National and State Youth Baseball Coaching Requirements: A State Case Study

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to determine the requirements placed on coaches by national and state youth baseball organizations. Administrators from five national youth baseball organizations and from five youth baseball leagues in Hawaii participated in the study (N = 61). A 12-item survey was used to determine the organizations’ requirements pertaining to coaches’ education, certification, experience, and professional growth. Results indicated no requirement by either the national or the Hawaii youth baseball organizations that coaches have a high school diploma. Furthermore, neither the national nor the state organizations required a national coaching certification. Only 6.98% of the national organizations and 11.11% of the Hawaii organizations required coaches to have experience as a player, while 4.65% of the national organizations and 7.41% of the Hawaii organizations required them to have prior coaching experience. Only 44.19% of the national organizations and 55.56% of the Hawaii leagues required background checks for coaches. Coaches’ attendance at coaching training seminars was required by 9.3% of the national and 11.11% of the Hawaii organizations. Clearly, youth baseball coaches in both national and state organizations are subjected to organizational requirements at minimal levels. Based on the results and on the existing literature, the authors recommend a model for certifying youth baseball (and other) coaches.

National and State Youth Baseball Coaching Requirements: A State Case Study

Through sports, youth coaches help parents and teachers develop the whole child or teenager in preparation for life. Sports are an important arena wherein coaches have the wonderful opportunity to guide and nurture the physical, mental, social, and emotional development of youth athletes. Coaching is of great value to society, according to Gilbert, Gilbert, and Trudel (2001), because there are millions of children and teenagers who “establish a segment of themselves in organized sports during a period of their lives that is critical to their personal development.” (p.29)Within the athletic arena, coaches assume the role of educator presenting youth with opportunities to learn and use both sports skills and life skills. But as Martens (2004) has argued, coaching is more than teaching, since “[c]oaches not only guide athletes in learning technical, tactical, and life skills, they also orchestrate and direct their lives in the performance of these skills” (p. vi)

The vast majority of youth programs in the United States rely on volunteers, notably parent-coaches (Wiersma & Sherman, 2005). Because of the volunteer nature of youth coaching, it is not surprising that coaches have various educational and athletic backgrounds (Martens, 2004). Most volunteer coaches receive only limited formal training or education in coaching to prepare them for their respective coaching endeavors (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2001; Gilbert et al., 2001; Gould, Krane, Giannini, & Hodge, 1990; Weiss & Hayashi, 1996). The majority of youth coaches nationally may be inadequately prepared to appropriately nurture children’s physical, mental, social, and emotional development. Research suggests that formal coaching education influences a coach’s ability to affect learning and performance in positive ways (Martens, 2004); coaching education is rarely mandatory (Clark, 2000), despite such findings. Furthermore, the available data describing standards that state and national sports organizations set for youth coaches are limited. The primary purpose of this study was, therefore, to determine these standards, or coaching requirements, in a sample of national youth baseball organizations as well as youth leagues in the state of Hawaii.

Methods

Every administrator (N = 61) at the five national youth baseball organizations and five statewide Hawaiian youth baseball organizations involved in the study completed a survey. These administrators included national directors, regional directors, and state directors, as well as the local presidents from the state leagues. The 12-item survey contained sections on (a) required certification, (b) required play and coaching experience, (c) required continuing professional education, and (d) educational background. Each survey question was designed to elicit a yes response (1) or a no response (2). The instrument’s intent was, first, to obtain from each administrator a description of any coaching certification that was required of or recommended for head baseball coaches by the organization (Questions 1–3). Next, the survey asked about experience head baseball coaches might be required to present, both as players and as coaches, and also whether they underwent any criminal background check (Questions 4–6). Then, the survey asked whether an organization required head baseball coaches to demonstrate professional growth through formal continuing education, and whether mandatory meetings of team parents were (Questions 7–10). Finally, the instrument surveyed the administrators about any education requirements established for head baseball coaches (Questions 11–12) (see Table 1). Frequency distributions and percentages quantifying the administrators’ responses were determined so that the five Hawaii youth baseball leagues could be compared and contrasted. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics.

Results

Table 1 and Table 2 present descriptive statistics. Concerning the required certification of coaches, results indicate that neither the surveyed national youth baseball organizations nor the surveyed state leagues required any formal certification of head baseball coaches. In addition, according to the administrators, only three national organizations (6.98%) required head coaches to pass CPR and first aid certification examinations before they could act as coaches (see Table 1). One local president of a Hawaii state league similarly required coaches to obtain CPR and first aid certification prior to the season (see Table 2).

Concerning play and coaching experience required of coaches by national and state youth baseball organizations, only 3–5% of the national organizations required their head coaches to have any playing experience or any earlier coaching experience in baseball prior to coaching. Similarly, only 7–11% of the surveyed administrators from Hawaii state leagues reported that league coaches were required to have experience playing or coaching baseball.

In addition, only 44.19% of the national organizations required background checks for head baseball coaches prior to their assignment as coaches. Hawaii league administrators were slightly more likely to require background checks (55.56%), with just over half reporting their organizations required background checks.

Table 1

Number & Percentage of National Organization Administrators’ Yes/No Responses to 12 Items

Requirement Little League (n = 9) PONY (n = 1) Babe Ruth/ Cal Ripken (n=4)
Yes No Yes No Yes
Certification of head coach mandated by national group 0 (0%) 9 (100%) 0 (0%) 21 (100%) 0 (0%)
Certification mandated by national group may be modified by administrator 9 (100%) 0 (0%) 18 (85.71%) 3 (14.29%) 4 (100%)
CPR/first aid certification of head coach 2 (22.22%) 7 (77.78%) 1 (4.76%) 20 (95.24%) 0 (0%)
Baseball playing experience of head coach 0 (0%) 9 (100%) 3 (14.29%) 18 (85.71%) 0 (0%)
Baseball coaching experience of head coach 0 (0%) 9 (100%) 2 (9.52%) 19 (90.48%) 0 (0%)
Criminal background check for head coach 7 (77.78%) 2 (22.22%) 4 (19.05%) 17 (80.95%) 0 (0%)
Annual examination over rules & regulations for head coach 0 (0%) 9 (100%) 1 (4.76%) 20 (95.24%) 0 (0%)
Academic preparation in coaching for head coach 0 (0%) 9 (100%) 4 (19.05%) 17 (80.95%) 0 (0%)
Seminars in coaching offered to head coach 9 (100%) 0 (0%) 14 (66.67%) 7 (33.33%) 2 (50%)
Mandatory team parent meetings 1 (11.11%) 8 (88.89%) 8 (38.10%) 13 (61.90%) 0 (0%)
High school diploma needed by head coach 0 (0%) 9 (100%) 0 (0%) 21 (100%) 0 (0%)
College degree needed by head coach 0 (0%) 9 (100%) 0 (0%) 21 (100%) 0 (0%)

Table 2

Number & Percentage of National and State Administrators’ Yes/No Responses to 12 Items

Requirement National (n = 34) Hawaii (n = 27)
Yes No Yes No
Certification of head coach mandated by national group 0 (0%) 43 (100%) 0 (0%) 27 (100%)
Certification mandated by national group may be modified by administrator 40 (93.02%) 3 (6.98%) 26 (96.30%) 1(3.70%)
CPR/first aid certification of head coach 3 (6.98%) 40 (93.02%) 1(3.70%) 26 (96.30%)
Baseball playing experience of head coach 3 (6.98%) 40 (93.02%) 3 (11.11%) 24 (88.89%)
Baseball coaching experience of head coach 2 (4.65%) 41 (95.35%) 2 (7.41%) 25 (92.59%)
Criminal background check for head coach 19 (44.19%) 24 (55.81%) 15 (55.56%) 12 (44.44%)
Annual examination over rules & regulations for head coach 1 (2.33%) 42 (97.67%) 0 (0%) 27 (100%)
Academic preparation in coaching for head coach 4 (9.30%) 39 (90.70%) 3 (11.11%) 24 (88.89%)
Seminars in coaching offered to head coach 31 (72.09%) 12 (27.91%) 20 (74.07%) 7 (25.93%)
Mandatory team parent meetings 9 (20.93%) 34 (79.07%) 6 (22.22%) 21 (77.78%)
High school diploma needed by head coach 0 (0%) 43 (100%) 0 (0%) 27 (100%)
College degree needed by head coach 0 (0%) 43 (100%) 0 (0%) 27 (100%)

Finally, concerning the professional growth or continuing education of youth baseball head coaches, only a small portion (9.30%) of the national organizations required head coaches to complete any coaching education prior to becoming a head coach, according to surveyed administrators. A similar 11.11% of the state organizations required coaching education for head coaches. While the organizations tended to lack continuing education requirements for head coaches, 80% of the studied organizations at the national level did offer seminars for their coaches (see Table 1), as did 74.07% of the Hawaii baseball leagues (see Table 2).

In addition, 3 of the 5 national organizations did not mandate team parent-coach meetings, and the remaining 2 indicated that only a small number of coaches in the organization held parent meetings at which head coaches addressed team goals and rules, player responsibilities and discipline, and parents’ and coaches’ behavior. The survey data from administrators of Hawaii leagues were similar, with only 22.22% mandating or even offering a limited number of team parent meetings.

Discussion

The results of this study are consistent with the majority of published work, although they do challenge a few earlier findings. Concerning certification, for example, our survey findings support the literature, with no contradictory results obtained: The national organizations and Hawaii organizations require no formal certification of coaches. The present findings furthermore show that the national administrators, collectively, joined the Hawaii local presidents in reporting that the organization or league they represented had autonomy to modify certification requirements. (Nevertheless, according to this study’s results, neither national nor Hawaii youth baseball administrators have created certification requirements for their coaches.)

Findings of the present study diverged from those in the literature, however, in terms of required CPR and first aid certification of coaches. According to earlier published research, no national organization requires CPR and first aid training for coaches. Our survey findings identified three administrators (from the Little League and PONY organizations) who said they required head baseball coaches to become CPR and first aid–certified; in addition, one local president in a Hawaii organization required coaches to obtain such certification prior to the season. This raises a meaningful question: Given that the present study found national and Hawaii administrators alike to affirm their autonomy to modify the certification requirements applied to coaches, why did only four of them deem CPR and first aid certification important enough to mandate?

Concerning the experience requirements established for head coaches, the present results might be described as disturbing. Only a very small percentage (see Tables 1 and 2) of national administrators (6.98%) and Hawaii league local presidents (11.11%) said their organizations required coaches to have played baseball in high school. While play experience does not guarantee that a coach can motivate each player to psychomotor, cognitive, and social growth, coaches who played in high school seem likelier than coaches lacking that background to offer the relevant experiences (and strong knowledge base) that benefit teams. DeRenne’s discussion (1993) of four “I’s” suggests goals for the volunteer parent-coach, all of which are built on the kind of information a former player should possess. According to DeRenne, team members must be informed, instructed, and inspired by the coach if coaching is to be successful; to accomplish these tasks requires good information, for which even the best intentions are no substitute (1993).

Even more disturbing than organizations’ lack of requirements about coaches’ experience as players is their lack of standards concerning prior coaching experience. An astoundingly low 4.56% of national administrators and 7.41% of Hawaii administrators (see Table 1 and Table 2) required their head coaches to have prior baseball coaching experience. First-year head coaches who are appointed or elected “team leader” despite having no athletics background may find the road difficult to navigate; on the other hand, the first-year head coach who is an experienced assistant coach steers clear of many difficulties. It should be remembered that on-the-job training of coaches comes at the expense of players. DeRenne (1993) has also addressed the importance of experience as well as information, writing that knowledge is the sum of information plus experience, and noting that, “[W]ith [k]nowledge comes AWARENESS. If you have good information, practical experience, and have gained some knowledge, you are dwelling more on what can go right and less on what can go wrong” (p. 11)

The present study’s findings furthermore diverged from the literature in terms of background checks for prospective coaches. According to one article on Little League Baseball, the organizations requires of all its coaches, volunteers, or other persons who may regularly contact Little League athletes to be cleared by a sex offender background check (“Criminal and Sex Offender Registry,” 2005). The present findings, however, showed only 77.78% of Little League administrators to require criminal background checks and substance abuse screenings for all prospective coaches. The Little League organization might look to its brother organization, the Police Activities League, or PAL, for a model of responsible administration: PAL demands 100% compliance with its background check policy concerning coaches.

