyard: No pressure, play for fun backyard games can reveal hidden talent and set the stage for more organized competitions in the future. Whether it’s baseball, soccer, basketball or football, kid team sports should be first and foremost fun.
  • Talk about it: It may not be a total lack of interest that stops your child from playing a team sport. They may simply be unsure. A few words and strategic questions can steer children the right way. For example, ask if any of your child’s friends play on a team. If so, would your child like to try, too? If you think your child might benefit from a specific sport, ask how the child feels about it. Discuss what your child likes and dislikes about the sport. Be positive and keep the focus on them, not about how proud you would be.

They’re In! Now What?

A recent study done by George Washington University associate professor Amanda Visek found a dramatic drop in the rates of children participating in team sports. Another study found that 70 percent who do play drop out by the age of 13. The top reason? Playing was no longer fun, and it was because of their parents. Parents couldn’t stop coaching, took over the experience and lived and died with the team’s wins and losses. It’s the duty of parents to encourage, support and keep it fun. Leave coaching to the coaches.

People With Down Syndrome Making a Difference

There was a time when people with Down syndrome lived out their lives in institutions away from their families and the general public. Fortunately, times are different now. Specialized care and advanced treatments mean that those born with Down syndrome lead full, active and happy lives. In fact, today people with Down syndrome  break down barriers and take on the world in surprising ways. Here are a few of their remarkable stories.

A Political First

Angela Bachiller lives in Valladolid, a city in central Spain. The now 32-year-old worked as an administrative assistant in the Social Welfare and Family offices for three years. She loves to travel and read. In 2013, Angela became the first person with Down syndrome to be elected to a city council. She hopes that her candidacy and election win will help change the perception people have about those with disabilities and open more doors of opportunity.

No Boundaries

In the spring of 2013, more than 2,100 students graduated from the Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) in Kentucky. Megan McCormick, one of the honor graduates, received an associate degree in education. Highly motivated and hard-working, Megan’s goal is to work with children as a teacher and mentor. Her accomplishments are impressive because Megan has Down syndrome. BCTC officials believe she is the first Down syndrome student to earn an associate degree with honors from a technical college.

Pablo Pineda, a successful actor in Spain, was the first Down syndrome student to earn a university degree in Europe. Pablo received the San Sebastian International Film Festival Silver Shell award for his film performance in “Yo Tambien,” where he played a university graduate with Down syndrome. He is the author of the book “The Challenge of Learning.” With a diploma in teaching and a bachelor’s in educational psychology, Pablo plans to retire from acting and teach.

In 2013, 15-year-old Elisha “Eli” Reimer became the first person  with Down syndrome to reach base camp on Mount Everest. Eli and his father trained together for a year to prepare for the two week 70-mile hike to the camp. The climb was not only a monumental accomplishment, but it also raised $85,000 in donations for the Elisha Foundation, a charitable organization created by Eli’s parents to help families with special needs children.

On the Screen

Actors with Down syndrome have starred in numerous television shows and films. One of the funniest is Lauren Potter who hilariously played Becky Jackson on “Glee.” Luke Zimmerman’s role as Tom Bowman in the series “The Secret Life of the American  Teenager’ led to other roles and a guest appearance on “Glee.”

Chris Burke’s endearing character on television’s “Life Goes On” led to parts in major motion pictures, including “Mona Lisa Smile.” Chris is a National Down Syndrome Society Goodwill Ambassador and travels the world to raise awareness.

Advances in medical treatment and a changing view of those with disabilities means that people with Down syndrome have the opportunity to take on any of the challenges the world has to offer.

Avoid the Nightmare: Become the Most Supportive Sports Parent You Can Be

As manager of his oldest daughter’s travel soccer team, Alex Perdikis has seen it all. He’s seen supportive parents who know how to keep losses in perspective and he’s seen the stuff of nightmares. If you’re a parent of a child who is active in sports, you know how easy it is to fall into the nightmare trap. Here are a few tips to make sure you don’t become the infamous “bad” sports parent.

Nightmares and Sports Don’t Mix

Former long-term coaches Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller conducted an informal survey of student athlete’s worst memories from their high school and youth sports days. The most common answer was “The ride home with my parents.” Most of these parents were not the typical screamers or second-guessers. Most of them thought they were making constructive comments and suggestions. The problem is, according to Brown that right after the game or competition is exactly the wrong time to talk about improving technique. Children need that time to regroup and distance themselves. It’s also likely that the coach already gave instructional feedback. The ride home from a sporting event should not become a child’s worst memory.

