5 questions with Robert Zayas, New York State Public High School Athletic Association

State Wresting Championships 2013 II

Robert Zayas (left) at New York State Wrestling Championships 2013

We are delighted to have Robert Zayas, Executive Director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA), join us today for our “Five Questions with CJSM”  feature.

I met Robert at an inaugural meeting of the National Youth Council on Sports Safety (NCYSS) in Washington, D.C. last November, and I have been after him ever since to sit down with us to share his unique perspective on American youth sports.  He’s a busy man, as you’ll see, and so we’re all fortunate to have him join us.

With a clinical practice in pediatric sports medicine, youth sports are never far from my mind.  In D.C. Robert and I had a chat about some of the challenges facing the kids and adults involved in contemporary youth sports:  early sport specialization (the focus of an earlier blog post); the rise of youth league sports in parallel with interscholastic sports; the unique pressures the American athletic scholarship phenomenon places on young athletes; the evidence that participation rates are declining in landmark sports like football and soccer……it’s a world in flux, with lots of questions.

And so it’s great to have people like Robert Zayas involved in guiding the ship through these changing seas.


1) CJSM: Congratulations! You have recently been named to the National Council on Youth Sports Safety.  Can you tell us a little bit about the goals of the council, and what you hope to contribute to the process?

RZ: Thank  you; it is truly an honor to serve as a member of the National Council on Youth Sports Safety.

In its first year, the NCYSS will meet quarterly to review existing research, explore alternative solutions, and develop a strategic plan for the implementation of a national set of guidelines on youth sports safety. The second year will include a best practices tour where the public will be provided with opportunities to learn about scientific and technological advancements, effective coaching and training techniques, and contribute feedback on methods that have led to a decline in injury in their respective communities.

I hope to represent the high school sports view-point on the council.  Most importantly, I hope to ensure interscholastic, education based sports are seen as an extension of the classroom and the impact concussions are having on the “student” in all areas of education.

2) CJSM: You are the Executive Director of the NYSPHSAA.  Can you tell us a bit about your background and what you see as the mission of the association?

RZ: My background in education and athletics spans a very short period of time when compared to other Executive Directors throughout the country.  Read more of this post

#YouthSportSafety: Early Sports Specialization in Youth Athletes

youth sports julie young

My colleague and Athletic Trainer Julie Young,
pool side and talking about injury prevention
in young swimmers

I’ve been thinking a lot about youth sports specialization lately.

It’s likely the nexus of the Olympics, my reading of the book The Sports Gene, and our own journal’s publication of the AMSSM Position Statement on Youth Sports Specialization and Overuse that has prompted this.

Readers of this blog will recall that I recently profiled the AMSSM Position Statement and interviewed the lead author, Dr. John DiFiori. Likewise, I  recently reviewed the excellent book The Sports Gene, which looks into, among many other things, the application of the ’10 000 hour rule’ to athletes’ pursuit of elite sport excellence.  What does it take to make an Olympian?  Many would argue that part of the answer lies in identifying excellence early, and starting to groom that talent at a young age:  it takes about 10 years to fit in those 10 000 hours of dedicated practice.   These forces are at least part of what drive the growing phenomenon of youth sports specialization.

I have a professional bias toward this line of thinking, of course:  I practice clinical pediatric sports medicine, and most of my research interests lie in keeping kids safe and active.

For instance, Nationwide Children’s Hospital (NCH) and the YMCA of Central Ohio recently paired up to release a couple of educational videos on the Education and Prevention of Overuse Injuries in Youth Swimmers and the Risks for Early Specialization in Youth Swimmers.  The task combined my interests in youth sports and swimming (I am a member of the USA Swimming Sports Medicine Task Force).  It was a lot of fun working with folks like Julie Young, a swimmer and athletic trainer at NCH with whom I work and do research.  Click on the links to those videos and let me know what you think.

CJSM has made quite an effort over the years to profile high quality research that looks at the phenomena that impact youth sports.   Read more of this post

National Council on Youth Sports Safety


Strained metaphor?
Like the Washington Monument,
our approach to concussions is
under revision

I am in Washington D.C. Thursday and Friday as a participant in the National Council on Youth Sports Safety (NCYSS), being put on by the Protecting Athletes and Sports Safety (PASS) Initiative.  Our host and keynote speaker is Dr. David Satcher, the former Surgeon General who has devoted his life to issues of public health, and has recognized that the concussion ‘epidemic’ has become a game changer in the field.

I’ve met a variety of high profile leaders, in addition to Dr. Satcher, in the world of youth sport concussion during my 24+ hours on the ground in D.C.

I don’t suppose it’s surprising,  but I think one of the most important components of these sorts of meetings is the networking:  I am coming out of this conference with at least three rather solid collaborative research ideas, not to mention commitments to work on other projects with several of the conference attendees.


Physicians from Nationwide Children’s Hospital and
Dr. David Satcher, former United States Surgeon General

On a ‘meta’ level, what I was struck by in this conference was the theme that was consistently struck:  we need more scientific research on youth sport concussion, and the urgency behind this need derives fundamentally from two areas–1) the often undervalued but critical importance of mental health and 2) the risk of children in being inactive.

In other words,  as concerned as we need to be about reducing the risk of concussion, about reducing possible long-term mental health issues consequent to this injury, we need to balance this concern with he equally strong demand that we promote physically active children.

In fact, it’s not simply the effect of sport and exercise on obesity, but also their positive effect on mental health:  for instance, physically active kids are less prone to depression.  And so, if one were concerned solely with mental health, he would need to navigate the twin perils of traumatic brain injury and physical activity.

At CJSM, we are on the frontline in these issues.  We publish original research on concussion in almost every one of our journal editions.  The November issue for  instance has an excellent study on predicting clinical concussion markers at baseline.   In the same issue we published the Canadian Academy of Sports and Exercise Medicine Position Statement on the mandatory use of bicycle helmets:  an issue of keeping youth and others safe while they are physically active.


@cjsmonline (attached to laptop)
tweeting from #NCYSS before
catching that plane

I am leaving D.C. struck….by the sight of the Washington Monument under scaffolding!  In truth, I am more than ever struck by how big of an issue concussion has become, and how it will remain central to primary care sports medicine research for years to come.  There are lots of questions that need answers.  We’ll be working on this continuously here at CJSM.

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