In terms of professional growth or continuing education requirements for youth baseball coaches, the present findings indicate that national and Hawaii organizations send mixed messages to coaching volunteers. There was no annual rules-and-regulations examination for coaches in 97.67% of national organizations and in 100% of Hawaii organizations, according to our findings. Similarly, 90.70% of national organizations and 88.89% of Hawaii organizations did not mandate any coaching seminars or other training sessions, although, interestingly, they did tend to offer coaches optional seminars, clinics, or the like, in hopes of fostering professional growth (72.09% of national organizations, 74.07% of Hawaii organizations).

Finally, concerning coaches’ educational backgrounds, the present study found not one national or Hawaii league administrator who said an organization required head baseball coaches to hold a high school diploma or college degree. While a completed formal education does not in itself guarantee coaching success, diplomas do indicate some degree of responsibility and maturity, qualities that are necessary in those who lead young athletes.

Recommendations

The research findings prompt a strong suggestion to national and state youth baseball organizations that they adopt coaching certification as policy. Ideally, any prospective head coach in any national or state organization would be required to meet uniform certification criteria. Specific certification criteria should include (a) mandatory attendance to coaching training or seminars leading to successful completion of an examination; (b) passing an examination/certification in CPR and first aid; (c) mandatory preseason parent-coach team meetings, (d) high school playing experience, (e) high school diploma; (d) criminal background check extending to substance abuse, as well; (e) high school playing experience; and (f) experience as an assistant baseball coach or head coach in another sport.

Furthermore, it is recommended that the coaches be required to conduct mandatory pre-season meetings with team parents and that the youth baseball organizations each appoint a supervisor responsible to oversee and unify youth baseball policies based on guidelines from the National Alliance of Youth Sports (NAYS, 2005) recommendations. Finally, Wiersma and Sherman’s (2005) eight recommendations for preparing youth sports coaches also merit adoption. These researchers called for NASPE standards to be incorporated into “content that encompasses issues specific to communities” They also advocated league programs that foster mentoring between experienced and new coaches; called for consistency across organizations in terms of requirements for coaches’ preparation; and recommended board members’ greater presence at practices and games. Wiersma and Sherman also point to the benefits of season-long and even year-round educational opportunities for coaches, and also of university-community collaboration to devise and implement sound programs and policies. They argue that the content of coaching educational programs should suit the age, gender, and athletic level of an organization’s players. Finally, Wiersma and Sherman suggest, and the present researchers agree, that the purview of conduct codes for players’ parents should be limited to behavior that is observable, and that codes should accommodate “objective enforcement”

References

American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness & Committee on School Health. (2001, June). Organized sports for children and preadolescents. Pediatrics, 107(6), 1459–1462. Retrieved March 28, 2008, from http:// aappolicy. aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;107/6/1459

National Alliance for Youth Sports. (n.d.) Recommendations for communities. Retrieved January 1, 2006, from http://www.nays.org/nays_community_recommendations.pdf

Clark, M. A. (2000). Who’s coaching the coaches? In J. R. Gerdy (Ed.) Sport in school: The future of an institution (pp. 55-65). New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

Criminal and sex offender registry search tool available to local Little Leagues (2005). Little League Baseball, Updated January 7, 2005.

DeRenne, C., & House, T. (1993). Play ball: The new baseball basics for youth coaches, parents, and kids. Minneapolis, MN: West.

Gilbert, G., Gilbert, J., & Trudel, P. (2001). Coaching strategies for youth sports. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 72(5), 41–46.

Gould, D., Krane, V., Giannini, J., & Hodge, K. (1990). Educational needs of elite U.S. national team, Pan American, and Olympic coaches. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 9, 332–344.

Martens, R. (2004). Successful coaching. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Martens, R., Flannery, T., & Roetert, P. (2003). The future of coaching education in America. Retrieved September 15, 2004, from http://www.nfhs.org/cep/articles/futurecoaching.htm

National Association for Sport and Physical Education. (1995). National standards for athletic coaches. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.

Weiss M., & Hayashi, C. (1996). The United States. In P. DeKnop, L. M. Engstrom, B. Skirstad, & R. Weiss (Eds.), Worldwide trends in youth sport (pp. 43–57). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Wiersma, L., & Sherman, C. (2005). Volunteer youth sport coaches’ perspectives of coaching education/certification and parental codes of conduct. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 76, 324–338.

Author’s Note: Correspondence for this article should be sent to Coop DeRenne,
Associate Professor, University of Hawaii, KLS Department, 1337 Lower Campus Rd.
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822. Email: Coop@Hawaii.edu.

Sport Management Field Experiences: The Impact of the Federal Labor Standards Act on Internships

Abstract

This paper examines the importance of the internship experience in sport management curriculums and how field experiences are affected by the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The academic discipline of sport management relies heavily on internships to assist students with the application of classroom theory in professional environments, and these internships are unpaid. The FLSA does not speak specifically to unpaid internships. A review of court cases dealing with professional sport organizations suggests that adjustments need to be made to the FLSA or to sport management curriculums in order to protect student interns from unfair labor practices.

Sport Management Field Experiences: The Impact of the Federal Labor Standards Act on Internships

Business and education departments in colleges and universities across the globe have embraced the growing presence of professional and recreational sports and have implemented curriculums in the field of sport management. As the field of sport management continues to grow in the business world, the demand for qualified professionals continues to expand. According to Case (2007), over 200 graduate and undergraduate programs exist in the field of sport management, and the number of sport management programs has continued to grow at a rapid pace. In the past 2 years the number of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs in sport management has grown to a total of 309 (Scremin, 2007).

Although a key component of preparing sport management students for the real world is their progression through a sport management–specific curriculum, more research is beginning to focus on the importance of field experiences in the preparatory process (Cunningham & Sagas, 2004). A field experience can also be known as an internship, practicum, or mentorship, depending on the details of the experience and the preferences of the educational program. The field experience serves as an integral part of sport management programs (Ross & Beggs, 2007), providing an opportunity for learning that is not available in the classroom. Challenging internships that allow the student to play an active role in an organization enhance the educational value of the experience to the student (Cunningham, Sagas, Dixon, Kent, & Turner, 2005). Through them, students have the opportunity to acquire new skills while applying theories learned in the classroom. A student’s confidence will also grow when there is a sense of serving the organization in a positive manner.

While the field of sport management offers lucrative positions that may initially interest students in the industry, the reality is that they must start a sport management career at the ground level. Most of the industry positions for sport management interns are unpaid (Case, 2007). Although the primary objective of a field experience is for the student to apply theories learned in the classroom in a professional atmosphere, some educators feel that students are being taken advantage of in non-wage situations (Cunningham & Sagas, 2004). Some professional sport organizations have come under direct fire concerning their overreliance on unpaid interns. However, the labor laws in the United States do not have clear language dealing with unpaid internships.

The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the importance of field experiences in the sport management curriculum by evaluating current curricular trends at leading universities within the sport management discipline. Additionally, labor laws associated with unpaid internships and specific court cases dealing with professional sport organizations and interns will be presented.

Sport Management Program Review Council

As the sport management discipline caught hold and the academic community recognized sport management as a viable area of study, education professionals decided that curricular guidelines were needed (SMPRC, 2000). In 1987, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) developed a set of guidelines for sport management programs. Less than 2 years later, NASPE organized a task force including members of both NASPE and the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM) to continue to develop curricular guidelines. This task force is known as the Sport Management Curriculum Review Council (SMPRC). The SMPRC created a comprehensive set of guidelines that included required and recommended areas of content. Specific guidelines were made for baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral sport management degree programs. Although the initial guidelines were accepted by the majority of schools offering sport management programs, revisions to the original guidelines were made in 1999. Each SMPRC requirement for degree programs is categorized under standard areas such as “Governance in Sport” or “Marketing” (SMPRC, 2000, pp. 6, 9). For a bachelor’s degree program, the final SMPRC standard is “Field Experience in Sport Management.” The SMPRC (2000) says of the field experience that

An undergraduate student will benefit from culminating in-depth practical experience(s) before entering the sport industry. These experiences help the student bridge the gap between classroom learning and practical application in sport settings. They allow students to explore career options, develop management skills, and gain a greater understanding of the total operation of sports organizations. (p. 9)

The SMPRC requires that sport management programs must have their undergraduate students engage in a field experience.

The SMPRC has similar requirements at both the master’s and doctoral levels (SMPRC, 2000). The premise for the master’s level changes slightly, taking into account that the graduate student may already have experience working in sport management. The required further experience should be geared toward enhancing the student’s network and increasing the likelihood of job placement upon degree completion, according to the SMPRC (2000). The focus changes again at the doctoral level. The SMPRC identifies two focus paths for student internships. One is for those doctoral students who plan to teach at the college level. The internship for such students should focus on gaining experience in an educational setting, with possible tasks including teaching lower level sport management classes, conducting research, or providing supervision to undergraduate interns. The second focus path is for doctoral students who plan on being practitioners of sport management. The internship for these students should include more independent work in the industry than is demanded during undergraduate or master’s degree internships.

Curriculum Approval and Internship Requirements

Even though sport management is a growing discipline in academia, there is still a fundamental inconsistency in the programs across the country. An ongoing debate exists concerning the placement of the sport management program within an academic department. Some sport management programs are found in business departments (Overton, 2004), while others are located in physical education departments. Wherever a sport management program may be housed, its approval by the SMPRC is solely based on whether it meets curricular standards (SMPRC, 2000). Currently, 85 programs are approved by the SMPRC (NASSM, 2007), comprising only 27.5% of sport management programs in the United States. According to a study done by Scremin (2007), 22% of undergraduate sport management programs have received approval (n = 41), 24% of master’s degree programs have received approval (n = 26), and 21 % of doctoral programs have received approval (n = 3). The difference between NASSM’s and Scremin’s results (85 approved, 70 approved) illustrates that 15 additional programs have been approved by the SMPRC since July 2007.

Although the number of approved programs is only a small portion of the total number of programs, this does not seem related to a lack of internships or field experiences within the programs. Nearly 77% of sport management programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels have some type of internship requirement (Scremin, 2007). Scremin reported that 90% of programs at the bachelor’s level require an internship (n = 161), 65% of those at the master’s level require an internship (n = 70), and 43% at the doctoral level require an internship (n = 6). The high percentages at the bachelor’s and master’s levels represent a strong commitment to internships for both undergraduate and graduate students.

Labor Concerns and Federal Regulations

A widely debated aspect of the sport management field experience generally is compensation for student work (Foster & Moorman, 2001). Compensation is typically in the form either of academic credit or monetary wages. In academia, credit hours are usually awarded based on the number of hours required by the internship. The SMPRC requires internships to be at least 400 hours (SMPRC, 2000), for which the student usually receives at least 12 hours of academic credit. Financial compensation for field experiences is of growing concern to both universities and students, however. Most internships available in the sport industry do not offer monetary compensation to the student, although increasing debate surrounds this issue in the sport management field (Foster & Moorman, 2001). A number of professional organizations, specifically professional baseball franchises, rely on interns to be able to operate each season. The majority of these interns are unpaid, yet the franchises would not be able to operate without the interns. The question becomes not only whether such a practice is ethical, but also is it legal according to federal labor regulations?