Make It Fun

Sports activities have so many positive benefits. Sports is a great way to learn problem-solving skills, learn to work well with others and develop a spirit of sportsmanship. Many of these positives are obliterated if parents lose focus. Young athletes get more out of their sporting activities if they think of them as fun. They don’t need the pressure that comes from overemphasis on winning. They take their cue from you. If you treat the child differently after a win than a loss, it sends a clear message that winning is more  important than doing their best.

Children also follow your example when it comes to the coaching staff. If you criticize coaching decisions, either at the game or at home, the child loses respect for the coach. Children should also see their parents root for the entire team, not just them individually.

It’s very easy for parents to self-identify through their children. Perhaps you had a promising athletic career that was stalled because of injury and you’d like nothing better than to see your child succeed where you fell short. Of course, you want what is best for your child’s future. The problem is that your goals may not be the same as your child’s. Don’t lose sight of your child’s individual wants and talents or assume they are the same as yours.

Be a Parent

Being a parent means supporting and teaching through example. Student athletes have coaches to teach them their game, but parents play a different role. Remaining confident and upbeat during games, avoiding criticism, displaying true sportsmanship, respecting authority and treating others, even those on opposing sides, with kindness is necessary if you want to become an ideal sports parent. Words aren’t enough. You have to be a shining example of acceptable behavior and decorum to teach your child the true life lessons that sports activities provide.

It’s More Than a Game to Alex Perdikis and the Rest of the Gang

Alex Perdikis, who played linebacker for the University of Richmond football team from 1993 to 1996, knows that college sports is made up of human stories. Stories of players and fans behaving badly get a lot of press, but there are just as many stories that prove the human spirit is alive and well. These are just a few of the heartwarming stories to come out of sports in recent years.

Competition, Rivalry and Human Compassion

College sports is full of age-old rivalries. Arguments between fans, players and team supporters can get heated. The football rivalry between Alabama and Auburn goes way back. Why then, was Alabama quarterback Blake Sims wearing a bracelet supporting Kayla Perry, a young Auburn student and fan, during the 2014 Iron Bowl?  Sims had heard about Perry’s diagnosis of a rare and potentially deadly disease called neuroblastoma. He wore the bracelet to support Perry’s fight to beat the disease and raise awareness.

David Ash was a promising young quarterback for Texas. Unfortunately, he suffered numerous concussions and decided to retire from football before sustaining permanent injuries. It wasn’t an easy decision for a talented young athlete to make, but he handled it philosophically, with a positive attitude. Ash made it a point to thank the many Oklahoma Sooner fans, arch rivals of Texas, who wished him well on his journey. Rivalries don’t mean a lot when it comes to compassion.

The Maryville football team was up 46 to nothing against St. Joseph Benton high school. Near the end of the game, Benton’s coach called a timeout and ran across the field to talk to Maryville’s coach. When play resumed, Matt Ziesel, a Benton team member with Down syndrome, came out to play running back. The quarterback handed Ziesel the ball and he ran 70 yards for a touchdown. Maryville won more than a game that day with their compassionate gift to a deserving young man. They won hearts as well.

Anthony, a young man who battled Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy, was a huge North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team fan. When players Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald heard about Anthony, they decided to treat the then 12-year-old to a day he’d never forget. Anthony was treated to a behind-the-scenes look at team facilities, met with the coach and players and had the time of his life.

Love Prevails

When Western Carolina sophomore Simms Hicks agreed to present the American flag honoring the troops during a presentation at halftime of the men’s basketball game, she had no idea what was in store. Her father, Major Jimmy Hicks was in the Marine Corps stationed in Afghanistan. She hadn’t seen him in months. After presenting the flag alongside officials and the team mascot, Simms started to walk back to her seat when the mascot removed the head of his costume, revealing his identity. There stood Simms’ father. Father and daughter embraced in an emotional  reunion.

Down Syndrome Network of Montgomery County: Empowerment and Advocacy

Children with Down syndrome are born with a medical diagnosis that will instantly create boundaries between themselves and much of the world. Their learning disabilities give them special needs while their slowed physical growth and characteristic features can make them prone to psychological and even physical abuse. The syndrome itself is the result of a chromosome abnormality that affects life expectancy through a higher chance of congenital heart disease, sleep apnea and epileptic seizures. Alzheimer’s type dementia and sensory disabilities are often present from birth.