In 1938, the federal government enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in order to establish a wage floor and protect the general public from the practice of cheap labor (FLSA Overview, 2007). At that time, the United States Congress felt that hourly workers had no protection or bargaining power vis-à-vis their employers. Without bargaining power, workers had no choice but to accept the substandard wages offered by employers, just to survive. The government felt the wages were so low that an acceptable way of living was not possible. Aside from implementing a minimum wage, the FLSA also addressed issues of overtime compensation, employee recordkeeping, and child labor.

The FLSA protects employees who work in both the public and private sectors (FLSA Overview, 2007). Currently, all companies that engage in interstate commerce and surpass $500,000 in annual sales must comply with the FLSA. (The FLSA also governs certain other companies regardless of annual revenue, including medical facilities, schools, colleges and universities, and all government agencies.) Thus most professional sport organizations and franchises are required to comply with the FLSA.

Federal Exemptions

Some sport organizations, however, have been successful in receiving exemptions from the FLSA. Under a provision of the FLSA, “seasonal and recreational establishments” can be granted an exemption upon approval (FLSA Exemption, 2007). In order to receive an exemption, the organization must satisfy half of a two-part test for seasonal or recreational character. The first part of the test requires the organization to demonstrate that it does not operate for more than 7 months in any calendar year. It is difficult for professional sport organizations to meet this requirement. The second part of the test, the seasonal receipts test, requires that an establishment illustrate that its average income for any 6 months of the previous year did not exceed one third of the average receipts for the other 6 months. This is also a difficult standard for any sport organization to meet.

FLSA Employment Classifications

Although some sport organizations do receive exemptions through the seasonal and recreational establishments clause, others who have not been exempted have found advantage in the FLSA’s lack of clarity about internships and other field experiences (FLSA Employment Status, 2007). Section 14(a) of the FLSA, for example, specifies several types of employees not protected under the act and allows lesser compensation in their cases; while interns are not among these specified employee groups, so-called learners, student-learners, and apprentices are specified in Section 14(a). The FLSA defines a learner as

[a] worker who is being trained for an occupation, which is not customarily recognized as an apprenticeable trade, for which skill, dexterity and judgment must be learned and who, when initially employed, produces little or nothing of value. Except in extraordinary circumstances, an employee cannot be considered a “learner” once he/she has acquired a total of 240 hours of job-related and/or vocational training with the same or other employer(s) or training facility(ies) during the past three years. An individual qualifying as a “learner” may only be trained in two qualifying occupations. (¶ 2)

The internship requirements of the SMPRC call for an experience of at least 400 hours (SMPRC, 2000), which exceeds the cutoff of 240 hours for learner status.

Although most sport management students would not fit the learner classification throughout a field experience, the student-learner category might seem potentially applicable (FLSA Employment Status, 2007). The FLSA defines a student-learner as

[a] student who is at least sixteen years of age, or at least eighteen years of age if employed in an occupation which the Secretary has declared to be particularly hazardous, who is receiving instruction in an accredited school, college or university and who is employed on a part-time basis, pursuant to a “bona fide vocational training program” as defined in subpart C of this part. (¶ 3)

However, the SMPRC guidelines (2000) define internships as a “full-time work experience in the sport industry (40 hours/week) that are [sic] offered for academic credit.” Therefore, if a sport management intern is enrolled in a program that has been approved by the SMPRC, that intern cannot be counted a student learner, either. The FLSA itself states that apprenticeships are not regulated by the provisions of the act (FLSA Employment Status, 2007). The FLSA defines an apprentice as

[a] worker, at least sixteen years of age unless a higher minimum age standard is otherwise fixed by law, who is employed to learn a skilled trade through a registered apprenticeship program. Training is provided through structured on-the-job training combined with supplemental related theoretical and technical instruction. This term excludes pre-apprentices, trainees, learners, and student-learners. (¶ 4)

Initially, this definition might seem to approximate the SMPRC’s description of the internship, especially if a program has received the council’s approved. Sport management students should receive on-the-job training that draws on classroom theories and provides technical experience. However, the FLSA goes on to limit apprenticeable occupations to those requiring a minimum of 2,000 hours of on-the-job experience. It is difficult to imagine that the sport management student in a 400-hour internship can legally be considered an apprentice for whom below-minimum wages are permitted—even should part of his or her compensation be academic credit.

Case Law Concerning Internships

While the FLSA does not identify the work arrangements typical of most sport management internships as the kind that can be unpaid or compensated below minimum wage, the courts nevertheless have sided with professional sport organizations in certain instances when such companies have sought exemptions. Professional baseball organizations have done particularly well in cases involving the seasonal or recreational establishment exemption.

The first court case involved the Sarasota White Sox, a minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, and Ronald R. Jeffery, a groundskeeper employed by the team (Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 1995). Jeffery had worked for the Sarasota White Sox for a number of years and sought overtime wages for overtime work performed since the beginning of his employment. In light of the team’s schedule, he had put in more than 40 hours weekly on several occasions, receiving the same compensation for those weeks as for others. The team claimed that the FLSA’s seasonal or recreational establishment clause exempted it from overtime wage requirements, and the court ruled in its favor (Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 1995). The Sarasota White Sox passed both tests for the exemption. In the previous 5 seasons of its existence, the team made over 99% of its revenues during the 6-month period March through August. In addition, the club participated in a 6-month season only, surviving the 7-month test also posed by the clause. Therefore, the Sarasota White Sox received the exemption and were not required to pay overtime wages or adhere to any other stipulation of the FLSA.

Two additional cases involving Major League Baseball clubs also centered on the seasonal or recreational establishment exemption in the FLSA. The first case involved Adams, the plaintiff, and the Detroit Tigers, Inc., operating company of the Detroit Tigers. The plaintiff had been a bat boy for the team and was seeking compensation representing overtime pay for his work exceeding 40 hours per week (Adams v. Detroit Tigers, Inc., 1997). The Detroit Tigers responded as the Sarasota White Sox had, claiming exemption from the FLSA. The court recognized that the Detroit Tigers organization operated on a yearly basis, yet it also determined that Tiger Stadium operated on a 7-month schedule only, making the operation of the venue seasonal. The Tigers won the case and their exemption remained intact.

The second case in Major League Baseball was brought by maintenance workers. Robert Bridewell, Stanley McAlpin, Daisy Pearl, Melville Walker, and Eddie Rogers filed a suit seeking overtime compensation from their employer, the Cincinnati Reds, for the 1990–93 seasons (Bridewell et al. v. Cincinnati Reds, 1998). The plaintiffs claimed they were owed overtime wages by ruling of the FLSA. Unlike the Detroit Tigers (or the Sarasota White Sox), the Cincinnati Reds struggled to justify their perceived exemption from the FLSA. Initially, the district court found in favor of the team because its competitive season lasted only 7 months. An appellate court, however, found for the maintenance workers because the Cincinnati Reds employed at least 120 employees throughout each month of the year. According to the higher court, the Cincinnati Reds were not exempted from FLSA regulations; the maintenance workers received overtime wages for the 1990–93 seasons.

Conclusions

In terms of education, field experiences are essential to the preparation of sport management students for successful careers. As research has indicated, students who complete meaningful internship assignments have the opportunity to gain skills while applying the theories they have mastered within their academic curricula. In order to ensure that sport management students continue to enjoy this opportunity, internship supervisors and sport industry professionals need to establish specific guidelines governing field experiences. A possible solution would be for the SMPRC or other governing council to establish a set of regulations concerning student internships. Although some universities have already established guidelines for field experiences, having a set of universal standards may improve the experience for all of those involved.

The biggest problem affecting sport management internships has to be the increasingly high percentage of unpaid internships. Thousands of sport management students work tirelessly for professional sport organizations across the country. The business of sports is booming, but interns’ compensation does not reflect the boom. Since the Federal Labor Standards Act does not address this problem fully, modifications to the current legislation may be in order. Many sport organizations rely on interns to maintain the daily operations of the team. An example is the very common sport industry position of ticket seller. Teams cannot survive without ticket sales, but still today’s FLSA regulations—in particular its seasonal or recreational establishment clause—leaves interns without options. The federal government may want to reassess the tests used to justify the exemption of teams based on their seasonal nature.

The legal cases cited here did not involve sport management interns, but the general themes of the cases illustrate how the Federal Labor Standards Act affects student internships. Currently, most professional sport organizations operate with the exemption in hand, allowing the work of interns and some other employees to be under-compensated. Under the present conditions, then, sport management students need to familiarize themselves well with any position under consideration. They must also grasp the idea that they will very likely work for less than the minimum wage.

As the academic discipline of sport management continues to grow, improvements in curriculum design and field experience programs will certainly occur. In order to ensure that the ultimate goal, education, remains at the forefront of such improvements, students, professors, and sport industry professionals must continue to work together with a single mission. Ultimately, the field experiences required in most sport management programs have a largely positive impact on all of those involved. Changes in some current practices, along with some additions to the Fair Labor Standards Act, will assist the field of sport management as it moves forward.

References

Adams v. Detroit Tigers, Inc., 961 F. Supp. 176 (E.D. Mich. 1997).

Bridewell et al. v. Cincinnati Reds, 155 F.3d 828, 830 (6th Cir. 1998).

Case, R. (2007). Sport management internships can open the door to a student’s future. Virginia Journal, 29(1), 43–44.

Cunningham, G., & Sagas, M. (2004). Work experiences, occupational commitment, and intent to enter the sport management profession. Physical Educator, 61(3), 146–156.

Cunningham. G., Sagas, M., Dixon. M., Kent. A., & Turner, B. (2005). Anticipated career satisfaction, affective occupational commitment, and intention to enter the sport management profession. Journal of Sport Management, 19(1), 43–57.

FLSA Employment Status. Retrieved November 20, 2007, from http://www.dol.gov/dol/allcfr/ESA/Title_29/ Part_520/29CFR520.201.htm

FLSA Exemption. Retrieved November 20, 2007, from http://www.dol.gov/esa/regs/compliance/ whd/whdfs18.htm

FLSA Overview. Retrieved November 20, 2007, from http://www.dol.gov/esa/whd/flsa/

Foster, S., & Moorman, A. (2001). Gross v. Family Services Inc.: The internship as a special relationship in creating negligence liability. Journal of Legal Aspects of Sport, 11, 245–267.

Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 594 (11th Cir. 1995).

NASSM sport management programs: United States. Retrieved November 20, 2007, from http://www.nassm.com/InfoAbout/SportMgmtPrograms/United_States

Overton, R. (2004). Hiring and supervising an athletic department intern. Coach & Athletic Director, 73(9), 76–79.

Ross, C., & Beggs, B. (2007). Campus recreational sports internships: A comparison of student and employer perspectives. Recreational Sports Journal, 31(1), 3–13.

Scremin, G. (2007). The secret shopper report. Unpublished manuscript, United States Sports Academy, Daphne, Alabama.

Sport Management Review Program Review Council. (2000). Sport management program standards and review protocol. Reston, VA: National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

The Impact of the HIPAA Privacy Rule on Collegiate Sport Professionals

Abstract

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted on August 21, 1996. Its fundamental purpose was to improve both the portability and the continuity of health insurance coverage. Title II of the act, intended to reduce paperwork, contained a clause called the Privacy Rule. The Privacy Rule is responsible for much confusion and controversy, particularly in collegiate sport settings. This paper identifies issues with the HIPAA Privacy Rule and suggests methods with which collegiate sport professionals can deal with those issues.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted on August 21, 1996, by the 104th U.S. Congress as Public Law 104-191 (29 U.S.C. §18). The act amended both the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA [29 U.S.C.§1182(a)(1)], and the Public Health Service Act [42 U.S.C.§ 6(a)]. Its main purpose was to improve both the portability and continuity of health insurance coverage for workers and their families, especially as individuals changed employers. Title II of the act was intended to reduce paperwork—making it easier to detect and prosecute fraud and abuse—and to streamline industry inefficiencies (Office of Civil Rights, 2003). However, one specific clause in title II part C, titled “Administrative Simplification,” has had implications beyond the original intent of the act. This clause is referred to as the Privacy Rule; it was effective on October 15, 2002, and is responsible for much confusion and widespread controversy (Kuczynski & Gibbs-Whalberg, 2005), especially in collegiate sport settings.

“Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information” is the Privacy Rule (45 CFR parts 160 and 164). The Privacy Rule implements the privacy requirements of the Administrative Simplification subtitle of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. The Privacy Rule was added to the legislation at the request of the insurance industry. It was intended to be a confidentiality provision—controlling the use and disclosure of health information—by establishing for the first time a set of national standards for the protection of personal health information. Before the enactment of this act, an individual’s health information was readily available and able to be shared among insurance companies. The resulting effect of this ethically questionable, yet legal, sharing of health information was across-the-board rejections of many persons who requested, and often needed, health insurance.

The Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for the enforcement and implementation of HIPAA. Being a federal agency, its power is far-reaching and at times intimidating. The passage of HIPAA and more specifically of the Privacy Rule has had an immediate impact on sporting organizations and personnel, especially with the normative method by which injuries are reported and information concerning athletes is released. The challenge facing sport professionals is determining if HIPAA applies to them, and if it does, establishing protocol for performing their duties adequately while being in compliance with the federal regulations. This paper will identify issues with the HIPAA Privacy Rule and suggest methods with which sport professionals can cope with these issues.

Operational Definitions

Personal health information is defined by HIPAA as individually identifiable health information. This includes any demographic or personally identifiable data relating to physical or mental health conditions, as well as information relating to the provision of health care and payment; however, patient information that is redacted for identifiable information is not subject to HIPAA guidelines (Jones, 2003). The Privacy Rule (also known as “Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information”) is in title 45 of the Code of Federal Regulations, part 160 and subparts A and E of part 164. The full text of the Privacy Rule can be found at the HIPAA privacy website of the Office for Civil Rights, http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/hipaa.

The Privacy Rule specifies that all covered entities follow five steps to ensure the privacy of patients’ health information (Dolan, 2003):

  1. Notify patients about their rights and inform them of how their information will be used.
  2. Adopt and implement privacy procedures.
  3. Train employees on privacy procedures.
  4. Designate an individual to be responsible for ensuring that privacy procedures are adopted and followed.
  5. Ensure that patient records containing individual identifiable health information are secure.

Some of the problems encountered from the Privacy Rule are best reflected in the following two questions: What constitutes a covered entity, and how does HIPAA interact with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) in the collegiate sport setting? In addition, the Privacy Rule also affects how information about an athlete’s injury can be provided to the media as well as to coaches and athletic administrators (Wyatt & Carden, 2003).

Covered Entities

The Administrative Simplification standards adopted by the Department of Health and Human Services under HIPAA apply to any entity that is a health-care provider that conducts certain transactions in electronic form; or is a health-care clearinghouse; or is a health plan. An entity that is one (or more) of these types of entities is referred to as a “covered entity” in the Administrative Simplification regulations found at http://www.cms.hhs.gov/HIPAAGenInfo/06_AreYouaCoveredEntity.asp. Covered entities are expected to adhere to the policies of the Privacy Rule. Any organization that bills for medical services or transmits personal health information electronically will fall under the guidelines of the Privacy Rule.

A college, university, or high school, then, is not automatically a covered entity simply because it has an athletic trainer on staff. Only if the athletic trainer bills the student-athlete or the student-athlete’s insurance plan for outside treatment may the institution become a covered entity. Further, a physician who bills, transmits claims to a health plan, or receives payments through some type of electronic form is considered a covered entity under HIPAA regulations (Magee, Almekenders, & Taft, 2003). Moreover, hybrid entities exist: organizations including some part that is a covered entity and another part that is not. This typically transpires in a university setting in which the student medical and health centers are covered entities, but the rest of the departments are not. HIPAA regulations allow an institution to designate which components are involved and which individuals are covered within the respective components. This allows the institution to place HIPAA requirements on a specific category of persons it has defined as its health-covered components (Hill, 2003).

Questions also have arisen about whether non-covered entities that interact and share information with covered entities consequently become covered. Though the distinction is a bit murky, the answer seems to be no. Information communicated from a covered entity to a non-covered entity is no longer subject to the Privacy Rule, and the non-covered entity does not change its status (Office of Civil Rights, 2003).

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the regulation of HIPAA, has established the following website with information about the law along with a tool that can be used to see what qualifies as a covered entity: www.cms.hhs.gov/hipaa/hipaa2/support/tools/decisionsupport/default.asp. Additional online resources are available from HHS that provide a general overview and an explanation of individual rights; see the website www.hhs.gov/ocr/hipaa/consumer_rights.pdf.

HIPAA and FERPA

The interaction of HIPAA’s Privacy Rule with the FERPA adds to the confusion surrounding HIPAA. FERPA applies to all schools receiving federal funding. The intent of the act is to allow parents access to information about their children, while safeguarding information from release to other parties. However, the act does allow for information to be released, without consent, to school officials who have a legitimate educational interest in the student (e.g., faculty advisors, registrars). Exempted from the definition are education records, as those are defined in and covered by FERPA, and also treatment records of students 18 years of age or older that are made and maintained by the student’s treating physician or other medical professional and are available only to that physician or professional. Under HIPAA, protected health information excludes individually identifiable health information in education records that is covered by FERPA (Windley & Walueff, 2005). It appears that FERPA’s application takes precedence over HIPAA (Pitz, 2003).

HIPAA and the Athlete

Within sport, it has been standard practice for information about players’ injuries to be communicated to a wide range of individuals, from physicians and athletic trainers to coaches, school administrators, and even the media. The biggest concern for many sport organizations has been how the privacy act will affect these procedures. Professional teams have feared that athletes may withhold injury information before signing contracts (Jenkins, 2003). Both professional and college teams are unsure if information can be provided to trainers and coaches by team physicians. Another major concern for both types of teams is what, if any, information can be provided to the media (Elmore, 2002), as it disseminates information rapidly and readily to the populace as a whole.

For professional teams, health and injury information is considered criteria for employment, because of the nature of the job. Therefore, an injured athlete would not be able legally to withhold injury information from a team to whom he or she is contractually obliged. This also means that health and treatment information could be shared with coaches and team owners (Magee, Almekinders, & Taft, 2003).

Depending upon the status of a team physician for college teams, there are different stipulations about what information can be shared. Some team physicians conduct part of their practice through the student health center. In this case, the physician falls under the guidelines of FERPA and should be allowed to share information with coaches and athletic trainers. A physician not employed by a university-run health center will be subject to the HIPAA guidelines. In this case it is possible that, in order for any information to be released to athletic trainers, an authorization form would need to be signed. An exception to HIPAA exists that specifically states that information can be released to another provider for treatment purposes. What is unclear, however, is whether or not a trainer is considered a provider under HIPAA guidelines (Hill, 2003).

For coaches and other school administrators, an authorization would need to be provided before this information could be shared. Another concern is on-field evaluations information. Can this be shared with the necessary parties? The answer, it seems, is that these evaluations would fall under the category of emergency evaluations, for which prior authorization is unnecessary.

Finally, regarding the sharing of information with the media, this issue is clear-cut. Under HIPAA, personal health information can be provided to sports information staff or the media only with authorization from the athlete (Magee et al., 2003).

Solutions

Any sport entity that is covered under HIPAA needs to review its existing practices, policies, and procedures. Relationships with other businesses also will need to be reviewed as they fall under HIPAA guidelines. Utilizing experienced legal counsel to determine status under HIPAA and also to recommend authorization forms, privacy notices, and business-associate contracts is recommended (Kibbe, 2005).

One way that some schools are fulfilling the authorization constraint is by requiring athletes to sign authorization forms in order to participate in athletics. Signing the form is mandatory if the student-athlete wants to participate in athletics. Surprisingly, HHS approved this measure (Hill, 2003). Other schools that have not implemented such a policy suggest always getting permission from athletes when reporting to the media. Even when an athlete has consented to the sharing of information with one media outlet, consent should be given for each media entity that subsequently becomes involved.

Schools choosing to opt for signed consent and authorization should ensure that their forms meet the requirements of HIPAA. Authorization forms should contain a statement about what information will be shared and with whom and for how long; moreover, the form must have an expiration date. The form should be specific about who may disclose the information and about what information may be disclosed and to whom. The form also should state that the athlete cannot be denied treatment for refusing to sign and that, if information is disclosed to a non-covered entity, it may no longer be protected under HIPAA. The form also needs to contain a statement that an athlete has a right to revoke authorization at any time (Hill, 2003).

Consequences of Inappropriate Release of Information

The Department of Health and Human Services has stated that most of its enforcement will be compliance-driven and that the rule focuses on seeking voluntary compliance and providing technical assistance to covered entities. Entities found in violation will be given opportunities to demonstrate compliance or to submit a corrective action plan. However, HHS has outlined both a civil penalty of up to $25,000 per person per year per standard, and the following criminal penalties for knowingly disclosing information (Jones, 2003): knowing disclosure, $50,000 and 1 year imprisonment; false pretenses, $100,000 and 5 years’ imprisonment; intent to sell, $250,000 and 10 years’ imprisonment.

HHS has released information about filing a complaint against a covered entity that is non-compliant. Individuals who believe their privacy rights have been violated must file complaints in writing, either electronically or on paper, within 180 days of when they knew or should have known that the act or omission occurred. A form was developed by HHS to assist anyone who wants to file a complaint and is available at www.hhs.gov/ocr/hipaa.

To safeguard protected information, covered entities need to ensure that personal health information is secure. Any records need to be kept in locked file cabinets. When athletic trainers treat athletes, they need to make sure information about the athletes is not discussed where others can hear it. Any consultation with parents or other involved parties needs to be done with a degree of privacy. Moreover, computer security measures must comply with the HIPAA standards.

HIPAA and Sport Managers and Their Employers

The largest concern for most institutions relates to treatment and injury information for student-athletes. Sport managers need to investigate their institutions’ status as a covered entity and review their compliance with HIPAA and the Privacy Rule. If an institution is a covered entity, the sport manager will need to fully understand the implications of HIPAA and insure that the department is in compliance by safeguarding personal health information, training staff, and obtaining the appropriate authorizations. A further implication of HIPAA concerns the status of sport facilities. If medical information about patron accidents is kept or if a facility employs a nurse or EMT unit, then it is considered a covered entity.

Though HIPAA and the Privacy Rule may seem daunting, most institutions and organizations have only had to make a few changes to their policies to be in compliance. As the act is relatively new, however, sport managers need to continue to update their knowledge of HIPAA to ensure full compliance.

References

Dolan, T. G. (2003). PTs respond to HIPAA: The real world experience. PT Magazine of Physical Therapy, 11(7), 52–56.

Elmore, L. (2002). Law injects confusion into injury reporting. Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal, 5(26), 30.

General Overview of Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information, 45 CFR Part 160 and Subparts A and E of Part 164 (2003).

Hill, D. (2003). A matter of privacy. Athletic Management, 15(2), 37–42.

Jenkins, D. (2003, September 12). Hiding the hurt: Privacy act puts twist on obtaining injury reports. Chattanooga Times Free Press, p. D5.

Jones, D. (2003). HIPAA: Friend or foe to athletic trainers? Athletic Therapy Today, 8(2), 17–19.