While most children born with chronic illness only deal with a limited set of symptoms, those with Down syndrome are faced with a veritable locker full. This, together with their social challenges, means they are in particular need of an extreme, structured support system that teaches them how to integrate into the world on professional and social levels while learning to become their own advocates. The Down Syndrome Network of Montgomery County offers those affected with a comprehensive range of services and programs aimed to unlock the hidden or stifled abilities of those with Down syndrome.

Potential

For a person with Down syndrome, good physical and mental health is an imperative goal to work towards but an unlikely one to achieve without coexisting support to improve other parts of living. For this and several other reasons, it becomes even more crucial to deal practically with all elements that can, realistically, allow individuals to gain quality of life in every area possible. Research in the science, politics and sociology worlds has constructed a series of ever-growing tools that are remarkably helpful in achieving that kind of life but families affected by Down syndrome cannot use them if they are not exposed to them.

Advocacy tools include disabilities acts, assistive technology, early intervention, appropriate public education and individualized family service plans. If the rights of individuals with Down syndrome are not accessible, no other form of assistance can succeed. Without competent professionals to play their role, the affected family struggles to remain strong. The Down Syndrome Network of Montgomery County (DSNMC) builds and works towards providing in all these areas to offer resources to those in the Washington D.C. area.

Advocacy and Empowerment

From the moment parents learn that they are expecting a baby with Down syndrome, sadness and confusion tend to accompany all the joy that comes with the experience of pregnancy. Parents who are educated and supported early are better able to introduce their new baby into a calm, medically prepared and empowered home.

The DSNMC begins from the first diagnosis to work on every tier of need, ranging from special needs education to fun. The Washington D.C. area has a range of events for children, teens and adults with disabilities, creating space for social interactions and friendship-building in nonjudgmental atmospheres. Confidence building is the first step towards teaching self-advocacy, since self-worth and improved social skills are crucial components when facing intimidating scenarios. The DSNMC has a network of sleepover camps, therapeutic getaways and educational centers that build on the celebration of ability while teaching skills such as sensory integration and friendship. On a practical level, networks of legal and medical advocates, together with educators, help to complete the picture.

The Annual Buddy Walk

The sheer number of tools needed by people with Down syndrome and their families means fundraising is the crucial fuel that keeps affected families functioning on as many levels as possible. The DSNMC serves the broader Washington area, leaving it with an enormous number of families needing support.

The Annual Buddy Walk is the largest fundraising activity that helps the society to keep ticking. Nearly 100 percent of raised money is fed directly into the services and programs the DSNMC and National Down Syndrome Society provides. It also offers a wonderful opportunity to empower team members and individuals with Down syndrome by letting each team raise their own funds for the society. This not only creates a memorable annual celebration but also significant confidence-building and pride. Fundraisers who have not yet become integrated in a work environment learn lessons that will serve them long after the walk is over; not least of which is that they can, indeed, achieve great things.

Improving Lives Near Washington, D.C.

According to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, 95.4 percent of households give to charity. That’s a tremendous amount of charitable giving, but it always feels as though we could do more. Countless charities in the area need help consistently to keep doing the wonderful work that they do. Here are some highlights of a few charities in the Washington, D.C., area to consider.

The Darrell Green Youth Foundation

In 1988 Darrell Green and his wife, Jewell founded the Youth Life Foundation in Washington, D.C. Darrell is a Football Hall of Fame inductee and former player for the Washington Redskins. He and his wife founded the Youth Life Foundation to help kids in the D.C. area who had family problems or not enough food or clothing and who lacked hope in the light of their circumstances. He wanted to set up a safe place where kids could see that there was, indeed, hope for their future and that they could succeed. Now, communities across the country benefit from the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation.

The Down Syndrome Network of Montgomery County

Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder in which someone has an extra copy of all or part of the twenty-first chromosome. This extra genetic material causes a host of problems developmentally. The Down Syndrome Network of Montgomery County Maryland offers support to families of those who have the condition. Families and community members have access to information and education about the syndrome, as well as access to advocacy assistance.

St. James’ Children’s School

Established in 1993, the St. James’ Children’s School is a preschool owned by the St. James’ Episcopal Church. The school offers not only preschool and kindergarten classes, but also infant and toddler programs. The school curriculum includes music, Spanish lessons, Bible stories, and other educational lessons. Children are encouraged to learn about and to appreciate other cultures and religions, making the school a wellspring of community.

The Bobby Mitchell Golf Classic

For over twenty years, former Washington Redskins football player, Bobby Mitchell has hosted a Golf Classic to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. After a modest donation, ticket holders are able to watch their favorite sports celebrities from a variety of different sporting backgrounds play golf. Proceeds help the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to pay for research to stop this ailment, which is one of the largest causes of death for children. Spectators are able to take pictures with celebrities and enter contests and raffles, all for a great cause.