Kibbe, D. C. (2005). 10 steps to HIPAA security compliance. Family Practice Management, April, 2005, 43–49.

Kuczynski, K., & Giggs-Wahlberg, P. (2005). HIPAA the health care hippo: Despite rhetoric, is privacy still an issue? Social Work, 50(3), 283–287.

Magee, J. T., Almekinders, L. C., & Taft, T. N. (2003). HIPAA and the team physician. Sports Medicine Update, March–April, 2003, 4¬–7.

Office for Civil Rights. (2003). Summary of the HIPAA privacy rule, (May 2003). Retrieved March 28, 2007. http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacysummary.pdf

Pitz, S. M. (2003). HIPAA and the sports media: Separating fiction from reality. Nevada Lawyer, 11(8), 12–14.

Windley, V. R., & Walueff, G. (2005, June). HIPAA, right to privacy, contracts. NAEB Journal, 4–6. Retrieved from the Internet March 28, 2007. http://wikis.oet.udel.edu/uapp667sinesummer05/index.php/Main/HIPAA

Wyatt, B. M., & Carden, K. E. (2003, April). The HIPAA privacy regulations and access to athletes’ medical information. Ropes & Gray Sports Law Newsletter, 6–7. Retrieved from the Internet March 28, 2007. http://www.ropesgray.com/files/Publication/3b22be16- 0237-4e05-9e11-af29b45830aa/Presentation/PublicationAttachment/0e23970d-d944- 4ace-acce-893ed0f9dba7/Newsletter_April%202003_Sports%20Law%20Group.pdf

Relationship of Selected Pre–NBA Career Variables to NBA Players’ Career Longevity

Abstract

Given the change in the business nature of the National Basketball Association (NBA), the player evaluation process has become increasingly important. The methods discussed in this article can aid general managers and owners in the player acquisition process by providing a means of evaluating talent. The purpose of the study was to identify the relationship between pre–NBA career statistical variables and career longevity, measured as the number of seasons in the NBA. Data from the 1988–2002 collegiate basketball seasons were analyzed. Participants consisted of 329 NBA guards, forwards, and centers who entered the NBA in 1988 and ended their careers during or before the 2002 NBA season. The study included 11 independent variables: points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, fouls, turnovers, minutes played, free throw percentage, field goal percentage, and 3 point percentage. There was a single dependent variable, career longevity. Data analysis comprised multiple regression tests to determine the relationship between the independent variables and the dependent variable. The multiple regression tests revealed a relationship between pre-career statistical variables and career longevity for guards and forwards. However, no such relationship was found for centers.

Introduction

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is a multimillion-dollar professional sport business. The value of team franchises has grown dramatically since David Stern became NBA commissioner in 1984. That season, the average team value was around $15 million (Smith, 2003). The figure had risen to around $300 million by 2003 (Smith, 2003). The increased revenues in the game have led to higher player salaries, which mean more pressure on individual players to perform. The business nature of basketball has put a premium on the selection of players and on the process—an imprecise science—that goes into selection. Owners and general managers are desiring to operate their teams according to corporate models, by controlling escalating player salaries (Sandoval, 2003). Front-office executives want to reduce the risk of bad draft picks and overpaid free agents (Sandoval, 2003).

Given the financial structure and business nature of the game, how do general managers and owners measure and evaluate a player’s potential for success? Additionally, how do they make personnel decisions in a league in which the stakes are so high that one bad decision can make for disaster in the form of millions of dollars lost? One important aspect of building a championship NBA team is how the general manager constructs the team roster. It is expected that the general manager will attempt to acquire the most talented players when building a team (Staw & Hoang, 1995). How to accomplish this is the problem that owners and general managers continually face. Berri (1999) stated that, “[W]ithout an answer, one is unable to ascertain who should play, what free agents should be pursued, or what trades should be consummated” (p. 411).

In the current era of professional basketball, with the average player salary reaching over $5 million, owners want to operate their businesses more efficiently by controlling costs and risks (Sandoval, 2003). The goal is to reduce the number of bad draft picks and avoid signing the least productive players (Sandoval, 2003).

The evaluation of potential playing talent is a difficult task (Berri & Brook, 1999). In professional basketball, using selected statistical variables to measure a player’s prospective success is considered an important part of the player evaluation process (Berri & Brook, 1999). Assembling players who produce at statistically high levels may ultimately improve a team. Berri (1999) identified a link between player statistics and team wins. The NBA draft is one of the primary methods by which teams acquire talent. Staw & Hoang (1995) found that the order in which players were drafted correlated with their playing time and the length of their careers.

The NBA draft’s importance becomes even clearer when one considers how the draft inevitably represents a set of lost opportunities (Staw & Hoang, 1995). In selecting any one particular player, a team may be passing over the next all-star or superstar player (Staw & Hoang, 1995). The NBA draft is thus very risky (Amico, 2001). History has shown that the projection of player development is not a precise science, and that teams may be in need of effective evaluative methods when scouting talent (Amico, 2001). The risks of the draft were made widely known by the Portland Trail Blazers when, in 1984, that team anticipated greater benefits from signing Sam Bowie than from signing Michael Jordan. And in the same draft, Dallas selected Sam Perkins and Terrance Stansbury instead of Auburn University’s Charles Barkley and Gonzaga University’s John Stockton (Staw & Hoang, 1995). Selection of the right players through the NBA draft is important (Staw & Hoang, 1995).

The NBA draft used to require relatively little work or resources (Shouler, Ryan, Koppett, & Bellotti, 2004). Teams had small scouting staffs to evaluate college players, yet by the time the draft came around, every team knew who the best players were and which ones they wanted to draft (Shouler et al., 2004). As basketball became more of a business, general managers, owners, and team presidents had to change their approach. Even as the process changed, however, the goal stayed the same (Popper, 2004). It is to improve the team through selection of the best, most valuable player available at the time a team is making a selection (Popper, 2004).

Each NBA team has a player personnel staff that spends most of its time searching out less obvious candidates for the draft (Wolff, 2001). These scouts identify prospective players by attending games, analyzing game films, or both. When NBA scouts observe players in person, they typically use subjective evaluation based on detailed information they gain in eight areas of basketball: physical characteristics, mental characteristics, ball skills, offense, rebounding, defense, knowledge, strengths, and weaknesses (Wolff, 2001).

Currently, there is no known research that looks to pre-career statistical data to determine longevity of NBA play (although, again, NBA experts view potential career longevity as an important factor characterizing NBA draft prospects, according to Amico, 2001). Those studies that are available did not examine relationships between predictor variables and career longevity. According to Oliver (2005), the value of individual NBA players can be assessed using traditional statistical categories. Previous studies looked at the statistics for NBA players recorded during their play in the league; they sought to identify alternative methods of evaluating talent (Ballard, 2005). The success of the NBA players was measured using the traditional statistical categories (points, rebounds, field goals attempted, field goals made, etc.) (Ballard, 2005). Thus while most of these studies obtained traditional player statistics, they did not go on to look for relationships between those statistics and the players’ career longevity (i.e., number of seasons in the NBA). Some research, however, indicates that there is a positive relationship between traditional player statistics and the length of NBA players’ careers (Staw & Hoang, 1995).

Major League Baseball was the first league to experiment with statistical predictor models. Specifically, the Oakland Athletics’ general manager began to evaluate talent primarily by looking at player statistics, and he both drafted players and acquired free agents based on this nontraditional method (Lewis, 2003). This method of evaluation became known as the money ball theory, reflecting its capacity to identify productive players available at below-market value, whom traditional scouting methods would not view as commodities (Lewis, 2003). Money ball theory has proved a success for the Oakland Athletics and for another team that uses statistical methods to evaluate talent: the Boston Red Sox.

The reasoning underlying the use of player statistics in professional baseball is rooted in the idea that college players generate meaningful statistics (Lewis, 2003). College players play more games than high school players, and the level of competition is enhanced at the collegiate level as opposed to the high school level (Lewis, 2003). Collegiate statistics, then, reflect a sample size large enough to accurately picture the underlying reality (Lewis, 2003). Projecting the ongoing success of college players is thus easier than making such projections for high school players (Lewis, 2003).

The statistics that can be garnered from college play enable baseball executives and scouts to see past all kinds of visual scouting prejudices (Lewis, 2003). Indeed, it has been argued that what is most important about a baseball player is not the player’s character but the picture drawn by his statistics (Lewis, 2003).The belief of experts who employ predictor statistics in baseball is that a player “is” what he has already done, not what he looks like or might become (Lewis, 2003). It is a belief that runs counter to the thinking of the traditional baseball scout, to whom what matters is what the scout can envision the player doing (Lewis, 2003).

The concept of statistical analysis of talent in baseball was brought to bear on efforts to make the development of players more efficient. As Lewis (2003) stated, the statistics used to evaluate baseball players were probably far more accurate than anything used to measure the value of people who didn’t play baseball for a living. Adding a statistical model to traditional scouting and player evaluation methods can better inform owners and general managers about talent, permitting them to identify skill sets related to career longevity. In basketball, too, better gauging of players’ potential success may lead to a more efficient process of putting together an NBA team roster.

Method

The purpose of the study was to identify the relationship between selected pre–NBA career statistical variables and NBA players’ career longevity (measured as the number of seasons in the NBA). Specifically, the following two questions were addressed:

    1. Can 1 or more of the 11 traditional player statistics, recorded during the year preceding entry into the NBA, predict the career longevity of NBA guards, NBA forwards, and NBA centers?
    2. Can 1 or more of the 11 traditional player statistics, recorded during the 2 years preceding entry into the NBA, predict the career longevity of NBA guards, NBA forwards, and NBA centers?

The study questions were built around 1-year and 2-year collegiate statistics on the assumption that performance during these specific periods is the best indicator of NBA potential. This is assumed because, statistically speaking, it is during these periods that college players who subsequently entered the NBA played their best collegiate seasons.

Data Collection

For this study, the researcher measured collegiate statistics for the following 11 areas of basketball: points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, fouls, 3 point percentage, minutes played, and turnovers. In 9 areas, the totals were used; for field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and 3 point percentage, however, raw percentages were used rather than totals, since percentages provide better analysis of shooting accuracy. The study evaluated minutes played rather than games played, because use of the two is linearly correlated; added together, both supply no better information than is obtained by evaluating only minutes played. The decision to use these particular statistics in this study was informed by the history, within professional basketball, of the use of the statistics. Dating back to the 1949 merger of the Basketball Association of America and National Basketball League that formed the NBA, this set of player statistics has been the primary method of analyzing the game (Lahman, 2004).

The particular statistics chosen for the present study’s multiple regressions were based on the history of players’ statistical production at the position of guard, of forward, and of center. Historical statistical production by guards, forwards, and centers in the 11 basketball activities thus provided the basis for the present analysis. Over the history of basketball, the players occupying the three positions produced proficiently in those statistical areas which the present study has associated with each position, as follows: (a) guards—field goal percentage, 3 point percentage, free throw percentage, assists, steals, turnovers, points, personal fouls, and minutes played; (b) forwards—rebounds, 3 point percentage, points, free throw percentage, steals, blocks, field goal percentage, turnovers, personal fouls, assists, and minutes played; and (c) centers—rebounds, free throw percentage, field goal percentage, blocks, personal fouls, turnovers, points, and minutes played.

The statistics themselves were obtained from an unofficial professional and collegiate basketball website, Database Basketball (located at http://www.databasebasketball.com). Database Basketball is a primary Internet resource for gathering players’ statistical data at both levels. It houses information on all college players who played in the NBA and on those who were NBA draft picks. The website also provided for the study the total number of players playing in the NBA from 1987–88 to 2001–02. The study employed the collegiate statistics from the year immediately preceding a study participant’s entry into the NBA.