The next time that you have some extra time or some extra funds, consider one of these local charities. Some offer assistance on a national level, but the majority of the funding stays right here in our area. Whether you give your money, time or expertise, the local community will be appreciative of your efforts.

Career Opportunities for Basketball Lovers

Basketball is a lot of fun to watch and equally entertaining to play recreationally but, unless you are near seven-feet tall, chances are you won’t be able to make a career out of playing. Even the smallest players on the court, the guards, are usually well above six-feet tall. Just because you can’t be out on the court doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the sport, however. There is a lot more to basketball than just what you see on television or from your ringside seat, and with the right qualifications, there are plenty of career opportunities. Unless you plan on donning a mascot suit and entertaining the crowds, you will have to work towards your qualification, though. You might not be out on the court shooting hoops, but you will still be working in a field related to the sport.

Administrative Careers

You will find the same kind of administrative jobs in the basketball field as in any other business, as it takes a lot of behind the scenes work to keep the sport growing. Everything from lawyers, accountants, general managers and travel coordinators right down to security is needed. With the right qualifications and a healthy dose of passion, you’ll be sure to find something that matches your talents. Being an accountant or travel coordinator might not be as glamorous as being an NBA superstar, but there is the satisfaction of knowing that your job is vital to the success and well-being of the players.

Media Careers

Basketball fans love to watch the game, read about the game and learn more about their favorite players. Entering into a career in the media can make you the person that provides them with everything they want to know. There are plenty of media outlets in both broadcast and print that provide basketball coverage, and working in this area will allow you to put your knowledge and passion for the game to good use. The list of media careers in the basketball sector is almost too many to mention, but includes everything from directors, producers and editors to statisticians and more.

Sports Agent Careers

If you want to get up close and personal with the players and the game, becoming a sports agent might be just what you are looking for. You will need excellent negotiating skills and probably a background in marketing as well as communications if you want to work in this competitive career. If you are really passionate about the game, it is worth it, as you will be able to directly affect the careers of your clients and they could reach greater heights through your expertise.

Don’t Be Discouraged

The three fields listed here barely scratch the surface when it comes to careers in the basketball industry, but it proves that you can still be a part of the sport you love, no matter what your talents are. You might have to pay your dues and work your way up before you get to the big leagues. But if you are committed to the sport, you’re likely to enjoy every minute of it.

5 Tips for Becoming a Better Basketball Player

Dribbling down the court and taking a three-point shot can be a thrilling experience, especially if the shot goes in. But no one picks up the game overnight. Instead, those with real skills spend lots of time on the court practicing the fundamentals. As a beginner, it can seem like basketball success is a long way off. Here are five tips any player can use to improve their game.

Become a Spectator

It might be hard to believe but watching basketball can help a person improve. Seeing the mistakes and successes that others experience can be a real learning opportunity. After watching certain moves being made, it helps to head out to the court and try them out. They aren’t going to be perfect with the first attempt, but these types of moves will come more naturally over time. Watching games, whether on TV or at a local court, also gives a spectator an overview of the game. It is easy to see the whole court and all the players to find out how to successfully move without the ball.

Spend More Time With a Basketball in Hand

Dribble, dribble, dribble: New and experienced players can always benefit from carrying around and dribbling a ball. It helps to get a feel for how the ball moves and how it feels to bounce it around. Different surfaces are going to create a different bounce. The more comfortable a person feels with the basketball in hand, the better they will be able to move on the court while dribbling.

Move Closer When Shooting

Instead of busting out a shot at the three-point line, consider moving closer to the basket to shoot around. This helps a player get the right form and also instills confidence as more shots go in. Gradually move out and continue shooting. Just like dribbling, it is impossible to shoot too much while practicing.

Join a Game

Doing drills alone can be tiring and become boring. When an opportunity to play becomes available, players should jump at the chance. From a three on three game at lunch time to a full court scrimmage in the evening, getting in the game will help with the skills and the overall knowledge necessary to play the game. These games are the places to make mistakes and learn from them. At the same time, keep an eye on the other players to see how they handle the game.

Defend With the Body, Not the Feet

Defense is one of the most important parts of the game. Often overlooked, it isn’t something that gets a lot of attention. However, players looking to improve their overall game or even just their offense should consider intensifying their defense. This means avoiding depending on the hands to stop the ball but using the body to stop the player. Fast feet work a person into position to stop the ball and force a player to pass or take a shot.