Participants

The present study included 329 players who entered the NBA during or after the 1987–88 and ended their playing careers with the 2001–02 season or earlier; the study excluded players who entered the NBA directly from high school, directly from junior college, or from an overseas league. The sample was furthermore limited to NBA athletes who had played at NCAA member institutions for at least two seasons. The time frame 1987–88 to 2001–02 was deemed recent enough to be relevant to the present; it also included enough time to obtain a representative number of players for study. Beyond the specified time frame and the exclusion of players lacking an NCAA collegiate record or transferring from overseas leagues, study participants had to have played in at least one NBA game. Those players who entered in the 1987–1988 season were the most relevant sample, because of changes marked that season in both the NBA style of play and its draft structure. The latter change led NBA general managers to try new and different draft strategies than in years past.

Design and Analysis

The data were analyzed using SPSS (Version 12.0). A multiple linear regression analysis was conducted involving the dependent variable, career longevity, and 2 or more of the 11 criterion variables. Multiple regression analysis was used in order to find the variable or combination of variables yielding the most accurate prediction of NBA career longevity (Thomas & Nelson, 2001). Multiple regression analysis made it possible to combine the variables from collegiate statistics to produce optimal assessment of their relationship with the independent variable, NBA career longevity (Allison, 1999). Alpha level for the analyses was set at p < 0.05.

Six multiple regressions were conducted to assess the relationship between pre–NBA career statistical variables and NBA career longevity. Each of the regressions conducted was based on player position, with guard, forward, and center positions being analyzed. In three regressions (one per position), the 2-year collegiate statistics (statistics for the two college seasons immediately prior to the player’s entering the NBA) constituted the independent variables; in the remaining three regressions (one per position), the 1-year collegiate statistics (statistics for the college season immediately preceding NBA entry) constituted the independent variables. Career longevity (i.e., number of seasons in the NBA) was the outcome variable in all of the regression analyses.

Results

Of the 329 NBA players included in this study, 133 were listed as guards, 142 were forwards, and 54 were centers. The average length of their NBA careers was 4.81 seasons (SD = 3.69).

1-Year Statistics

A significant (p < .05) overall regression was found for guards during analysis of the 1-year statistics (F = 3.218), with an R of .437. The individual statistics measuring assists, turnovers, and points had significant beta scores (Table 1).

Table 1

Summary of Regression Analysis for one-year statistics for guards prior to entry into the
NBA.

Variable B SE B β
(Constant) 4.106 4.266
FGP -.703 .935 .063
TPP 1.188 .018 .195
FTHP -6.033 5.113 -1.180
ASST 0.02151* .008 .362
STEAL 0.02025 .017 .124
TURN -0.03933* .019 -.237
POINT 0.009410* 003 ..386
PF -0.01436 .020 -.065
MIN -0.00006548 .000 -.015

*p <.05

A significant (p < .05) overall regression was also found for the NBA forwards during analysis of the 1-year statistics (F = 2.531), with an R of .449. Field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and assists had significant beta scores within the equation (Table 2). For the 1-year totals for the center position, neither overall significance nor significant beta scores were found.

Table 2

Summary of Regression Analysis for one-year statistics for forwards prior to entry into the NBA.

Variable B SE B β
(Constant) -12.424 4.971
REB 0.006540 .006 .130
TPP 1.954 1.347 .136
POINT -0.0004532 .001 -.069
FTHP 7.629* 4.227 .169
STEAL 0.03883 .025 .174
BLOCK 0.006794 .013 .050
FGP 20.291* 6.800 .300
TURN -0.01215 .020 -.073
PF -0.006445 .021 -0.33
ASST 0.03073* .014 .270
MIN -0.002766 .002 -.143

*p <.05.

2-Year Statistics

In the three multiple regressions run using the 2-year statistics (combined totals), a significant (p < .05) overall regression was found for guards (F = 3.706), with an R of .462. Assists, steals, turnovers, and points generated significant scores during the analysis (Table 3).

Table 3
Summary of Regression Analysis for two-year statistics for guards prior to entry into the NBA.

Coefficients Table

Variable B SE B β
(Constant) -3.726 5.370
FGP 10.914 6.844 .140
TPP 1.954 1.347 .136
FTHP -4.098 5.764 -.070
ASST 0.01140* .005 .340
STEAL 0.01725* .010 .193
TURN -0.02513* .012 -.255
POINT 0.004940* .002 .351
PF 0.001047 .011 .009
MIN 0.0001264 .000 .031

*p <.05.

Though no significant overall regression was found for the NBA forwards, out of all the independent variables, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and assists showed a significant relationship with career longevity (Table 4).
Table 4
Summary of Regression Analysis for two-year statistics for forwards prior to entry into
the NBA.

Coefficients Table

Variable B SE B β
(Constant) 1.216 2.703
REB 0.007322* .004 .257
TPP 1.954 1.347 .136
POINT -0.0002758 .001 -.045
FTHP -0.03481 .109 -.028
STEAL 0.002473* ..014 .020
BLOCK 0.003627 .008 .044
FGP .795 2.140 .033
TURN -0.01922 .012 -.196
PF -0.002314 .012 -.020
ASST 21.13 .008 .346
MIN -0.001758 .002 -.015

*p <.05.

The statistical analysis of players at center position produced neither a significant overall regression score nor significant beta scores for the 2-year data.
Discussion

The purpose of this study was to identify the relationship between selected pre–NBA career statistical variables and the career longevity of players, measured as number of seasons in the NBA. The overall regression employing guards’ 1-year statistics revealed an R score of .437. The R² was .191, meaning 19.1% of the variation in career longevity is explained by the differences in points, assists, and turnovers. Among forwards, the overall regression score was .449, with an R² of .202, meaning 20.2% of the variation in career longevity is explained by the differences in field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and assists.

First Research Question
Guards

With respect to the first research question, the study found that, statistically, assists, points, and turnovers were significantly related to guards’ longevity in the NBA Similarly, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and assists were found to be significantly related to forwards’ longevity in the NBA. These results tend to support the evaluation process currently used by NBA teams to select guards and forwards. Guards are players who control the tempo of the game, protect the basketball, and run a team’s offense. At the guard position, then, assists and turnovers are important factors, as the regression demonstrated. Scoring (i.e., points) was also shown to be important with former college guards going on to long careers in the NBA. Turnovers, too, are important at the guard position, because guards control the basketball on offense. Each turnover indicates lack of continuity during a game that can largely be attributed to those team members who control the basketball (Zak, Huang, & Sigfried, 1979). The data demonstrate that every possession is important in basketball, and guards are in control of the ball. Moreover, the significance of assists, also established by the data, can be attributed to the fact that, in running the offense, guards create scoring opportunities for teammates. Assists highlight aspects of ball handling and teamwork, as well as a positive contribution to output (Zak et al., 1979). Turnovers and assists were expected to be significant indicators of career longevity among guards; points were an additional statistical category that proved significant, for the reason that, on most NBA teams, shooting guards are called upon to be point scorers.

Forwards
For players at the position of forward, those basketball activities measured in the field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and number of assists proved statistically significant during the present study’s regression analyses. Such findings no doubt reflect the fact that some forwards, called power forwards, play with their backs to the basket, while others, known as small forwards, play more like guards. As demonstrated by the statistically significant data obtained here for field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and assists, basketball forwards must be very versatile players. They must shoot well, play aggressively enough to reach the free throw line thus placing the opponent in “foul trouble,” and pass just as effectively as guards in order to involve teammates in play. Forwards clearly, from a statistical standpoint, play an integral role in NBA contests.

High field goal percentages and free throw percentages are an important contribution to team output and have impact on the game (Zak et al., 1979). With other factors held equal, the better a team shoots the ball, the larger its output; field goal percentage suggests how efficiently a team shoots (Zak et al., 1979). The study data thus suggest a need for NBA forwards to be very efficient and accurate players. They are asked to do many things on the basketball court, at different times. In terms of their skill at assists, small forwards must be very versatile and must share some of the same skill sets as guards, becoming play makers on occasion. Assists—highlighting as they do aspects of ball handling and teamwork (Zak et al., 1979)—thus constitute a significant indicator of NBA career longevity.

Centers
Unlike the data for forwards and guards, the data for centers in the present study produced no significant results. This may be attributable to the number of subjects in the study. The number of centers playing in the NBA has decreased over the years, a fact reflected in the minimal number of centers in this study (N = 54). Both the guards and the forwards studied here numbered about twice the center subsample.

Second Research Question
Guards
With respect to the second research question, the findings of analyses of the 2-year data show NBA career longevity to be predicted by certain basketball activities to a statistically significant degree. A significant regression equation was found (R = .462, R² of .213) for players at the guard position: 21.3% of the variation in NBA career longevity among guards is explained by the differences in points, assists, turnovers, and steals. In analyzing steals recorded by guards, adding an additional year of collegiate statistics produced a significant result. A measure of a player’s defensive ability, steals represent a change in possession (Berri & Brook, 1999). Because guards play the passing lanes on defense and apply defensive pressure on the perimeter, this statistic should be significant among guards.

Forwards
For the 2-year data on the NBA forwards, the overall regression model did not prove significant; however, two variables, assists and rebounds, did prove significant. It is of special interest that the rebound statistic achieved significance with the 2-year totals but not with the 1-year data. Rebounding is important to scouts, because its impact is seen in each game, as well as on the individual player (Zak et al., 1979). When a team outperforms an opponent in terms of rebounding, its chance of victory increases (Zak et al., 1979). Each rebound a team obtains represents a gain of possession; defensive rebounding indicates how frequently an opponent fails to convert a possession (Berri & Brook, 1999). Assists, as has been discussed in terms of the first research question, highlight aspects of both ball handling and teamwork and make a positive contribution to output (Zak et al., 1979).

Centers
In the analysis of 2-year data from the position of center, no statistics reached the level of significance, nor was the overall regression model significant. As in the case of the first research question, this finding can be attributed to the size of the sample of NBA centers.

Position-Based Differences
It is believed that the three positions (guard, forward, center) generated very different analytical results because they serve very different purposes in the game. At the guard position, assists, steals, turnovers, and points were significant indicators of NBA career longevity, because the guard position most lends itself to the keeping of such statistics. Guards are quick, agile, versatile, athletic players with extremely high basketball IQs. In terms of statistics-keeping, they find themselves involved in many aspects of a basketball game. The nature of the position requires guards to be proficient in a number of categories, and their proficiency is easily witnessed by scouts, coaches, commentators, and fans. Guards’ impact on the game is readily quantified and measured by statistics.

The present study suggests that for forwards, in contrast, it would be difficult to predict NBA longevity using collegiate statistics. The position of forward is probably the most difficult from which to retrieve statistical data. For instance, in the NBA forwards are asked to play dual roles, with the position broken down into the small forward and the power forward. The small forward must be a fundamentally sound offensive and defensive player possessing some of the same skills that point guards and shooting guards possess. Small forwards must be able to pass the basketball, enabling teammates to score, as well as be able to score points themselves. Power forwards, on the other hand, are asked to play more like centers: They are the muscle of the team, playing strong inside, rebounding, and providing defense, though not relying on extreme quickness and athletic ability. While the results for forwards in this study are very difficult to assess, the results are understandable from a basketball standpoint.

Relative to guards and forwards, centers’ performance is less easily measured with statistics. The reason is that the tasks falling to centers are frequently among the intangibles of the game. At center, the player who can demand the attention of the opposing defense possesses a relatively great capacity to set up his teammates. This cannot always be measured with statistics, since the center can set up another player without having the basketball. In addition, centers who can face the opponent’s defense and play with their backs to the basket create numerous problems for the defense that cannot be measured statistically. Centers are usually proficient at blocked shots, rebounds, points, and field goal percentage. Good centers also drive a defense to “play honest,” preventing teams from overextending on the perimeter and forcing double teams. Furthermore, successful centers are physical and maintain good position while boxing out. Neither of these things can be measured with statistics, but both are essential to a team’s success. The intimidation factor of a 7-ft player may not show up in box scores either, but being able to tap that factor to alter opponents’ shots (if they cannot be blocked) is very important to success at the center position.

Between 1983 and 1987 a number of elite centers moved from the college ranks to the NBA, including Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Brad Daugherty, and David Robinson (Luft, 2001). These centers were drafted by the NBA in the 1980s. Since that decade, however, the only centers drafted during the top pick were Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Olowokandi, Yao Ming, and, most recently, Greg Oden (Luft, 2001). There appear to be far fewer true centers in the NBA lately, leading to statistics’ inability, in this study, to measure performance at the center position. The lack of traditional centers may be a result of the increasingly superior quality of basketball athletes. As they become quicker, more versatile, more athletic generally, those who might have become centers can instead play power forward. The center position is thus left to a small group of players who are relatively nonproductive, statistically speaking, and thus cannot be measured in the same way as forwards and guards (Luft, 2001).

Implications for General Managers
While the results of this study suggest that collegiate statistics offer little predictive power in terms of centers’ NBA career longevity, they also show that some statistical categories used by the NBA are predictors of the longevity of players at the guard and forward positions. The implication of the data analysis is thus that statistics, when used to augment scouts’ customary analysis of videotapes, should yield a sound assessment of a prospective player’s potential. Scouts typically prefer to observe an athlete in person to get a better feel for the athlete’s game and to note physical aspects of the athlete that may not appear on tape or in statistics. However, because it is a fact that players can go hot or cold on any given night, scouts should also acknowledge the extreme importance of statistical analysis. Statistics in basketball offers a powerful tool for avoiding bad player selections, although it is important always to remember that statistical analysis is one tool, not the ultimate word on player quality.

By gathering as much statistical information about a player as possible, a scout or general manager can make an informed decision supported by numbers, not reliant solely on emotion or other subjective criteria. Statistics may, furthermore, make it possible to identify undervalued skill sets offered by players at certain positions. In short, statistical analysis has a place in player evaluation strategies aimed at efficient use of draft choices and money.

Conclusions and Recommendations
A review of the literature shows the basketball scouting and player evaluation process leading to the NBA draft to be a difficult process and one that could benefit from more information in the form of statistical analysis. The data in the present study demonstrate that there is a relationship between collegiate play described statistically and career longevity in the NBA, as follows:

  • Assists, turnovers, and points recorded by guards over the year of college basketball play immediately preceding entrance into the NBA are related to NBA career longevity.
  • Assists, steals, turnovers, and points recorded by guards over 2 years of college basketball play immediately preceding entrance into the NBA are related to NBA career longevity.
  • Field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and assists recorded by forwards over the year of college basketball play immediately preceding entrance into the NBA are related to career longevity in the NBA.
  • Assists and rebounds recorded by forwards over 2 years of college basketball play immediately preceding entrance into the NBA are related to career longevity in the NBA.
  • The results of this study show a relationship between basketball’s statistics categories and NBA career longevity, but more work is needed to fully understand the predictive mechanism and provide general managers with more precise information. In addition, future studies should seek out data for the years prior to 1987–88 and following 2001–02, to begin to track historical trends in the relationship.

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Author Note
William Abrams is an attorney who studied law at Boston College and received his undergraduate degree from Michigan State University. He can be reached at abramswi@yahoo.com.

Utilizing the Defenseman’s “Off” Hand: A Discussion of Theory and an Empirical Review

Abstract

This research explored whether an advantage exists in playing an ice hockey defenseman on his or her “off” hand. The study included a cross-sectional experiment with 10 hockey defensemen who were males aged 14–16 years. Success rates for several defenseman tasks were analyzed to determine if there was a significant difference in performance when the defensemen played on the off hand side rather than the traditional “on” hand, dominant side. The tasks involved were blue line puck containment, defenseman-to-defenseman (D-to-D) passes, one-timer shots in the offensive zone, and breakouts on the strong and weak sides of the ice in the defensive zone. A chi-square analysis was used to look for a significant relationship between the testing variables and success rates. Overall, no significant difference was found between playing off hand and play ing on hand in the defensive zone. However, in the offensive zone, success rates were higher for off-hand play than for on-hand play, in terms of puck containment (72% success for off-hand play) as well as D-D passes and one-timer shots (90% success for off-hand play). A significant difference was found between off-hand one-timer shots (p = .000) and puck containment (p = .001). The main conclusion drawn from this study is that there are advantages to playing defensemen on the off hand.

Utilizing the Defenseman’s “Off” Hand: A Discussion of Theory and an Empirical Review

Stagnant waters eventually cloud and precipitate, vibrant life evaporating, giving way to slow-moving swamps and finally becoming solid earth. In much the same way, the fluid movements and dynamics of hockey must continually change, or die. Anatoli Tarasov, writing in 1969, displayed a vision well beyond that of his contemporaries, when he cautioned that,

If a training period does not offer a creative atmosphere or depth in grasping a particular topic, if it does not stimulate the player to a higher level of technique, and finally, if you can feel that the players are not ready to do battle, if they show no hustle or daring, you should not expect such a team to improve its game.

Tarasov’s teams dominated others through unpredictable deviations from established norms of hockey. Like those teams, in order to remain competitive in the world theater of ice hockey, those who today coach youth ice hockey must be willing to deviate from well-established practices. This paper will explore the advantages and disadvantages to defensemen of “switching sides”; the introduction of techniques unlike those we are used to may develop players’ skills far beyond current boundaries. The operation of defensemen in both defensive and offensive zones will be discussed empirically and subjectively. Efficiency of transitioning between defense and offense during breakouts, along with puck protection, control, and offensive power, will be explored.

The Russian teams coached by Tarasov used what many thought to be strange training techniques, but the training enabled them to dominate world hockey almost as soon as they joined the competitive ranks (Tarasov, 1969). No Russian player ever seemed to maintain any one position. Movement was constantly fluid, from defense to forward and from left to right. Players were equally skilled whether playing on their strong side (forehand) or weak side (backhand). Indeed, many European training techniques challenge hockey norms. From the very beginnings of youth play to the advanced training of adult hockey, the Europeans continually incorporate weak-side training. It is this training that enables European players to move comfortably anywhere on the ice, for their mindset is that they have no weak side: As other players move from right side to left side, the European player can take advantage of that movement, with no loss of firepower.

In North America, norms for positional play in ice hockey are well established. From some of the oldest training manuals to the current ones, young players are taught to “stay in your lane” (Smith, 1996). Why is the left-handed shooter automatically placed on the left side, the right-handed shooter on the right? Perhaps there is a feeling that common sense dictates it. In some circles, positions are actually defined as strong side or weak side based on whether a right-handed shooter is playing on the right or not. By defining sides in this way, players may be placed at a psychological disadvantage before teaching even begins. I believe it is time to redefine what is called strong or weak: to turn the rink around and view it differently. By concentrating training on the so-called weak side, a point is reached when it can no longer be called weak but can instead be called an asset; by eliminating any reference to a weak side, we may become more willing to interchange left- and right-handed players. A careful look at advantages of off hand play for defensemen is one means of beginning to overcome the tendency to follow the norm. Like a southpaw boxer in the ring, off-hand defensemen’s unlooked-for attacks may be the twist that leads to victory.

Actions over the whole of the ice surface need to be taken into account as the defenseman’s use of so-called strong and weak sides is evaluated. As a player moves from side to side through the defensive, neutral, and offensive zones, he transitions between positions of relative advantage and disadvantage. Maintaining puck control, either individually or through coordinated efforts (passing to teammates), is of utmost importance. to maximize these efforts, the most advantageous positions on the ice must be utilized. The defensive zone breakout is arguably the most important transition a defenseman will orchestrate. It may originate from three basic locations: puck in open ice (forward of the goal line), puck in the corner (behind the goal line, located from below the face-off dot to the outer-board radius), or puck behind the net (behind the goal line, between the face-off dots). By attacking these puck positions in the most efficient manner, the defenseman can save time, fractions of seconds that differentiate successful breakouts from turnovers (Lothian & Farrally, 1995).

In the event a defenseman defeats the inside-out fore check or is chased with an outside-in fore check, he or she has the puck on forehand while traveling behind the net, if he or she started on the off hand. In this case, the defenseman is set up to succeed. Either a hard breakout pass can be immediately sent to the winger, or momentum built on the forehand can be maintained as the defenseman heads up ice. On the other hand, the defenseman playing the same side as his or her shot will have to reposition, exposing the puck, in order to make the quick pass. Additionally, he or she will have to clear the net before passing the puck. The defenseman should obtain a better passing angle by being forced to carry the puck wider than the face-off dot, but unfortunately, that advantage may be negated by the additional reaction time afforded to the fore checkers.

Offensive-zone training for defensemen is neglected by many youth coaches. This is evident in a lack of point usage by forwards when attacking in the offensive zone. Additionally, the lack of offensive-zone training is evident in visible weaknesses among defensemen attempting to hold this critical zone, whether manifested in leaving the blue line too early during a breakout or failing to contain the puck. A defenseman needs every bit of confidence that can be mustered in order to overcome such deficiencies, many people believe, and they view it best to have defensemen play on the “on” hand while on the offensive blue line (Parise, 2004). In truth, the greater advantage lies in properly training defensemen to play the off hand in the offensive zone.

While the point is arguable, for the sake of this discussion it will be assumed that the defenseman’s primary role in the offensive zone is containing the play in the zone. Given this role, puck containment, pinching, passing, and shooting will be examined, from both the on-hand and off-hand, or strong and weak, sides. An equally important but perhaps secondary role of the defenseman on the blue line is assisting and scoring. Finally, the offensive blue line is where the defenseman begins many battles with attacking forwards, setting up and securing greatest tactical advantage to protect the middle of the ice. Body positioning on the blue line offers the defenseman an opportunity to gain the slight advantage necessary to prevail.

In order to maintain the offensive zone, a defenseman must be able to contain the puck as it is moved up the boards (Kingman & Dyson, 1997). Control of the situation is demanded, whether the puck is rimmed along the boards, carried out by an opposing player, or shot off the glass. Playing on the side opposite to his or her shot leads the defenseman to realize many benefits, as compared to playing on the strong side. It is probably the rimmed puck that leads some people to believe it best to keep defensemen playing on the strong side. However, when examined closely, the seeming commonsensical advantages of such a traditional method may not hold. The argument for strong side puck containment on a rimmed puck plays to the fact that, in this case, the defenseman’s stick blade will be along the boards for an apparent easy trap and containment of the puck (Constantine, 2004). Among very young players this may be true, but among maturing and developing players the puck is rarely moving slowly up the boards. When the stick blade is at the boards, the player’s body is forced away from the boards. This causes a few problems. First, if the puck is bouncing at all, which is often the case, the opening caused by the player’s body position provides an excellent escape route for the puck if it is mishandled.

Conversely, if the player is playing the opposite side, the best course of action for puck containment is to press the back of the body to the boards. In doing so the player creates a solid barrier from skate blade to hips, while maintaining the stick on the ice in a forehand position. If the defenseman playing the on-hand side attempts this type of containment, he or she will end up on the backhand shot. This may not provide the best option for returning the puck deep into the zone. Should the defenseman press the side of the body against the boards to prevent the backhand situation, more problems arise. First, when pressing with the side of the body, the player’s equipment may prevent a solid seal along the boards. Shin pads in particular may keep the lower leg from making full contact and leave gaps for the puck to exit through. (Pressing with the back of the leg offers softer padding that is more readily formed to the shape of the boards.) Secondly, with the stick on the board side, the player’s position is awkward, the stick jammed close to the body. This may make puck control difficult. In contrast, playing with the off-hand or weak side—even if a defenseman presses with the side of the body rather than the back¬—slight advantage is retained in terms of stick position. Because the stick remains on the forehand, the defenseman is in an excellent position to bang the puck hard off the boards, returning it to the zone. Finally, as skills strengthen, the defenseman may become able to position his or her skate in such a manner as to play the puck directly onto the stick blade, for a quick shot on net.

If the puck is being carried up the boards by an opposing player in an attempt to clear the zone, once again, the defenseman needs any advantage available. If the defenseman maintains a position at the blue line and challenges the opposing player, stick position and body position become critical. If the strong side defenseman chooses to play slightly off the boards to maintain a good forehand stick position, the opposing player may take advantage of the gap presented to flip the puck past (Leetch, 2005). Additionally, the gap may provide a lane the opponent uses or fakes to. In short, it provides options for the opposing player and uncertainty for the defenseman. If the defenseman presses against the boards in order to block the attacker, his or her stick position will be on the backhand if the attacker tries to angle the puck off the boards and out. When viewed from the other side of the ice, however, some of these disadvantages are erased. For example, the defenseman can block out the attacker along the boards and still keep the stick to the middle of the ice, in the forehand position. This stick position may enhance agility, helping the player to maintain a puck angled off the boards and put it back in the zone. In addition, “baiting” the attacker into a hip check may be slightly easier from this side, due to defenseman’s stick position and body position.

Another common method of breakout that the defenseman must be prepared to counter is the glass-out. If the opponent chooses to shoot the puck off the glass in order to bank it out of the zone, the defenseman must be able to react to the careening puck. In this case, the strong-side player may have an advantage: Because the stick will be on the board side, there may be a natural tendency to play slightly off the boards. This puts the player in a better position to handle a puck ricocheting off the glass. However, because the player is slightly off the boards, the offensive player is not as likely to choose this course of action. On the other hand, if the defenseman is against the boards, he can anticipate and once again bait the offensive player into a glass-out situation. The well-trained defense man can quickly come off the boards in order to knock down the puck. If the puck is knocked down, it will be on the forehand for a player on his or her off hand side. A strong-side player, in contrast, will either have to move to his backhand or shift his whole body an entire stick length for the shot.

During a defenseman’s pinch, many of the advantages noted earlier apply, as do a few others. For instance, when the defenseman pinches down the boards, it becomes possible to body check the offensive player and take away the passing lane if he or she is playing on the weak side (USA Hockey, 2005). The stick position in this situation is superior to an opposite-handed colleague’s stick position. The body check is more likely to be a good, clean check, because the blade of the stick will be away from the opponent and less likely to become tangled up with the opponent. If the offensive player attempts a quick pass to a teammate, the defenseman’s stick is already in the passing lane and positioned to block the pass or retrieve the puck if the body check is successful. If the defenseman is playing on his or her strong side, however, it is more difficult to make a good shoulder check, because, with the stick on the board side, the defenseman must take the opponent head-on in order to prevent any gap along the boards.

Once the offensive zone is gained and under control, the defenseman can focus on offense. In order to become an offensive threat, the defenseman must capitalize on every possible advantage. There are several advantages to working on the weak side in passing. For example, if looking to pass back to the same-side forward, the defenseman playing the off-hand side has some options. First, if the lane is open, the pass can be sent right through the circle to an advancing forward in give-and-go fashion. However, if the defender is taking the passing lane away, this defenseman’s stick is in an excellent position to send a banked pass off the boards and down to the teammate. A defenseman with stick on the board side must send the give-and-go with an angled pass, and it is at a much steeper angle for sending a banked pass. Either of these situations may hinder the success of the pass. In another situation, the defenseman might hope to make a pass across the slot to a forward at the back door of the net. In this case, even though the defenseman playing the off-hand side must give a more steeply angled pass, less ice must be covered with that pass; since the stick is toward the middle of the ice, the pass should reach his or her teammate a fraction of a second sooner than would a pass from the defenseman playing on the strong side. Additionally, the defenseman may need to make a D-to-D pass at the blue line in order to open up shooting lanes (USA Hockey, 2003). If the defensemen are playing on the same side that they shoot, several potential problems may arise. First, as the defensemen face each other for the pass, their sticks are in the zone toward the defenders. This positioning offers the least amount of puck protection and provides better opportunities for poke checking from the defenders. Additionally, even though the puck is deeper in the zone when on the defensemen’s sticks in this circumstance, the potential for losing the zone may be higher if they pass D to D. This is because on the follow-through for the pass, the defenseman making the pass may actually angle the puck toward the blue line. This situation may be exacerbated by the fact that the defensive players may be playing relatively close to the blue line, since their sticks will remain in the zone even when they are standing on the blue line. If the defensemen are put on the sides opposite their shots, these problems diminish. For instance, because their sticks will be toward the blue line, the defensemen will have to play deeper in the zone; their body position affords good puck protection. During a D-to-D pass in this situation, the follow-though from the passing defenseman is in toward the offensive zone. This allows for a greater margin of error on the pass. Finally, during the D-to-D pass while playing on opposite hands, both defensemen are set up for one-timer shots.

The transition to the breakout begins with puck retrieval. Many times, puck retrieval will be initiated by a transition from backward skating to forward skating, as the defenseman turns away from his or her offensive zone and retreats in toward his or her net. In the case of a loose puck in the corner, the defenseman should transition toward the outer boards and travel the shortest distance to the puck (Gendron, 2003). In this situation, there are several advantages to the defender playing the off-hand side.

For example, if a right-handed defenseman is playing on the left side, in the attack on the puck as described above, he or she immediately puts the puck under protection. If the fore checking team’s course of action is an attempt at an inside-out fore check meant to force the puck back up the same side board, the off-handed defender has several advantages. By virtue of stick position, the defenseman will pick the puck up on his or her forehand, body between the puck and the attacker. In contrast, a defensemen playing on the strong side will retrieve the puck on the backhand, exposing it to the fore check. Additionally, because the off-handed defenseman has puck control on the forehand (along with superior puck protection), he or she should be able to accelerate more quickly, improving the opportunity to defeat the fore check (Marino et al., 1987). Even if the initial fore check is successful, the cut back by the defenseman will be tighter, quicker, and easier when on his or her backhand rather than forehand, and the situation once again provides excellent body position for puck protection. Upon recovery from a backhand cut back, the off-handed defenseman maintains the advantage over an opposite-handed colleague, because the stick position of the off-hander naturally lessens the angle of the breakout pass to the winger. Even if the winger is breaking off the boards, such stick position offers an angle that makes receiving the pass easier (Montgomery et al., 2004).

Methods

This one-time, controlled experiment with 10 hockey defensemen who were males aged 14–16 involved observation during an ice rink’s 2-hr open “puck-n-stick” session. Observational data was collected by 3 observers tracking 10 players playing on-handed and off-handed in the defensive and offensive zones. Each player performed 6 iterations of each of several tasks: blue line puck containment, defenseman-to-defenseman passes, one-timer shots in the offensive zone, and breakouts on the strong and weak sides of the ice in the defensive zone. A total of 540 observations were made, 360 in the offensive zone and 180 in the defensive zone. Data were coded as 1=success and 0=failure and were analyzed using SPSS; the mode and rates of success or failure were generated as descriptive statistics. Because the data were categorical and the purpose of the study was to determine the combined effects of the study variables, a non-parametric analysis was pursued (Hayes, 1991). Additionally, a chi-square analysis was used to assess the significance of relationships between variables in the offensive and defensive zones separately.

Results

In the offensive zone, defensive players playing on the off-hand side as opposed to the on-hand side experienced a higher success rate for puck containment, D-to-D pass, and one-timer shots (see Table 1). A significant relationship (p=.000) was found between players playing off-handed and success on one-timer shots. Data analysis also indicated that a significant relationship (p=.001) exists between puck-containment success and players playing off-handed in the offensive zone. No significant difference was found, however, between success rates for on-hand D-to-D passes in the offensive zone and success rates for off-hand D-to-D passes in the offensive zone.

Table 1

Percentage of Offensive-Zone Tasks Accomplished Successfully Using “On” Hand vs. Using “Off” Hand

With On Hand Success Rate
With Off Hand
Puck Containment 68% 72%
D-to-D Pass 82% 90%
One-Timer Shot 58% 90%

Table 2

Chi-Square Results for Tasks in Offensive Zone

chi-square df Sig.
Puck Containment Using On Hand 8.067* 1 .005
Puck Containment Using Off Hand 11.267* 1 .001
D-to-D Pass Using On Hand 24.067* 1 .000
D-to-D Pass Using Off Hand 38.400* 1 .000
One-Timer Shot Using On Hand 1.667 1 .197
One-Timer Shot Using Off Hand 38.400* 1 .000

*p< .01 ** p

In the defensive zone, there does not appear to be a significant difference between playing with the on hand vs. playing with the off hand, in terms of puck retrieval control and pass success. Although in this experiment players had more success at puck retrieval control when playing the on-handed strong side (78%) than playing the off-handed strong side (67%), there does not appear to be a significant relationship for playing off-handed defensively (p = .248). Differences in success rates are most likely due to spurious environmental factors, in that, during this part of our experiment, the ice became increasingly crowded as players began puck containment drills in the defensive zone (the final set of drills for this portion of the experiment).

Table 3

Percentage of Defensive-Zone Tasks Accomplished Successfully Using “On” Hand vs. Using “Off” Hand

Success Rate With On Hand Success Rate With Off Hand
Puck Control Strong Side 78% 67%
Puck Control Weak Side 83% 83%
Pass Success Strong Side 94% 92%
Pass Success Weak Side 92% 92%

Table 4

Chi-Square Results for Tasks in Defensive Zone

chi-square df Sig.
Puck Control Strong Side 22.007 1 .194
Puck Control Weak Side 33.237 1 .248
Pass Success Strong Side 24.067 1 .340
Pass Success Weak Side 29.000 1 .250

*p< .01 ** p

The validity of these results may be somewhat vulnerable to the repeated execution of tasks by the players, in that rates of success increased through the iterations. Because repeating tasks simulates the normal process—with its underpinnings in theory—of practicing tasks to perfect them, it was not deemed necessary to adjust the raw data. These results may not be generalized to levels of hockey beyond the youth level and should be construed specifically in the context of USA hockey development.

Conclusion

There are several practical applications for the findings of this study. First, the finding that no overall difference exists supports a paradigm shift within hockey training. Playing on one’s backhand (i.e., playing off hand) is generally recognized as being more difficult, yet by increasing off-hand training and playing opportunities it can be expected that a change would begin to be seen: the off hand would begin to be the favored play. Coaches should consider playing defensemen off-handed, to gain significant advantage in the offensive zone; the advantage of the off-handed one-timer is already widely acknowledged and exploited in many power plays (USA Hockey, 2003). However, the significant difference with off-handed blue line puck containment was an unanticipated outcome.

The study’s results should strongly urge coaches to play defensemen off-handed, even when a team lacks numerical advantage in terms of players on the ice. The inconclusive data for the defensive zone may, however, engender a certain reluctance to play defensemen on their opposite hands; in such cases, coaches should consider having defensemen switch sides as they move up the ice, in order to maximize the offensive attack. Overall, the data support the idea of changing the training regimes youth hockey participants in the United States pursue, in favor of off-handed defensive play improving not only individual skills but offensive power. An interesting follow-on study would be an analysis of players with predominately off-hand play experience during their careers, or of players trained according to other paradigms (i.e., European players).

References

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Authors Note: Correspondence for this article should be addressed to: Vickie McCarthy, Assitant Professor, Department of Professional Studies, Austin Peay University, Building 604, Bastogne & Air Assault, (931) 221-1407, mccarthy@apsu.edu.